Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God.
Among men, who knows what pertains to the man
except his spirit that is within?
Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.
We have not received the spirit of the world
but the Spirit who is from God…

Saint Paul alludes to the mysterious depths of human experience as he presents his notion of the Holy Spirit. I say “notion” because the Scriptures do not give us a consistent doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That there is such a mystery called the Holy Spirit is often cited but never defined. The scriptures don’t even refer to the “Holy Spirit” with any consistency. It may be Spirit or fire or blessing or power or logos or innumerable other words.

“Who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within?” What really goes on in the mind of your spouse, child or parent? Do you think you know everything there is to know about him or her? Do you know how he feels about work, people, play, prayer, or affection? You might have a pretty good idea of what that person thinks, but where do those thoughts come from? How are they formed?
When I presided over Eucharistic Devotion during our weekend retreats in Minnesota, I would place my prayer bench in front of the altar and sit there for a half hour, as the congregation sat behind me. I kept my eyes closed; a kitchen timer signaled the end of the allotted thirty minutes.
Was I praying? Or was I just waiting out the time? Could anyone tell the difference? Was I sincere in my attempts to lead the contemplation, or just making a show of it?
If someone apologizes to you, is he sorry for what he did? How can you tell? How deep does that remorse run? Will it change his future behavior? What makes you think so – or not?
“Who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within?” And even that may not be reliable, for the man may have fooled himself.
In our relations with others we often have to live by faith, and let both satisfaction and disappointment shape our experience of them.

Likewise in our encounter with God we let the Holy Spirit shape our hopes, desires, expectations and beliefs. We cannot know what to believe about God except by a lifetime of experience. A religious tradition teaches us to pay attention to here or there, to expect this or that; but only the Spirit who knows the depths of God can reveal God to us.
Likewise, trusted others within the Church – parents, family, ministers and catechists – offer their own experience of God; but their testimony only raises expectations which God’s spirit might fill.

In the end we live by faith, a mute faith which waits upon God, struggles to find words and longs to prove itself worthy of trust. 

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit and power,

Father Juniper Cummings, one of my mentors and still one of the grandest men of my Franciscan community, once observed, “Faith is not taught; it is caught.”
Today’s passage from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians recalls his failure to teach about Jesus in Athens. The eager young missionary had arrived in the intellectual capital of the world thinking he could introduce Jesus Christ to the wizards with persuasive arguments. These philosophers had little use for religion in general but would listen to new ideas. He did pretty well until he announced that the crucified Christ had been raised from the dead. At which point they walked away.
If it was ridiculous that they should follow a crucified hero, they’re worshipping a resurrected messiah was beyond ludicrous.
Arriving in the less sophisticated city of Corinth, Saint Paul took a different tack. He would skip the wise argumentation and demonstrate his faith with spirit and power.  

How exactly he did that I don’t know, but I know the two ways we demonstrate the spirit and power of Jesus today.
The first is with our communal worship. We encounter Jesus face to face in the Eucharist. As the baptized gather with a willing and obedient spirit the Lord speaks to our hearts. Though our thinking, questioning minds might need instruction, our hearts are content to rest in his presence.
Secondly, we demonstrate our spirit and power by our good works. No one is persuaded to faith by arguments. Arguing religion may be the most absurd waste of time yet devised. But people come to faith when they see the joyous, spontaneous, eager generosity of Christians. That is irrefutable proof of the goodness of God.
Just as Corinthians were persuaded by Saint Paul’s demonstrations of spirit and power, so do people come to faith today when they encounter people like you and me. 

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

When I was four or five years old my brother Bob was introduced to the dinner table, and my sister Mary Lou took his place in the high chair. As the first-born I took it upon myself to initiate Bob in the ways of our table:
“If you want more milk, Bob, you bang it on the table like this (bang, bang) and Mom will give you milk.”
Suddenly my mother spoke up. Perhaps she had never noticed what was developing as she and Dad enjoyed their adult conversations across the dinner table:
“That’s not how we do it! From now on, if you want more milk you say, ‘Please, may I have more milk?” and when you get your milk you say, “Thank you.”
It seemed like a lot of bother to me.
But I was to learn an important lesson from that, the rituals of please and thank you. They are fundamental to everything we know about being Christian and being human. Our training as human beings begins at the dinner table. Civility, courtesy, generosity, gratitude, sharing, equality, respect, reverence, patience, honesty, listening: the list goes on and on.
So when Jesus comments about the Pharisees’ rush for placement at the table, he is not simply teaching what his mother taught him. He is linking the ways of God with our human ways.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

Perhaps I will be forgiven for a momentary harangue when I worry that the disappearance of the family meal – along with the locking of our churches against private prayer – signals the End of the World as We Know it. A family without a family meal hardly deserves the title. They are only boarders in a transients' motel.

