Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;

Like everything else in human life, ancient prophecy was organized. Prophetic groups, both Jewish and gentile, roamed the ancient east as the last millennium before Christ began. They developed their own symbols, dress and customs, and were especially given to prophetic trances. Out of these raptures they made oracular, cryptic remarks.
Modern sociologists suggest that changing times develop these movements in response to turmoil and uncertainty. No one knows the future but prophets speculate about it and advise their contemporaries about what may be coming. In Israel and Judah (two separate countries) Yahwist prophets naturally claimed to speak with God’s authority. But they also feuded with one another, as all coreligionists do, and then tried to develop ways to discover a true prophet and to discern reliable prophecy. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Amos was a 9th century BC prophet and a shepherd. A native of Judah, he challenged the Israelites from their shrine at Bethel. He may have prophesied as he came out of an oracular trance but he was not a dues-paying member of any prophetic guild. Like many people today, he was nostalgic about the past and pessimistic about the future. He taught that Israel, the northern kingdom, was wandering from the covenant and had lost its way. For his thanks, the king of Israel drove him out of the country.
In today’s reading, we hear what you would expect any prophet to say: do good, avoid evil; if you do good, expect reward from God; if you do evil, expect punishment.
But, as predictable as that may sound, it’s also sound advice. It is a simple truth that never goes out of style. If good is not always rewarded and evil is not immediately punished, we’re nonetheless better for seeking the ways of justice and mercy. And God has plenty of time to reward virtue and punish wickedness. 
Secondly, many people, both religious and irreligious, forget that our God demands justice and mercy of us. Some suppose that if they do religious things, satisfying the cultic demands of religion, God will reward them. Or, conversely, they suppose that if they ignore church and religion in general but get along well enough with their immediate neighbors and intimate family they’re okay with God.

Amos challenges both attitudes. He describes a God who is not so easily satisfied, who is jealous and demanding, expecting not just good-enough but perfection. He wants zeal and piety. He wants his people to go the extra mile, lend both jacket and shirt, write off unpayable debts, and forgive friends and enemies alike. He wants attention – we might call it awareness – all the time. Amos, crabby old soul that he was, knows we can do better; and he speaks for God when he reminds us. 

(The statue by David Kochka and plaque are found in New Harmony, IN)

Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed.

On this solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul we hear readings about their reliance on the Lord. If we regard religion as just another institution in this world – along with government, military, academia, health care and so forth – we should expect the Church to be deeply rooted, well-funded and powerful. Human beings need spiritual institutions just as we need physical infrastructures, and we build them solidly.
But our Christian tradition daily reminds us that our religion is founded not on human tradition but on the solid rock of faith. It doesn’t take an anthropologist to remind us cities, nations, and empires come and go. Nothing we build lasts forever. The Near East is pocked by ruined cities from prehistoric times. Some of the ruins tourists see today were visited by Abraham and Sarah. To see the place, you’d think that’s what human beings do – build ruins!
If a religion is to survive very long, especially a religion so organized and disciplined as the Catholic Church, it must be rooted in faith and nurtured by virtue. God is the gardener and builder of this walled garden. 
And so today’s first reading recall God's fidelity to Peter and Paul, the most important apostles: 

  • The man who had seen Jesus Christ escape the tomb might not have been surprised when an angel let him out of the jail, but I’m sure Saint Peter was grateful. 
  • In the second reading, Saint Paul remembers the exhausting challenges he has faced. “My life is being poured out like a libation.” The years of his life have washed over the altar like spilled wine, seemingly wasted. Its sweet stickiness draws thirsty flies and intoxicates hapless earthworms. And yet he believes “The Lord stood by me and gave me strength.

Twenty centuries later, although we look back on a long history of God’s providential care, we still feel anxious about today’s obstacles. It seems the Church always has its back to the wall. But the Lord always “has our back.” And so we praise God: “The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

Today our responsorial reading places the congregation in an unexpected and uncomfortable place. We must speak to our friends, family, neighbors, fellow citizens and enemies, “Remember this, you who never think of God.
A noted theologian once asked Saint Francis of Assisi about the famous passage in Ezekiel 3: 17-81:
Thus the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me. If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.

