Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

To know the Lord Jesus well we should study the Old Testament. The child Jesus studied the Bible intensely and he knew it intuitively. He was the Word Made Flesh, so when he heard Mary or Joseph or the rabbis read the scriptures he knew instinctively what it meant. The Word of God led the Word made Flesh deeper into the mystery of himself.
Especially when he considered the heroic men and women of the scriptures, the boy Jesus imagined himself as those heroes. He felt the wonder of Adam and Eve and the deep satisfaction of Abel’s sacrifice. He was driven by Abraham’s ferocious love of God; and, like Moses, he gazed on the face of God.
But few heroes fascinated the boy Jesus so much as the prophet Jeremiah. When he heard today’s first reading, Jesus knew the words almost as soon as heard them:
The word of the Lord came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
So Jesus could not be surprised by the incident in Nazareth, for he understood God’s word to Jeremiah:
I have made you a fortified city,
a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,
against the whole land:
Judah’s kings and princes,
against its priests and people.
In the United States, reform often happens in the name of the people. Populist politicians claim they are speaking for all the people, the common folk.  They would have you believe that The People are always right.
But God told Jeremiah he would oppose people and priests, princes and kings. And you will be a fortified city, a pillar of iron and a wall of brass against the whole land. The prophet will be like an army of foreigners who have invaded a territory, built an unassailable city and opened for business. The natives might resent the city and its people, but God has sent them and they are here to stay.
The church has often announced the gospel in just that way. In the ninth century Irish missionaries built monasteries across northern Europe. They developed farms, and opened schools. They taught reading, writing, arithmetic, a work ethic – as opposed to continual warfare -- and table etiquette. Eventually they catechized, civilized and stabilized Europe.
Christians are those whose values don’t conform to the culture around them. We bless that which is good; and we condemn that which is evil. In America we support health care for all people because that is a basic human right; we condemn abortion because it’s fundamentally evil; and we work within a capitalist system because, despite its many failings, there is no better system.  
The Bible offers Jeremiah and Jesus as heroes to study and imitate. Jeremiah, especially, may be history’s first individual. He could not run with the crowd. Called from birth, he was different. He saw clearly what should be done but, try as he would, he could not persuade his fellow citizens to trust in the protection and providence of God.
And for his trouble, Jeremiah suffered isolation, misunderstanding and occasional paranoia. He wrote:
Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! a man of strife and contention to all the land! I neither borrow nor lend, yet all curse me. Tell me, Lord, have I not served you for their good? Have I not interceded with you in the time of misfortune and anguish? You know I have.
Remember me, Lord, visit me…. When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers; under the weight of your hand I sat alone because you filled me with indignation. Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? (see Jeremiah 15: 10-20)

The church of Jesus Christ, as individuals and as a whole, will suffer scorn, contempt and ostracism. It’s not supposed to be easy for us. Occasionally we will be tempted, as every individual is tempted, to paranoia, especially when we forget the goodness and beauty of our God.
Young disciples of Jesus today will remain chaste until marriage; they will study hard in preparation for a life of service, and they’ll be rooted in the traditions of our faith. Ignorance of our Catholic religion is not bliss; it’s just stupid. They will not smoke, will drink only in moderation on rare occasions -- if at all – and will keep a wary eye on the entertainment industry. Why? Because
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated you,
a prophet to the nations I appointed you.
Senior citizens will honor the courage of young people because they know how difficult it is to be Christian. They will practice a willing spirit, rather than a willful one, because a person cannot be human without obedience. They will surrender their independent life style when the time comes for they have a home in eternity.  Why? because they love the Lord with their whole heart and soul and mind and strength.
Adults will assume the heavy burdens of leadership for their children and their aging parents, and responsibility for the world in which we live. These are unappreciated burdens and they will not expect thanks. Why? because “when I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart, because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”
Life does not get easier. Have you noticed that? It is always an adventure and the disciple of Jesus Christ – who was a disciple of Jeremiah -- is nothing if not courageous. 

Saturday: 3rd week of Ordinary Time

In today’s first reading from 2 Samuel, we hear of Nathan’s exposing David’s heinous crimes, and his repentence.

Jewish and Christian traditions believe that King David wrote many of the 150 psalms that make up the “prayer book of the Church.” As a young man in the army camp, 1 Samuel tells us, he sometimes sang and played a stringed instrument to soothe the troubled mind of his mentor-king, Saul. Many years later he would pick up the harp again to express remorse for his own sinful behavior. Psalm 51 is that song.

Repentance may be the most important gift King David gave to us. I spoke once to a RCIA group about penance, the virtue and the sacrament. The new candidates listened respectfully, but the lifelong Catholics wondered what on earth was I talking about. “Penance is three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys!” How do you respond to that?