A Family gathers and sits at the table to eat together. Everyone knows his place and takes his place. The table has already been "set” with plates, glasses, cups or mugs, flatware and napkins. The food and drink is on the table. Television, radio, telephones (both stationary and cellular) and computers are turned off. Grace is offered. The food is passed around the table in serving bowls, platters and pitchers until everyone is fed. No one has too much; no one has too little. Conversation begins as the family eats together, but no one talks with his mouth full of food. That’s when he or she listens to others.
Words such as please, thank you and May I are liberally used. Infractions of courtesy are pointed out and corrected. If the meal is taken in a restaurant the rules do not change, though the menu may be more varied. 
Conversation remains polite even when the participants disagree about politics, religion or sports. There is no excuse for insult or argumentation; differences are welcome. Everyone’s intelligence is respected even when opinions seem immature or ill-considered. Expressions of endearment are doled out generously and in large dollops, lest the spiritual needs of anyone be neglected. 

The family meals celebrates the family which cannot exist without ceremony. During the family meal Jesus presides at the table and heaven comes to earth.

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise,
and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong,
and God chose the lowly and despised of the world,
those who count for nothing,
to reduce to nothing those who are something,
so that no human being might boast before God.

Christians and Jews share with Muslims a vision of God as supreme beyond all measure. God is Holy, Powerful, Wise, Compassionate, Generous and Gentle beyond anything any human being can begin to understand.
If the reader of Genesis hasn’t seen it yet, after the stories of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood, there is that sparkling little detail in the story of Babel.
The Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men had built.
Then the Lord said: "If now, while they are one people, all speaking the same language, they have started to do this, nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume to do.
Let us then go down and there confuse their language, so that one will not understand what another says."

Notice that the Lord goes down twice to inspect the highest tower the Babelites could build, first to get a look at it. And then he goes farther down to confuse their language. The point being: God is far above our human plane, and from that perspective -- up there -- all human beings are the same height, and very, very small.
On our own plane we might think of some people as better than others. Worse, we might see ourselves as better than some, but not as good as others. But Genesis assures us, “God is so far above, he cannot see the difference!”

When he does come down, in the person of Jesus, he chooses to be the weakest and the meekest; and to associate with the lowly and the foolish. By his life and death he undoes the powerful, the proud and the wise. The wise in the Lord will know enough to avoid the pinnacles of vanity, pride and arrogance. If the Lord places anyone in a powerful position among the sons and daughters of earth, that one must remember the dirt from which we come and avoid the catastrophe of Babel. 

Memorial of Saint Monica

Crucifix in St Francis de Sales Church
in Beckley, West Virginia

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim
Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

I often find myself reflecting on Saint Paul’s “theology of the cross.”
First of all, it is astonishing that Christians would celebrate Jesus’ crucifixion even while Roman soldiers continued to crucify men and women. It seems strange to many of our Protestant brothers and sisters that Catholics honor not just the cross but a crucifix with the image of the body of Jesus on it. But that ancient Christians should celebrate his crucifixion with such intensity even while this form of execution was still used and all too familiar, is almost too hard to imagine. 
As I understand crucifixion was a particularly effective way to suppress dissidence in the subject cities of the empire. The sight of a naked man or woman, likely a well-known citizen, suspended in mid-air, near a heavily traveled road, begging passersby for help – was enough to silence most opposition to Roman occupation. The empire had its faults, as all governments do, but they weren’t enough to stir rebellion among the comfortable leaders.
Dissidents were just trouble-makers and every city has them regardless of the economic, social, religious or political situation. When they were arrested, tried and crucified few would sympathize with them. Meanwhile they brought shame and horror on their fellow citizens who had to hear and see and smell the agony of their slow death. 
There was nothing  beautiful about crucifixion. It was designed to suppress every thought of lionizing the victim as a martyr. By the time he was finally dead, perhaps a week or more after being placed on his cross, the citizenry was glad to be rid of him. 

