Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time



Ice-clear water on the lake
To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.


Lately, with the victory of “Watson” over human competitors on the TV quiz show Jeopardy, we’ve heard a lot about AI -- Artificial Intelligence. Some want to believe that humans will soon be replaced by computers. But in all the discussion, I hear nothing of sin. 
The experts never seem to factor sin into their predictions. If the future is peopled by thoughtful computers, will they find it easier to choose “the lot of truth” than we have? Could a sentient being not have the options of obedience and mischief, love and hate, forgiveness and resentment? Will it be capable of remorse and repentance? If not it will certainly not replace humanity.
We may regret our freedom to sin but it is integral to our human nature. That freedom is a readiness for God; it is a willingness to surrender to that which is worthy of our trust. And our trust is an infinite capacity, measured only by the cross of Jesus Christ.
Our secular culture knows nothing of sin. It thinks it knows evil but even that understanding is sadly superficial. It recognizes unspeakable crimes but cannot see its own culpability for them. Like its wonder-machines, it knows nothing of remorse and repentance because it knows so little of the human mystery.
No matter how big the machine it will never have an infinite capacity for love, courage, trust, or generosity. Though it accumulates data it cannot experience remorse and repentance. If it speaks a kind of truth, it will never know the courage that speaks the truth; and without courage Truth cannot be uttered.

Sunday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time


Fr Jose

Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

The United States has been described as a nation with the soul of a church. Despite our secular foundations in the Enlightenment and our “godless” constitution – or perhaps because of them – our political decisions are profoundly influenced by our religious beliefs. Inscribed into our money is the beautiful creedal statement, “In God we trust.” We often stand up to sing “God bless America.” More American citizens attend church on Saturday evening or Sunday morning than any other western nation.
As Christians we hear repeatedly in the gospels, “Do not be afraid.” And yet we are a frightened. We have invested billions, if not trillions, of dollars in our national security, and still we lie awake at night worrying about how vulnerable we are.
One of those things we fear losing and are willing to fight for -- besides life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – is “the American way of life.” I hear that expression often. I wonder what it means and I wonder if it’s worth fighting for.
Certainly our way of life is changing continually. And many “ways of life” are disappearing just as rapidly as animal species are going extinct. Jobs, careers and professions disappear over night. Small towns become ghost towns and neighborhoods are bulldozed for shopping malls. Some “mainline” Protestant churches might soon disappear. 
Our way of life is changing so fast that, if  I were to say, “I am old enough to remember…” a teenager would reply, “I remember when…”
Some people have dropped out of our way of life. They don’t even want to have a computer, personal cell phone or Facebook page. They smile bemusedly when people speak of texting or tweeting.  
Is tweeting worth fighting for? If someone threatens to take my cell phone should I kill him? By this time next year I’ll have another generation device anyway, I suppose.
What is this sacred American way of life? I hope it’s not the privilege of trashing perfectly good clothes, functioning electronic devices and mountains of edible food.

Some people want to enshrine the Ten Commandments in state capitals, county courthouses, and city halls. May I make a suggestion?
Let’s enshrine Matthew 6: 24-34 instead. We may or may not know the Ten Commandments but we need to hear, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? ….
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”

And while we’re at it, “Look at the birds in the sky.” Aren’t they beautiful?

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time



Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”

The wise man said, “When I came to the monastery, I was a boy. I could see that mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. After many years I came to understand that mountains are rivers and rivers are mountains. Now that I am an old man I see that mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.”
I am so very fortunate to meet men and women in the VA hospital who are struggling through insights like these. They have lost their innocence in military training, combat, and much hard experience. Many have suffered multiple divorces and innumerable insults to their searching hearts. Some, seeking to ease the pain, have sought relief in cigarettes and alcohol and illicit drugs; only to have the agony rush over them again as these demons take their toll. They wonder if they will ever see as children again.
Some are angry with the Catholic Church. They don’t hesitate to cite the Scandal that has rocked our Church for the last twenty-five years as a reason for not attending. A few are victims of priests; all have been affected by it. The institution that seemed like an ivory tower of purity is smeared with filth like every other human foundation.
Sometime the only reason a Veteran lives is for the child or grandchild in his life. If he cannot find that fresh spirit in his own heart, he can protect and nourish it in a child.
I cannot judge these men and women because I know how fragile my faith is. I pray every day with the saints, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” I do not know my limits but I am sure, if the temptation is strong enough, if the evil is terrifying enough, I will fall. I cannot say, “I will always be true;”
I can only say, “God will always be true to me.” From the shadow of his wings I can see the mountains are mountains and the rivers are rivers. I can see the Church is holy, innocent and still childlike in fidelity. 