Penance is first of all a virtue; secondly it is a sacrament. The simplest way I know to explain it is, “I am not God, thank God!” When Nathan confronted him David realized he had committed a most grievous sin. He had committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, Uriah. He had forgotten his love, gratitude and obedience to God. He had played God.

It was all too easy for a warrior who had killed men, who had led men into battle and overseen the slaughter of thousands, who had devised winning feints that saved his army and his cause while sacrificing some fine young men, to have a simpleton like Uriah killed. No one but warriors like himself would suspect what he had done. No one but God knew, and God spoke to Nathan.

David’s great contribution to our faith is the virtue of penance. Of the three most importat persons of the Old Testament -- Abraham, Moses and David -- David is the first to recognize his own sins which were not the sins of the nation. He expresses the Virtue of Penance best in Psalm 51, but it is manifest also in Psalms 7, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143. These are the traditional Seven Penitential Psalms. Their focus is on the personal sins of an individual. I would add Psalm 106, which recalls the sins of the nation. Since the Vatican Council the Church has become more aware of the systemic sins that we tolerate and support within our families, businesses, church, governments and society. 

In our Catholic tradition, the Sacrament of Penance explicitly celebrates the virtue of penance, but every sacrament forgives sin and every honest prayer is a turning away from sin. We must practice the virtue every day and many times a day, if we would be disciples of Jesus, the Son of David.

Friday, Week 3 Ordinary time

Yesterday, I recalled David’s greatness. He was an extraordinary man with amazing natural talent and he was blessed with God’s favor. But, as we learn in today’s first reading, he did some terrible things. The Jews are the most extraordinary people for their willingness to remember and share their history with its glory and its shame. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we have not received from the Jews their self-effacing honesty.

King David has subdued his enemies and now reigns peacefully in Jerusalem. He can afford the sporting leisure of kings: to send his army to ravage neighboring countries as he indulges his proclivities at home, one of his proclivities being the lovely Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

He does not know it but David is suffering a profound and disorienting loneliness. While he has subjects beneath him there is no one equal to him and no one over him. He is at the top of his particular pyramid. He can trust no one as a peer for they are all political players, jostling and maneuvering in his court. He has no human authority over him to direct his energies or command his reverence. His only ambition is to remain on top. He is suffering the privilege of freedom.

In his History of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell explains how European citizens, enamored of freedom but terrified of its responsibilities, ceded their freedom to one man. He represented the State, which had become a secular religion far more vicious, controlling and powerful than Christianity had ever been. These “liberated” citizens loved, worshipped and admired that one man, and fervently believed without a shred of evidence in his inalienable right to do as he pleased. Such men were Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and a host of others.

But I have known men and women who lived alone and, within their own homes, were dictators. There was no one to tell them when to get up, go to bed, get dressed, eat, study, pray or clean up the house. They watch television to all hours, gossip about neighbors as if they were characters in a soap opera, and care about soap operas as if they were real people. They live in fear of going out because their only entertainment is the television, which nightly terrifies them with crime stories.

Eventually their children are appalled at what has become of the parents who once had such dignity. They make animal sounds they would not tolerate in their children, and use words they not supposed to know. And they cannot see how they are deteriorating physically, mentally, and spiritually. When their children try to act on their behalf, perhaps setting boundaries upon their behavior, they blow them off. They dismiss the authority that love gives their adult children.

They are like trees that would grow tall and straight in a forest of trees, but in an open field spread out in every direction. They know no boundaries and will fight fiercely to avoid the nursing home they so desperately need.

Human beings need authority. We disintegrate without it. Our holy father Saint Francis began his religious life in pursuit of Poverty. That was the greatest good he could imagine. If Jesus was poor, then poverty had to be the simplest, easiest, most direct and most pleasant way to eternal happiness. But Saint Francis eventually had to conform to the life of the community he had founded, even when it did not live poverty as well as he wanted. He wore the clothes they told him to wear; accepted the medical care they pressed upon him, and honored the authorities of his Order despite their obvious shortcomings. Saint Francis realized that obedience is more sacred and more demanding than poverty; it leads more directly to union with the One who was subject to Mary, Joseph, Annas, Caiphas, Herod, Pontius Pilate, Death and God his Father.

P.S -- Given the dangers of isolating oneself, I appreciate my readers' effort to react, respond or reproach me for anything I have written.

Feast of St Thomas Aquinas

“Who am I, Lord God, and who are the members of my house, that you have brought me to this point?

King David is one of those “great” men of history, with many great qualities and some awful ones. Foremost of his good qualities, he loved the Lord.

