Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time


Dancing with my niece Becky
on her wedding day

But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.

Happy Halloween to you! So far as I can tell most Catholics are comfortable with Halloween. Besides the fact that it anticipates All Saints Day, which people might otherwise forget, it’s a celebration of our fearlessness in a sometimes frightening world.
Speaking of which, don’t forget to hold your nose and vote on Tuesday.  Living in the same world where Jesus was born, we know we have to compromise in order to practice our faith. In an imperfect world there are no perfect choices.
Remember that the candidates who run for lower offices today might run for higher office tomorrow, so study them well and choose carefully. Your votes for mayoral councils and school boards are ones that make a difference.
And now back to our regular homily:

Whenever I come to this gospel story I remember a second grade class in which the children reenacted the Conversion of Zacchaeus. The smallest girl played Jesus; the smallest boy played Zacchaeus; and I was the tree. Because they were the smallest children in the class they seemed to have a liking for one another. Perhaps it was the first time either had been allowed to play a special role. In any case, when the little “Jesus” saw the tiny “Zacchaeus” sitting on my shoulders her eyes shone with happiness and affection. It was easy to see how the Lord could love such a charming fellow, regardless of the crowd around him.
The gospel is about forgiveness. It’s about God’s willingness to forgive in every case and our reluctance to forgive except in certain rare instances. If the sinner has done nothing terribly serious; or if he has truly shown his remorse and demonstrated repentance; and if there is something to be gained by reconciliation such as the reuniting of a family: we might forgive. The more compassionate among us might even make allowance for the foolishness of youth and the wisdom of maturity.
But our forgiveness is usually qualified by caution and conditions. As we say, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Which of us is prepared to forgive seventy times seventy times?
I’ve always thought the Pharisees were onto something when they questioned Jesus, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Forgiveness is an act of God; it is a breath of the Holy Spirit which flows through us, especially when we consider how often we have sinned and been forgiven.
The best and most popular confessor-priests I have known were those whose sins were all too well known. I remember dear Father S whose health was destroyed by alcohol. His last bottle of beer put him in a coma for three weeks. His past was not exactly an open book but I had the feeling there was no sin I could confess that he had not committed twenty years before. By the grace of God he had come to peace with himself. He spoke with authority when he administered the Sacrament of Penance; his joy was generous and his affection, heartfelt.
Our Sacraments show us the overwhelming holiness of God in the light of our inexcusable sins. As we confess our sins, we remember the enormity of God’s generosity:
Grandpa's delight
Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
The Sacraments of Penance permit us to show compassion to one another time and again, and to work with one another in a less-than-perfect world.

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time


My sister, her daughter
& a friend.

I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.


Cresting the hump of sixty years, ministering to younger Veterans who are dying of old age, hearing of the death of former classmates and friends, confronted with the challenge of writing an “advance directive” --  I do not know which I shall choose.

I am a pretty healthy fellow. I don’t mind thinking about death in the abstract. It’s a wonderful topic for theological reflection. But contemplating the possibility of unforeseen transplants – heart, liver, lung or limb – and decisions about intubation, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, colostomy, tube feeding – blessings I see given to younger men than me – give me pause. What would I choose if it comes to that?

Saint Paul considered his options as he waited out his incarceration in another city jail. (He doesn’t tell us which.) Eventually he would be released but he didn’t know that when he wrote this letter. Given the violent death of Saint Stephen – which he witnessed – and several Christians of his acquaintance; and given the violence he had already suffered he half-expected martyrdom. But as an inveterate traveler he might also expect shipwreck, accidents, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, starvation or murder on the highway. It didn’t much matter to him.

My sister Cathy and brother David
with bubbles
Saint Paul had surrendered his life to Jesus and would follow the Lamb wherever he went. In our own day, given our duties of freedom and individual choice, we must anticipate and make decisions about our approaching death. Filling out these forms we should breathe the Spirit of Saint Paul,
My eager expectation and hope
is that I shall not be put to shame in any way,
but that with all boldness, now as always,
Christ will be magnified in my body,
whether by life or by death.

Friday of the 30th week in ordinary time


On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine
at the home of one of the leading Pharisees,
and the people there were observing him carefully.

