Monday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;

A stream in the Portland
Japanese Garden
I was invited to a party of Franciscan friars in Louisiana one time many years ago. It was held at the Carville National Leprosarium. One of the friars was chaplain to the colony. But I didn't know that at the time, nor did I know the chaplain had invited some of his friends to the gathering. 
So when I got there I was astonished to be shaking hands with men who had no fingers, and some who had lost their feet. I supposed they were all friars, and perhaps they'd had a rough go of it in some foreign country. I hope my surprise did not register on my face and that I was as gracious to these guests of the federal government as I was to the bona fide friars. 
In any case, I found myself among "the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind." They were human beings like myself, like human beings all over the earth. Living in our sanitized nation where image is everything we're hardly aware of how many people suffer acute disabilities. We only hear stories of African adults who have crawled all their lives to crocodile-infested rivers to bathe and wash their clothes. We have only read about minorities who have lived for generations in city dumps, like the Christians of Egypt. 
On another occasion I was reminded of our pathetic condition when I visited a children's hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Families came from all over the United States for corrective spinal-and osteosurgery on their children. While I was saddened by the plight of the children, I was appalled by this reminder that we have borne such children for a million years and are only now learning how to restore their abilities to walk, run and dance. 
As we celebrate Halloween today, the scriptures remind us that we must welcome people whose very image frightens us terribly. They are our children; they are us. 

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

The king still lives
All their works are performed to be seen

Surely one of the greatest inventions in human history is the law. We could not live with one another without it. To take the simplest example, Americans drive on the right side of the road. That means that if I set out to drive from Louisville to Los Angeles, I will not have to negotiate with every single driver coming from the opposite direction about which side of the road we'll take. Can you imagine the stress of such a trip? And the inevitable misunderstandings? And the consequent crashes? No one would get anywhere without that fundamental law of the road. 
The Hebrew people believed this great gift of the Law came from God Himself and they were enormously grateful for it. Psalm 119, far and away the longest of the 150 psalms, celebrates the decrees, ways, commandments, ordinances, statutes, laws, prescripts, words, and promises God has given us. Gratitude in this psalm flourishes like a blooming flower or a gushing, inexhaustible fountain. 
Patriotic Americans also feel enormous gratitude for our law, especially as it's enshrined in our Constitution. Our nation of many religions and innumerable nationalities with multiple cultures is bound together only by our loyalty to the law. We have no natural boundaries to the north and south to define us. The ruled line between our northern states and Canada is quite arbitrary, subject only to mutual agreement. And so is the porous boundary between Mexico and our southern states. 
But, despite our gratitude and love of the law, spiritually it has its limits. There is still plenty of room between outward compliance and inner rebellion to allow for hypocrisy. 
All of the Hebrew Prophets knew this, which is why we find so few references to the Decalogue in their writing. Observant religious could still ignore the plight of widows, orphans and aliens as they paid their tithes of mint, dill and cummin. (Matt 23:23) They could still enjoy scandalous luxury as they widened their phylacteries and took honored seats in the synagogues. 
Jesus condemned their behavior with, "All their works are performed to be seen." 
They wanted to be seen by family, friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies. They expected even God to honor their apparent piety. As they say in Hollywood, "They believed their own press releases.

Jesus' taught his disciples a new and better ambition; we should love the Lord God himself. To put it in our own parlance, we enter a "relationship" with God which is full, unguarded, open, available and eager. In this "place" with God I forget myself. I don't even worry if I am complying with God's law because I am not paying attention to myself. I am attentive only to God; I want to please God whom I love, and not just placate the God whom I fear. 

The Hebrew prophets knew this mystery and the Jewish tradition has never forgotten it, but Jesus sharpened that awareness for us, especially by his death. Saint Paul penetrated the mystery when he intoned the Old Law, "accursed is anyone hanged on a tree." (Galatians 3:13) Jesus was, to all appearances, despised by men and God. If there was anything just in him it was apparently declared null and void by his horrible death. He was the Prodigal Son who had gone off to a faraway place and wasted his wealth on harlots: i.e. Israel, Judah, Jerusalem and the Church. If he was justified it was only by his faith. Despite his innocence he he took upon himself the guilt of us all. Only his utter abandonment to the just mercy of God and only God's absolute Goodness could redeem him. 