Thomas of Celano in his second book about Saint Francis (The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, Chapter LXIX) recounts the story:
While he was staying in Siena someone from the Order of Preachers happened to arrive; he was a spiritual man and a Doctor of Sacred Theology. He visited blessed Francis, and he and the holy man enjoyed a long and sweet conversation about the words of the Lord. This teacher asked him about the words of Ezekiel….:
“I’m acquainted with many people, good Father, who live in mortal sin, as I’m aware. But I don’t always warn them about their wickedness. Will I then be held responsible for their souls?”
Blessed Francis then said that he was an unlettered man and it would be better for him to be taught by the other rather than to answer a question about scripture. But that humble teacher replied: “Brother, it’s true I have heard these words explained by some wise men; still, I’d be glad to hear how you understand it.”
So blessed Francis said to him: “If that passage is supposed to be understood in a universal sense, then I understand it to mean that a servant of God should be burning with life and holiness so brightly, that by the light of example and the tongue of his conduct, he will rebuke all the wicked. In that way, I say, the brightness of his life and the fragrance of his reputation will proclaim their wickedness to all of them.”
That man went away greatly edified, and said to the companions of blessed
Francis: “My brothers, the theology of this man, held aloft by purity and contemplation, is a soaring eagle, while our learning crawls on its belly on the ground.”

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our American experience, a trip is often a vacation. We’re not going anywhere in particular; we just want to get away from it all for a while. A really important vacation might be a return home after many years, or to catch up with a long lost friend. But, more often than not, people travel for leisure, to relax and see something new, to get away from the humdrum experience of home.

But when Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, it is a one-way, fateful journey. Hearing the first words of today’s gospel, you know he is not simply going on vacation or making an annual pilgrimage:
    “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled,
      he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
      and he sent messengers ahead of him.”
In fact this trip is a major campaign. He sends seventy-two messengers ahead of him, in groups of two, to visit every town, village and hamlet in Judea. Eventually Jerusalem will hear of his coming and be all atwitter when he finally arrives.

His closest disciples seem to be caught up in the excitement. James and John are so eager for an apocalyptic event they’re ready to call down fire on a Samaritan village. They’re ready to make others suffer the End of the World, though they’re not so eager for their own personal suffering. If they are wise, they might understand Jesus’ rebuke as pointing in a new, unexpected direction.

Others, caught up in the excitement, are eager to go with Jesus. But they aren’t invited. Our following of Jesus is a vocation, received in obedience. American spirituality, which accentuates leadership and initiative, may not understand the primary importance of hearing and obeying the call that comes from God. Not even Jesus would claim to be a priest without first hearing his Father’s call. In Hebrews 5, we read:
No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: "You are my son; this day I have begotten you"; 

This is not to say some people are doomed for never being invited. That doctrine of "double election" -- that some are predestined to be saved and some are predestined to be damned -- misses the point altogether.
Rather, the gospel insists on obedience to God's initiative. Fifty years ago I didn't have the choice of being a race horse jockey or a camel driver. I could not create myself in the image of my own peculiar fantasies, nor those of my parents. God called me to the Franciscan priesthood. That was the choice offered to me and that's the one I accepted. For a young person today discerning a vocation may take a long time, but it's a lot easier if he or she ignores the absurd fantasies the world offers.

After turning away those who are too eager to follow Jesus, who have manufactured a calling from their own enthusiasm instead of obedience, he invites another group. But they decline or dally “for personal reasons.” That’s not good enough! They are not fit for the kingdom of God.

As Jesus sets out for Jerusalem on this fateful journey he invites us to go with him. Each of us must ask daily, “What is the Lord calling me to do today? Am I ready to go?” and the only acceptable response is “Let’s go!”

Saturday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

“…for I too am a man subject to authority with soldiers subject to me.”

