Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

God put Abraham to the test.

He called to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,

and go to the land of Moriah.

There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering

on a height that I will point out to you.”

The Test of Abraham may well be the most important story in the Old Testament. After hearing of the favor God has given to Abraham, and his many blessings of protection, prosperity and promise, Abraham must demonstrate his worthiness. It is important to Christians, of course, because we see it as a precedent of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even the language of “your son…, your only son, whom you love” is echoed in the gospels: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1: 11) and "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." (Mark 9:7)

We understand Isaac as the “type” of Christ. He is Abraham’s beloved son; he carries wood up the hill as Jesus carried a wooden cross to the hill; he calls to Abraham, “Father” as Jesus spoke to God his Father; he was stretched over the altar as Jesus was stretched on a cross; he surrendered his life to his father as Jesus surrendered to God; and both were restored to life by God’s intervention.

The Test of Abraham takes us to the very edge of madness and we ask, “How much must we give to God?” We all know of people who went over the edge, trying too hard to be good, faithful, obedient servants of God. The only thing that saves Abraham is his hard-learned habit of obedience. He is just as ready to say hineni (“Here I am!”) at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. One can well imagine a grim determination to carry through with the criminal sacrifice that would ignore and despise any further interventions from God. But even with his teeth set and his heart steeled in the very act of murder, Abraham drops the knife and replies, “Here I am.”

I spent months meditating on this story in the early 1980’s. I began with a clay figure of the naked boy on a rock. His face cried to heaven for deliverance but his hands and feet were bound beneath him. His fear, horror and helplessness spoke to me as I recovered from my trip to the edge.

I intended to create an Abraham with his knife raised high over the boy, but the soft clay could not hold an erect human figure. He fell, kneeling against the rock, his face pressed against its unyielding surface with the deadly knife in his hand. A third clay figure appeared, an angel holding a torch and demanding that the sacrifice go forward. Finally, after many weeks, another angel appeared. She stretched an arm over Abraham’s back, with her face on his shoulder, and gave him comfort. There were scars of a whip across her back.

Surely every parent who hears this story experiences its horror. How could God demand so much? How could Abraham be so willing? It is beyond our imagination. To say that no one among us is actually tested in this way is to dismiss the story and ignore the hard facts of life. Many lose children to accidents, sickness, suicide and war. They must give their children to God, even as Mary surrendered her son to God on Calvary.

All of us must finally surrender everything that is most dear to us, even our own personal salvation. Jesus insists on that:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul

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
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. 
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Somewhere in my theological studies it suddenly hit me that everything we know of Jesus and the gospels depends upon human beings. True, we have the Holy Spirit but the Spirit uses willing human beings like you and me to convey the truth of Jesus from one generation to the next. There is nothing magical or mystical about this process; or nothing as weird as some would have it. 
Inevitably the word is colored by the human beings who pass it along. But perhaps we should say, “Beautifully the word is colored by the human beings who pass it along.” Without losing its meaning or its importance, but gaining in significance and majesty with each generation, the Word of God comes to us.
It was a crisis to me, at the time. Trained in the culture of the Lone Ranger and the Rugged Individual, I wanted a direct, unmediated relationship with God. I was astonished to realize just how much we rely on the integrity of twenty centuries of our forebears. And yet the truth has never been lost because, as he promised, Jesus gave us his Holy Spirit to keep us faithful.
Periodically there are reform movements that would restore the Church to its pristine origins. Some charismatic reformers think they have discovered where the Apostles went wrong, and they the reformers will now inaugurate -- after all these misled and befuddled centuries -- the true Christianity. 
The Christian tradition is a dense cable of many traditions spanning the centuries. Some of them need upgrading and restoration, largely because they have lost their original spirit. Some may safely be forgotten, though we should honor the memory of those who believed so fervently in them. I think of such movements as the Knights Templar, warriors who fought the Crusades for the church. And, of course, some were bad to start with, such as the heresies. Many heresies like Jansenism, Manichaeism, and Pelagianism are still with us and still recognizable. 
But running through all the traditions is the Holy Spirit which continually drives fallible, sinful human beings like you and me to repentance, renewal and reform. The Spirit continually challenges our human wisdom and teaches us to think more clearly and understand our experience of God without the lenses of our sinful preconceptions. 
When we celebrate the Apostles Peter and Paul we celebrate the courage and integrity of these men who would not change their gospel to suit the religious teachings and philosophical trends of their time. They knew what they had seen and they passed that vision to us. 
Because of their fidelity and because the Holy Spirit still abides with us, we can say that "We have seen the Lord." If you or I personally did not exactly see him in the flesh or in his resurrection, we have because we are among those who have, and they are among us. There is only one Church that spans the ages. We saw him and listened to him, we walked with him and witnessed his resurrection, and we wrote the Bible. 