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


Fr Ken Gering
Fr Pius Poff

Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.

Facebook is only the latest chapter in the story of people searching for love among strangers. When I was a kid there was a TV program, Queen for a Day. I was permitted to watch this dreadful daytime fare when I was homebound with the mumps, measles or chicken pox. Several contestants would cry their hearts out before a studio audience, each one telling stories more pathetic than the other. Each day a winner was crowned “queen” and awarded a pile of prizes. As I remember she was rarely happy about it. She continued to weep wretchedly as a stole was wrapped around her shoulders, a crown placed on her head, and a band played Pomp and Circumstance.
Today there is a plethora of reality programs to watch troubled married couples, troubled unmarried couples, unhappy gay partners, and victims of various sorts recount their miseries. They seem to be people looking for love in all the wrong places.
The electronic village is not all that different from the ancient city. Sirach was probably a resident of Jerusalem. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people crowded together into what we would consider unbearable density. There was no word for privacy and public space was anywhere outside your own body. If there were thousands of acquaintances and innumerable companions, friendship was no easier to find then than today.
Friendship is a gift available for those with the courage to seek it. I am often amazed at the quantity and quality of friendships I find among people who, on first encounter, don’t appear very attractive. Eventually I realize it has nothing to do with physical attraction, intellectual acumen, financial status or religious piety. Friendship ignores all those qualities.
Rather, God gives friends to people wherever they might live. I met a fellow years ago whose best friends were still in prison; he wondered how he would manage without them now that he was free.
Friends cannot be bought, managed or manipulated. They must be welcomed. Friendship requires skill, courage, and tact; perseverance, patience and generosity. It’s not about me; it’s not about you; it’s about us.
Sometimes married couples develop a deep friendship as they work through the difficult issues of their life.  It doesn’t happen necessarily or automatically, and should never be taken for granted. Many people think that marriage is about friendship, but I am not sure of that. As a couple matures they may work out a satisfactory relationship of loyalty, respect and compassion but friendship may be more than their relationship can bear. If they realize that soon enough, and make the necessary adjustment to their expectations, they can find happiness.
It seems impossible to say friendship must happen here, and it cannot happen there. It seems impossible to say exactly which two persons should be friends, or cannot be friends. Like grace, it is often discovered in unlikely places. Like grace, it is received with gratitude for the mercy of our endlessly surprising God.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time



The promise of springtime at MSF
Rely not on your wealth;
say not: “I have the power.”
Rely not on your strength
in following the desires of your heart.

As I hear the chilling words of Jesus:
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, 
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
I remember again the torment the Church has been through during the last several years -- a scandal that first appeared in the United States but has since erupted in many African and European countries.
Psychiatrists, counselors and spiritual directors who have worked closely with both victims and perpetrators tell us the crime was not driven by sexual desire but by the lust for power.
In response to the controversy bishops, priests, deacons, lay ministers of every sort, religious sisters and brothers have attended workshops and read articles and books about the abuse of power.
In many cases the perpetrator was not aware of his power; in fact he felt powerless. He felt victimized, ignored and isolated. That apparent isolation permitted him to suppose he could deny, disguise or hide his crimes. Even when he was exposed he continued to see himself as a victim; he often called upon his friends and admirers to support him in his “martyrdom.”  

Saint Francis set out to strip himself of all power that is accumulates with money. But he soon found he had to go further, renouncing the power of piety and popularity and success. At first he refused to permit his friars to study because he feared the power of knowledge. He was kind to many people but he never considered anyone owed him any kindness in return. He would not engage in the barter of favors; i.e. you scratch my back; and I’ll scratch yours.
When authority was forced upon him he suffered enormously. When it was taken from him he felt both the disappointment of failure and the relief of being once again under authority.
Saint Francis pursuit of poverty is far more difficult than most people imagine. If you think it is difficult to “stay ahead of the Jones” try being the poorest person in the city. There is always someone worse off than you and, try as you will, you really cannot go there!