But Saint Paul and his fellow evangelists celebrated the power and the wisdom of the cross as we do to this day. Only their conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead and revealed in glory as the Son of God can explain their “conversion” from horror to hope.

The cross is a way for us. It doesn’t make sense in most ways that can be readily explained; it challenges and invites us to contemplation and sacrifice. It silences us with its terrible majesty, just as the voice of God silenced Peter when he said, “Let’s set up three booths here.”  

I understand “stumbling block to Jews” to mean, the cross is scandalous to the pious. It is sacrilegious, even blasphemous to speak of crucifying God. As horrible as Mel Gibson’s depiction of Jesus’ suffering was, I had to notice the incongruity of their leaving a polite loincloth around his waist. The director who wanted to make a realistic movie about Jesus' death, pushing the envelope as far as he could with simulated brutality, would not scandalize the pious with realistic nudity. 
The cross is foolishness to the Greeks. Because Greece was the intellectual center of the Roman empire, Paul’s “Greeks” are those who pursue the wisdom of this world. Crucifixion will never sound like “common sense.” It makes no sense. Why would “Almighty God” who has the power to make all things new and good and right in the twinkling of an eye allow his only begotten son to be crucified? What good can come of that?
We still ask ourselves that question today as we make more mundane sacrifices for our loved ones, our neighbors, and even our enemies. What good will come of that?

The cross is the way in which Jesus leads us. It is still scandalous to the pious, absurd to the wise and delightful to us. 

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Paul, called to be an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
and Sosthenes our brother,
to the Church of God that is in Corinth,
to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,
with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Biblical times, Corinth was a port city on the Ionian Sea (see map). When ocean-going ships -- not yet blessed with telescopes, compasses or sextants -- stayed in sight of the land and pulled into ports at night, Corinth offered a shortcut around the enormous Peloponnesus peninsula. Stevedores unloaded the boats and carted the merchandise over the hump to the Aegean Sea.
Necessarily the city hosted people from the entire Mediterranean basin, from Spain to Egypt, from Rome to Tyre and Carthage. Rich and poor, black and white, every language and every religion of every race gathered in the marketplace with currencies of every sort. There they enjoyed shopping, politics, religion and entertainment. Corinth must have been a pretty exciting place where the lucky could get rich and the foolish could be destroyed overnight. Rank meant nothing in such a place where clever women, foreigners and slaves might have enormous influence.
Christianity found a ready welcome there among the Jews and gentiles, but Saint Paul often tore his hair out with the wild ideas that cropped up in his peculiar congregation. And so he reminds them of their calling: who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy…

As America has also become a crossroads of the world’s ideas, languages, technologies, students, tourists, migrants and religions we should pay attention to Saint Paul and his letters to the Corinthians. Catholics especially should remember we are called to be holy in a multicultural environment. Pining for the good old days when the world was more familiar will not address our current situation. 

If we do not strive for holiness, there is no reason to be here. If we do not somehow reflect the presence of Holiness to our fellow citizens, there is no reason to cling to any particular customs or identity.

During my VA chaplain training session in Hampton Virginia, the question was asked, “Do people hold the chaplain to a higher standard?”
Of course they do!
Should they?

Do people hold Catholics to a higher standard?
Perhaps they don’t.
Should they?
They have every right to expect better of us. We have the Blessed Sacrament in our churches. We have a liturgy that is celebrated continuously – one single living prayer of the one Church – at every hour of every day, in most nations of the world, in union with the angels, saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Jesus Christ as our priest. 

They expect us to honor the needs of the homeless, imprisoned, uneducated, disrespected and confused, just as the rain falls on the good and the bad, the sun shines on the just and unjust.
Ours is a very high calling. Let's pray on that. 

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

With admirable courtesy, Beckley WV welcomes
Muslims to their final resting place.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

We instruct you, brothers and sisters,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to shun any brother
who walks in a disorderly way
and not according to the tradition they received from us.