His faith is our faith as well. As much as we love the Law and our religion and our moral code, and as much as we are grateful to God for the gift, we live by faith, as Jesus lived. In this faith we have the freedom even to break laws, as the priest and Levite should have when they passed by the half-dead victim on the way to Jericho, even as Jesus did when he touched lepers and healed on the sabbath.

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.

The Willamette River and Falls
...when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
"My friend, move up to a higher position."

Perhaps it is surprising that the Lord teaches his disciples table etiquette. Shouldn't such details be left to lesser teachers? Isn't etiquette below the grand schemes of the Gospel? 
But etiquette has an important place in our faith. Saint Columbanus, the ferocious Irish missionary who invaded Europe with his monks, set up monasteries in a half-dozen areas and spelled out rules of behavior for his followers, including
He who speaks while eating, (will be punished) with six strokes. And the man whose voice carries from table to table, with six strokes; if he has sent a shout from the house out of doors or from outside into the house, with twelve strokes.
These European louts needed discipline and Columbanus was just the man to do it! For his complete rule, go to

The family table is where civilization is born and the Gospel is learned. Jesus, who presides at every Mass and should preside at every Christian table, requires courtesy, generosity, sacrifice and attention to the needs of everyone. No one goes  hungry at his table unless everyone does! No one speaks without listening to others, and everyone has a place. 
Though customs may vary from one to place to another, as to how to handle a knife, fork, spoon or chopstick, there are nonetheless rules of behavior for everyone. 

Old guys like me suffer sleepless nights when we hear that many children have never eaten a meal at their family table. It's hard to imagine -- but I'm told it's true -- that in some households the television is left on during the meal. And both children and adults use their cell phones during a meal! And some people arrive late for a meal and leave early, without begging pardon of the whole family. There's not enough room for all the exclamation points!!!! Surely these are infallible signs of our national decline. 

God's holy people will always sit together to eat and drink, to listen and talk and practice their virtues of generosity, reverence, courtesy and attention to one another. Etiquette will remain forever as a sign of holiness for all the world to admire and emulate. 

Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles

Happy Birthday, Uncle Ken
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.

Somewhere in grade school most of us figure out some of us are insiders and others are outsiders. At that time most of us wanted desperately to be insiders and would do anything to get there and stay there. The fight might be physical, psychological or emotional. It might involve good looks, the right clothing, the better school and being “cool.” It was a cutthroat business of cozying up to the right persons and despising others, even those who were formerly our friends.

Only with maturity do some of us outgrow that painful stage of our lives when we forget to care how others regard us. (As one old fellow told me, “I used to worry about what people thought about me; then I decided I don’t care what people think about me. Now I realize people don’t think about me at all.)

In his Letter to the Ephesians Saint Paul assures his disciples,
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God.

You belong! You have a place. I remember my place at the dinner table when I was a boy. No matter what the kids at school thought about me and regardless how they treated me; I had a place at the table.
This is our Blessed Assurance. Celebrating this feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude we thank God that He has brought us into the fellowship of the saints. We are ready to pay any price to remain here, even if it means taking up the cross and following in his steps.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

The Grotto in Portland, Oregon
with a replica of
Michelangelo's Pieta

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,
how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
but you were unwilling!

While vacationing in Portland Oregon I was privileged to preside over the Saint Francis Day Mass with the sisters and their guests in Our Lady of Peace Retreat House. Concluding the Mass I also formally welcomed a young woman to join the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows. I blessed a small medallion the sisters wear and then the Mother gave it to the postulant.

Blessing the medallion, I was struck the title of this community, the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows; and I remembered the blessedness of sorrow. 