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

Early the next morning Abraham went to the place
Kudzu climbs the light pole. 
where he had stood in the LORD’s presence.
As he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah
and the whole region of the Plain,
he saw dense smoke over the land rising like fumes from a furnace.
Thus it came to pass: when God destroyed the Cities of the Plain,
he was mindful of Abraham by sending Lot away from the upheaval
by which God overthrew the cities where Lot had been living.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah seems like an additional chapter in the “history of sin” which runs through Genesis 1-11. Lot and his family resemble Noah and his family, though they disappear into history after their deliverance. You are, of course, familiar with this story; “Sodom and Gomorrah” has become a symbol of abominable sin and its inevitable punishment. Cormac McCathy’s third volume of his “Border Trilogy” is called Cities of the Plain. The title suggests the divine retribution which must fall upon the world of the author’s bleak vision.
I often wonder about Abraham’s experience as he saw the mushroom cloud rising over the doomed cities. In obedience to God he had left his father’s house and homeland to wander with the Lord. He had been overwhelmed by a paralyzing trance in which God swore an everlasting covenant with him. Only yesterday he dickered with God to save Lot and his family; but could he have imagined the authority of this God who had adopted him?
His watching the catastrophe seems no accident; he must take a lesson from it. Of all the wicked cities of the earth, God chose to punish two within this old man’s sight. And yet he must not be terrified of God. He was not called to tremble and quake in God’s presence. He should not continually beg for mercy like a fawning Seth Pecksniff or cringe like Uriah Heep; nor was Abraham capable of such behavior. Rather, he must prepare to deal with a divinity that seems mad with power, a divinity that must be somehow humanized.
The next two chapters of Genesis will demonstrate God’s loyalty to Abraham, especially as Abraham foolishly and wickedly betrays his wife. He does not seem to understand how serious God is about his welfare or to what lengths God will go to make good his promise. But several years later, when the boy Isaac is twelve, Abraham is ready for the test. As he prepares to sacrifice his only son, the boy who is God’s promised word “made flesh,” he watches to see how God intends to make good his promise. Abraham will go through with the madness until God must intervene.
If The Sacrifice of Isaac is critical to our understanding of the Crucifixion, I see today’s image of Abraham as a paradigm for the life of the Christian. We must behold God’s works and continually reflect on them. They must shape our imagination and guide our thoughts. We might not be able to analyze, explain or define them, but we must be aware of them for they will guide us through future adventures. Even as we Taste and see the goodness of the Lord, we must appreciate how serious this covenant with God is. It involves the salvation of many. 

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Saint Francis, considering this passage from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, found delightful irony. First he saw the beautiful poverty o f Jesus. He was continually amazed that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth should abandon the security, ease, comfort and privilege of Heaven to be born a human being. A child in a palace would have it infinitely worse than the Son of God in heaven, but this Child was born in ignoble poverty. As an infant his parents spirited him into Egyptian exile and he would never know security in this world until he was securely fastened to the cross. In the meanwhile Jesus spoke of his homelessness, comparing his situation to that of the foxes and birds.
But Francis was also fascinated by the freedom and gaiety of birds. The skylarks common in Assisi resembled flying crosses as they snatch up the aerial insects; and they sing all the while. Talk about the life of riley! Francis embraced Jesus’ poverty and found astonishing freedom. He didn’t have to defend anything. He needed revenge for nothing. Trusting in God’s providential mercy day by day, he owed nothing to anyone and was owed nothing by anyone. Everything is gift. Driven out of the barn he slept in the field; driven from the field he slept in the road.
Coupled with, “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.” the verse sounds partly like a warning to half-hearted disciples. “Get serious or get out!”
But Francis knew it as pure invitation. In the same gospel we have heard:
Look at the birds in the sky;
they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?

