Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
The LORD is gracious and merciful, 
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Summertime, and the living is easy. For the industrialized world, summer is a season of rest and renewal, a honeymoon of happiness for families, neighbors and congregations. We forget about our overcoats and overshoes. It’s the season for outings, picnics and idle days at the cottage or camp. Those who don't hibernate through June, July and August in climate-controlled homes often move their meals to the shelter of a porch or tree to enjoy the evening breeze. 
In midsummer the Church celebrates the picnic the Lord sponsored for his followers in the wilderness. His feeding the hungry crowd recalled the halcyon days of Hebrew freedom  when they followed the pillar of fire by night and the column of cloud by day.
Hosea would recall that idyllic moment as he led his beloved Gomer into the wilderness:
Therefore, I will now persuade her,
   and bring her into the wilderness,
   and speak tenderly to her. 
The Song of Songs also rhapsodizes the sensual experience of eating outdoors and midsummer love:
I come to my garden, my sister, my bride;
   I gather my myrrh with my spice,
   I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
   I drink my wine with my milk. 
Eat, friends, drink,
   and be drunk with love.

In today’s first reading God represents himself as a loving husband calling his faithful wife and beautiful children:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?

Amid our summer cookouts, barbecues and picnics we feel secure in contentment and regret only that all the world does not enjoy the same luxury. The saints tell us, “During the hard times, remember the good times; and during the good times, remember the hard times.”
They teach us gratitude for the Providence of God who has not forgotten his promises to us. They remind us to renew our promises to God during these good times for the hard times will surely follow, and we will need these memories to sustain us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We can afford now to be “drunk with love;” and grateful. 

Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Do not deal unfairly, then; but stand in fear of your God.
I, the LORD, am your God.”

Several years ago, lolling in the lap of plenty, some nations considered the possibility of easing or eliminating the burden of debt that crippled developing nations. They were disturbed by the images and stories of squalid poverty, and by their own practice of lending to notoriously corrupt regimes. The Vatican favored the proposal and some bankers of international stature thought it might enable a restart to bankrupt economies. Thoughtful Christians cited today’s passage from Leviticus as a scriptural foundation for the movement.
Eventually sober minds prevailed. They feared that an altruistic gesture might set a precedent and prompt further irresponsibility among the poor. They also found biblical historians who pointed out that neither Judah nor Israel ever actually enacted a “jubilee year.” It was simply an idealistic notion of Levites enshrined in the Bible.
That’s too bad. Had it happened we might have avoided today’s recession. The precedent might have taught us to deal fairly and stand in fear of God.
Around the same time, in 1985 the bishops in the United States issued a pastoral letter, Economic Justice for All, which addressed problems within this country. They wrote:
The challenge of this pastoral letter is not merely to think differently, but also to act differently. A renewal of economic life depends on the conscious choices and commitments of individual believers who practice their faith in the world. This letter calls us to conversion and common action, to new forms of stewardship, service, and citizenship. The completion of a letter such as this is but the beginning of a long process of education, discussion, and action."

Ten years later, in 1995, the bishops issued another statement which reads in part:
In this anniversary message, we renew our call to greater economic justice in an economy with remarkable strength and creativity, but with too little economic growth distributed too inequitably. The power and productivity of the U.S. economy sometimes seems to be leading to three nations living side by side:
  • One is prospering and producing in a new information age, coping well with new economic challenges;
  • A second is squeezed by declining real incomes and global economic competition. They wonder whether they will keep their jobs and health insurance, whether they can afford college education or Catholic schools for their children;
  • A third community is growing more discouraged and despairing. Called an American underclass, their children are growing up desperately poor in the richest nation on earth. Their question at the end of the month is whether they can afford the rent or groceries or heat.
The “Reagan Revolution” has proved to be disastrous for the nation. The food kitchens that provided for fifty homeless persons in the 1980’s must feed five hundred homeless men, women and children today. The income gap between rich and poor continues to widen and the American Experiment of governance by the middle class is failing. And yet the Tea Party, fearing to lose what little they have, demands more of the same.

Today’s scriptural passage from Leviticus urges us:
Do not deal unfairly, then; but stand in fear of your God.
I, the LORD, am your God.”