Recently I cited Woody Allen as an authority in theological matters. “Eighty percent of success is just showing up!” has deep roots in Jewish and Christian doctrine.
In today’s gospel Jesus discovers another brilliant theologian in a most unexpected person, a Roman centurion. This rough soldier has astonishing insight into the mystery and mission of Jesus. He hails Jesus as a man of enormous authority; and he recognizes a man who is under authority.
The centurion knows what our contemporaries have forgotten. All legitimate authority comes from above.
The Enlightenment principle of Democracy establishes the governed -- the people -- as the source of authority. The people elect their leaders according to their constitution and laws; that is, by the social contract they have made with one another. But the law is always subject to the will of the people and may be amended, discarded or ignored. Democracy recognizes no higher authority than the people. 
The recent financial crises and the catastrophe in the Gulf should remind us how easily legitimate laws can be ignored when people choose to, and how little a democracy can do about that. Typically, the worse criminals, like Jack Abramoff who bilked the system for millions of dollars, get off with light sentences. Mr Abramoff is already out of jail and on the road to rehabilitation. 
The philosopher Bertrand Russell described how a “free” people give their freedom first to the State, and then to the Man who represents the State. He alone is free, and he does whatever he wants with the inexhaustible resources of the nation. Hitler was only one of many tyrants and we’ve not the seen the last of his breed. A legitimate democracy must recognize that its authority to govern itself comes from above. Otherwise, it must fail.

The Roman centurion knew instinctively the transcendent source of Jesus’ authority. He comes from somewhere else; he is subject to Someone Else. He is worthy of our love, confidence and worship only because he is subject to the Father – who has given him a name above every name. Come let us worship. 

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Following the reading of our weekday liturgies can be like channel surfing on television. While we were celebrating the Birth of John the Baptist – “watching another channel” -- we missed the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, which ordinarily appears on Thursday of the 12th week of ordinary time.
We missed Jesus’ parable of the houses built on rock and on sand, and Matthew’s concluding remark: When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
He was hot! Smoking! What better time to approach him and demand a miracle: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Of course he did heal the man. At that point he could have walked on water! (Wait a minute. He did walk on water!)
As I have reflected on these scripture readings the last few months I am struck again by the authority of Jesus. It is presented to us in many ways, with his signs and wonders, his challenge of authority, preference for the poor and despised, his parables, teachings, arguments and riddles. We will hear as we move into Matthew’s gospel of his prophecies and curses.
Jesus’ authority is essentially non-negotiable. You cannot know, love or respect the man unless you accept his authority over you. Jesus has friends and enemies, but no acquaintances.
His authority governs not only your public life – we’ve heard his teaching about almsgiving, prayer and fasting – but also your inmost heart. You are permitted neither to take your neighbor’s spouse or goods, nor even to covet them in your secret heart.
His authority applies to our worship on Sunday and our work on Monday. It governs our civic and familial life. It directs our diet, recreation, sexuality, close friendships and casual acquaintances, study, work and rest.
The young man Henry David Thoreau famously said, “He governs best who governs least.” That may be a fine premise for democratic governments but it does not apply to Jesus’ authority over us.
If many of our fellow citizens ignore his claims on them, we can hardly blame them. For the best of us it is frightening, breath-taking and beautiful. 

Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist

In sports, entertainment, industry, politics, religion and every other walk of life, we find ambitious people trying to get ahead. They want the top spot, the recognition with its authority, perquisites and honor. We have grown inured to the horror stories such ambition generate. Cain, King Saul, Herod, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Nixon, Madoff: every generation breeds its own monsters.
There seems to have been a moment when John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were contenders for the title of “The Prophet.” Both had followers and were becoming known throughout the narrow world of first century Judaism. Saint Luke tells us that, years after both had died, there were still isolated groups of John’s disciples who had not heard of Jesus. (Acts 18:25 & 19:1-6)But the New Testaments tells us that, upon the arrival of Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River, John honored Jesus as the greater. He said, “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.”
The scriptures and our Advent Season honor John the Baptist as a model disciple. He had the talent, ambition and opportunity to grab and hold the claim of The Prophet. He might have challenged Jesus from his position in the Jordan River. 
But without hesitation he acceded to Jesus’ ascendancy. The Holy Spirit spoke clearly to him, that he should be the bridegroom’s best man, not the bridegroom. John the Baptist taught us the essential attitude of every Christian as we serve the Lord: “He must increase; I must decrease.” 
John’s birth marks the summer solstice, the end of springtime and the peak of the sunlight season. The sun’s fadeout into fall and winter reminds us of John’s humility; the sun’s return in spring will celebrate Jesus' rising