But poverty is precisely that path the minister of the gospel must pursue, whether as priest, bishop, parent or teacher. If we have authority it is a heavy and grave responsibility. Though it may have its pleasures it should have no perquisites.
Some of us have categorically denied the problem of pedophilia was systemic. They believed and hoped it was the aberration of only a few. I am inclined to think the opposite; it is systemic wherever one person has authority or power over another and fails to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ. Everyone has some power; our sin is to want more. Our temptation is to take it where we find it.
The temptation to power is as subtle as the tone of one’s voice or the secondary meaning of one’s words: “You’re not wearing that shirt, are you?”
Reform of the Church begins with the awareness of one’s own lust for power. Dear God, save the children from people like me. Teach me to be like Saint Theresa of Lisieux , content to be the smallest flower in your garden of peace. Teach me Lord to:
Rely not on my wealth;
nor to say: “I have the power.”
I must not rely on my strength in following the desires of my heart.

Memorial of Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr


Cheers for
Bellarmine University
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.”


Listening to the radio on the way home from the VA hospital the other day, I heard a fellow insist that many businesses are coming around to a more ethical way of thinking because it’s good for business. Callers argued with him; they pointed to this scam and that scheme foisted upon American consumers, investors and taxpayers. A few people have gotten filthy rich at the expense of millions of their fellow citizens. Without denying much of the chicanery that has characterized the newsworthy crimes of the last  thirty years, he maintained that the broader culture of business – all those who are not crooks – is concerned about climate warming and global poverty.

More importantly, they believe that ethical business is good business. It will pay off financially as well as in virtue.
The howl of the skeptics reminds me how easy it is to be cynical. It is not difficult to believe the world and its denizens are going to hell in a hand basket. It takes faith to believe that God is still in charge even in the secular world of economics. If medical doctors cannot find a soul in the body, and economists cannot find God in their mathematics, both are still operative and real.

Wisdom, who breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her, insists that the right way is the right way, honesty is the best policy, and crime never pays.
Justice is not simply a way of doing things. Justice is an operating principle in the universe; it rewards goodness and punishes wickedness. While short-term gains at the expense of long-term values are always tempting, justice will prevail. Even the entrepreneur who makes his pile and gets out two steps ahead of the law will regret his coup, as will all those who knew what he was doing but went along anyway.
In today’s gospel the disciples complain to Jesus about their “competitors.” Someone else is healing in the name of Jesus. But the Rabbi is not concerned about it: whoever is not against us is for us. He has great confidence that things can work out just fine without his micro-managing his brand name. Jesus is not suspicious of strangers just because they’re strangers.

The Catholic Church has long maintained that our faith is reasonable. Our morality is largely based on “natural law,” a set of principles which reasonable people of any culture can understand and practice. Because reliable witnesses saw the Risen Lord and saw him revealed as the Son of God, it is not irrational to believe in his resurrection, or that he conquered death and sin, or that he will come again to judge the living and the dead. If these mysteries defy explanation, that does not mean they did not or cannot happen. Given the credibility of our witnesses, it would be more irrational to claim these things never happened. Finally our faith in God also includes a basic confidence that justice will prevail. That is neither irrational nor idealistic.
But it is nevertheless faith; it is a conviction that acts generously, freely and boldly while the skeptics cling to their narrow vision and short-sighted wisdom.  
Mark Twain once said, “Faith is believing in what you know ain’t true.” That is an American definition of faith, but not a Catholic definition. We believe on the foundation of Revelation and the assurance of reason. 