David remembered where he came from. He was the least of Jesse’s sons. When Samuel came to Bethlehem to find a king to replace Saul, he looked among the sons of Jesse. But Jesse had a house full of  fine young men and they didn't even call David from the fields. But the old judge insisted they should bring him in. No sooner did David enter the room than Samuel heard God say, "This is the one! Anoint him!" (1 Sam 16:12)

David was still a stripling when he miraculously defeated the Philistine warrior Goliath. Suddenly a hero and conquerer, he successfully led soldiers through one battle after another. They wiped out the Philistine problem that had plagued Israel since Joshua's time. He out-lived his rival Saul and then captured the impregnable city of Jerusalem. Despite the prior claims of Saul’s family, David finally won the allegiance of the Israelites and was crowned king.  After years of continual warfare David suddenly found himself and his kingdom at peace. Clearly, the favor of the Lord lay upon him.

Remembering his humble origins, David knew God had blessed him. And now, through the prophet Nathan -- Samuel was long dead by then -- God swore that a descendant of David would rule in Jerusalem forever.

In a meritocracy like the United States where recognition and success are supposed to be attained by talent, energy, and hard work even Christians stumble on the doctrine of election. We just don’t think it’s fair that God blesses some more than others. If "all men are created equal" then the differences between us seem to be wrong. It's not fair that some are born richer, smarter, healthier, more popular, more beautiful or more influential than others. If some people have more of this world's blessings, they must have earned them without God's intervention.

In the face of an ever widening gulf between the rich and poor, some people say God's favor -- which is supposed to be equally distributed -- is some kind of invisible grace that cannot be seen, touched, or measured. It's "spiritual."

Others resist the doctrine saying: "I have succeeded. I am a self-made person! I deserve and have earned everything I have.” With that attitude the advantaged person refuses to use his blessings for the good of others. If he gives anything to anyone for any purpose, his ego goes with it.

But the middle class conceit of “talent, energy and hard work” rarely explains worldly success or achievement. Has Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods really earned that much money? Or was there some other mysterious principle at work that tilted the billiard table and sent hundreds of millions of dollars rolling into their pockets? Do Americans really deserve this lavish, wasteful life style? Has the Wall Street trader or the billion dollar banker demonstrated that much more talent, genius or energy than the migrant field hand? If, on a scale of one to a thousand -- Tiger Woods being a thousand and a dead dog being zero -- I rated ten as a golfer, shouldn't I be paid one percent of his salary to play golf?

David knew where his blessings came from. He knew that God had chosen him for a purpose, even if he could  not imagine what that purpose might be. On those occasions when he did forget -- and there were several -- God punished him severely, as we shall see.

Let us not forget who has bestowed such unearned, undeserved and overwhelming favor upon us. Let us remember that every blessing comes with great responsibility. It's not about me! It's not for me.
Any thoughts on the subject! I welcome compliments, comments, critiques and carps. 

Wednesday, Week three ordinary time

The Lectionary always gives us more scripture than we can reflect on in a day. With its long passages from 2 Samuel and the Mark's Gospel, today is no exception. The Sacred Scriptures are a stream. The devout go to the stream daily and several times a day to quench their thirst. We never expect to drink all of it in one visit; there is always more flowing over, under, around and through us than we can possibly ingest.

Today’s first reading from 2 Samuel is probably the most important passage in the book. After all David’s adventures – from shepherding sheep to his capture of Jerusalem – he receives an astounding promise: his heir will rule in Jerusalem forever.

As you probably know, forever is a very long time. Most of us, I suppose have some appreciation of the PAST, that it has been going on a very long time. But we tend to think the FUTURE is not so long. In fact many devout Christians believe the future will end within their lifetimes. I wonder what King David thought of as forever. He was more familiar with ancient history than many of us, because Israel was already dotted with the ruins of ancient cities. No doubt he had wondered who lived in these buildings and why did they disappear. He had spent so much energy creating and organizing his kingdom; he'd probably little time to think about its maintenance in perpetuity.

So far, David’s forever is about three thousand years, and we have seen a lot of history washing over his capital city of Jerusalem in the meanwhile. Without being a historian I can tell you the city has been leveled and rebuilt a couple of times; it has survived the rise and fall of several empires; and it has not enjoyed political independence since the fifth century before Christ.

Politically David’s kingdom survived with his own descendents ruling in Judah from approximately 1000 BC until 598 BC, which is more than 400 years. That’s a long time by American standards, but nowhere close to eternity. When the city was destroyed by the Babylonians and kingship ended, many supposed that God had either forgotten his promise or could not keep it. The rape of Jerusalem can be compared only to the Holocaust for the trauma the Jewish people felt. It was their crucifixion.