The “pagans” worry about these things but Christians need not. The Father of Jesus knows that you need them all. He will provide. In the meanwhile, we have more important things to consider, and they’re all good.

Corpus Christi

This is the bread that came down from heaven. 
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever."

Catholics take very seriously our belief in the Body and Blood of Christ. The Blessed Sacrament is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ. If he were to appear to us in his Galilean flesh as he did to his disciples we could not revere him more than we do the Eucharist.
We honor the memory of Saint Tarcisius, a third century Roman boy who carried the Sacrament to Christian prisoners as they awaited martyrdom in the Coliseum. Confronted in the street by a gang he would not surrender his precious burden to them and they beat him to death. We honor him today as the patron saint of Eucharistic Ministers and acolytes.
More recently, we remember the invasion of a church by communist guerillas during the Spanish Civil War. They wrenched open the tabernacle and scattered the Blessed Sacrament over the floor, then barricaded the doors of the church which had never been locked. None of the citizenry dared to reopen the church, but a boy climbed through a shattered window in the night. On his knees he picked up a single wafer with his tongue and devoutly consumed it. At that time the Church did not permit the laity to receive communion more than once a day. He returned night after night doing the same thing until he was discovered and executed.
In my former parish in Louisiana I heard another story of our devotion. On First Communion Sunday, before desegregation, the white children made their first communion, and then white adults received the sacrament. And then the black children made their first communion, followed by the black adults. African-American Catholics were willing to endure this humiliation week after week because they believed in and loved the Sacrament. In the face of blind contempt and arrogance, these Catholics witnessed their faith.

We keep these mythic stories alive -- and thousands like them -- to remind us how precious is the Blessed Sacrament, and how great the cost Jesus paid for his willingness to be with us.
His being born among us would have sufficed for our salvation; his gift of the Eucharist was far more than we deserved; but he chose to go further, beyond anything we could imagine or dare to ask. He chose to die in the most ignominious fashion, upon a cross, after being fatally scourged by the Roman torture, after being rejected and despised by his own people, and abandoned by his own disciples. Words fail to describe the horror of the crucifixion, but we see beauty in it, the beauty of the Blessed Sacrament.
On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we thank God again for remaining with us in the Blessed Sacrament and we pray that God will deem us worthy to receive such a gift.

(P.S. You might enjoy more reflections on this gift from my homily-blog of last year.

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

The Lord has remembered his mercy.
Jesus entered the house of Peter,
and saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.
He touched her hand, the fever left her,
and she rose and waited on him.
The Lord has remembered his mercy.

Today’s stories of Sarah’s late life pregnancy, the healing of the centurion’s slave, and Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law evoke our grateful response, “The Lord has remembered his mercy. “
In Louisiana I often visited the city and parish jails. I remember one fellow’s story. He had been out of jail, on parole. Somewhere far from the town, way out in the fields, a safe distance from any house or building he and a buddy were shooting tin cans with a small handgun. It’s a harmless kind of sport country boys enjoy. Somehow his parole officer learned of it. Perhaps his girlfriend ratted on him. The next day the police picked him up and returned him to jail.
It occurred to me at the time, “You’re no longer a consumer, free to do what you want with the expectation of understanding and forgiveness. You’re a convict, we give you no license whatsoever.” Perhaps he had not noticed when he crossed the line; perhaps he had not yet discovered his new identity.

Christians must live on that razor’s edge between those two worlds. We have sinned; we have done wrong:
Both we and our ancestors have sinned;
   we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly. 
Psalm 106:6
Nor can the Lord ignore our sins.
…if we deny him, he will also deny us; 
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Remind them of this, and warn them before God…. 2 Timothy 2: 12b-13

Too often God is portrayed as an easy touch, a sugar daddy Santa Claus. Jesus warns us
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.