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle


A night at Knight Arena

Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.
For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.
And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Often throughout the year the Church celebrates our apostolic tradition. Despite two thousand years of tendentious history, the Catholic Church has survived with its leadership intact. We can rightfully claim “apostolic succession” for our pope, bishops and priests. By that we mean Jesus appointed certain leaders to carry on in his place; and those leaders appointed others who appointed others in an unbroken succession to this day. Despite the Great Western Schism when there were two and then three rival claimants to the papacy – a dispute which was settled at the Council of Constance in 1417 – the integrity of Apostolic Succession has been maintained. The Roman Catholic Church is truly the world’s oldest organization, which is no mean feat.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1087, says:  Thus the risen Christ, by giving the Holy Spirit to the apostles, entrusted to them his power of sanctifying: they became sacramental signs of Christ. By the power of the same Holy Spirit they entrusted this power to their successors. This "apostolic succession" structures the whole liturgical life of the Church and is itself sacramental, handed on by the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Today’s feast, “The Chair of Saint Peter,” celebrates the authority of the pope. Recently, in The Record, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville, there was a question about receiving communion in the hand. A questioner wondered, If Pope Benedict XVI insists upon giving communion directly to every communicant on the tongue, shouldn’t the whole church conform to his way? 
The columnist responded: Pope Benedict XVI has explained that large crowds of people often attend the Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and not all of them are devout. Some people will receive the Eucharist on the hand, slip it in their wallet, and keep it for a souvenir of “The Pope!” That is a sacrilege almost beyond comprehension; prudence urges the authorities in that shrine to take reasonable steps to avoid such behavior. 
The author also reminded the readers the pope neither wants nor claims to set policy by his own personal preferences. Every priest knows the Mass belongs to the Church and is not a personal expression of his own beliefs. He cannot rearrange its elements, skip some passages or rewrite others to fit his style. Not even if he's the Pope.

The Chair of Peter is the presider’s chair of the whole church, just as every basilica, cathedral, church and chapel has a chair where the priest presides over the liturgy. As the presider calls the whole congregation to worship, the Holy Father calls the entire church together in prayer. As he listens attentively to the word of God while sitting on his chair, the whole congregation listens attentively to the Voice of God in their pews. As the presider speaks from his chair to the congregation (an option not often used but available) so does the Holy Father speak to the entire church from the Chair of Saint Peter. It is another powerful and beautiful sign of our unity before the Throne of our beautiful, all-powerful God.

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


All wisdom comes from the Lord
and with him it remains forever, and is before all time.
We begin today a series of readings from the Book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus. I remember the difference between Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus because the book and the name Ecclesiastes are shorter than the book and the name Ecclesiasticus. You can find a brief, helpful introduction to the book and its author at http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/sirach/intro.htm


In his first chapter Sirach praises Wisdom. The Bible is, of course, rigidly monotheistic. There is only one God. But the wisdom authors allow a “poetic existence” to certain divine creatures; Lady Wisdom, chief among them. She does not exist apart from God any more than sunshine exists apart from the sun; but the sage cultivates the love of Lady Wisdom in a manner similar to the love of God. She is a very great gift to God’s faithful people.


Saint Francis of Assisi celebrated that kaleidoscopic vision of God’s Goodness with his 
Salutation of the Virtues
 Hail, Queen Wisdom, may the Lord protect you with your sister, holy pure Simplicity.
Lady, holy Poverty, may the Lord protect you with your sister, holy Humility.
Lady, holy Charity, may the Lord protect you with your sister, holy Obedience.
O most holy Virtues, may the Lord protect all of you from Whom you come and proceed.
There is surely no one in the entire world who can possess any one of you unless he dies first.
Whoever possesses one and does not offend the others, possesses all.
And whoever offends one does not posses any and offends all.
And each one destroys vices and sins.
Holy Wisdom destroys
Satan and all his subtlety.
Pure holy Simplicity destroys all the wisdom of this world and all the wisdom of the body.
Holy Poverty destroys the desire of riches and avarice and the cares of this world.
Holy Humility destroys pride and all the people who are in the world and all things that belong to the world.
Holy Charity destroys every temptation of the devil and of the flesh and every carnal fear.
Holy Obedience destroys every wish of the body and of the flesh and binds its mortified body to obedience of the Spirit and to obedience of one's brother, and the person who possesses her is subject and submissive to all persons in the world and not to man only but even to all beasts and wild animals so that they may do whatever they want with him inasmuch as it has been given to them from above by the Lord.




Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time


Himself

Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart.
As we prepare to hear Jesus’ new teaching which he frames with, “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you....” we first hear the teaching of Leviticus: Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.