I believe the key word to this dilemma is found throughout the scriptures, providence. We must believe that God will provide for us. Insurance is a fine thing so long as it provides for the needs of everyone. It can be a form of the social gospel enacted in the real world, where healthy and unhealthy, rich and poor, educated and uneducated provide for the needs of one another. Whether it is health, home, income, or automotive needs everyone provides for everyone else. The Book of Exodus described the practice of the Hebrews in the desert as they collected the Manna which God provided. The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. "But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed."
The Acts of the Apostles also describes our lived experience:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Is this idealistic? Yes. Is it practical? Yes, again. We know it can be done; we only lack the faith to do it. 

Memorial of Saint Martha

Saint Meinrad Archabbey

Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.

The Holy Spirit whips and winds endlessly like a persistent whirlwind through human histories and cultures, generating all kinds of fascinating, mysterious responses. One of the most wonderful results has been the impulse of particular Christians to separate themselves from the dominant culture and create a society founded on the Gospel.
As the Roman Empire disintegrated many people went into the wilderness to live a simple life of prayer and penance. They did not marry or have children because they expected the end of the world would come too soon for such long term investments. But, as time passed, they created their own cities of monks and nuns; and their own way of life, which was dedicated to prayer, fasting and works of mercy.
In later centuries that impulse for holiness and apartness would drive them back into the cities to build hospitals, orphanages and schools to care for the poor.

All of these religious institutes were dedicated to prayer and they invoked the story of Jesus’ preference for Mary. These “contemplatives” were choosing the “better part” Jesus assigned to her.
The Church celebrates these two women, Mary and Martha, on July 22 and July 29; but the story of Saint Mary of Bethany has become tangled with that of Saint Mary Magdalene. The woman caught in adultery (John 8), prostitutes, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magadala and several other women are all compressed into one person under one name, Mary Magdalene. Feminist theologians rightly protest this unfortunate tradition. Interestingly, Orthodox Eastern Churches have kept these stories unentangled; they celebrate Martha and Mary on June 4.

In this 21st century the Church strives to hear the story of Martha and Mary with new ears. First the story reminds us of the importance of prayer. Whether we have chosen the active or contemplative life, we must pray. As the bumper stickers say, “If you’re too busy to pray, you’re too busy.”
The workaholic accomplishes far less than the person who lives a balanced life. Martha, in her obsessive eagerness to please the Lord, would drive him out of her home. Mary, in this particular moment, is far more hospitable as she does nothing but focus all her attention on the Lord.
A  monk at the archabbey 
As we celebrate these sisters today we do well to remember the example of the saints. Virtually all the saints dedicated long hours to prayer and yet many of them accomplished great works. Some managed a schedule that would exhaust an Olympic athlete. We join in their great works as we participate in the life of the church; each of us doing what we can insofar as God allows us. 

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

The chapel at
St Meinrad Archabbey
Moses did exactly as the LORD had commanded him.
On the first day of the first month of the second year
the Dwelling was erected.
It was Moses who erected the Dwelling.
He placed its pedestals, set up its boards, put in its bars,
and set up its columns.
He spread the tent over the Dwelling….

The author of Exodus goes to great lengths to describe Moses’ building of the mobile shrine where the Hebrews could worship the Lord in the desert. In this fortieth chapter he intones the words as the Lord had commanded eight times. No detail was too minute for the Lord’s attention or Moses' scrupulous compliance.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reflected on this passage from Exodus and saw Jesus entering the heavenly temple which Moses had seen in a vision. He described it as
“the sanctuary and… true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.…
They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, as Moses was warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle. For he says, "See that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."
This heavenly temple where God dwells and Jesus serves as priest is the original place of worship; all temples, churches and shrines are pale imitations of that Holiest of Holies.

The Gospel of Saint John will go one step further, describing Jesus’ body as the temple:
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Pope Benedict XVI, in the second volume of his book, Jesus of Nazareth, underlines the lack of controversy among Christians as they dismissed temple attendance. The holiest shrine of the Jewish people, the original "Mecca" before Mohammed put Mecca on the Muslim map, drew pilgrims from all over the known world. Fidelity to God without the temple or the holy city of Jerusalem seemed inconceivable, and yet the newly baptized Christians showed little interest in it. The Holy Father uses that lack of interest -- that dog that doesn't bark -- to remind scholars and all Christians that Jesus was not simply reforming the Jewish religion. He actually intended to start a new religion! There are many more persuasive arguments to that effect in his book. 
Jesus is the Temple where we meet God face to face. As Saint Peter insisted, "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." There is no further need to travel to Jerusalem, or even to Rome. Jesus comes to us as we pray each day in our homes and each Sunday in our churches. 
If God's presence required scrupulous attention to every detail in Moses' day, the pervasive Spirit of God requires only a humble, repentant heart today. 