Entering God’s presence through the narrow gate of penance, with sorrow for our sins and the clear recognition that there was never any compulsion to sin -- and fully aware that God is not under any compulsion to forgive!  -- we will find ourselves singing with all the saints, “The Lord has remembered his mercy.” 

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.

The Angel Gabriel faithfully reported to Mary that “Elizabeth is now in her sixth month for nothing is impossible with God,” and so we celebrate the birth of the Baptist six months before Christmas.
As I pointed out on this feast last year, the Baptist and the Messiah could have been rivals. Both were righteous, charismatic and attractive to the crowds. Both knew the Jewish religion badly needed reform and the mobs who followed them instinctively agreed. John had the head start over Jesus; he might have plotted against his cousin.  But he readily ceded leadership to Jesus.
Because of his obedient spirit we celebrate the similarities of John and Jesus. Both attracted popular attention and official suspicion. Both drew their crowds into the wilderness and away from the cities. Both called for repentance and reform. Both died a martyr’s death.
We might notice too, their ironic differences. While Jesus was publicly tried by empyreal, local and religious authorities, John never saw a courtroom. While the mobs and the officials demanded Jesus’ death, John was beheaded at the behest of a little girl. Jesus was publicly crucified for all the world to see; John was murdered in the darkness of a dungeon.  
Traditionally the Catholic Church has honored Mary the Mother of Jesus and her husband Saint Joseph. We have accorded high honors to Saints Peter and Paul. But the gospels honor Saint John the Baptist as second only to Jesus:
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Matthew 11: 11

The Prophet John remains as a challenge to us. Abraham Heschl wrote of the Hebrew Prophets:
"Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice--cheating in business, exploitation of the poor--is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world." 

The last of the Hebrew prophets ceded his authority to Jesus “but his soul is marching on.”

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Hagar bore Abram a son,
and Abram named the son whom Hagar bore him Ishmael.
Abram was eighty-six years old when
Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah. (Genesis 5:28ff)

Jewish and Arab traditions agree that Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, was the ancestor of the Arabs and, therefore, of Muhammad. For that reason I find hope in Ishmael’s appearance in Genesis 25:9. He and Isaac buried their father next to Sarah, who despised Ishmael.

The present conflict in which America is caught with Islam has ancient roots but, given God’s everlasting mercy, it cannot last forever. Even a conflict like this is not irresolvable. In fact through most of history and in many places the children of Isaac and Ishmael (Jews and Muslims) lived peaceably together. Sometimes – as in 15th century Spain – they suffered together in fear of the Catholic Inquisition.

The United States offers the best opportunity yet to prove the three religions of Abraham can live in peace together. Our “atheistic” constitution in which God is not mentioned and no god is preferred goes to great lengths to insure the freedom of all religions and their right to compete with one another without the use of coercion, threat or violence.

Ours is a contest only of doctrines, ideals, testimony and witness. Given that all three religions have demonstrated their ability to inspire courage, sacrifice and patience; that all three have a profound sense of God’s holiness, mercy and unbounded goodness; and that all three have been guilty of violence in the name of religion – we can admit our sins to one another and re-engage the sacred conversation that began in Abraham and Sarah’s tent.

Later this month, on June 29, Franciscans will observe the feast day of Blessed Raymond Lull. A man of astonishing energy, zeal, intelligence and courage he gave his life to combating Mohammedan philosophy and religion. While he is revered for his admirable love of God, his teachings are somewhat too zealous and have been suppressed by the Church. Where the Muslim thinkers believed in two truths, philosophical and theological, which were not compatible; this Franciscan insisted theological truths could be fully explained and defined with philosophical premises. He even created some kind of mechanical device to demonstrate the rationality of Christian faith. But he died after being severely beaten in a North African town; he had gone there with the express intention of being martyred. If we admire his courage, we cannot follow his example.  

The reason I recall Blessed Raymond Lull is to remind my readers that Jews, Muslims and Christians have been feuding for a very long time. We have been possessed by a very deep and ineffable mystery for over three thousand years.