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

After what the Church has been through in the past eight years, with a story that first erupted in the mid-1980’s and has now spread even to Rome – that place known in the Acts of the Apostles as “the ends of the earth” – it would be hard to reflect on “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing” without thinking of The Scandal.
This has been painful for everyone who cares about the Church. It is a hurt that begins with the traumatized victims and spreads to their families and friends. It passes through every rank of the hierarchical church from those in the pews to the ones behind the altar. It affects Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and irreligious friends of our faith. It reaches even those lost souls who were never abused but use the story as another reason not to sober up and return to the faith of their childhood.  
Some have considered the scandal as so great the Church has forever lost its credibility. I do not worry so much about our credibility as the victims who cannot bring themselves to experience the kindness, gentleness and pure goodness of our sacraments.
We pray daily and many times a day, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” We pray this because we fear there are situations that might hurt so badly, that might be so unbearably traumatic, that we will not be able to sustain our faith. We cannot imagine living with such pain. In the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Jesus warns us there will be trials so severe as to try “even the elect.”
In fact, the Gospel of Saint Mark described Jesus’ last agony in that way. As he died he cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” And then, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
The scandal of the cross includes his last anguished cry, an inhuman howl of despair. We dare not ignore this horror. Jesus Christ suffered such pain and shock and grief in his crucifixion that he abandoned all hope as he surrendered to God.
Saint Paul reminded us the cross is blasphemy to Jews and absurd to Greeks; that is, a scandal to the pious; and to the reasonable, sheer madness.
Without an appreciation for that horror we will not see the Glory of the cross, which includes his resurrection. God heard his cry of despair and raised him up, giving him back to us as our Lord and Savior:
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Hebrews 5:7
We must be silent before Jesus’ passion and death, reserving judgment for we hardly know what this mystery means. And we must be silent before the trauma of children-now-adults who suffered at the hands of abusive priests. We cannot deny their stories nor minimize their pain but we can hope in the inexhaustible mercy of God. There is healing in his wings. 

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

The “Golden Rule” is the Taj Mahal of Christian teaching. It affords endless reflection.
It sounds like a principle found in the Old Testament Book of Tobit, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.” I understand Tobit’s principle is also found in the teachings of Confucius also.
Parents teach their children this simple rule. “You don’t like it when someone takes your toys away from you. You don’t take toys away from your sister!”
Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.
The principle serves us well as adults. I don’t like to be cut off in traffic; I don’t do it to others. I don’t like to be ignored; I don’t ignore others. It would be very hard to live in civilized society without this basic rule of civility.
But Tobit’s rule only goes so far. It doesn’t ask me to actually do anything. It is negative: “Do not do…”
Jesus’ Golden Rule, though it sounds similar to Tobit’s, is radically different because he teaches me to act. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
I am supposed to take the initiative, and not just wait for things to happen around me.
Acting on this principle I become “like God” in that God first loved me before I knew God. This is a tremendous, astonishing and thrilling invitation. He has directed me to get creative and get going, to be a first mover of generosity.
But what should I do to others?
“Do …as you would have them to do you!”
Now I have to think, withdrawing into myself and wondering, “How would I like them to treat me?”
Do I want advice? The gospel yesterday warned against giving advice and, now that I think of it, I don’t want advice, especially when it comes within an envelope of superiority and contempt.
What do I want? Now that’s a difficult question for many of us. Growing up in large Catholic families and attending 50-kid-to-the-classroom schools, the question wasn’t asked. I knew what I wanted because I was told what I wanted, and that’s what I got!
So when Jesus tells me to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” I have to pause and think about that. I may have to wait a while for the answer to appear. We’re talking about contemplation here.
I want compassion, understanding, encouragement, support, approval. I want people to hear me, and to be with me when I need someone there for me. I want people to bear with me when I can hardly bear myself. 
I am often quite capable of figuring things out for myself, but if I had the right environment, I might arrive there sooner.
So that’s what I should do for others. First of all, be there. Show up! That’s 80% of success according to the great theologian, Woody Allen. When I am there for others, as Jesus is here for me, the other 20% will not be hard to figure out. 