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

As Moses came down from Mount Sinai
with the two tablets of the commandments in his hands,
he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant
while he conversed with the LORD.

Michelangelo placed horns on his statue of Moses, indicating the aura of sanctity but it’s more often described in paintings as a circle around the saint's head, a halo. It was something plainly visible to the Jews as he descended Mount Sinai.

But halos are not as rare as the holy pictures suggest. One might not appear over you as you walk down the street, nor will you notice it as you meet strangers. But sit with a holy man or woman for awhile and you’ll notice something different.
For starters they’re not angry at anyone. And they don’t seem to be in any hurry. They experience contentment within their own skin. Holy people know to whom they belong, and they feel that ownership within them and around them. They bring God to every situation even when they’re not talking specifically about God. Their attention to you is God’s attending you.
Married couples do the same for one another. When you're talking with a married man or woman you're always aware of that one's spouse. Their lives are comfortably, freely bound together. 

Holy people don’t frighten you because they don’t make judgments. We’ve all heard stories of St John Vianney, (known as the CurĂ© of Ars) and his marvelous ability to hear confessions. Not only did he show compassion and forgiveness to sinners who were guilty of serious sins, on occasion he reminded people of the sins they had long forgotten. But they were not shamed or spooked by his prescience. In fact, they were comforted because he did not judge them as wicked or evil. He understood people with the compassion of God. He looked upon each man and woman as Jesus looks upon us, with the eyes of a friendly, affectionate brother.
And yet there is a seriousness about holy people. They know boundaries and limits. They may be friendly and sympathetic to "prostitutes and sinners" but they do not condone evil thoughts, words, or deeds. Their God is a jealous God. Willing to live within the love of a jealous God, they are equally willing to speak to others of  moral issues. 
Moses certainly could not abide the idolatry of his people and he let them know in no uncertain terms. A holy person may not have the civil authority Moses had to correct a problem, and she may be helpless to do anything about an evil situation, but she recognizes evil when she sees it. If others are willing to hear, the holy one is willing to speak as the prophet of God. 

God has sent us to our nation to be a holy presence. Our first duty is not to condemn the behavior of our neighbors but to seek and do the will of God in all things. The aura of holiness may appear over us and it may be a  crown of thorns at times, but it is beautiful to behold. 

Memorial of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O LORD,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people; 
yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”

Saint's Joachim and Anne are nowhere found in the Bible. Their names come from ancient traditions in the Church. Yet it's certain that Mary the Mother of God had human parents and we honor them as we honor her. How could we not love the grandparents of Jesus as much as he loved them during his earthly pilgrimage. By honoring them we honor him.

And thus we esteem his human nature and the willingness of God to become incarnate, to wrap himself within the fabric of human life with its complexity of human relationships. Jesus would  happily love his family, relatives, neighbors, friends, acquaintances and, as he grew, his  enemies. He was not ashamed to call us  his brothers and sisters.

We discover that willingness even in the Book of Exodus as the LORD "came along in our company." Had there been other gods, and at one time the Jews supposed  there were, the LORD might have been embarrassed by the company he kept. We were not always the most lovable people and only a God of Infinite Love could manage it. 

We see his infinite love demonstrated most clearly as he extended his arms to us from the cross. There, lifted above all other people, he could see every sorrow and every crime, every abused child and mistreated adult. He could see that every victim is also an oppressor, and every rescuer becomes an oppressor. That triangle of victim-oppressor-rescuer swirls forever among human relationships and our only salvation comes from the One who chooses to be our victim without turning to oppression. He was willing even to be taken for granted by those who would exploit him; although, in the end, they must learn that God cannot be used. 
Speaking to Moses God revealed himself as the LORD of infinite compassion who will love those who love him to the "thousandth generation" even as he disciplines them as a parent must discipline his children. 
Christians sometimes suppose that God rejected the Jewish people when he chose Jesus and his disciples. But the Catholic Church remembers the devoutly Jewish grandparents of Jesus. They were faithful to God and they enjoy his everlasting gratitude. 