Sorrow is one of those normal life experiences, like disappointment, pain and suffering, that we rarely welcome. An "entitled" society actually believes it should not happen, and there is something terribly wrong when it does. 
Our Lady of Sorrows is there to reassure us that sadness and sorrow are beautiful, normal and healthy. Life would not be complete without them. As Christians we walk with Jesus and Mary to Jerusalem where we will encounter a sorrow beyond all imagining. It is in fact beyond our human capacity for hurt; its depths lie in the infinite mystery of God. 
Saint Paul, always the hopeful apostle even as he endured imprisonment, wrote:
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Collosians 1:24
No one complains as loudly as I do about misery but nevertheless I have a divine mission to remind Veterans and others that suffering is normal. I am sometimes compelled (hopefully by the Holy Spirit and not my own obtuseness) to remind parents and grandparents that feeling acute disappointment in their children and grandchildren is a part of their vocation. Didn't the Lord promise Eve she would feel agony in her child-bearing? That doesn't stop with the birth of the child; it continues in various forms for a lifetime. 
At one time an overly pious Church insisted Mary felt no pain in her labor on that first Christmas Day; but, however that may be, I don't think that memory gave her much consolation as she stood at the foot of the cross. 
Rather, she welcomed sorrow in the Spirit of that ferocious Maccabean widow who encouraged all seven of her sons to keep the faith as they died in agony. Mary might not have understood why her Son had to die on the cross -- though the pious tradition insists that she did -- but she never lost faith in the work he was accomplishing. She could not dismiss the pain of that moment with the assurance of Easter. I think she remained with Jesus saying, "I am here, Son. I am with you. I am offering you to my God even as you are, in the sure and certain Hope which God has given us:
‘I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.’ 
‘My son, have pity on me. I carried you for nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.’  Maccabees 7:20-23 & 27-29
Confronted by such courage in the face of our Mother Mary, who among us feels she should not also welcome occasional sorrow?

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

A view of Portland and Washington State
from the Grotto
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God's will.

Today's scriptures are ripe with both promise and threat, for the flip side of promise is always threat. An "entitled" society steeped in misconceptions about freedom might wish this were not so, but our scriptures insist upon it:
Then he will say to you,"I do not know where you are from.Depart from me, all you evildoers!"And there will be wailing and grinding of teethwhen you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacoband all the prophets in the Kingdom of God,and you yourselves cast out.
The threat of God's retribution adds urgency to our mission. We must live within and keep the Promise, meaning we must keep the promises of our Baptism, Marriage and Ordination. We must do Penance for our sins for they do not erase themselves. The most obvious proof of that is the enduring hurt of a violated marriage; no matter how many years pass, a moment's infidelity remains to haunt the married couple until one or both have atoned for their sins, asked for pardon, and restored their covenant. 
There is, as I have said before, no excuse for sin; but there is forgiveness for those who actively seek it. 
The Spirit rushes to the aid of those who seek mercy. It gives us the words of atonement and the relief of pardon. I see this daily when I celebrate the Mass before a congregation. I see husbands and wife who love and cherish one another. I do not know their sins but I am quite sure they have suffered in their lives together. They have endured disappointment in one another, even when they remained by all the usual standards "faithful" to one another. There has been hurt and there has been healing. I see this in the softness of their countenances. 
They sit beside one another rapt in prayer, unconscious of themselves, and surrendered to the Holy Spirit which has gathered us together. I hope they see it also in my countenance, as one who has most certainly sinned, sought pardon and been forgiven. 
And people will come from the east and the westand from the north and the southand will recline at table in the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Mustard Bush
Jesus said, "What is the Kingdom of God like?
To what can I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush
and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches."