After hearing so many awful things about “Pharisees” in the gospels some people are surprised that Jesus goes to dine at the home of a leading Pharisee. He would surely lose votes during this electoral season for consorting with the enemy. Fortunately Jesus didn’t have to run for office to be our Savior, nor did he feel constrained by popular opinion. On the one occasion when he took a poll among a handful of his disciples (“Who do people say I am?”) he found the public was clueless and his disciples dumbfounded. But he was neither discouraged nor surprised by their obtuse spirit. They simply don’t understand where he comes from.

Jesus enjoys the freedom of obedience to His Father. He goes where the Spirit impels him, and on this occasion he accepted the invitation of a leading Pharisee. Is that a compromise? Can the Lord of heaven and earth compromise?

In today’s political climate, compromise has become a dirty word. Candidates for office accuse one another of compromising, as if there is something diabolic about that. With their Manichean view of human nature, they think that "agreeing to disagree" is submission to Satan. Only the "Party of God" knows the Truth, and that must be my party. Politicians who change their opinions or even express them differently are accused of waffling and vacillating. Others are vilified for their willingness to negotiate with so-called enemies. These strident candidates promise that when they get into office they will not go along with the community of leaders but will shake them up and set them right. And voters go for it!

The Lord of Heaven and Earth seriously compromised his own dignity, if not his divinity, when he became a human being. This has been, since the day Jesus was born, “an absurdity to Greeks and scandal to Jews.”
Where most people cannot imagine surrendering their security, wealth, opportunities, rights or entitlements Jesus threw it all over. Where many people protect their privacy with high fences, Jesus went to the Pharisee’s home where the people observed him. “He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped.” Like Saint Paul, he considered that which he formerly treasured as so much rubbish. 

The coming of God as a man tells us of God’s willingness to learn, change, and be influenced. What would be the point of God’s becoming human if he didn’t learn something from it? He could have saved us in any number of ways, but he chose to do it by showing us how good it is to be human, political, vulnerable and frail. 

The edge of Frog Pond
The Incarnation of God reminds us of the cost of being human, that we must live with others and come to terms with them. We must hear their complaints, honor their suffering and recognize their dignity – as they must deal with us. We must see their God-like qualities even when we fear their opinions. Like Jesus we must love our enemies and sit down to dine with them. 

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,

To be a Christian is to be estranged in this world, a sojourner on the way to somewhere else.
To be a Christian is to enjoy the company of all the saints and the citizenship of heaven.

However the compassionate Christian has been sent into the world as an ambassador of God. She knows that those who appear to own this earth – the arrogant, violent, vain and abusive -- are also displaced. They are strangers to themselves, aliens without a sense of place. They are homeless in their palaces and unwelcome in their hearts.


This is why Saint Francis of Assisi made such an astonishing impact on our world. Renouncing every entitlement that came with his wealthy family, persistently following Jesus in the way of poverty even as popes and kings sought his friendship, he owned nothing -- and everything. Without a home he lived as the animals of the forest, relying on God for shelter, food, clothing and protection. He ate when he was given food, and fasted when there was none to eat. He refused every provision for tomorrow; and always preferred the road less taken. He lived as Jesus had lived, as the birds of the air who neither toil nor spin but their heavenly father cares for them.

He was a brother to every living creature, a citizen of both earth and heaven.

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Our Lady of Consolation Shrine 

Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling, 
in sincerity of heart, as to Christ,
not only when being watched, as currying favor,
but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
willingly serving the Lord and not men,
knowing that each will be requited from the Lord
for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

The United States had a particularly harsh experience of slavery and it colors our reading of Saint Paul’s advice to slaves. Our Civil War brought to an end an unimaginable horror of several hundred years. It began when the Spanish brought African slaves to South America to produce sugar, shortly after the "discovery" of the western hemisphere in 1492. That experience was all the more cruel for its veneer of Christian religion, which seemed to bless the peculiar institution.
When we read Saint Paul's letters, we should understand that most people of the Roman Empire were slaves. Some of them were well educated and had positions of great responsibility. Some were gifted artists whose works are honored even today. They married, had children, owned property and, sometimes, other slaves. But, of course, like most people throughout human history, many suffered the cruel experience of toil and poverty. 
But it was a stable economic system and it had a vague awareness, as our capitalistic system has today, that people cannot suffer too much without profound discontent and the threat of rebellion. There were laws which protected slaves from the worse kind of exploitation, laws which never appeared in American jurisprudence. 
No human system is thoroughly just and fair, nor is any human system irredeemable. Communism, socialism, capitalism and slavery as economic systems each has its advantages and disadvantages. Grace, like the falling rain, finds its way into slave quarters and prison cells, brothels and opium dens. There is no containing the Word of God.
Saint Paul encouraged Christian slaves to obey their human masters because he had shown them the way of freedom. Christ did not set them free to serve their selfish instincts but to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, practicing generosity, joy and courage. He understood their freedom as well as he understood his own.