And yet the People of God, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, waited and hoped. The young Virgin Mary – who is the New Jerusalem – daily asked God to restore the kingdom of David, and God answered her prayers. The angel Gabriel told her:

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

At last, the promise to David was being fulfilled and the word forever seemed altogether possible. Tomorrow the Lectionary will give us David’s astonished response to God’s promise.

P.S. -- I appreciate any and all comments you might give me. Unlike the homily in church, there is space in the blogosphere for interaction. 

The Feast of Saints Timothy and Titus

The day after the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Church celebrates his two chief disciples, Saints Timothy and Titus. By coincidence, the first readings (either from 2 Timothy or Titus) and the Gospel passage (which is the conclusion of Saturday’s story) refer to family.
In the first readings, Saint Paul calls Timothy his “dear child” and Titus his “true child in our common faith.”
In the gospel, Jesus says his true family -- his brother and sister and mother -- are those who do the will of God.
So let’s think about the symbol of family and how we use it in church.
Catholic and Protestant churches often use familial titles: especially brother, sister, father and mother. That custom comes straight from the Bible and it’s very dear to our hearts. It demonstrates our real affection for one another, and the trust and confidence we should have in one another. Addressing one another with familial words helps us to experience our oneness in the Body of Christ. We are joined not at the hip but in His blood.
But today’s gospel also shows the problems that can arise when a church has too many biologically related brothers and sisters. The great scripture scholar Father Ray Brown believed that Jesus’ family may have tried to get control of the early church. Weren’t they related to him, after all? There was certainly precedent for giving power to the immediate family of powerful men. And Saint Luke indicates they were present in the Cenacle at Pentecost.
Even today too many family ties can sabotage the life of a church. A pastor told me of his church in New Mexico where 150 years ago one man and his wife raised six sturdy young men on his enormous ranch. These fellows married wives and built their homes into a village, which imported more spouses and bred more children and, in the meanwhile, hired a priest to celebrate Mass in their family church. You can imagine the difficulties of that. Not least of these was their failure to welcome non-family members who moved into town.
A Christian community, by definition, reaches beyond family, ethnicity, language and race. If it prefers anyone, it is those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. When it looks inward for leadership it turns to those who are wise in the Holy Spirit. Family ties can plague a parish. Historically it’s called nepotism, from the Latin word nepos meaning nephew.
On this feast of Saint Timothy and Titus, we pray that our Church will welcome everyone with the affection of brothers and sisters, and be free of the dysfunction that sometimes plagues biological families.

P.S. -- I appreciate any and all comments you might give me. Unlike the homily in church, there is space in the blogosphere for interaction.

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

We call this day the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Oddly, although there are words for conversion in the New Testament, Saint Paul never described his experience as a conversion. To him it was a revelation.

Catholics often call those who join our church in midlife, after belonging to various Protestant churches, “converts.” And sometimes they have converted – that is, radically turned their lives from wickedness to good – but more often they have heard a personal invitation to join our church. They do not reject their prior experience of being Christian, but bring it with them into the Catholic Church.

Saint Paul’s revelation had a profound impact on his theology. He heard, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” Since he was not pursuing a crucified man but followers of the Christ, Paul realized that his attack on believers was, in fact, an attack on the “body” of Christ. “Why are you persecuting me?” meant “Why are you tormenting the faithful who are my body?”

In his letter to the Corinthians, especially, he would remind Christians that just as every part of the body belongs and is vital to its healthy functioning, every Christian has her and his role to play. When one part of the body is honored, all are honored; and when one is dishonored, the whole body suffers shame.

Belonging to Jesus has never been a matter of education, ideology, persuasion, or conviction. It’s not indoctrination; it’s incarnation. Carna meaning body. Through Baptism and Eucharist we are incarnated into his very existence, and deeply, intensely joined to one another.

Many Protestants join our Catholic Church bringing passion and zeal with them. They stimulate the lifers among us to greater appreciation of our Catholic traditions and faith. Often they’ve done their homework. They’ve drunk and become intoxicated with the doctrines that bored us to tears in catechism class. They instruct us, their elders, in our religion!

Thank God for these transfusions of Blood and infusions of Spirit into our ever ancient, ever new Body of Christ.

3rd Sunday ordinary time C

Wile E Coyote has found at last a foolproof plan. After erecting a detour sign (“detoor”) he paints a road on the desert floor up to the blank wall of the canyon, and there he paints what appears to be a tunnel entrance, complete with a light at the end of the tunnel. The speedy Roadrunner will come tearing down the road, turn onto the detour and smash into the wall. It’s perfect! It can’t fail.
Of course you know what happens. The roadrunner races through the painted tunnel; and when Mister Coyote gives chase he smashes into the stone wall of the canyon.