Although my reference above is to Saint Luke's parable, I want also to reflect on the eighth chapter of Saint Paul's epistle to the Romans. Both speak of the Promise and it is so important that we live in the Promise. We have been variously called People of the Book, a Liturgical Church, and a Moral Community, but I believe we are most especially Keepers of God's Promise. It is that which comforts our sorrows and animates our efforts. The Promise heals our hurts and eases the disappointment we feel over incurable wounds, chronic illness and lifelong disabilities. 
In this Gospel Jesus compares the unpromising size of the mustard seed to the glorious bush in which birds build their nests. In fact the mustard bush is not like the towering cedars of Lebanon. But we see in the North America small birds building nests in bushes. I think Jesus is using a bit of hyperbole to draw a smile from his listeners. He describes the mustard bush as if it were large when everybody knows it's just a scrub bush; but it's also a safe haven for the little birds hiding from the raptors that soar above. The Promise exalts the bush and the Church and the Kingdom of God and gives us joy even in this moment. 

And so we move to Romans 8: 
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
If anything the sufferings of this present time are a sign and sacrament of the glory to come! The horror and agony and ignominious humiliation of Jesus on the cross promise the Glory To Come, just as the small wafer of our Eucharist announces the grandeur of Universal Fellowship and the six by four by six foot grave proclaims the unlimited dimensions of the Kingdom of God. Catholics gaze upon the crucifix and see astounding beauty because we see through the sign to the Reality. It is precisely in small gestures that we see God's great deeds.
For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. 
As People of the Promise we abide in that hope. I often meet former Catholic Veterans who have lost hope. They still call themselves Catholic -- and there is merit in that -- but they no longer practice hope by attending Mass and daily prayer. Many have slipped and slid into various abusive practices: alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse and habitual anger. Disappointed and hopeless they rage against life and destroy themselves and their loved ones. 
I cannot judge them for I know their hopelessness; but in the prayers I offer for them and, usually, with them I try to restore the Promise. "You can still enjoy the innocence of your First Communion. You can still find purity in your Sacrament of Marriage. You can still be satisfied with a tiny wafer of bread and the smallest sip of wine if you will only return to Church." For we will 
be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

The Labyrinth
at the Grotto in Portland, Oregon
R. (21a) Our God is the God of salvation.
God arises; his enemies are scattered,
and those who hate him flee before him.
But the just rejoice and exult before God;
they are glad and rejoice.

Watching Jesus in his dangerous ministry, we have to cheer as he sends his opponents fleeing. He is our champion, like the lad David who dares to challenge the giant warrior Goliath. He does our fighting for us and when he conquers, the enemy turn tail and run; as the Philistines did when they beheld their champion bested, beaten and beheaded.
Lately we have seen another dreadful enemy destroyed, Moammar Qudafi (the tyrant of the uncertain spelling.) The image of his corpse is ghastly and prudent souls might feel understandable reluctance to cheer his demise. But the human race has a predilection for warfare and while some of us deplore the very idea of war, we breathe a little easier when a diabolical enemy is defeated.
Jesus' opponent in the Jewish synagogue was a heavy-handed rabbi who would shame the old woman who appears in his synagogue. He went so far as to embarrass his congregation by using them to magnify his scorn. But Jesus stood up to him and dared him to defy his compassion and his logic:
When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated;and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him.
This is, of course, a momentary triumph for Jesus. We know the price he will finally pay, when the rabbi musters his forces and condemns the Messiah to death.
Jesus knows full well the cost of redeeming this old woman. He does not hesitate. Nor does he hesitate to save us.
When he rises up on Easter Sunday morning we will see our enemies fleeing before him  once and for all. We can laugh with him at the sight of his retreating foes -- ha, ha, halleluia!

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A retired rotor from
the Bonneville Dam
on the Columbia River

"You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

These two greatest commandments have not won the attention they deserve in our cultural tradition. Another teaching of Jesus ranks as his Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That rule, as important as it is, sounds like his second commandment. But it distresses me that his "greatest and first commandment" lacks that general support and popular appeal.

In fact, a secular culture intentionally disregards the command to "love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." Secularity dismisses God as the all-powerful, all-knowing It. And why should we love an it? It may have made the universe; it may have designed it with astonishing cleverness; it may be the source of wonderful beauty; but, in the end, "the proper study of mankind is man," as the poet Alexander Pope said.