This mystery cannot be fully explained, and it will not be easily dismissed. The heirs of Abraham cannot expect to argue one another into solidarity, nor compromise upon a creedal formula to please everyone. It would be easier to make sense of quantum mechanics than to explain the mystery of God. But each person must be guided by his own God; and each tradition must be true to its own integrity. Only God knows how this enigma will be resolved but I believe everyone will be very happy with it, in the end. 

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.

In our tradition, revelation, imagination and faith walk hand in hand with one another. Revelation is the act of God’s breaking into our narrow world. Imagination is our human capacity for hearing, seeing and dreaming what God might do. And Faith is our decision to wait, hope and believe in God and what he has promised to do.

I was charmed recently by a ten minute video on by a painter who lost her paints. She discovered the possibility of fishing nets and has shown millions of people the wind, sky and air through an entirely new medium. Artists help us to see things we never saw though they were quite visible, and to hear sounds that have been there all along. Cave art taught our ancestors to see the grace and beauty of running animals.  The expressionists taught us to see puddles and their upside-down buildings! Ms. Echelman teaches us to see the wind.

God took Abram out to see the sky and its innumerable stars and the infinite possibilities of faith. Can all the earth worship God? Can the battered, dispirited Veterans I meet in the hospital find healing of their broken hearts? Can they know how their human frailty appeals irresistibly to the mercy of God? Could they suppose God loves them so much as to send his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life?

As the artist teaches us to see, the Christian teaches us to believe. Like Abraham, she puts her faith in the Lord and receives the invaluable gift of righteousness. Gentled by the grace of God, she can live peaceably with her neighbors and friends; and sail with the winds of the Holy Spirit.

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few.

Asceticism may be called the practice of habitually choosing the narrow gate. In its long history the church has seen many peculiar kinds of asceticism, including hair shirts, scourges, severe fasting, vigils and so forth. Today’s spirituality rarely recommends such practices but it will insist on the duty to care for the temple of one’s body. It will discourage the use of tobacco, and abstemious use of alcohol. Spirituality encourages a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and exercise, a proper balance of work and leisure, solitude and companionship, and so forth.
Asceticism is especially wary of self-pity or any mood that justifies intoxication, over-eating, or over-indulgence in any behavior. It wants to be aware of the spirits that move one toward generosity or selfishness, piety or cynicism, and always to choose the better part.
Finally, a Christian asceticism demands that one forget oneself and the maintenance of one’s health in the service of God and others. It is all too easy to become solipsistic or narcissistic in the practice of virtuous living.

Saint Theresa of Avila compared the spiritual life to gardening. In the beginning, the gardener prepares the land and plants the seeds and laboriously carries water bucket by bucket into the field. Eventually she will develop an irrigation system which requires continual maintenance and effort, but is easier than toting buckets. Then she learns to wait on the rainfall, which has its own cycles of plenty and drought. Finally, the roots have reached deep into the soil, she finds her field bearing fruit without her effort.

The new convert to the spiritual life will make much effort to reform her ways and learn the new way of life. Eventually she will develop habits of prayer and practice that resemble the process of irrigation. The day comes when she experiences spiritual floods (consolation) and drought (desolation.) She must wait attentively and eagerly for the floods and bear patiently with the droughts.
Finally, she will bear fruit for others without much encouragement from heaven. This last stage sounds like the easiest but one can live through years, as Mother Theresa complained, of hard, sacrificial work without much spiritual comfort. 

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Two Lanesville/Corydon
Knights of Columbus

The LORD said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

Genesis 12 opens a new story in Salvation History. With the first eleven chapters of Genesis we have heard the history of sin and it has been neither pleasant nor sensible. It begins with simple disobedience (Adam and Eve); descends rapidly into fratricide (Cain and Abel); spreads universally until the Flood; embeds itself deep in the human heart (Noah) and the human family (Noah’s disrespectful son Ham) and finally breeds confusion, suspicion and warfare (the Tower of Babel.) By the end of chapter 11 evil has control of every layer of earthly existence and there is no salvation anywhere in this world. If we are to be saved it must come from somewhere else.
And so, God calls Abram to leave his native land, kinfolk and father’s house to “a land that I will show you.”
If you are familiar with the language of AA and other chemical dependency programs, you might recognize God’s call to Abram as an “intervention.” Something or somebody has got to knock this runaway train off its tracks. Clearly we have “hit bottom” but that doesn’t mean we can’t go lower, digging ourselves ever deeper in misery. We need help salvation or deliverance. Call it what you will.