Monday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

n Saint Matthew’s gospel the worse sins are hypocrisy and judgment, and they are closely related. We first encounter hypocrisy in the chilling story of King Herod: He sent them (the magi) to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."
Herod’s homage intends to kill the Child and, failing that, “He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under…”
In sharp contrast to Herod’s homage is that of the magi: They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
 Whenever we consider the tendencies to judgment and hypocrisy in our own hearts and communities, we should remember the story of King Herod.
But Jesus gives us another excellent parable today, about removing the sliver from your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own. It doesn’t make sense. How can you dare to judge another and to execute judgment on another, offering to perform this “procedure” on someone’s eye – an extremely sensitive organ – when you can barely see at all?
With this parable Jesus reminds us that offering advice is a kind of judgment. Offered by the wrong person or by the right person in the wrong spirit or at the wrong time is usually less than helpful. As Benjamin Franklin said, “No one wants advice, even when they ask for it.”
A rule of thumb for offering advice: Is it true, is it helpful, and is it kind?  If the suggestion fails on any count, it should not be given. We might add the conditions of welcome and timely. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have rarely regretted the things I did not say.”
Faith teaches us to let God be the judge because God is infinitely more merciful and more just than any of us. God alone has no log in his eye; God alone sees clearly what each person needs to know, and when.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s gospel passage from Saint Luke originally appeared almost word for word in Saint Mark’s gospel. Saint Luke added one telling word, daily.

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Four times in the opening chapters of his gospel, Saint Luke told us of Mary’s contemplation. She wondered what the angel’s greeting meant. She hurried thoughtfully to Jerusalem. She pondered the birth of Jesus and the shepherds’ visit. She kept all these things in her heart. Throughout the years of Jesus’ childhood the First Disciple meditated on this wonderful child -- daily.
Surely all parents feel the invitation to contemplate their children’s lives. It comes with urgency. She will never lose her first tooth again. He will never capture his first grasshopper again. Did you notice when it happened? Mary did.
As intensifying technologies overwhelm our minds with more and more critical information, demanding ever faster decisions, the suggestion that "We should stop and think it over" or "Let's sleep on it” seems sheer madness. There’s no time for that!
And yet grace insists that we must live each day as it comes, thoughtfully, gratefully, wisely and with appreciation. There will never be another day like today. There will never be a better day than today. Now is the only time we have.

Daily in this Gospel passage means that the crosses we often have to bear are not the overwhelming disasters. True, there are many of them in our lives. They are too heavy to carry, but they don't come daily.
Our daily crosses are the little aggravations that turn simple tasks into major chores. I get everything together and walk out to the car and search my pockets and I left my car keys in the house, which I locked behind me. I tell my old friend  again how to send an email. I clean up again after somebody else.
Can I remember that as I make small sacrifices for others, they are making small sacrifices for me? We're all in this together and we continually help each other, and usually with neither thanks nor recognition.
Can we bear those crosses gracefully? Can we keep breathing softly through them all, confident that, in eternity, they really won’t matter? If we can, when the big crosses fall on us, we’ll be ready to let God handle them too.
Happy Fathers Day

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

If you want to visit someone who never worries, visit the cemetery. But the rest of us worry. It seems to come with our innate human ability to anticipate the future. Other animals experience anxiety, especially when they’re placed in unfamiliar or stressful settings. But we human beings worry about things even when the threats are remote, unlikely and implausible.
Jesus consistently teaches us, “Do not be afraid.” He points to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Aren’t they beautiful? Look how God provides for them. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me.
This teaching is aimed specifically at his disciples. All human beings worry but Jesus gathers us to himself and reassures us. So long as our goals are God’s goals; and our aims, God’s aims, there is no cause for worry.
It’s only when we ponder those things that seem unimportant to God that we worry. “This is what I want! This is what I must have, regardless of God’s intentions.” That’s worrisome.
It doesn’t help when well-intentioned, but foolish people speak of “God’s will” when tragedy strikes. The expression takes on morbid and terrifying dimensions.
God intends only good for us. If we say “God’s will” when bad things happen, we should dance for joy and sing “God wills it!” when blessings fall on us. So as to counter the damage done by the former expression.
Jesus provides for his disciples as he sends them into the world. They will have all they need as they announce the good news to friends, acquaintances, strangers and enemies. So don’t worry about tomorrow. God will be there, just as he was yesterday and is today.