I have met self-described Christians who could not bring themselves to say, "I love God." They are willing to love people in general and persons in particular, but they cannot get their minds around this command to love God. They wonder, "Does God really need to be loved? Is it possible to love God? I might be 'grateful' to God in a general sort of way, as in Thanksgiving Day, but why would I kneel down and say, "O God, I love you?"

In his own day, Jesus might have been flabbergasted by such a question. Coming out of his Jewish tradition, he knew that God has always loved his people and has always demanded their love in return. Even Jesus' opponents could not question that traditional doctrine. But today this command is often overlooked and dismissed.

Christians can begin their contemplation of God at any point but as a Franciscan I always start with Jesus. I see him born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger and I love that baby. He certainly needs and deserves all the protection, care and attention I can give him. When my family of two parents and ten children invaded a relative's home, my Dad often introduced the newest baby with, "Here comes the Boss." Our lives were oriented around the needs of the least among us: "Don't slam the door, don't play so loud, don't make so much noise -- you'll wake the baby!" The first to eat whenever he or she was hungry was the baby. The rest of us ate on schedule.

So when I hear that God was born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger and spirited into Egypt to save him from King Herod, my heart melts with love for him.

When I see the hardships he endured and the opposition he encountered, and when I hear his anguished prayer in Gethsemane I pray, "God, have mercy on him." When I follow him to Calvary and see him hanged on a cross; and when I realize he did not have to do this but chose to do it for my sake, of course I love him. Who would be so hard-hearted as not to love this God with all your heart and soul and mind?
Our Father Saint Francis melted before the image of a cross. Thomas of Celano writes of his first call before the San Damiano crucifix:
From then on compassion for the crucified one was imprinted in his holy soul and, one may devoutly suspect, the stigmata of the holy passion were deeply imprinted in his heart, though not yet in his flesh.
After that Saint Francis designed the habit of our Order in the shape of a cross, which we put on daily. Of that moment when he received the stigmata, Celano writes:
He rejoiced greatly in the benign and gracious expression with which he saw himself regarded by the seraph, whose beauty was indescribable; yet he was alarmed by the fact that the seraph was affixed to the cross and was suffering terribly.
If Saint Francis was initially inspired and elated by the notion of Jesus' poverty, he was overtaken by the vision of Jesus' suffering. There he found his remorse for sin, his vocation and identity, his greatest sorrow and his deepest ecstasy. It was the vision of Jesus as adorable and lovable which made Francis the most influential man of the second millennium, and inspires the Church to this day.

What separates us from the secular culture around us and makes us "holy as the Lord your God is holy" is our readiness to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.

Saturday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Our Lady of Peace
Retreat House
in Beaverton, Oregon
Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.

How often must we come back to Saint Paul's astonishing declaration? It is the very foundation of our Christian confidence. Without the innocence which Jesus Christ has given to us, our lives are null and void; our efforts toward virtue and righteousness have no meaning. 

To fully comprehend his creedal statement, I remind myself often, "There is no excuse for sin." I was most impressed by this truth after reading Rabbi Heschl's The Prophets. The Hebrew prophets saw clearly the crimes of their compatriots in Judah and Israel. They saw widows and orphans begging; they saw the poor swindled of what little they had; they saw the rich and powerful buying judges and rigging courts. These were not petty crimes; these were violations of blood that cried to heaven for vengeance. 
The prophets insisted that if we but trust in God we will not sin. We will care for the needy and the helpless. There will be no aliens among us for all will be welcome. If we do not sin we will certainly enjoy God's protection and God's blessings of abundance. But because we do not trust in God and his Providential authority to care for us, we cheat one another. There is no excuse for it. 

But, Saint Paul tells us, "...there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." We have only to abandon our excuses and turn to him. 

Among ourselves, we sometimes forgive one another if the excuses are good enough. The offending party tells a story which is persuasive and I think, "In the same situation, I would probably do the same thing." Or, "Perhaps the fault is partially my own; I can forgive his part." We might be willing to "walk a mile in his shoes" and write off our losses. 