God often does that for us. He opens ways that did not exist, that we could not imagine.

Sometimes we find a twenty dollar bill in an old jacket and the bills are paid, or the x-rays discover a tumor has disappeared; or an accident is a happy coincident; or a misunderstanding is cleared up and there were never hard feelings. Sometimes an argument marks the beginning of a life-long friendship; and sometimes an unkind word was exactly the right thing to say. Sometimes a tunnel opens up between a rock and a hard place.

In today’s first reading, Ezra the priest reads the law of God to his people and they are overjoyed at what they hear. After years of exile in Babylon they have returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt their ruined city. They have fashioned a temple something like the old one and can begin again to practice their religion in their own country. Many are so overcome with emotion they break down in tears of joy.
But Ezra tells them, “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”—  for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”

Seventy years earlier the youngest in this crowd had witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. They had been taken as children into exile and there seemed no hope of return. Some of the adults complained that God had abandoned his people, or that their supposedly all-powerful God had been conquered by foreign gods.

These children had grown up and grown old hoping to return someday to the land of Judah but only recently, after the collapse of the Babylonian Empire and the rise of the Persian Empire, and the ascendancy of the Emperor Cyrus, were they permitted to return. These old men and women returned with their eager children and grandchildren, and now, at last, with the support of the emperor and the unexpected generosity of gentiles their city was rebuilt and open for business. And they had a new temple.

As temples go it wasn’t much but the Prophet Isaiah –speaking for God – promised:
Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, for the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord.

No one could expect new shoots from the stump of a ruined tree. It seemed hopeless to everyone but God.

But now, in retrospect, it all made sense. A bud had blossomed from the root of Jesse. What no one could imagine before now made perfect sense. It was organic. The seed that was buried and lifeless had brought forth first the shoot and then the stem and then the bud. The bud burst into blossom and the blossom thickened into fruit and the people of God flourished again.  “Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”

In today’s gospel
Jesus announces another Day of the Lord.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me 
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. 
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Philosophers today are exploring the depth of our reality and discovering endless potential. Where they had seen nothing but physics and chemistry they see agency and imagination; where they found disintegration, entropy and inertia they discover potential, freshness and vitality. Where they have denied God’s existence they detect the smoky presence of mystery.

We who know Jesus and have been born to his Day of the Lord, understand faith, hope and love. They make sense to us. We know that God sometimes shows us tunnels where we saw canyon walls. We know the future will be better than the present because God will be there.

The alcoholic can drink life without alcohol and the gambler can find wealth without money.  The virgin can be sexually satisfied; and the lonely, find companionship even in solitude.

We cannot always explain these things and the rationalist who demands an explanation and a roadmap and a thorough analysis of all God’s miracles will go away disappointed. But the rationalist cannot explain his faith in facts either, except to say he is terribly afraid of the future.

On this Day of the Lord we remember that God is with us, God has always been with us, God will always be with us, and there is nothing to fear.

Saturday – 2nd week ordinary time

Today’s gospel is the first installment of a three part story. Saint Mark often uses this technique, sometimes called a sandwich. He begins one story, then tells another story, and then finishes the first story. The faithful should understand there is a theme binding the two stories which might not be apparent if you read only one of them. In this case,
1)      Jesus family, thinking him insane, sets out to retrieve him.
2)      The scribes from Jerusalem accuse him of working with Beelzebub, and
3)      His family arrives, only to be rebuked.

But how do we interpret this story? Was his Mother Mary in league with the hostile family?
It seems that Saint Mark, (writing approximately 65 A.D.) knew little or nothing of the Church’s incipient devotion to Jesus’ mother. It had not developed in his local church. The Evangelists Matthew, Luke and John reveal a growing reverence for the Woman who believed that God's word to her would be fulfilled.

But Saint Mark's fellow Christians had suffered persecution. Some of them, it seems, had not only left the church, they’d turned hostile to it. So Saint Mark’s gospel challenges the congregation, “Will you also betray him?” Saint Mark contemplated the terrible betrayal and overwhelming isolation of Jesus.
In the final chapters of the Gospel, his family was embarrassed about him; his disciples abandoned him; one of the twelve betrayed him; his right hand man denied knowing him; his co-religionists mocked him; the leaders of his people condemned him; his fellow men tortured and crucified him; and his God in heaven gave no sign of sympathy. His dying word is a terrible agonized cry of despair.