Here we find a fundamental doctrine of our faith. We cannot save ourselves; we need divine intervention.
Many people look to eastern mysticism as a way to save ourselves. At one time Europeans believed there was in Asia an ideal kingdom ruled by the Christian king, Prester John. Marco Polo went off in search of the place and came back with many wonderful stories, but none about Prester John. As the east opened up to western travelers the mythical kingdom was Tibet and then Shangri-la. When no place proved to be idyllic, western dreamers settled on “eastern mysticism.”
We’ve learned much from karate, jujitsu, yoga, acupuncture and various exotic disciplines, but no effective way to save ourselves. We still need help, and it must come from somewhere beyond our control.
How many times have I been willing to help a beggar when he asked for help, but was refused? I wanted to buy him lunch; he wanted only the money. I would buy milk for her babies; she wanted only cash. I would put them up for the night in a motel. “Sorry, Father, just the cash!” I could not help.

When we ask for help from God we must accept it on God’s terms:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

Ladies Auxiliary
Knights of Columbus
As Christians we abandon our ways and welcome Jesus Christ into our lives. As Catholics we return to the Church and sacraments and daily prayer and the fellowship of repentant sinners:
He is 'the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.' There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved."
Acts of the Apostles 4: 11-12

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there
and proclaimed his name, "LORD."
Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
"The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity."
Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.

Trinity is a simple word, a formula that encapsulates all our experience and knowledge of God. It is a religious word of infinite depth, one that defies all explanation. It is so holy and so impenetrable, the very attempt to explain smacks of blasphemy, especially in the public forum.
The Buddhist had an expression for truths like this: “Those who say do not know; those who know do not say.” But no one “knows” the Most Holy Trinity. It is like the sun to anyone who is not an astronomer – good, beautiful, wonderful and fierce. Don’t go there.
The time for its exposition in catechesis is during the weeks after Easter, the “Mystagogia,” when the newly baptized learn more about Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation and the Most Holy Trinity. The merely curious who would compare Christianity with other religions have not demonstrated a readiness to learn about these dimensions of our faith.
And yet everyone is invited into this knowledge of God. When the Baptist’s disciples asked Jesus, “Where do you live?” he replied, “Come and see.” You cannot know the Most Holy Trinity by looking at definitions, arguments and explanations, any more than you can know a home by looking at the floor plan of a building. You must live there.
In his farewell address of the Gospel of Saint John, we hear Jesus say:
"Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. (John 14:23)
The saints speak of this “indwelling of the trinity” within us. God is most visibly present in our sacraments. But he also appears in our good works, in our courage, integrity, mercy and justice. God appears in our willingness to live with disappointment and to suffer injustice, in our presence to those who labor under these indignities, and in our willingness to right those wrongs where possible.
The Most Holy Trinity abides within our human hearts when we do God’s will. This is a privilege and responsibility beyond our imagination, a mystery we would not dare to utter if it had not been revealed to us.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

A baby rabbit near the lake
My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.