Holiness is a foreign concept to modern life. It is a color we cannot see, a sound we cannot hear, a scent we cannot detect. Sometimes it takes repeated experience of tastes before we learn to recognize them. Some foods seem tasteless at first until we have eaten them several times. Sometimes we never even notice an odor until, forty years later, we return to a place and it still has that familiar scent. Suddenly a rush of long-lost memories and feelings fall upon us. Holiness is that subtle to our senses. It takes exposure and repeated acclimation to learn to enjoy its savor.
Even Catholic schooling sometimes fails to acclimate us to holiness, so demanding and incipient is the secular milieu in which we live. The disciplines of secular studies command our attention and the visceral urgency of popular standards overwhelm the delicate, imperceptible presence of holiness. What attraction can the Blessed Sacrament hold in comparison to the roar of a high school football game or the hormonal expectancy of hanging out at the mall? Can an hour of prayer distract a teen from tweeting, texting and face-booking? What history teacher will overlook failed assignments for the boy who attended confirmation class? Or which football coach will excuse his quarterback to attend his sister’s First Communion?
And there are the twin fears to cope with: the fear of holiness, and the fear of being accused of holiness. They are two different things.
  1. Holiness, like the smoking roaring pillar of fire that led the Hebrews out of Egypt, is often too dreadful to approach. The people told Moses, “You go on up the mountain! We’ll stay here and listen to whatever you tell us about God.”  Approaching holiness – that mysterium tremendum et fascinans (a tremendous mystery, terrifying and fascinating) – we often fall back in fear.
  2. Meanwhile your friends and neighbors chide you for pretending to be holier-than-thou. Can you resist that taunt when you know your sinful tendencies?
But the fascinating odor of sanctity clings like a subtle perfume; and eventually we learn to cultivate holiness. It comes with a greater respect for the unexplainable mysteries of life -- things like the sanctity of churches, shrines and cemeteries. We feel the presence of God in holy water, crucifixes and, especially, the Blessed Sacrament. We know that every human life is sacred, from the unborn child to the condemned criminal and will the death of no one.

Because you are holy, you shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart. but already I am discouraged from pursuing holiness for I have hated more than a few people. Hate is a strong word in our English language; we hate to use it! But it’s as good a word as any for describing my fear, resentment, and lust for revenge.
Hearing that command and taking it to heart, with my newfound desire to be holy, I can only pray, Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I am quite helpless with my hatred; it is like that demon which pestered Cain:
…sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master."
Only with the help of God can I master that urge; and holiness bids me to pray ceaselessly until I have forgotten why I am praying, until the fascination of God’s beauty has overwhelmed my urge to revenge. I don’t even remember why I was so upset. That can take minutes, days, months or years but prayer gives us the patience to wait for its satisfaction. As the man said, "Whatever it takes; as long as it takes...." 

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks with enormous authority, “You have heard it said…; but I say to you….” We cannot obey his command and cling to hate. If Justice demands revenge then God will have to see to that; it is a burden too heavy for my delicate frame of mind. As Deuteronomy 32:35 says and Hebrews reminds us, “Revenge is mine, says the Lord.”
I have almost been destroyed by the lust for revenge but, like Job, “I know my vindicator lives.” (Job ) and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.
Saint Paul also speaks of God’s revenge in today’s reading from I Corinthians:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the
temple of God, which you are, is holy.

In the meanwhile I’ll hide in the sanctuary until the frenzy passes. I had rather one day in your house than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10) 

Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Living stones

Rabbi, it is good that we are here!

When Jesus appointed the twelve apostles he named their responsibilities: He appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach.

So Peter has got it right so far. He is with Jesus there on the mountain top, where he belongs. If 90% of success is showing up, he is indeed a successful man. Often remaining where we should be is the greatest challenge for us. There are so many suggestions saying if we were truly good people we would be somewhere else.

In his first letter saint Peter wrote,
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Something I’ve noticed about rocks is they don’t move very much. Put a rock in your garden and it will stay there an awful long time. In fact it never will move until somebody moves it. Or perhaps a glacier will sweep along during the next ice age -- I’ve heard the next ice age is already overdue -- and dislodge your garden stone.
Saint Peter was so reliably there that Jesus called him the rock!
The church is made of these living stones, which Jesus builds into a spiritual house. We are just as reliable as the stones and bricks in your church. And when people need the church they know where to find us.
The word edifice is based on the Latin word for building, as is the word edify. When we edify people they are built up in faith. How do we do that?
It’s usually not with the razzle dazzle of a thundering cloud on a mountaintop. It’s more often by being there: in church every Sunday, at work every Monday; at home for the children; on the telephone for the family; available wherever we are expected to be.
More than once I’ve found myself in a position where I was ready, willing and incompetent. Unfortunately the abler person had absconded. Oh, well! I did the best I could and the Lord made up the difference.  
As Abraham said more than once to His God, “Here I am!”