Occasionally I have sat with grandparents  as they mourn the foolishness of their grandchildren. They have so little authority over the young and yet they suffer greatly for their sins. In effect they too watch from the cross the viciousness of the world that will torment their loved ones for generations to come. They are called to die with Jesus and, by the helplessness of the cross, offer their lives for them. 
Saints Joachim and Ann are the patron saints of grandparents. If they lived to see their most beloved grandson die on Calvary, they also saw his resurrection. Their testimony still gives hope and comfort to all who helplessly watch the suffering of others. 

Feast of Saint James, apostle

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Perhaps things are different for American children today, but when I was a boy -- way back in the middle of the last century -- it seemed like adults had all the power, and children had none. Without ever being asked what I wanted, I knew I wanted to be an adult. Adults get to do what they want to do and go where they want to go. They get to tell children what to do and think and feel! What could be wrong with that? All I had to do was wait an awfully long time and I would  have all the power. 
I'm still waiting. 
Do you suppose I'll have that much freedom in heaven? Is that the place where we can do anything we want and go wherever we want to go and be anything we want to be. Suppose I want to be an eagle today? Bingo! I'm an eagle. Fly away and see the world as eagles see them. Or a sparrow. Or a gopher. Or maybe I want to explore the galaxies. I'll see you next year; I'm going to check out Alpha Centauri. Cool! How about the  bottom of the sea, the Marianas Trench which is seven miles deep and dark as coal. I can feel my way around. Or maybe I'll drive an race car like A.J Foyt. He'll give me lessons! Super cool!
No one knows what heaven will be like, except some young Muslim men think they do and they may be in for a great surprise. 
In the meanwhile, I have learned that freedom, even the freedom of God who has lived among us, comes with the virtue of obedience. Is that what my parents were trying to teach me all along? 
Authority comes with an even greater price. Along with obedience is the willingness to bear another's burdens. Parents soon learn that being adult is not all it's cracked up to be. First of all, you have to quit being a child! It's somebody else's turn now and parents have to surrender it to smaller, weaker, more foolish people who have not earned the right but deserve it nonetheless. 
Authority over adults means respectfully listening to the needs, desires and expectations of everyone else while deciding what is best for all of us. And "best" may not be what I or anyone else wants, but it's necessary and good. 
In many ways that kind of leadership -- obedient, responsible, wise and sensitive -- is obvious to anyone who thinks about it. But we would never have thought about it until Jesus showed us. 
As I contemplated assuming leadership at one point in my life, a wise woman assured me, "It's nothing but a cross." There are satisfactions, of course, but only for those who pay the price and carry the cross. 
As we celebrate the feast of Saint James we honor him as the first bishop of Jerusalem and one of the early martyrs. Is that what he had in mind as he told Jesus in today's gospel that he could drink from the cup of which Jesus drank? Probably not. 
But he would soon learn. Seeing the death of Jesus and his resurrection, and discovering the Holy Spirit moving him to obedience, responsibility, wisdom and sensitivity, he became worthy to bear the burden. 
The feast of the Apostle James remind us to pray for our leaders, both men and women. They serve us the Church and we are indeed a heavy burden. We can lighten their load by allowing the same Holy Spirit to guide us in obedience. 

Recently I was reminded of the tremendous harm done to the church by renegade priests, those who leave the Catholic Church to start their own mini-denominations. I grieve for the Catholics who follow them, and for the children and grandchildren, the generations to come who are cut off from the Church by a man who loved his own will more than the Lord. Pray with me for their safe return before too much more harm is done. 

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field,
which a person finds and hides again,
and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls. 
When he finds a pearl of great price,
he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. 