Still arguing with the “super apostles” and his Corinthian converts Saint Paul modestly speaks of his own credentials; specifically that he also has had personal revelations.
I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows),
was caught up to the third heaven.
And I know that this man
(whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows)
was caught up into
Paradise and heard ineffable things,
which no one may utter.
About this man I will boast,
but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses.
He speaks disparagingly of visions and ecstasies. They’re not important.
A millennium later, Saint John of the Cross advised his spiritual heirs to pay little attention to these experiences. They often happen to people who are excited about religion and given to fasting, vigils and other mortifications. He taught us to prefer the “dark night of the soul” when one must live entirely by faith.
Popular religion often accumulates various signs and demonstrations of God’s mercy. Whether they’re promoting the Shroud of Turin, the House of Loreto or appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the rusting hulks of water towers they hawk these mysterious phenomena as proofs of faith.
Meanwhile a pack of “scientists” chase after these same phenomena, attempting to disprove them as hoaxes or illusions of mass hysteria. They declare once again that all religion is foolishness and their severely limited "scientific" vision is the only way to know truth.
Popular religion tangles with psychiatry also when they speak of visions, auditions and mystical experiences. Certain members of the scientific community intemperately diagnose Saints Theresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena as schizophrenics.
Saint Paul saw all this controversy well in advance because there was no shortage of bizarre religious phenomena in his day, and no shortage of skeptics. His answer was faith. Faith accepts the word of God as reliable and needs no further proof.
How does a man prove his love for his wife? His word is good and he should use it. His behavior is important over the long haul. But he cannot buy her trust with expensive baubles, unless she is truly foolish. Only a life time of fidelity will heal her inner doubts and fears.
How does a man know that his wife is faithful to him? He only has her word, her behavior and his faith. If her word and her behavior are consistent but he lacks faith in her, he must address his own inner demons.
It’s the same with our faith in God. As Christians we have a long experience of God’s goodness. As individuals we must continually practice faith.
If we expected life should be easy for us because we’re Christians, we have not paid attention to Jesus, neither his teaching nor his life. He did not have an easy life; neither did he promise one to us.
But if we frequently practice liturgical and private prayer and daily sacrifice and forgiveness, and if we find even in our hardships God’s blessings we will know faith.
I’ve lost count of the exact number of “nervous breakdowns” I’ve had. I could try to list them by years: 1979, 1981, 1990, and 2007. Those were the major ones. Each time I cried, “God, where are you?”
But I also remember that, during the worse of them, 1981-83, I still attended Mass and prayer. Or perhaps I should say, God still drew me to himself. If I could not sit in the chapel for more than five minutes, at least I went for that many minutes. If I could not stop wringing my hands during the Mass, I was there.
Had someone asked, “What are you looking for?” I could not have answered, except perhaps to say, “Have you seen my beloved?” (Song of Songs 3:3) or “Lord, where do you stay?” (John 1:38)
Saint Paul knew these crises also. He has listed many of them in yesterday’s first reading. But he kept faith and God kept faith with him.
That’s why he could blow off the mystical experiences of his rivals. He knew what they were worth and he warned his disciples about them.
Jesus had said , “By their fruit you will know them. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.” The “super apostles” sowed controversy and division, Paul pled for unity and forbearance; and, in the end, his Gospel based on faith prevailed. 

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

A golden carp
in MSF lake

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Saint Paul’s boasting may not sound as strange to us as he thought it was to his Corinthian congregation. We’ve all heard outraged persons boast of their suffering as they demanded more respect. Paul is angry because certain Christian missionaries have fundamentally altered the doctrine he preached in Corinth, and they crowed about their spectacular visions, miracles, and victories. They probably counted the number of souls they saved as they undermined the foundations he had laid.
Paul’s accomplishments, as he saw them at the time, were far more modest. He had preached the gospel in several cities and won a few converts to the new faith. As the Holy Spirit drove him to other places he wondered if he had accomplished anything during those hard years he spent in Corinth, Thessalonica and Philippi. He had not left behind any architectural marvels to memorialize him – no churches, schools or bingo halls. Some of his protégés had abandoned the faith; some had joined other Christian missionaries and dissed him; only a few still preached the gospel as he understood it.
So we can understand his distress and the angry, frustrated mental state that inspires him to write today’s harangue. Angrily he boasts of his weakness.
But, being the Apostle of the Cross, he also forces upon his readers his connection to that greatest of all failures, Jesus Christ.
As we hear the New Testament announced to us we should try to remember the obscurity in which the Church lived its first century. The gospel appealed mostly to slaves and servants; it did not attract the wealthy, learned or powerful. The Good News that began on Calvary arrived at Rome in chains, much as Depression-era hoboes arrived in America’s major cities on tie rods, and cockroaches in used clothing.
“Once, just once” he probably grumbled, “I’d like to be welcomed to town with a brass band and sent on my way with an army of supporters.” But, despite Paul’s apparent despair, he knows very well that God’s work is being accomplished. He can only preach “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Any other gospel of triumph, success, prosperity, health or ease is so much hokum.
Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast.
To my shame I say that we were too weak!
Saint Paul’s affection for his “dear children in the Lord” binds his church together even as our affection must bind us together today. As the Corinthians realized they had been exploited by the “super apostles” they came back to their loyal, long-suffering father. And they forgave his harangue even as we forgive our parents – and ourselves – for the occasional, unfortunate outburst. 