The Christian finds herself walking a razor’s edge between the hypocrisy denounced by Jesus in today’s gospel, and the liberality Saint Paul denounced in his second letter to the Thessalonians.
If I “shun” certain people in my neighborhood, school, workplace or church, I run the risk of being called a hypocrite. If I socialize with them, I run the risk of endorsing and perhaps adopting their values.
The dilemma is more difficult for parents who want to guide their children away from bad influences and yet teach them not to be too quick to judge.
The answer, if there is one, is found in the pursuit of integrity. I understand that word to mean, “I am what I pretend to be.” If I say I am Catholic, I attend Mass at least once a week, pray daily, tithe, and participate in the life of my parish in some way.
Integrity, however, is a process, like integration. Throughout our lives we are challenged to integrate our learning and experience into a coherent story. Failure to do so can disintegrate a person.
I think especially of the returning soldier who must come to terms with what he did and what he saw in the war zone. These incidents make no sense; they don’t fit the soldier’s personal history, or the story of his family, church and neighborhood. Nor can anyone understand what he remembers so vividly. Those tours of duty are alien to the soldier, but utterly real. He or she can neither forget them nor ignore them; the memories leap up frequently before his eyes, sometimes blinding him to the people around him.
Everyone faces that dilemma in some way, though usually not with the agony of PTSD. The Sacrament of Reconciliation might be called a Sacrament of Integration. As we acknowledge and confess our sins we enter the process of integrity. Often we must admit we have no excuse for what we’ve done: “I did it; I should not have; I knew it was wrong at the time but I did it anyway.”
The New Testament prophet Zechariah celebrated the Birth of John the Baptist with:
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins….
God gives us Integrity/salvation as we accept forgiveness of our sins. Even the most heinous crimes make sense in the story of my life. I am neither proud nor ashamed of them. But the memory of them helps me to appreciate the superabundant goodness of God. 
It is so high you can't get over it; so low you can't under it, so wide you can't get around it. 

Feast of Saint Bartholomew

One family's grave site
in the Cemetery in Beckley, WV
The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

Whichever Vatican committee that selected today’s first reading for the feast of Saint Bartholomew surely had a sense of humor. We can only wish that the seer John of Patmos, who is credited with writing the Book of Revelation, had taken the trouble to write down the “twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb” when he saw the vision. That would have ended a lot of disputes before they began.
There are several lists in the New Testament: Saint Mark names "the twelve;” Saint Luke names “twelve disciples;” and Saint Matthew alone uses the expression, "the twelve apostles.” For the most part they agree on who they were. 
Saint John has no list though he names many disciples of Jesus. Bartholomew appears in Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Acts of the Apostles; but not in John. Instead we have Nathanial. The same person? Who knows?
For the sake of simplicity, the Roman calendar considers them the same person. So on this feast of Saint Bartholomew we hear the passage from Saint John's Gospel that concerns the  disciple Nathaniel. 

If you’ve ever seen a picture of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment – and you certainly have – Bartholomew is represented as the horrible image on the right side of the picture. According to legend he was skinned alive; what you’re seeing there is his blessed skin. (It is also a self-portrait of the painter who was still complaining about this painting project he didn’t want in the first place.)
So now perhaps you know two things that you didn’t know when you got up this morning.

On this feast of Saint Bartholomew/Nathaniel we pray that each of us may have the Saint's  simplicity of heart as when he first met the Lord, and that he will protect us from scrapes, bruises and diseases of the skin. 

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

St Francis De Sales Church
in Beckley, West Virginia

(The) persecutions and the afflictions you endure (are) evidence of the just judgment of God, so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God for which you are suffering.

Saint Paul was a master of turning lemons to lemonade. In fact he probably invented the technique as he contemplated the cross.
Beginning with the Resurrection of Jesus after that dreadful Friday, Saint Paul saw that every inconvenience and every pain and every disappointment could be reinterpreted as a blessing. As “things like scales fell from his eyes” he saw with amazing clarity. He would never again read events in the usual human ways; rather, he would see with the eyes of God in an entirely new and unexpected way. Two millennia later, as we have learned to see his way we might think, “Well, of course!” but it was not obvious then; and for most people today, still is not obvious.
Saint Paul taught the Thessalonians in this second letter that their suffering is “evidence” of God’s justice and mercy. Their enduring the trial; waiting for deliverance; learning neither to complain too much; nor to carry a heavy heart of disappointment and irritability; would prove them worthy of Jesus’ cross.
Eventually some Christians, perhaps these very Thessalonians, would be murdered for their faith; and the church would learn to honor them as martyrs. Recovering from the shock of seeing their co-religionists slain, they would see through their horror the beauty, glory and authority of Jesus Christ in their death.