Set today's brief two-verse passage against the whole story of Jesus passion and death and you’ll understand its import. It’s not about Mary; it’s about the growing isolation of Jesus. Even as he reveals himself, a brilliant light, the darkness grows. Soon his will be the only light in the theater of the Gospel, and it will be snuffed out.

Saint Mark challenges us to follow Jesus into the darkness of faith. There we will see ourselves as cowardly, sinful, foolish, and hopelessly lost. When we have drunk deeply the bitter cup, we’ll find consolation. 

Friday, Week 2 Ordinary time

Looking at David as a type of Jesus, we compare the men who followed both: 
In the 22nd chapter of 1 Samuel, we learn that David "... was joined by all those who were in difficulties or in debt, or who were embittered; and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him." David's followers were not high-minded idealists. In this description, they sound more like cut-purses and cut-throats. But he led well and they were loyal to him. If you go into battle in the ancient world you should follow a winner. 
Hollywood, of course, rewrites the script, giving ancient warriors emotive-if-ambiguous principles like freedom, liberty and equality. Interestingly, some historians say wars are far more vicious since soldiers stopped fighting for God, king, and pelf and started fighting for ill-defined ideals. Today’s ideological wars make the 16th century religious wars look like church picnics.

In today's gospels we learn the names of Jesus' apostles. In most cases we know little more than their names; but they appear more civilized than David's mercenaries. However, few had romantic illusions or glorious notions about their mission. We don't hear them singing To dream the Impossible Dream…. They did not dedicate their lives to a better world, the eradication of poverty or the end of despotism.
As they announced that astonishing word, the Roman Empire did not collapse, slavery did not end, and poverty remained entrenched. Long before Karl Marx invented class warfare, the roman society remained stratified.
Life didn't get easier for these early missionaries. In some ways it became more difficult as Jerusalem was sacked in 70 A.D. and both gentile and Jewish religions became more hostile to Christians. 
But Jesus' disciples, both men and women, kept the faith, hoped in a future they could not see, and loved the Lord. Though dead he was raised and his Spirit led them with more persevering confidence than even his great ancestor David. Theirs was a simple fidelity, hard to emulate but not so difficult to explain. 

On this 22nd day of January, pray that all Americans and all nations will practice a deep reverence for life, especially with its beautiful cycles.
The sin of abortion has deep roots in our society and cannot be easily eradicated. One of its roots, consumerism, wants what it wants when it wants it, regardless of the season. The consumer believes he should be able to buy whatever he wants so long as he has the money -- food, alcohol, entertainment, drugs, guns, sex, abortion, or pleasure. So long as America is governed by consumerism, abortion on demand will remain. 

Life is cyclic and reverence for life honors its cycles. There is, as Ecclesiastes tells us, a time for every thing including plenty and scarcity, hunger and satiety, birth and death, embracing and refraining from embracing. 

Abortion is an ugly thing. No one wants it, but those who do not know God, cannot imagine life without it. They believe it is necessary, as the glutton wants food, the drunk wants alcohol, and the shopper wants a sale. Faith teaches us to rely on God during those difficult times when we cannot imagine how we'll survive. 

Thursday, Week 2, Ordinary time

As the lectionary leads us rapidly through the First Book of Samuel and more slowly through the Gospel of Saint Mark, it is good to notice the similarities between David and Jesus. David, the protagonist of the two Books of Samuel, is a type of Jesus, as are Adam, Abel, Melchizedek, Abraham and so forth. If you would know Jesus you want to know these types, for he gathered into himself and incarnated the Spirit that drove all of them.
In both of today’s readings, people are filled with delight and spontaneously gather around their heroes, David and Jesus. Both men have magnetic charm, both have enormous authority. David conquers enemies, Jesus drives out demons. David has been anointed by Samuel; and Jesus, by the Holy Spirit in the Jordan River.  Both are called shepherds, the traditional title for the kings of Israel and Judah. David leads men into battle; Jesus leads his disciples on a spiritual siege of Jerusalem, the city which David had captured a thousand years earlier. And both founded everlasting kingdoms.
In today’s stories also, David and Jesus inspire jealousy and hostility. Saul was delighted when David killed Goliath, but he was not so happy when the pretty young women came dancing out of the villages singing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands.” Saul’s jealousy will develop into a crippling, obsessive madness.  In the Gospels, the frenzy of Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians will drive them to renounce God as their king when, responding to Pilate’s question they shout, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Comparing Jesus to David, a study which is called “typology,” helps us to "see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly day by day." 
We also want to see the hand of God in our lives. It will shape our prayers and answer them. It will guide our thoughts, words and deeds with the same Spirit that animated King David and the Lord Jesus. For each one of us is a "type" of Jesus and every Christian's life is a gospel story. 