Eventually, after a horrific civil war, the peculiar institution collapsed here in the United States. It was repugnant to educated people who espoused 18th century principles of the Enlightenment. How could the same men who said, "All men are created equal" own slaves? Too, new technology (especially industrialized farming) rendered it obsolete.

But today, workers in our capitalist system, from Wall Street brokers to migrant field hands, still suffer from resentment, fear, hopelessness and the numbing effects of toil. If they are not chattel slaves, they are wage slaves, desperately holding onto jobs that do not honor their moral principles, courage, generosity or dignity. Our economic system can be as remorseless as slavery. It seems to have grown worse with the shrinking of the middle class, the widening gap between rich and poor, the failure of the labor movement, and chronic unemployment. 

In setting us free Jesus offers us the choice to serve the Lord and not men, and thus to serve the earth and its people. Whether we are rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, we must serve the Lord if we would know freedom. 

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Joseph of Cupertino
in MSF chapel

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as
Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.

I don’t have the patience to watch television but occasionally I read about television shows. Recently a historian wrote about the program Mad Men, now entering its fourth season. He praised the show for its accurate depiction of the way men and women related to one another in the 1950’s and early sixties.
Those “good old days” were apparently very difficult for women. Despite the men who rose from their seats when a woman entered the room, and held the door as she entered a building, women could expect sexual harassment in the work place, along with unequal pay and limited opportunities. They were virtually defenseless against rape in all but the rarest circumstances. A wife who complained of violence in marriage would be laughed out of court. Inevitably, a feminist/womanist revolution arose out of that bizarre post-war era.
When some people – both liberals and conservatives – hear Saint Paul’s description of how husbands and wives should relate, they think of the fifties and sixties. They suppose American culture nearly attained his ideal in those halcyon days.

More accurately, we can say that Saint Paul’s teaching reflected marital expectations of his own time. Mediterranean culture was (and remains) a paternalistic society where men expected to control the home, market, church and government. Their theories of biology imagined men as planting seeds in the fertile fields of women, a model which seemed to prove the superiority of men. Twenty centuries would pass before we learned male and female each contribute the same number of genes to a human conception, a model which suggests their equality.
Even more time must pass before we recognize the equality of male and female. In the meanwhile we must contemplate the meaning of words like equality, male and female.

But we should recognize what is truly Christian in Saint Paul’s teaching without the imposition of post-war American standards. The Hebrew prophetic tradition promoted marriage as that accessible model which everyone might recognize and accept. If everyone knows what marriage should be, perhaps we can agree on how society should behave. If a married person can leave a wallet on the dresser overnight and expect to find it intact the next morning, why can’t that same wallet be forgotten in a public place and be found a week later unmolested? Is that idealistic? The prophet didn’t think so. There cannot be two moral codes, one for the family and another for the city.

If a man or woman feels safe, respected and loved in the marriage bed shouldn’t that person feel honored in public?  The Hebrew prophets were appalled that poor widows were neglected and orphans were homeless among God’s holy people. That injustice cannot happen in marriage; it cannot happen among God’s elect. For the prophets this was not a matter of should not or ought not. This was It cannot happen!

Saint Paul remembered that traditional image and its strict ethical code in his letter to the Ephesians:
For the husband is head of his wife
just as
Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.

Like the prophets of old, Paul wanted married couples to show the church what fidelity, courage, generosity, compassion, mercy and justice look like! Marriage as the model of the ideal includes the willingness to sacrifice for one another:
…even as Christ loved the Church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
As Jesus gave his life for the Church, so should every Christian be willing to “lay down his life for a friend.” A retreat director asked me once, “Would you be willing to die for a fellow friar? A spouse does this everyday for the partner!”
“Yikes!”

This is why Saint Paul’s challenge remains. Everybody knows what marriage should be. Despite spousal abuse, serial divorce, cohabitation and homosexual unions, marriage is still honored as a most desirable, most beautiful relationship. That's why Americans spend, on average, more than $20,000 for each wedding! 

The ideal -- and, very often, the reality -- still demonstrate the perfect love of Jesus for his Church. 

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time


Peggy's Path

When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.