Saint Paul still invites us today to see in our own afflictions “the evidence of the just judgment of God.” True, we are not persecuted for our faith. In many cases we are admired. But there is no end of troubles; every generation breeds its own kind.
As Americans live longer we are more afflicted with chronic illnesses. They’re the kind that are never cured. They just make us miserable until we welcome them as a participation in the suffering of Christ.
  • If marriages end in divorce more often than they end in death, the suffering of divorce is no less a cross which might shine with the glory of Easter.
  • If I have brought on my own suffering with my reckless lifestyle – COPD that comes of smoking; skin cancer, from sun bathing; diabetes, borne of overeating – the suffering is nonetheless real.
  • There is nothing to be gained by regret, but the soul can welcome these chronic illnesses as a participation in the suffering of Christ.

That willingness to make lemonade of lemons is the Tau on the forehead of God’s elect, an Ash Wednesday sign of grace. 

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary time

Horse pastures near Lexington, Kentucky

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough. 

I met a veteran who doubted the existence of God. It’s not only an old question; it’s old fashioned, meaning passé! By the time he arrived in the hospital he had made his choice – “There is no God” – and since he was listed as a Catholic I prayed for him anyway. He told me his family is Catholic and I’m sure they include their eccentric kin in their prayers as readily as the church does.
The question we want answered today is not “Is there a God?” but “Does God love me?” That’s closer to the heart of the matter.
The church has a simple answer to that, the one Jesus gave to the disciples of John the Baptist: “Come and see.”
There is only so much we can say with words. How many times can a husband reassure his anxious wife; or a parent, her child with words? If there is some reason they cannot hear the words, if they will not let the reassuring word sink into their consciousness and heal that deep insecurity, there is not much the lover can do.
So Jesus teaches us the discipline of love. He has demonstrated his love in so many ways, beginning with his incarnation and perfecting it with his passion, death and resurrection. He has given us the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as the most perfect sign of his love.
But we have to practice hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and knowing God’s love:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines…

That discipline is the daily practice of prayer. Visiting Saint Meinrad’s Monastery recently I saw a sign that read something like: “If prayer isn’t the most important thing in your life, you’ll never find time for it.”
Prayer is not a hobby. It’s not a pastime. It’s not what we do when our family, our friends, our job and our pets allow us a few minutes of extra time.
Prayer is eating. You probably remember the last time you went a whole day without food, and it probably was not recently. But the last time you went a day without prayer?
Prayer is breathing. We cannot live without it. Given the choice of eating or breathing; visiting friends or breathing; making a phone call or breathing; feeding your pet or breathing – which will you choose?
Prayer is sleep; it is companionship; it is the essential element of our life.
In today’s first reading, Isaiah prophecies:
They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the Lord…
Prayer may not seem so important to our neighbors and friends. That’s not for you or me to judge. But Isaiah assures us, on that day “the nations” will bring us to Jerusalem to speak for them. They rely on our daily prayer. We are God’s sign to the nations of his perfect and all surpassing love.

Memorial of Pius X, pope

Son of man, this is where my throne shall be,
this is where I will set the soles of my feet;
here I will dwell among the children of
Israel forever.