But even among human beings there are inexcusable sins. Marital infidelity cannot be excused. No matter how the offending spouse argues, he or she cannot construct a story that "explains" sinful behavior. Murder, rape and the theft of huge amounts of money are inexcusable, even when, for some reason, our imperfect legal system cannot condemn them. Sociological arguments might spread the guilt around to the entire society; they might show how the crime fits the cultural environment of sin and enjoys a certain "inevitability." They might vindicate the offender in the eyes of society; but they cannot excuse evil. 

Before God's tribunal all sins are known and understood and they are nonetheless inexcusable. If we had trusted in God we would not have committed them. 

But -- and this is what I am getting at -- our excuses only frustrate God's mercy. If I go to confession and present my case to the priest for why I had to do these wrongful things, he might ask, "Do you want me to excuse you or to forgive you? I can do either but I can't do both!" 

Confronted with such a choice, I must abandon all explanations, alibis, situations, stories and scenarios and say, "I have sinned. I have no excuse. I didn't have to; I chose to. Please forgive me -- once again." 

Having said these words we will hear once again, "Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Friday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Sr. Agnes Marie and Father Ken
before Montnomah Falls,
For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self,
but I see in my members another principle
at war with the law of my mind,
taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Today’s reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans may be the most often quoted passage in his letter, and is certainly the most poignant. It is hard to say whether he is speaking entirely of his own personal experience, or is generalizing from his experience to that of all people. But most of us complain of the same experience. The good I would, I do not; the evil I would not, I do.
The most encouraging word for me in this passage is, “I take delight in the law of God in my inner self…” Something in me echoes, “This is true.” As a Pharisee, Saint Paul took special joy in hearing and reflecting on the Law of God, as Jews do to this day. Despite his disappointment in himself, just hearing the words of scripture caused him to smile with pleasure.
Christians have the same experience as we enter a church, sing a hymn, pause before a sacred image or recite a prayer. Attending the liturgy fills us with joy. We find daily sustenance in the word of God. The obligations of daily prayer, especially as they’re satisfied by Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, feel more like privileges of the elect than duties for the oppressed.
I complained once to my spiritual director about my habits of sin and I wondered if my piety were part of the problem. Does one feed off the other? Would my anxiety be relieved if I quit praying so hard? There are so many people who seem to have no anxiety about their sinful habits; should I try to join them? 
He told me, “Don’t stop praying.” 
I never have, for I take delight in the law of God in my inner self.

Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Montnomah Falls, Oregon

But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God,
the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,
and its end is eternal life.

In our language, slave and slavery are very strong words. We’d rather not speak of such things. A people whose highest ideal is freedom shudders at the thought of being bound heart and soul in submission to another person. 
The Hebrew “children of Abraham” also had a horror of slavery. The opening words of Exodus still sound like a nightmare:
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph…. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. (Exodus 1)
Many hundred years later, we hear that same revulsion in their quarrel with Jesus:
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 Jesus has a deeper, more terrifying understanding of slavery:
Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
Today we think of freedom (at its best) as a disciplined ability to endure hardship for the sake of later reward. We want our students to begin ascending the career ladder even in high school. They should continually add achievement and experience to their resumes until retirement and beyond. Their freedom is completely self-directed by goals they have chosen for themselves. Many people work out several times a week in an effort to retain their freedom of good health and vitality until their dying breath. Freedom is a passion for us. 

Saint Paul speaks of freedom as obedience to God: “…you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God.” Jesus describes it as sonship:
… if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.