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Mischief

That is why it was called Babel,
because there the Lord confused the speech of all the world.
It was from that place that he scattered them all over the earth.

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.








We should "compare and contrast" the stories of Pentecost and the Tower of Babel:

The “upper room” is a high place, reminding us of the Tower;

The people of Babel do not know God and are arrogant,
But the disciples love Jesus and wait on his Spirit;
God comes down to both places:
To confuse in Babel,
To reconcile in the Cenacle;
God intervenes in human life. He does not let things go on without Him.
In both stories people suddenly speak unknown languages:
and cannot work together in Babel,
but build one edifice of the Spirit from the Cenacle;
the people in both stories scatter over the face of the earth
to make war with each other
to build a unified world of peace.

In Genesis, “Babel” is the story of sin’s inexorable increase. The confusion, misunderstanding, suspicion and hostility that occur when people speak different languages are all the result of sin. And differing languages only increase sin’s intensity. Even when people speak the same language with different accents tragedy can ensue.

But at Pentecost God gave the Church a common language with which to address the whole world, the language of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost represents the healing of tongues which were wounded at Babel. They can now announce the gospel with one “language.”
Pentecostal Christians might suppose that the "language" is the glossolalia so common to their prayer gatherings, and there are other references to that phenomenon in scripture, but Acts 2 describes the gift of understanding.
Pentecost is the inaugural event of a Church which is sent to the whole world to speak of Jesus Christ in every human language. With that “language of the Spirit” missionaries bring the same, consistent, healing and unifying doctrine to all people. There is no culture which is so alien or barbaric that it cannot find itself in the gospel, nor is there any culture which must not change under its impact.
As we grieve over the Fall and rejoice at the coming of the Son of Man, so can we regret the tragedy of Babel and celebrate with gratitude the Evangelical Language which God has given us. 

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


Last Supper window
in St Luke's Episcopal Church, Anchorage Ky

Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat;
I give them all to you as I did the green plants.
Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.
For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting:
from every animal I will demand it,
and from one man in regard to his fellow man
I will demand an accounting for human life.
If anyone sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed;
For in the image of God
has man been made.

I suppose vegetarians are disappointed with this passage from Genesis. However it suggests that, before the Fall and the Flood neither man nor animals ate flesh. Carnivorism appears in Genesis with the increase of sin and may be a concession God gives to our sinful nature.
But I am more interested in the prohibition against consuming blood. The Jews believed God’s covenant with Noah was given to all humankind, though most nations had long ago forgotten it. When the early church agreed to accept gentiles into the church they retained this prohibition against consuming blood. (Act 15: 20, 29)
Although Christians apparently forgot the rule, some English Protestant sects restored it during the heyday of the Protestant reformation. They refused to eat blood pudding, a favorite of the English cuisine.
Jehovah’s Witnesses also adhere to the rule to this day. They refuse transfusions of blood because that would be a kind of consuming. When I was chaplain at the University of Minnesota Hospital I learned that doctors found patients don’t need as many transfusions as they supposed, after working with Jehovah’s Witnesses. They recovered from major surgery and huge losses of blood faster than doctors had anticipated. If nothing else this rule demonstrates the tenacity of God’s word and its many interpretations. 

But this scripture must remind Catholics of the command which seems to contradict Noah’s covenant:
So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. John 6: 53-56
The New Testament writers and early church fathers were certainly fascinated with the Blood of Christ. Hebrews recalls the blood of Abel which cried out to heaven for revenge and the blood of Jesus which was spilled for justice’ sake. There is also the blood of the paschal lamb placed on the door posts, which signaled the avenging angel there were Hebrews in this house. Abel and the lamb have been regarded as types of Jesus. At least one writer urged his congregation to receive from the chalice so that the avenging angel would pass over them when he saw the Blood of Christ on their lips.