Wednesday, Week 2 of Ordinary Time

Blessed be the Lord, my Rock!

In the ancient world, slingers were the lightest of the light infantry. They were the poor men who wore no armor but approached the battle behind heavily-armored spearmen and lightly-armored archers. Their only weapon was a sling, a simple contraption of leather used to hurl rocks over the front lines, harassing the enemy. If the front line broke, the naked slingers fled like field mice before the enemy charge. But skilled slingers could do serious damage, softening the enemy forces and making them more vulnerable to heavier weapons.

The boy David was a slinger fighting for the Hebrew army. He had honed his skills while shepherding. A stone hurled to the right of his flock directed them to move left; to the left, they moved right. A well placed pebble might even discourage a wolf, lion or thief. But what could a sling do against a heavily armored, battle-tested champion like Goliath? The Philistine sneered at the boy, and mocked the entire army of frightened Hebrews who could not field a better opponent.

He never saw it coming, the rock that embedded itself in his forehead. Nor did the enemies of Jesus expect the devastating word: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?” They did not realize their grumbling was an evil work which is forbidden on the Sabbath as well as every day of the week. The Son of David struck them with a word that was hurled with the precision and force of David's pebble.

The word of God doesn’t always smash through our defenses like an Abrams tank or a MIRV missile. Sometimes it is a coworker’s silent withdrawal or a child’s complaint, “But you said…” Like Jesus opponents, we might not see it coming; we might not even realize the word has judged and condemned us.

But as we honor the word of God each day, welcoming both its challenge and its consolation, letting it direct our attitudes and actions, we find ourselves guided like a flock of sheep into the green pastures of salvation.

Tuesday, Week Two Ordinary Time

The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.

The Evangelists never asked the 21st century question, “Did Jesus know he was God?”
And thinkers of our time have never answered the question, “How does a person know anything about herself or himself?” Could a single three-pound human brain contain the thought I am God without melting into a soggy mess?
Not finding it to be a very important question, I’ll leave it for others to ponder. They can get back to me after they have decided how many angels can dance on the head of pin.

The Evangelists believed and announced Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath.”
And so I ask myself the most important question of my life: Am I willing to worship this man?
Worshipping a fellow human being is always risky. Recent history, in particular, is full of sorry tales of men – invariably they are men – who assume the role of God. Eager to idealize and idolize Freedom, confused and weary citizens gave these men complete and absolute freedom. Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein did as they wanted because their fellow citizens surrendered their freedom to der fuehrer. They found the freedom God gave them too heavy to bear and ceded it to the worst among them.
If I worship Jesus of Nazareth, he will have to be someone utterly unlike those men. He will have to prove himself worthy of my trust. And, being my God, he will not revoke my right to think, feel, act and be the person I am.
When I contemplate his cross – and each of the gospels is a protracted meditation on the cross – I realize this man alone is worthy of my adoration.
But I can speak only for myself in this matter. What do you say?

Monday, Second Week of Ordinary Time

Entering the Gospel of Saint Mark we find the too-familiar world of controversy, that is, the running feud between the Pharisees and Jesus. As I consider that troubled environment where the Gospel was born, I find it helpful to remember three things:
  • Jesus was one among many rabbis who argued continually about their Jewish religion. Arguments are born of passion and passion is a sign of life. People who agree about everything don’t care about anything. I often hear “It doesn’t matter which church you attend” and I agree with that – so long as you don’t attend any church. Likewise, it doesn’t matter if you're Republican or Democrat so long as you don’t vote. But Jesus being a vital human being with a passionate love of God argued with others and was never above controversy. If the Evangelists remember his winning every argument, they might be forgiven for exaggerating just a tad. No doubt his opponents had other versions of their quarrels. 
  • Secondly, the Pharisaic religion was the only form of Judaism to survive the catastrophe when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 a.d. The Herodians and Essenes disappeared into the vortex of history, and Christianity evolved into another religion. So we should give credit to the Pharisees; their kind of fidelity had enough spirit, depth and flexibility to survive an apocalyptic crisis. Today’s Judaism with all its astonishing beauty, variety, mystery and courage is the religion of the Pharisees.
  • Finally, we should remember that the arguments as we find them in the gospels were not recorded for historical accuracy. The Gospels, written in the first century, were the Church’s first answers to “WWJD?” “Should we describe our religion with rituals and rules, or is there some other way?” These questions tear at the Christian community to this day as the Church struggles to survive.
That said, I ask myself, “How do I respond to this controversy?” It is tempting to assume the role of Jesus. I will judge my fellow Catholics and Christians and the institution of organized religion. I will stand apart from the community and, by my good example, show them how they should live. Or better yet, I will tell them how they should live. I wonder how many new Christians are immediately initiated into that obnoxious way of life.
Entering more deeply into the spirit of the Gospel, I realize the Holy Spirit sent me to this church not to reform it but to be reformed by it. I need them more than they need me. Because I am an opinionated, arrogant person, I formed my judgments about certain individuals when I walked through the door. Now how can I step from behind those mental blindfolds and see these people for who they are: courageous, devout, flawed but beautiful saints of God?
I will begin by thanking God for inviting me, undeserving as I am, to belong to this Church.