Catholics and many Protestants reconcile our modern stoic conception of freedom with our religious tradition with the word, vocation. I can find the path God has laid out for me as I consider my talents, aptitudes, preferences and the opportunities before me. Jesus has called me by name, prepared me through my formation, and sent me to this place and this situation. How can I now bring the grace of myself to this opportunity? Or, more simply, “What shall I do?”
But slavery pursues us. As they say in AA, it is “cunning, baffling and powerful.” The urge to have it my way never leaves us. Even Saint Francis as he lay dying, finally had to submit to obedience. Brother Elias would not permit the saint to die naked on the dirt floor, but required him to wear a borrowed habit. Penance teaches us to be continually suspicious of our own preferences; are they from God as we pray to do God’s will, or do they come from our predilection for shortcuts and easy answers?
If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Memorial of Saint John de Brébeuf and Saint Isaac Jogues, priests and martyrs, and their companions, martyrs

And do not present the parts of your bodies to sin
The Columbia River Gorge
from Crown Point, Oregon
as weapons for wickedness,
but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life
and the parts of your bodies to God
as weapons for righteousness.
For sin is not to have any power over you,
since you are not under the law but under grace.

Feminist critics have rightly decried the dismemberment of women’s bodies in our culture. Ads – especially for clothing -- detach female feet, hands and legs from heads and torsos. Using these parts to arouse anxiety and desire, and to sell merchandise, they ignore the mystery and wholeness of the human person. 
In such a culture we cannot be surprised that some people suffer paraphilia, “sexual arousal to objects, situations, or individuals that are not part of normative stimulation and that may cause distress or serious problems for the paraphiliac or persons associated with him or her.” (Wikipedia) When an entire culture is afflicted with paraphilia, the woman disappears and only parts of her are left.
In today’s first reading Saint Paul urges his disciples, “Do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness.” Using the philosophical language of his time, the Jewish apostle warned his people not to think of the body and soul as separate entities. Rather, you are “raised from the dead to life.”
It was said of Saint Francis after he received the gift of the stigmata that he was like a man raised from the dead. His suffering was so severe that he appeared like a corpse. He was dark, wizened and stiff.  But, arriving in a city or town, roused and invited to preach, he miraculously revived. People watched in astonishment as the “corpse” began to speak of God’s mercy. He laughed and sang and danced for joy as the Holy Spirit seemed to take charge of his body.
Francis’ biographers describe the long, hard road he took on the way toward this radical conversion. By his ferocious fasting, mortifications and vigils, he disciplined his body until it submitted completely to divine obedience. In that way Francis demonstrated Saint Paul’s words; he was not under the law but under grace.
Few of us are expected to live as Saint Francis lived and modern spirituality urges us to take better care of our bodies. But we must still abide within that same Spirit, suspicious of our tendencies to laziness and luxury, eager to rise up again in animated obedience to the will of God. On this feast of the North American martyrs, remembering how they were tortured, dismembered and killed, we ask God to discipline our bodies in the gentle Spirit of Jesus.

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

The word of the Lord endures forever.The Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz has written: 
There was once an artist, faithful and hardworking. His workshop, together with all he had painted, burned down. He himself was executed. Nobody has heard of him. Yet his painting remain. On the other side of fire.
Creativity and artistic expression have their own rewards. One of them is a mystical sensation that what I am creating will live forever. The poet John Keats affirmed that romantic thought with his preamble to Endymion, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” 
Even when the monument is made of such perishable items as food, ice, snow or sand there is something immortal about it. I have had that experience when I finished writing a poem and found no publisher. It doesn’t matter; it’s beautiful and has a life of its own.

Saint Luke’s gospel is certainly such a work. He wrote in the divine assurance that "The Word of the Lord endures forever.” Empires, kingdoms, nations, cities, armies and all human institutions rise and fall but the Gospel lives on. The Holy Spirit finds a faithful few in each generation who ponder God's Word, contemplate its depths and give it with love to their children. Cynics, who also seem to enjoy endless resilience, continually announce that God is dead and religion is passé, but the Holy Spirit always proves them wrong.