I can only suppose Jesus was fully aware of the prohibition against drinking blood as he announced the new covenant. Sharing the cup at Mass, we enjoy the privilege of tasting that sweetness which was forbidden since the days of Noah.

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time




“Never again will I doom the earth because of man
since the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start;
nor will I ever again strike down all living beings, as I have done.
As long as the earth lasts, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
Summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Despite God’s resolution to “never again doom the earth” the four horsemen of the Apocalypse still charge through our world. In the ancient world famine – one of the four -- was usually a local phenomenon. Desperate people could move from place to place in search of food. Jacob sent his sons from Canaan to Egypt because Joseph had wisely stored up a seven-year supply of food.  Saint Paul urged Christians to send money to the Church in Jerusalem so they could import food from abroad.
But recently famine has gone global. It is no longer a Biafran, Somalian or sub-Saharan concern. When Americans started converting corn to fuel a few years ago food prices around the world shot up and millions went hungry. In Haiti women were selling mud pies soaked in vegetable oil for food. Fidel Castro had to speak up for the poor of the world, reminding Americans of the cost of our whimsy. 

Even more recently, we learn of food shortages due to global warming. In the past year Russian wheat fields suffered devastating fires, the south-eastern United States struggled with drought and Australian fields are flooded.  All of these disasters are listed among the effects of global warming. Politicians will continue to argue whether that and worldwide hunger are due to human behavior or not, but there is no doubt they are happening.
The story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis attests to our human ability to expect and prepare for food shortages. The Pharaoh, troubled by nightmares, commissioned Joseph to build storehouses and prepare for a seven year famine. As king he could overrule profiteers who only want short-term gain.

Globally, we seem to lack that authority and foresight, despite our ability to distribute food wherever it is needed.
In today’s story of the Flood and its aftermath, we hear of God’s oath, “Never again will I doom the earth because of man….” 
It used to be easy to blame God for famines, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Legally they were called "acts of God." But now we know how to build buildings to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes. We know how to avoid plagues and famines. If we cannot protect a frame house from a tornado we can evacuate its inhabitants and provide them with insurance to cover their losses. Although volcanoes pollute the atmosphere, most particulate dust comes from our factories. It is not so easy to describe catastrophe as “an act of God.” We have no one to blame but ourselves, for “the desires of man’s heart are evil from the start.” 

Turning back to God we can still find the hope of paradise in our world. We have the technology and the vision. We  need only the willingness to provide equably for all God's people. 

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


When the LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth,
and how no desire that his heart conceived
was ever anything but evil,
he regretted that he had made man on the earth,
and his heart was grieved.

The story of Noah’s Ark has been given new life in Kentucky recently as a group called Answers In Genesis plans to build a life-size replica of the original. They hope to demonstrate to the general public the plausibility of the story. It will be big enough for small giraffes and other adolescent animals. There is more at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/us/06ark.html

But Catholics are not required to believe the historicity of the story in order to understand its importance. The story was apparently a vast improvement on an ancient mid-eastern legend of a catastrophic flood. (Mesopotamia is prone to floods to this day.) The Gilgamesh epic contains one variant on the story:
The gods had a riotous party in which they devised a game to see who could create the most monstrous human being. Sobering up the next morning they were appalled at what they had done. So they appealed to another god who flooded the world and drowned the wretched creatures.
Apparently the Hebrews liked the story well enough to make it fit their own religious beliefs. There could be only one God, of course, who is all powerful; and the heinous crimes were due to human wickedness. In Jewish lore, the human race is never a victim of divine stupidity or vindictiveness. If we are victims it is by our own choice. But a single just man (Noah) proves that God’s plans cannot be frustrated even when there are serious setbacks.
Like any true story, it doesn’t end with the flood waters receding. Noah is not so wise after all, and his family disintegrates under the burden of his alcoholism. The attempt to eliminate sin by killing sinners failed.
The story is also one in a four-part history of sin. First there is the Fall, then the Murder of Abel, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. This ever-worsening trajectory prepares us for the story of Salvation History.
If anyone ever asks why does God allow sinners to live in our world, Noah’s Flood provides an answer. Evil abides in every human heart. It is a tradition that infests every human institution. Neither wars nor massacres can eliminate sinners. Laws, punishment and threats of punishment barely scratch the surface of sin.
If we are to be saved it must be done by one of our own, within our own world and with our ready compliance. Justice cannot come down from above in a fit of divine rage. Nor will his superabundant mercy help us if we are not changed from within. We might be terrified of God but we will have no Fear of God until we discover his beautiful Divine Spirit deep in our own grateful hearts.