Sunday -- Second Week of Ordinary Time C

Today’s readings invite us to reflect on the Sacrament of Marriage. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah describes the ruined city of Jerusalem as an abandoned wife. When God her husband comes back:
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you. 

Today’s gospel also invites us to reflect on marriage. Jesus blesses a wedding with his first miracle, a sign of extraordinary blessing for the married couple.

It would take hours – and hours well-spent – to recall all the Bible passages about marriage. If we don’t understand Jesus as the bridegroom of his church, we know nothing about the Church or Jesus. But, having reflected on those passages, what can we say about marriage as we know it today? What should we expect from the sacrament of marriage?

First we look for vindication of the sacrament. Just as there are few people willing to be celibate priests today, there are few people willing to enter the life-long, faithful, fruitful covenant of marriage. Many people suffer a chronic inability to make commitments or sacrifice. Many people believe they are homosexual and have no desire for marriage --although they covet its respectability. Many people suffer from narcissism. They think only of themselves and cannot actually experience the mystery of another human being.

If weddings seem to be expensive exercises in futility today, one day soon God will vindicate the sacrament, restoring its original beauty. As Saint Paul says,
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us….

In the light of the many scriptural images about marriage, what can we expect of the sacrament?

1.   First, that a man and woman will find great happiness in their love. “You shall be called my delight,” God says to Jerusalem. When Jesus turned six jars of water into 180 gallons of choice wine, people were very happy. They laughed at the steward and the bridegroom who could not explain where all that fine wine came from. There is cause for rejoicing here.
2.   God forgives the sins of every married man and woman as they forgive one another.
Matrimony is a sacrament of penance. It exposes our sins and helps us to find forgiveness.
A man’s love for his wife is God’s love for that woman. If she has any doubt about her worth in God’s eyes, she will discover it in the eyes of her husband.

3.   God restores our integrity through the sacrament of marriage. A man who is honest with his wife becomes honest with himself, with God, with his children, his family, his work, and his church. There is no room for duplicity in marriage. 
4.   Because marriage is a union of opposites – as they say, men are from Mars and women are from Venus – marriage resolves the differences between the sexes. The war is over. Psychologists spent the last century discovering the many different ways that men and women see, hear, taste, touch, smell, feel, dream, think and reason. They’re different.
Married couples discover their opposition is actually complimentarity. They need each other and neither is whole without the other.
5.   The sacrament of marriage restores our charm, our fascination, our desirability. God finds us endlessly fascinating. He cannot take his eyes off us. A man who loves his wife keeps his eyes on her. He doesn’t look at other women. Everything he dreams of is right there in bed with him. And she knows it!
Likewise, he knows how irresistible he is in the eyes of God because his wife still hungers for his embrace. It doesn’t matter how many years they are married, they are still nubile in each other’s eyes.

6.   God restores our fertility through the sacrament of marriage. God never gives a blessing simply for your own pleasure. Marriage is a serious responsibility which must bear fruit for others.
To put it simply, married people have children, and every child has the right to a father and mother who are married to one another in the eyes of God and the eyes of the world -- love one another.

7.   God restores our virginity through the chaste life of a married couple. Virginity is not never having sex; virginity is a grace which God gives to those whom he favors.
In the Church we honor the Virgin Mary as the new
Holy City, the New Jerusalem. When the magi arrived in Jerusalem they found the Holiness of God had migrated to a quiet house in Bethlehem. When they entered that house they saw the child with Mary his mother. She is the Virgin Spouse of God; and men and women who honor the sacrament of marriage – as husbands, wives, or as chaste individuals – enjoy the gift of virginity.

With his changing water to wine, Jesus changed the ancient institution of marriage with all its complexities into the Sacrament of Marriage. And he invited everyone to drink deeply of the intoxicating pleasures of integrity, wholeness, honesty, kindness, tenderness, compassion, chastity and fertility. Like the disciples at Pentecost, we are drunk with the Holy Spirit.

It is easy to be cynical about marriage. Any coward can do that. Courage teaches us to expect God’s vindication of the Holy City. And just as God never gives up on his people, the Church will never stop believing in the holiness of marriage.