Sometimes, when we’re angry at someone but afraid to express it directly, we resort to “passive aggression.” This is a way of acting on one’s anger without getting caught. It may be as “innocent” as coming late to a meeting that you didn’t want to attend in the first place, or not bringing a plate to the pot-luck gathering. These are things that polite people don’t get upset about; they might even honor your excuse; and neither you nor they ever suspected the mean spirit beneath your negligence.
(However if they begin to notice a pattern, you might find yourself unwelcome at their gatherings.)
Other forms of passive aggression, such as we see in today’s gospel, are getting mad at the wrong people. When a man can’t speak sharply to his abusive boss he yells at his wife, who screams at the oldest child, who beats up the littlest child, who kicks the dog.

In today’s gospel the “leader of the synagogue” scolded the whole congregation for Jesus’ healing the crippled woman. In effect, he used them as a concave mirror to reflect his anger, amplified by the congregation’s distress, onto the helpless woman. He dared not assail Jesus directly for, it would seem, “his hour had not yet come.” So he attacked the old woman.
But Jesus would not let him get away with either blaming her or not accusing him. He dared the leader and the congregation to deny their feeding of their livestock on the Sabbath. Jewish scholars had always admitted that God does some work on the Sabbath, such as birth and death. These things happen regardless of the holy days. And it’s obvious that if humans must eat on the Sabbath, so must their animals be fed. So why shouldn’t Jesus heal on the Sabbath?
But the story is not about Jesus’ defying the Sabbath laws; it’s about his championing the helpless. And it’s about the cost he will finally pay.
If he has humiliated the synagogue leader on this Sabbath day, another day will come when all Jesus’ adversaries will converge on him.
That is a price Jesus is willing to pay for her and for us. And once again, the whole crowd will rejoice at all the splendid deeds done by him.


Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


A bridge spanning wetland at MSF

The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.

Who would have thought that God – the supreme power – is actually concerned about the powerless? That is not the way we humans do things. The powerful maintain power at all costs and feel morally justified in doing so. 
Experts on American politics have observed how George W Bush systematically amassed more power for the presidency during his two terms, and Barack Obama has not surrendered any of it. Only a major setback like the Watergate Scandal can diminish the president’s authority, and then only briefly.
Dominant powers have always assumed The Ultimate Power is committed to supporting them, whether they were kings, popes, dictators or cultural majorities. As Peter O'Toole's  Henry II’s declared in The Lion in Winter: “I am the king! When I pray, God listens!”
Part of God’s job too is maintaining the self-assurance of the righteous. That’s why the Pharisee in Jesus’ story could so confidently stand before the altar and thank God that he is “not like the rest of men.” 
Prayer feels good and it makes you feel good about yourself, no matter which religion you practice. I recommend it to everyone!
Until we actually read the Bible we’re reasonably certain God is on our side. That’s why Jesus’ parable is so unsettling. The lowly Samaritan, an outsider in Jerusalem, an unwelcome presence with only marginal right to be in there in the first place, goes home justified, but not the Pharisee. 
Thomas Merton once said, “God cannot hear the prayer of those who do not exist.” The Pharisee in today’s story has created an artificial man, a hand puppet to stand before God and speak for the fool who hides beneath it. He is so absorbed in himself he cannot even consider what God might want to hear. He says only what he wants to believe.
Our liturgy teaches us to approach God humbly. Every Mass begins with an Act of Penance. We recite the Confiteor or a similar prayer. Repeatedly during the Mass priest and people recall our sins. “O Lord I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Say but the word and my soul shall be healed.”
“O Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me of my sins.” 
Penance must be the beginning of our prayer.
I once imagined a bit of fun a church might sponsor. Clowns could stand outside the church as the congregation enters, men and women who actually know the local people, and remind them of who they are:
What are you doing here, Joe? You were the Lothario of Central High!
What are you doing here, Mary? Weren’t you the vainest mother who ever brought your precious Lord Fauntleroy to church?
Hey Jack, since when do we allow racists in our church?
I don’t suppose the farce would last very long. It might cause a riot!
The clowning might remind us we have no right to be in church. We have no right to pray. But God in his gracious mercy gathers us in prayer that we might love him. 
As we approach our prayer we should gently beat our breasts as the Publican did. O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time


The old school building

What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?