The son of an upwardly mobile middle-class merchant, Saint Francis of Assisi understood this parable instinctively. Only a fool would pass up a golden opportunity for wealth and riches. A peasant might suppose the wealth belongs to the landowner and rebury it in spite. An aristocrat would not be digging in a field; that's below his dignity. But an opportunist is always on the watch; and no work, no matter how demeaning, is below his dignity. And Francis was nothing if not an opportunist. 
Like King Solomon he saw that nothing of this world will last. Francis saw poverty as he was growing up though his family was wealthy, and he had suffered the disillusionment of war as Assisi and nearby Perugia were continually at war. 
Finally he was chosen and blessed by God to be a prophet, and so he was given a most extraordinary insight. He saw clearly that EVERYTHING IS GIFT. Even discovering buried treasure is not dumb luck; it happens through the guidance of God the Giver. 
He started out to love the Lord Jesus and he was led to imitate his Savior, but he had to wait a long time before he understood exactly how he should imitate the Lord. He often went into the forests and hills around Assisi and, for one long stretch, hid in a cave as he prayed. His simple-minded companion, whose name is lost to history, supposed he was digging for treasure in the cave. The anguish of Francis' prayers left him exhausted and filthy. 
But at last the Lord blessed him with the vision of Lady Poverty. She was the Bride of Christ, widowed and abandoned since his crucifixion. Francis wooed her as ardently as any young man might pursue a beautiful young lady and, as others started to follow his joyous example, he espoused her to himself. 
Poverty is the easiest, fastest and simplest way to know Jesus. There is no more satisfying way to be close to him. Francis contemplated the meaning of Jesus' birth in a manger "because there was no room in the inn." He considered the Baby's escape into Egypt and his growing up in exile. He remembered Jesus' peripatetic life style, his wandering around Galilee and Judea. Finally he remembered Jesus agony and death on a cross, and his burial in a borrowed tomb. Francis contemplated the Humility of God who would willingly undergo such ignominious treatment in obedience to his beloved Abba-Father and for the love of sinners. 
And to imitate his Lord all he had to do was walk out of his Father's comfortable house into the lonely streets of Assisi. What could be simpler? If his family abused him and the children mocked him, all the better! Didn't they do the same to Jesus? He soon found that people would feed him, as they fed beggars, "For the love of God." He learned that he did not starve to death once he abandoned his station in life, but lived like the birds of the air and was clothed like the lilies in the field. He relied from day to day on the Goodness of God and God never failed him. If he ate, that was God's gift; if he went hungry, that too was God's gift. Clothed or naked, warm or cold, dry or wet, sick or well, lonely or surrounded by friends -- it was all gift. The moment he began to prefer comfort over discomfort he felt the tug of Lady Poverty leading him back to the Lord. 
When we imagine Francis as a brother to nature, with birds and sheep flocking around him, we see the result of his abandonment to God. Like the wild creatures, Francis permitted God to care for him one day at a time, storing nothing for tomorrow, and God lavished gifts upon him. Owning nothing he became the master of everything, and the wisest of all people. 

Not everyone is called to live precisely as Saint Francis of Assisi lived, not even his Franciscan friars. But we are called to the Imitation of Christ and to find the treasure God has buried in the field of our lives. We are called to the discipline which will sell everything and purchase that field. 

Many people are called to abandon the carefree ways of their youth as they enter the Sacrament of Marriage. They soon learn that owning everything in common costs more than they ever imagined! They discover the limits of their understanding, patience and forgiveness and that God must widen their hearts to make room for two -- and three and four and more as children are born. It's not easy but it's easier than any other way of life, and it's beautiful. 

Every Christian, married or single, young or old, rich or poor is called to a disciplined, intensely focused way of life. Toward the end of his life Francis wrote to his friars, 
"I have done what was mine to do. May Christ show you what is yours to do."

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Dawn at St Meinrad Archabbey
July 13, 2001
Taking the book of the covenant, Moses read it aloud to the people,
who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

The Hebrews knew blood as the fluid of life. When Moses sprinkles the blood of a heifer on the people and on the altar of God he binds them to God in a covenant of life. When they declare “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” they bind themselves and their children forever to the Lord and his covenant.

A few weeks ago I traveled with all the friars at Mount Saint Francis to Cincinnati for a "Chapter of Mats." The first Chapter of Mats was held in Assisi in 1221. Some five hundred friars came from Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany and elsewhere. Since there was no room for all these men to sleep in Assisi they slept out in the fields on mats. Hence the name, Chapter of Mats. That first gathering helped Francis and his men to "revision" his dream to the new reality of so many disciples. 
Our gathering of 260 Conventual Franciscan friars from all over North America helped us to revision our dream for the twenty-first century. 
Perhaps the most important question we discussed was, "What does it mean to be a Franciscan friar in North America in this 21st century?" 
Can we actually invite men to join us and profess our vows to live in poverty, chastity and obedience for the rest of their lives? Will today's young people make such a sacrifice? Or should we adjust our vision to something more marketable? 
We also wondered, "What does it mean to be a community now? When young people hear about us do they suppose we are a virtual community? If they join us will they believe they are joining something as insubstantial as virtual reality

The overwhelming answer from the assembled friars was, "We're here. We're not going away." As we celebrated the Eucharist, we celebrated the REAL PRESENCE of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the real presence of Conventual Franciscan Friars in North America. All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.