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

The story is told that Saint Anthony attended a funeral of a wealthy, wicked man. For whatever reason the mourners discovered to their horror the man’s heart was not in his chest where it belonged. Why they would discover this is not told. In any case, Saint Anthony told them to look in the coffers rather than the coffin. Sure enough, there it was tucked away amid the gold and silver coins.
“Where your heart is, there also will be your treasure.”

As I understand there are four kinds of capital. Economists, political scientists, sociologists and wiser leaders know this. Money is the least important of the four. Intellectual capital (knowledge, ability, training, experience, etc.) and social capital (How well do people know one another? How well do they work together and trust one another?) are far more important than financial wealth. A society can experience severe recessions and bounce back easily provided they have the know-how and the confidence in one another.
On the other hand, a society like many of the oil-rich nations, stratified and largely illiterate, suffers endemic poverty despite its enormous financial wealth. When the oil runs out they collapse. 
But the most important form of wealth is virtue. Are people honest? Can you get ahead without cheating? Can you deal with your government without bribery? Do school test scores mean anything?
The story is told of Louisiana’s Governor Huey Long. He had appointed a fellow to inspect warehouses. The man, probably someone’s brother in law, actually went about inspecting warehouses, writing reports and making trouble! The Governor called him in and told him in no uncertain terms, “Your job is to collect your pay check! Period!”
An honest society trusts one another, invests wisely in knowledge and builds a prosperous nation.
The scriptures do no hesitate to describe as fools those who invest unwisely, and the worst investment is placing your heart in wealth.  

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

The “Our Father” is probably the most popular formal prayer on earth. That’s due in part to the genius of its style. A series of short, dense phrases easily translates into any language as a series of short, dense phrases, and ideal for group recitation. On Pentecost Sunday, some years ago, I joined with forty people speaking twenty-five different languages all praying the Lord’s Prayer together. We began each phrase together and finished the prayer with one voice. It was beautiful.
Recited during every Mass and twice a day during the Liturgy of the Hours, and repeated incessantly during the Rosary, Jesus’ prayer continually teaches us to pray. We learn:
  • That we stand together
  • Before our one God whom we call Father
  • Who lives in heaven, that destined place of peace, joy, and contentment.
  • Jesus has taught us to pray for what God wants with the seven petitions that follow.
  • We pray that God’s name be hallowed – known and blessed – in all the universe.
  • We pray that God’s kingdom will come. It must come. Though the world has largely abandoned kingship in favor of representative governments, we long for the day when all people will want justice, mercy; and all people will act rightly.
  • We pray that God’s will be done. Facing imminent death, Jesus prayed in anguish, “not mine but thine be done.” With the Our Father we learn to pray with him.
  • And we look forward to that day when God’s will will be done on earth. The Book of Revelation describes Satan’s expulsion from heaven. He has power on the earth, but not for long.
  • Jesus’ prayer reminds us that, like the birds in the air, we rely on God for our daily bread. Though we certainly reap and gather into barns, the recent financial collapse should have reminded us how quickly a life-time of accumulated wealth can vanish.
  • Nor dare we forget our sins. “The good man falls seven times a day.” We have no excuse for our sins, but we need no excuse. We should only confess them and turn back to God time and time again. If old age finally deprives us of most of our sinful tendencies, at least we won’t be like the old fools who still think they’re young.
  • But Jesus insists we must forgive others as we ask God’s forgiveness. No mercy will be shown to the merciless. God is infinitely merciful but he will not be conned.
  • Finally, we remember how weak we are. Under certain circumstances the most courageous and devout among us will sell out. As Robert Walpole said, “Every man has his price.” We pray that we will not be led into such a test, but that God will deliver us from evil.
  • For everything – the kingdom, the power, and the glory – is God’s.
  • Amen!