Memorial of Saint Cyril, monk, and Saint Methodius, bishop


Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.”
When they were in the field,
Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

With my particular lifestyle I rarely come in direct physical contact with other people. A handshake is generally as far as it goes. And there are rare occasions when I might find myself in a crowded elevator standing very close to another person. At one time, of course, I played football and basketball and racquetball and occasionally was pushed around a bit. But that’s a long time ago. For the most part my body leads an isolated existence. I don’t remember when I was last shoved by anyone. I don’t know how I might respond to it now.
When I hear of murder – either the murder of Abel or the latest incident in the local news – I shudder at such violence.  It is so remote from my everyday experience. And yet it is not uncommon in some neighborhoods and some families.
Certain kinds of killing have become a way of life in these United States. We use it to punish criminals and to rid ourselves of unwanted babies. It’s become a bizarre ritual as some people murder first their own families and then themselves. Occasionally a madman exercises his constitutional right to arm himself to the teeth and then goes on a killing spree. Finally, thousands of troubled Americans kill themselves every year. The American Catholic bishops have rightly denounced this “culture of death” as they sound alarms about euthanasia and “assisted suicide.”

It is shocking to read this second episode in the life of Adam and Eve. How could a simple act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden lead immediately to murder? Does the failure to heed God’s commandments always and inevitably lead to this?

Once again we hear that prophetic voice speaking to us, this time as God himself speaks to Cain:
“Why are you so resentful and crestfallen?
If you do well, you can hold up your head;
but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door:
his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master.”

These words to Cain echo the words we heard yesterday, from Ecclesiasticus:
If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;

In today’s gospel Jesus wearies of the Pharisees’ demand for a sign. Is not murder enough for you? How many more signs do you need before you turn back to God? 

Sunday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time


St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Anchorage, Kentucky

If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you;
if you trust in God, you too shall live;
he has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.

As spiritual heirs of Egyptian escapees we remember the frustration and humiliation of slavery. Jesus’ opponents were very sensitive on this topic: They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’ (John 8:33)

But slavery is not the only kind of bondage to which human beings are subject. We often fall captive to resentment, envy, jealousy, rage, self-pity, lust, etc. Entire nations can tremble with fear over a few vague threats. Nearly everyone, at one time or another, has had to make decisions about compulsive behaviors including: smoking, alcohol, food, sex, illegal drugs, prescribed drugs, shopping, gambling and so forth.
I played cards last week. Father Pius was my partner, against Fathers Maurus and Ken Gering. They lost seven games straight and graciously thanked us for the evening. The next day I told both of them how much I admired their fortitude. I would have stomped out of the room swearing I’d never play this stupid game again. 93-year-old Father Maurus said he doesn’t worry about that sort of thing anymore. I should live to be so old!

The prophets and sages of scripture tell us time and again, “If you choose you can keep the commandments.” They are ideals but they are realistic ideals; meaning they are not outlandish or absurd. Asking a mole to fly is unrealistic; but asking a man to make a sacrifice is not, nor is asking a nation. 
The prophets excoriate the people and their kings because they know what the people refuse to believe, “You can keep the commandments! You can do justice. You can provide for the poor and needy.”
I heard a woman on the radio explain that she and her husband agreed to abort their first baby because the infant might have birth defects. She was sure she could not love such a child and would not risk having one; her husband agreed because he also felt she could not love such a child. I wonder if their second child was satisfactory. I wonder how soon that child will disappoint her parents and cause them to regret their decision to let her live. For that matter, can a couple with such low opinions of each other stay together?

I was fortunate to be born of parents who believed in God. Like all young couples they quarreled with each other, but like many young couples they fought for their marriage. With God’s help they made it work; and when God demanded more sacrifice they dug deep to pay for allergy shots and special shoes and medical care for their ten children. It was never easy for them. Like many people, had they seen in 1946 all the sacrifices they would have to make they would have said it can’t be done. 
But with God all things are possible. They knew that by faith; they proved it by experience.