This is the same answer that every parish and every diocese says whenever we celebrate the Eucharist, We are here; we're not going away. 

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

I, the LORD, am your God, 
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves 
in the shape of anything in the sky above 
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; 
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God… 

Eric Sevareid once said of a certain reporter, “She could give rudeness a bad name.Lots of people give jealousy a bad name. Insecure and unsure of their own worth, they make insane demands of loved ones, requiring undivided loyalty and affection.
These are not God’s problems. Rather, it is “right and just that we should give God thanks and praise”; to do anything less is unjust, insulting to God’s goodness and unworthy of ourselves. No one would use plastic flatware to fete an honored guest and her finest silver to serve nachos to children. It’s just not done.
Likewise we serve God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength because to do anything less would be discourteous, ridiculous and downright crazy.
So when we read in Exodus, For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God…” we say, “I should hope so!” After all, we expect married couples to be jealous of their relationship, defending it against anyone who would pull them apart, be they old flames or meddlesome in-laws. Parents have a right to be jealous of their authority as the “first teachers of the faith,” as the Rite of Baptism teaches. So we are glad to know that our Saving God is a jealous God.
But there are times when we might wish otherwise. Like the child who strains against her parents’ authority, we sometimes wish we were not so special in the eyes of God. We might wish we could be like everyone else, thinking, speaking and acting in the same ways, indulging in the same narrow-minded, narcissistic attitudes of people around us. 

But God has called us and Saint Paul reminds us:
For we are the temple of the living God; as God said: "I will live with them and move among them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Therefore, come forth from them and be separate," says the Lord, "and touch nothing unclean; then I will receive you and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty."
2 Corinthians 6:16ff

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

On the morning of the third day
there were peals of thunder and lightning,
and a heavy cloud over the mountain,
and a very loud trumpet blast,
so that all the people in the camp trembled.
Moses led the people out of the camp to meet God,
and they stationed themselves at the foot of the mountain.
Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke,
for the LORD came down upon it in fire.
The smoke rose from it as though from a furnace,
and the whole mountain trembled violently.
The trumpet blast grew louder and louder, while
Moses was speaking
and God answering him with thunder.

Did you ever notice how things happen on the third day? That is no accident. When you hear that Jesus was raised up on the third day it should trigger memories of God's appearance on Mount Sinai with all of the special effects
Our liturgies memorialize the experience with singers, bells, organs and other musical instruments. Incense recalls the smoke in which Mont Sinai was wrapped; the flickering candles represent lightning bolts and flames of fire; the lectors recall Moses speaking and God answering him with thunder. If we cannot shake building with an earthquake we can remember how our spiritual ancestors felt as God descended on Sinai and God arose on Easter. 
This spectacular display of God's terrifying, unapproachable proximity contrasts with the first words of today's gospel: The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?”

No one challenges the God of Mount Sinai, so Jesus makes himself vulnerable and available to us. As spiritual descendants of the Jews, despite our fear, we have questions and we must ask. And our gracious God will answer. Could we ever love a God who only frightens us? We might worship him for saving us but love requires a whole lot of reassurance. 

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates Jesus' marvelous approachability in the following passage from The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe

…A mother came to mould 
Those limbs like ours which are 
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man’s mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God’s love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

My sister Cathy and her family
from left
Susie, Lindsay, Ed, Cathy, Jessica, Andy
In the evening quail came up and covered the camp.
In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