The twelve step program speaks of reaching one’s bottom. We descend into the lower regions of our illness or selfishness or sin – whatever you may call it – and realize it’s time to let go and let God. I just can’t do it my way anymore.
The “bottom” is different for different people. It is not always the gutter. Some lose their spouses, jobs and faith before they touch bottom. Some just see where this is going and decide “Enough!”
Reaching the bottom we don’t necessarily strive to escape it. First we study it. “This place is awful! I deserve better. How did I get here? Who will save me? Whom can I trust? Who will care about me despite my self-loathing?”
Reaching the lowest point of one’s life it’s important to realize, “I’ve tried to do it my way, to keep control and maintain mastery and it’s not working for me. I cannot help myself.”
It helps to realize, “I am not a stupid or wicked person, but I’ve acted stupidly and wickedly. It’s time to stop that. I don’t have to be my own worse enemy anymore.”

Reaching the bottom the Christian finds Jesus Christ. He descended into hell to find us.
“The Harrowing of Hell” is a traditional image, like the Christmas crèche or the crucifixion, which depicts Jesus’ descent into hell and his rescue of Adam and Eve. If you Google/image that phrase you’ll find dozens of such pictures. The paintings usually depict Jesus’ taking our Ancestors by the hand, as in, “Precious Lord, take my hand…” and “Put your hand in the hand of the man…”

Taking charge of our lives, invariably he will lead us to a supportive group of people who have also seen hell. It may be a 12-step group or a church. If you don’t join a group, if you still think you can do it without a group, you’ve not hit your bottom yet. Good luck to you!

Finding myself in such a group in 1983, I realized that I needed to meet the God these people knew. I had my own religion as a young Franciscan priest; I had the doctrines of the church and the practices of daily Mass and Liturgical Hours, but I needed to meet the Lord through this group of people. I had to meet the God whom they called the Higher Power. If I called him “Jesus” or “Holy Spirit” it didn’t matter, I still needed to see God through their eyes.
To do so, I had to take an interest in and care about them. I had to forget about myself. It’s not about me! My life is not about me!
And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
From the community in which you find yourself the Lord chooses some for different ministries. One may be a coffee maker; another, a mentor; and another, a bishop. It really doesn’t matter what you do so long as it’s what God tells you to do. From there we attain the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

Friday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time


A dry creek in time of drought

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

The poet John Milton, in his poem about his blindness, wrote: They also serve who only stand and wait.
He used an image familiar to 18th century England, the courtier who stands in the King’s presence waiting to be called. If he does nothing all day but wait upon his lord's command, he has served well.
I’m sure many a young courtier complained of doing nothing the whole day. He never had the chance to prove his ability or worth; his name was never sounded in the ears of the court; he felt like a polished arrow hid in an archer’s quiver.
Saint Paul was an intensely active man. He moved from city to town to village, traveling by land and sea, talking with Jews and gentiles, friends and strangers he must have found his incarcerations hard to bear. He didn’t set out in the service of Jesus to molder in a filthy jail cell.
Yet there he was, passing the time writing letters and counting the hours till his release. Yet, there he was, a prisoner for the Lord, urging us to live with all humility and patience.  
The older I get the more I appreciate the practice of patience. It is, like most virtues, a deliberate decision. When I think I should do this or I might do that, I decide it’s best to wait. That’s not doing nothing. It’s practicing faith in the Holy Spirit who knows when the time is right to do something and might tell me what to do when the time comes, provided that I am the one who should do it.
I often see things that should be done; but I am not the one to do them. I know things that should be said, but I am not the one to say them.
In the italian town of Spoleto. the young man Francis of Assisi heard the Lord challenge him, “Why do you serve the servant and not the master?
He replied, “Lord, what should I do?”
And the Lord replied, “Go back to your own land to do what the Lord will tell you.”  
Francis didn’t sit around idle. He repaired ruined churches and avoided his angry family. He hid in an old cave and prayed to know God's will. But mostly he waited. He spoke to no one of his vision because, as of yet, he had none. 
At last one day, during the Mass he heard something in Latin that sounded like the voice in Spoleto. Asking the priest to translate he heard “that Christ’s disciples should not possess gold or silver or money, or carry on their journey a wallet or a sack, nor bread nor a staff, nor to have shoes nor two tunics, but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance.” (Thomas of Celano, First Life of Francis)
Hearing that, Francis cried, “This is what I want! This is what I seek! This is what I desire with all my heart!” Soon after that people started to ask him about his vision. 
Saint Francis of Assisi lived with all humility and gentleness, with patience in the spirit of Jesus. He wanted to accomplish nothing but that which God wanted and because he waited, he did just that. 