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

In today’s gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the formula “when you… do not…” to speak of righteous deeds, praying and fasting. These were traditional practices of devout Jews.
It appears that Saint Matthew borrowed this passage from another source and inserted the Lord’s Prayer into the paragraph about prayer. It is good that the Lectionary restores its original shape.
The formula emphasizes the authority of Jesus. “When you…. Do not…. Amen, Amen I say to you…. But when you…. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
Clearly he is giving us a new law, and an entirely new way of thinking. If you ever thought that appearing righteous before your neighbors impresses your God, think again. Jesus has come from heaven to tell us that God is wise to our foolishness.
Which, when you think about it, is good news. Would you want a God who is so gullible, so pliable, so seducible? Is it not better to have a God who penetrates the darkest secrets of our hearts, smokes us out of our hiding closets, and invites us into the daylight of his grace?
Jesus’ invitation is friendly, persuasive and irresistible. It is also demanding, frightening and persistent. I am reminded of John Donne’s sonnet:
Batter my heart, three-personed God: for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit You, but O, to no end;
Reason, Your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again;
Take me to You, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
                        John Donne

Jesus has come to save us at the cost of his very life. He will use every ounce of his authority to persuade us to trust him. Yes it is that important. Yes, you are that important to him. 

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

On Sunday we heard these dreadful words from 2 Samuel:
Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me.
In today’s reading from the 1 Kings, we hear how the curse hung over the House of David: For this, the Lord says: In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, the dogs shall lick up your blood, too.’”

In both stories, God forgives the king when he repents of his wicked deed, but his curse persists. In today's more secular parlance, we call the effect "consequences." 

Parents must continually teach their children that every act has its consequences. They are often astonished at how short-sighted their (other-wise brilliant) children are. But small children cannot even follow the ins and outs of a simple story. They don't put two and two together to make four. 
Recent studies of the developing human brain indicate that, well into our teenage and young adult years, human beings have a hard time thinking of consequences. Under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or cigarettes, not to mention sexual desire, it is almost impossible to “stop and think it over.”
More frightening are the long term effects of this misbehavior: psychological and spiritual maturation effectively stops when a child starts using recreational drugs. It will not resume, if ever, until he sobers up.
King David, eying Bathsheba in all her splendor, never supposed his grandchildren might suffer from his impulsiveness.
But there is good news too. Our good deeds also live on through eternity.
For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.

In the ongoing discussion about this verse – the discussion that began with Jesus and will continue until the end of time – questions usually begin with “What if…?”
What if my enemy beats me up? What if my enemy ravages my mother? What if my enemy kills my family? What if…?
All of those what-ifs are supposed to add up to a good reason to ignore Jesus’ teaching, even when they are not very plausible.
In response I ask other questions:
How often does a homeowner have to stand in his front yard to defend his family against The Enemy? When was the last time you did it? True, you see it happen in movies all the time. It makes great entertainment; but how plausible is that scenario?  
We often think of enemies as imaginary people who live far, far away and the farther the better. We can hate, resist, sabotage and destroy them with neither remorse nor regret since they are Evil. God has decreed they are evil and I certainly agree with God!
But if we remove the implausible questions and the unbridgeable gap between us and our enemies, we soon find they’re just folks with different aims and identical fears.
Far more often I deal with my loved ones, coworkers and neighbors as if they’re the enemy – and I offer fierce resistance.
I believe that if we address the people who are close at hand – family, coworkers, and neighbors – welcoming their hopes, dreams, fears, ambitions and so forth – allowing them to speak, and allowing misunderstandings to be clarified, we might never need to deal with the extreme situations, the so-called what-ifs.
Permit me an undocumented quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“The easiest enemy to deal with is the British. My own people are far more difficult. But the deadliest enemy of all, the most implacable, sinister, unscrupulous and insidious is myself.”