In Hebrew the word manna means "What is this?" Perhaps it started as a kind of joke but the scriptures always point to something deeper. That stuff on the ground is not just "bread," it's something very mysterious. It's something beyond your imagination, something more wonderful than you have earned or deserved. 
Daily the Hebrews harvested the manna there in the desert. Each day they gathered as much as they needed and no more. They shared it among themselves so no one had too much and no one went hungry. They could not store it for it rotted overnight, except on Friday. On the day before the Sabbath God instructed them to gather twice as much, enough for both Friday and Saturday. 
Thus did God give them their "daily bread," the same substantial food that we ask of God each day. That sojourn in the desert was the people's honeymoon with God and they learned -- or should have learned -- to rely on God for everything they need: food, rest, healing, comfort, protection and so forth. 
Saint Francis, reflecting on the life of Jesus, decided he would live in the same way. Like the birds of the air, he would not store up for tomorrow. He lived "hand to mouth" each day. In the beginning he went through the streets of Assisi with a beggar's bowl, happy to receive whatever the people would give him. After that first evening of experimentation with this technique, he discovered in his bowl an unappetizing slop. Fastidious by nature, he could hardly bear the smell of it, But, he said, it tasted marvelous. Hunger is the best condiment, second only to trust in the Lord. 
Years later, when he taught his friars to eat from "The Table of the Lord" by begging, he insisted they were doing a good work because 1) they needed to learn humility and 2) they gave the villagers the opportunity to be generous. Everybody wins! 
(However, he also taught the young men -- some of whom came from wealthy families and had never worked -- to earn their bread by working quietly. They could accept only food for their work, no money. They begged only when their was no work available.)

This story from Exodus also teaches us about the Eucharist. It is the foundation of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' feeding 3000 and 5000 in the desert, and of his Last Supper. The Eucharist is that greatest of mysteries. It is truly manna (what is this?) from heaven. 
Manna reminds  us that we have not earned or deserved salvation. While we were still in our sins Christ died to give us this bread. On the night before he died  he commanded us to "Take and eat! Take and drink! This is my body. This is my blood." 
We have also heard the commandment, "Listen to him!" We listen to his words in scripture, and we listen to his command. His word is food and drink, flesh and blood. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. 
Each day, as the saints tell us, we must go to the spring of his word in the scriptures and drink. We must sit at his table and eat. 

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The men of my family
me, David, Rick, Bob, Jim

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Five times in today’s reading we hear stretch, stretching, and stretched. Moses stretched out his hand over the Red Sea at God’s command in the Book of Exodus. In the Responsorial Psalm (also from Exodus) God stretches out his hand and the earth swallowed his enemies. And Jesus stretches his hand over his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers.”
Liturgically we recognize this gesture when the priest blesses the bread and wine which have been placed on the altar, and when he blesses the congregation at the end of Mass. We use it also in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. It might be supposed the groom and bride stretch their hands toward one another as they join hands and pledge their troth.
Stretching out the hand is not simply a warlike gesture, as we might suppose from the Book of Exodus. It is also an expression of gathering, healing, blessing and tenderness. It is God’s blessing us as a mother comforts her child; it is His gathering us as a husband embraces his wife.
In today’s gospel, learning that his mother and brothers have come to hear him speak, Jesus includes you and me among them. Hearing his word we have become his mother and brothers and sisters. 

Monday of the Sixteenth week in Ordinary Time

My sister Peggy with husband Scott
and daughters Jennifer and Whitney

An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.

Our way of life begins with faith in Jesus. We take him at his word and we find continual reassurance both in his word and in our lives.
There are a million reasons to doubt. Every day there are incidents which may be misread to disprove God’s goodness. Disappointments, insults, sickness and tragedy happen to us and our loved ones and strangers. It is not hard to create a narrative of cynicism and I suppose we’ve all done it on occasion: “Poor me, nothing ever comes out right for me.” Locked into these cynical narratives we can lose faith in God even as we go through the motions of religion.
Jesus’ opponents demand a sign from him if they would change their cynical beliefs, but he has already demonstrated integrity by his words and goodness by his deeds. Clearly, they will not believe in him no matter what he says or does. Their hearts are shut; their minds are closed.

This gospel challenges us to be prepared to hear Jesus’ word today and to see the signs of mercy. 
The conversation of Christians is full of such anecdotes and stories: first I see the beauty of a bird, and then I thank God for eyes that see beauty; first I get my hands dirty with work, then I thank God for my hands.
More importantly, our Church's liturgy gives us constant reassurance of God's authority. Embedded deeply in scripture -- especially the psalms, canticles and gospels -- the Mass, Sacraments and Liturgy of the Hours saturates our imagination and soaks into our hearts. No matter what befalls us outside of church, the Word of God calls us to rest in the heart of God. Though I walk through the Valley of Death, I fear no evil; for you are there with your rod and staff to give me comfort.