On this day the Church celebrates both the Evangelist St Luke and his writings, the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Our first reading gives us what little we know of the writer's biography. We can glean more about him from his books: he was well-educated and wrote in excellent Greek; he appreciated music for its power to move the mind and heart; he had a fine liturgical sense as he often presents liturgical gestures within profane settings: Gabriel's appearance to Zechariah as he incensed the altar; choirs of angels singing to the shepherds; the women beating their breasts as Jesus died; etc. Saint Luke was not fascinated by conflict or violence; he often underplays controversies that Saint Paul seemed to enjoy. 
It is good that we celebrate both the man and his work. The Church, after all, is not so much an institution as a congregation of people. No one is perfect; we all have our failings; but because the Holy Spirit never fails us, each is saintly and heroic in her own way; and each of us gives to our descendants what we have received from our ancestors. 

Happy feastday! 

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

"Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one's life does not consist of possessions."

Visiting Portland Oregon on Thursday, October 6; and Seattle Washington on October 9, and Victoria, BC on October 13 I witnessed three "Occupy" demonstrations. I didn't realize until then the movement has gone international.
I have some sympathy for the Occupy movement but, I can't help believing they would bar the door after the horse has escaped. While the world worried about terrorists, who posed no real threat to our way of life, certain other criminals -- who could do infinitely more damage to the common welfare -- made off with the goods. 
But even yet too many people admire wealth and luxury to actually challenge the system. I was there among the protesters of the 1960's, I saw greed in our rage for rock music and LP-stereo records. If we're angry at bankers and Wall Street traders, it's because they got rich and we didn't. That kind of anger does not want or demand justice. The Lord will say to us what he said to the litigant in today's gospel, "Who has made me your judge and arbitor?"
Justice, and its handmaiden Peace, will come when we disavow security, divest ourselves of wealth, and seek justice for the least among us.

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

World's Largest Spruce Tree
w/ Fathers Ken, Don and Richard
on Vacation
I've returned from vacation in Oregon and Washington (with a fresh load of wonderful photos!) to my posts here at Mount Saint Francis and the VA hospital. I'm sure I've got a pile of work in the Development Office and the hospital waiting for me, but I will attempt to get back to this "homily blog." Writing is grounding for me, and I find great enjoyment in it. 
But I have to confess I wrote an excellent reflection on today's gospel passage earlier this year, on Mardi Gras:

So I turn to today's second reading from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians for inspiration:

...grace to you and peace.

As I resume my reflections I will greet my readers with Paul's own invocation: grace to you and peace. We have all looked for and expected peace in this world at one time or another. We've found it, or thought we found it, in certain places and certain moments. They are often places where we vacation or worship. I think of idyllic places where I have enjoyed myself -- Ireland and Italy -- and remember that neither country has enjoyed much peace or prosperity. I think of edenic moments I have enjoyed -- Christmases and Easters and retreats -- and realize they were lovely but far too brief. 
Peace is the promise of Jesus to all of us. If we enjoy a moment of peace in a place of peace that can only be a  down payment or a promissory note from the Lord who holds peace in his hand. I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins exquisite poem:

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs? 
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite 
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but 
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it? 

O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu 
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite, 
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit. 
As we hear Jesus discussing the authority of God and the authority of Caesar, we remember that our God is the Lord of History. The faithful Jew never doubted that. As my Baptist preacher/friend in Louisiana often said,"God is still in charge."

Peace will come in its time, as the poet knew, and we will wait and watch with God's own patience.

 St Paul's prayer is for the gift of patience. If we have God's own patience abiding in our hearts we can endure the "alarms of wars, the daunting wars" that roil continually around us. And more, we can work for that day with our brooding prayers that sit upon the nest egg of Hope. 

For our gospel did not come to you in word alone,
but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. 

 The power of which Saint Paul speaks, I think, is hidden within our presence. We're here; we're not going away. We will practice peace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion and patience even in apparently hopeless situations. 
Our first reading today, from the prophet Isaiah, describes his vision of God's peace. He taught his contemporaries that the Emperor who seemed to rule the entire "known world" was only a tool of God. He could say without irony:
I have called you by your name,
giving you a title, though you knew me not.
I am the LORD and there is no other,
there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other.