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time


Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church and in
Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschl says of Glory:
And this is how the glory was revealed. Moses stood alone on the top of the mount, the glory passed by, “the Lord descended in the cloud,” and the great answer was revealed: The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and unto to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7)
The glory is the presence, not the essence of God; an act rather than a quality; a process, not a substance. Mainly the glory manifests itself as a power overwhelming the world. Demanding homage, it is a power that descends to guide, to remind. The glory reflects abundance of good and truth, the power that acts in nature and history.
The whole earth is full of his glory. It does not mean that the glory fills the earth in the way in which the ether fills space or water fills the ocean. It means that the whole earth is full of His presence.  (God in Search of Man, page 82, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955)

Before I reflect as a Christian on glory, I want to state that I regard Rabbi Heschl with great reverence, and I am in awe of his insight. His books, The Sabbath and The Prophets are two of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, and I heartily recommend them to anyone.

With Heschl’s understanding of glory we also understand that Creation, the Jewish people and the Church reflect the glory of God.
Standing in a sunbeam in a sunlit church, I showed a group of children a small, square mirror. I asked them, “What shape will the mirror’s reflection of the sun take on that distant wall?”
Because the mirror was square they guessed “square!”
Wrong. It was round like the sun. (Try it sometime!) Regardless of a mirror’s shape, beyond a certain distance it will reflect the shape of the light source.
My point: The small mirror with its peculiar shape reflects perfectly the enormous ball of the sun, as you and I, odd though we are, reflect the beauty and glory of God.
We shine as God’s presence in our world, reflecting God’s abundance of good and truth. Those who see our acts of generosity, kindness and courage see God’s glory. 

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time


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


During the early centuries of Christianity, the Roman Empire was overrun with “mystery cults.” When Saint Paul speaks of a mystery “which was not made known… in other generations” he is using a phrase which might not be readily understood today. American religions want to be anything but mysterious. We advertise our benefits to anyone who will glance at a billboard. We speak openly of such ineffable mysteries as the Blessed Sacrament and the Word of God. Christian scholars speculate on television about the Second Coming of Christ. I’ve seen the Tetragrammaton, a word no devout Jew will speak, on bumper stickers!
The mystery cults of Saint Paul’s time were secret societies, bound together by code words, gestures and compacts. They celebrated in clandestine rituals certain arcane doctrines that had been “revealed” to them. For obvious reasons, we know little about their rituals and doctrines today. Apparently they operated like Rosicrucians, Masons, or other benevolent societies, but without benefit to the larger society. They promised their adherents salvation or justification or something equivalent.
So when Saint Paul speaks of hidden mysteries his disciples understand they too have been initiated into deep mysteries of life and death, salvation and justification.

Centuries later, within the conflicted era of the Reformation, the various Christian denominations would produce catechisms. These compendiums of questions and answers explained in simple, straightforward language religious beliefs and practices. But they stripped them of every trace of mystery. They did not feel like wonderful truths to be pondered but arguments to be rehearsed.
Instead of hearing the priest proclaim “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Catholics memorized, “The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament and a sacrifice. In the Holy Eucharist, under the appearances of bread and wine, the Lord Christ is contained, offered, and received.”

Since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has set out to regain the evangelizing fervor and the mysterious aura of our rituals. The catechisms are useful but the rituals tell us who we are. 
We welcome new adult members with the Sacrament of Baptism during the Easter Vigil, after months of preparation, in a public ceremony. Conducted by the entire community, the rite of initiation invites and challenges everyone to be renewed in Christ. 
Eucharist, the second Sacrament of Initiation, follows the Baptism, as the initiate is incorporated into the Body of Christ. The only explanation offered for this mysterious bread is the phrase, "The Body of Christ" and the only appropriate response is Amen
Finally the bishop or pastor anoints the newly Baptized with sacred chrism. As Jesus is "priest, prophet and king" so are we consecrated representatives of the Lord of All.  
Leaving the Church after Sunday Mass we should feel a new spring in our step and new hope in our hearts. We have been touched by the mystery which was not known in other generations.
The rituals are solemn and impressive -- and even terrifying. If there is an adulterer, thief or murderer among us, he should be frightened. It would be better for him if a millstone were tied about his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 
Our church was never a mystery cult but we are regaining our sense of mystery as we participate in the liturgies of the Church. Through them we are not only instructed in the beliefs of our religion, we are shaped and molded into the People of God.