Thursday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Our Father who art in heaven….

Several years ago I attended a Pentecost Sunday Mass with about fifty people in attendance. This extraordinary group of missionaries had announced the gospel in many different countries and so, at the invitation of the presider, we recited the Lord’s Prayer together in 35 languages. The prayer was written for congregational recitation and, even in different languages, it is easy to pray with one voice, one mind and one heart. I think everyone in that chapel will remember that moment for years to come; it was so beautiful.
Recently scholars read the prayer through an apocalyptic lens, discovering the Christian's eager expectation of justice and mercy.
·         Our Father who art in heaven – Jesus leads us into an entirely new relationship with God as he teaches us to call him Father. The word was not unknown in Jewish prayer but it describes the core of the Christian’s relation to God. We have every confidence in God the Father because Jesus trusted his Abba so much. A father must care for his own children and the symbol speaks volumes. God is not simply a creator and manager of the universe; he is not simply a savior who bails us out of trouble; he is father who cares intensely for each of his children.
·         Hallowed be thy name – Forgetting ourselves we praise God. That is our truest joy; it is a privilege when things are going well, and a comfort during hard times. As Job said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” When we’re burdened with immediate troubles it is a great relief to turn our thoughts back to eternal truth and remember the majesty of God.
·         Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven – The Book of Revelation describes a mighty warfare between God’s angels led by Saint Michael and the serpent and his minions. (Revelations 12). Despite the enormity of the conflict, in an instant Michael triumphs, the heavens are purged of wickedness and the dragon is cast down to earth to make war on “the woman and her children.” That conflict, however, will not last long – a time, two times and half a time.
·         Give us this day our daily bread – With this prayer we acknowledge our daily dependence on God. No matter how we plan, no matter how many stores we build up, it can all collapse in a moment. Recent incidents of food poisoning in Europe remind us how fragile our food system is. No human system is fool proof or indestructible. If our systems of food creation, processing, distribution and preparation work well it is because millions of people are conscientious in their work. That virtue comes from God.
This prayer also reminds us of the Eucharist, and our Catholic tradition of daily Mass. Although it is not required, it’s a beautiful custom that strengthens us in the daily awareness of God.
·         And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us – Enthusiastic Christians often speak of the “unconditional love” of God, and I won’t quarrel with that. But God’s love makes huge demands upon us. If we would be forgiven we must forgive; if we seek mercy on the Day of Judgment, we must show mercy. We must continually examine our hearts for long forgotten but still viral resentments. As we judge others, so shall we be judged.
·         And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil – No one knows how much he can endure before he loses faith in God. If Saint Peter can boast of his courage during the Last Supper, and be shown as a coward within hours, no one should think he can bear hardship and not lose faith. As the movie gangster said, “Every man has his price.”
Nor can we judge others who have drifted from the Church. We don’t know what went on in their hearts, how they struggled to keep their faith, or what sorrow finally overwhelmed them. We must only pray that we not be led into temptation and will always be delivered from evil.
·         The Didache adds a wonderful doxology – For thine is the kingdom and the glory and the power now and forever. Amen – Once again we recall that God is the Lord of all. Prayer should always remind me that “My life is not about me. It’s about God.”

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers we hear of the young aspirant who went to the hermit and asked for a word to contemplate. The ancient taught him the Our Father, and the young man courteously thanked him. But the teacher was disappointed when the student didn’t come back the next day for further instruction. Many years passed and they happened across each other again.

The old man asked, “Whatever happened to you? Why have you never come back?”
“I have spent my life,” the former student said, “meditating on the prayer you taught me.”
No one should be surprised at that. It is a bottomless well of deep reflection; and when the mind can think no more about it, the heart rests in its wonder.