Imagine what would happen if the Lord were to send your whole church elsewhere. What difference would it make to your neighbors?
  • Someone would surely complain about the loss of tax revenue. All those taxpaying citizens of your church will have left.
  • Your patronage of local stores, gas stations, banks and other industries vanish, and with you the money you bring to your community.  
  • You will also take your professional skills, lowering the “knowledge capital” in your economic region. It's a lot easier to replace money than it is to replace knowledge and experience. 
  • The leaders your church gives to the local political scene will go with you. Many public officials in this country attend some church. They know that politics is often played like hard ball, but with their church’s support they practice the art of politics honorably.
  • Your participation in volunteer organizations – schools, hospitals, church, parks, libraries and so forth – gone. No more programs for the elderly or children or people with disabilities.
  • You're also taking artistic abilities with you – gardening, decorating, sculpting, painting, singing, dancing and so forth. The arts would survive without you, but what values would they celebrate? 
  • Finally, your church will take your virtue with you, which we can suppose is higher than the median level of virtue in the community. The neighborhood’s standards of virtue must inevitably slip as there is less honesty, friendliness, helpfulness and security.

But in fact the Lord has sent you and your church from Jerusalem to live where you are, to be his sacred presence there. He has declared about your church:
Son of man, this is where my throne shall be,
this is where I will set the soles of my feet;
here I will dwell among the children of
Israel forever.
Thank God you are there!  

Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"

Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
Ezekiel cried, "Dem dry bones!"
"Oh, hear the word of the Lord."

I’m sure the Jews who found themselves removed from Jerusalem to Babylon, aching for their lost city and the old ways, enjoyed Ezekiel’s song as much as we do, and found it just as comical. A good preacher sometimes lambastes his congregation for their sins; sometimes he comforts them in their grief; and sometimes he makes them laugh at themselves and their pitiful condition.
“Can these bones rise?” Early enough to get ready for work? To get the children off to school? To spend some quiet time in prayer before the day begins?
I’m reminded of the old woman who got up with several men every morning: Baby Ben woke her up, Arthur-itis wanted her to stay in bed; Will Power made her get up and Ben-Gay gave her some relief. Can these bones rise?
Of course, Ezekiel was encouraging his people, the disbanded nation of Judah, not just the weary old woman. They felt both helpless and hopeless. Their future had disappeared, their past was fading, and their present was bleak.
And yet God was with them. God’s spirit moved through the alien trees of Babylon, his breath whirled over the marshes and flatlands of Mesopotamia, just as God had shown himself in Israel. Little by little the people stirred to life. They collected and copied their scriptures, revised their liturgies, identified which foods they might eat according to their religious traditions, and taught everything to their children. If they could not dance in the Temple around the Ark of the Covenant, they could dance in the synagogues with the Torah in their arms. If they could not point to the sacred places so familiar to the Bible, they could keep the sacred hours of the Sabbath.
As Jesus would rise from the dead many years later with a new and transfigured body, the Jewish religion rose from the ashes of Jerusalem to bring their renewed and sacred presence to the world.

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Hence I ask, did they stumble so as to fall? Of course not! But through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous.
Now if their transgression is enrichment for the world, and if their diminished number is enrichment for the Gentiles, how much more their full number.
Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them.
For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11: 11-15)

At one time the English considered driving all the Jews out of England. Like just about every other Christian nation, when the rulers needed someone to blame, they elected the Jews. But someone remembered Saint Paul’s prophecy that the Jews would be gathered into Christianity before the end time. If there were none in England, English Christians might miss the signal. So they were allowed to stay.
If I were a historian I might study the history of this mysterious passage and how it affected Jewish-Christian relations. As I understand there were similar incidents and convoluted controversies in medieval Germany, Portugal and France. The Spanish wondered if a Jewish population might be transported to a distant island where they could await the Lord's coming without interfering in the Christian world. The “Jewish Question” is very old and not one of Christianity's prettier stories.
I think Saint Paul was only speaking with his usual enthusiasm; perhaps blue skying when he penned that notion to the Romans. He didn’t suppose that scripture scholars would pore over his meaning for centuries to come, nor that it would define an eschatological niche for the Jewish people. Mostly he was pondering the mystery of why some people accept the Gospel and others do not.
Today, as we consider the role of Jews in Salvation History we must be grateful to them and for them. They received, nurtured and treasured the Word that was born of Mary in the person of Jesus.  
As we heard in today's first readin,g Ezekiel prophesied, Thus the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

Through Jesus, Mary and the Twelve Apostles God has certainly proven his holiness. In that moment of time the Jewish nation blossomed with the fairest flowers the world has ever seen. We pray that by our Christian conduct – and especially by our reverence for Jewish people -- God will again prove his holiness to the nations.