Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
A fallen tree waits to settle
to the Earth from which it sprang.

have you cast judah off completely? is zion loathsome to you? why have you struck us a blow that cannot be healed? we wait for peace, to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead. we recognize, o lord, our wickedness, the guilt of our fathers; that we have sinned against you.

There are a half-dozen penitential psalms in the Bible's collection, but about fifty psalms of personal and communal lamentation. The Jewish people, in continual contact with God, learned to do penance for their sins; but more importantly, they learned to grieve. 

In mid-summer, on this feast of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, we hear Jeremiah's complaint about the destruction of Jerusalem. This is an ancient, sad memory of terror, horror and grief, followed by centuries of displacement. Though they would always call Jerusalem their home, most Jews would never see the city. 

As Christians we have inherited their grief. We honor it as we pray the psalms during our Masses, Sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours. These prayers teach us to pray with God's holy people, those who lived thousands of years ago, and those who are yet to be born. On any given day this or that psalm might not reflect my own personal experience, but it does reflect our experience, and the psalms of lamentation especially express our  grief. With maturity we see our own disappointments and travails within the History of Salvation. Even during the summer months when our life might be just a little bit easier, we cannot forget or neglect the sadness of our forebears. 

Fidelity to them does not permit us to think that life is or should be always joyous, simple or easy. It does not permit us the illusion that we or our culture or the world have outgrown the suffering of the past. We know that hard times will come around again and again. If we are permitted enough pleasure to sustain us we are grateful for that, but we don't suppose that pleasure or privilege should be our patrimony. 

Our patron saint of the day, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, urged his followers, 
  • "During times of desolation, remember your consolation." 
    • Though I feel wasted and useless now, though I am overwhelmed with pain, grief, sorrow, guilt or shame, I remember that I have enjoyed goodness. And, 
  • "During times of consolation, remember your desolation." 
    • I am grateful for these lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer but I know hard times will return. I can use this blessing not for waste or profligacy but to atone for my sins, restore my energies, renew my commitments, and prepare to make sacrifice to our Good God. 

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

"the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
it is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
it becomes a large bush,
and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"

To the unimaginative and uninitiated, seeds are unpromising things. Acorns don't look like oak trees nor does a bushel of wheat look like a family's food supply for a year. A mustard seed looks like a mote of dust. And yet seeds carry potential and it takes a human being, with the capacity to recall the past and expect the future, to see their potential.

The Christian often suffers that lack of imagination in handling the Word of God. The preacher expects his congregation to change their ways today. The counselor expects her advice to be welcomed and followed. The parent urges her children not to emulate her past mistakes.  All of which is wasted energy. Or so it would seem.

But these words of advise have their effect, as Jesus assures us. They are seeds whose ripening must follow in the fullness of time. When that time might be no one can say. Saint Paul contemplated that frustrating beauty in his First Letter to the Corinthians (3:5-9)
what is apollos, after all, and what is paul? ministers through whom you became believers, just as the lord assigned each one. i planted, apollos watered, but god caused the growth. therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only god, who causes the growth. the one who plants and the one who waters are equal, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. for we are god’s co-workers; you are god’s field, god’s building.
Jesus urges the minister of the word to be patient with the ripening process. It might be easy to predict when the blade will appear and the fruit will ripen; it's not difficult to predict when the baby will be born or the child enter puberty; but it's not so easy to predict when the Word of God will mature.Mark Twain had a sense for that when he said:
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

A century later, when some 40-year-old children still live with their parents, we must expect to wait even longer for God's word to ripen and bear fruit in us, and in our contemporaries.

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

This complex sentence from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians moves from a consideration of the way Christians should live to a profound creedal statement about the nature of God.

Seven times he uses the word one. That can be no accident, and was surely noticed by that Ephesian community the first time it was read aloud in their Christian worship. This series of ones symbolically advances the thought and directs our vision. As we hear this sentence we travel with him from our peaceful church on earth which tries to practice these virtues to the Halls of Heaven where we see the One God and Father of all.

Saint Paul describes the Church as “one body,” a concept that remains in our theology and is familiar to our spirituality but may be foreign to our experience.  Imagine, if you will, what it was like to stand in a crowd of several thousand people in a grassy meadow where Jesus spoke to them – without a microphone, out of doors. They must have been standing shoulder to shoulder, back to belly in a tightly packed mass of humanity. Emotions like laughter, astonishment or weeping moved like waves through this density. The human body, as we all know, is mostly water. What could be more natural than a wave of emotion sweeping through this crowd?

When Saint Paul speaks of the one body of the church he is talking about that very physical reality. There is no need in such a crowd to identify oneself as different from or better than anyone else. You're just glad and grateful to be there.

Today's Gospel recalls that beautiful day when Jesus fed five thousand people in the wilderness. The story leads us into Jesus' mysterious teachings about the Eucharist, and his insistence that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He gives his Body and Blood to us and his gift overwhelms all expectations. There is more than we can eat, as we discover in the twelve baskets of leftovers. 

called to the one hope of our call and sharing the one Bread of Angels we find ourselves united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism, standing shoulder to shoulder and back to belly in the Communion of Saints before the Holy of Holys, praising one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

A dear friend goes crabbing in a Louisiana marsh
his slaves said to him, 'do you want us to go and pull them up?'
he replied, 'no, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time i will say to the harvesters,
'first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

Recently I saw a clever bumper sticker: "The Non-judgment Day is near."  If nothing else, it's thought provoking.

Many critics object to the "judgmental" passages in the Bible, and they are many. Lovers of scripture react defensively; they insist on God's mercy and God's universal love for everyone without distinction. They glean the writings of the prophets and sages for every passage that demonstrates God's milder side. Other lovers of scripture chortle as they envision a day of judgment on the critics!

This passage from Saint Matthew invites an attitude of wait-and-see. No one knows when or how the Judgment Day will come, or what might transpire on that day. While  virtually all the books, letters, and assorted documents of the Old and New Testaments agree that God will vindicate virtue and eradicate evil, I can think of no verse or passage giving anyone the authority to judge another human being before the Judgment Day.  Rather, we are told, "'Vengeance is mine' says the Lord."  Retribution, revenge, pay-back: all belong to God. Even vindication is God's responsibility. The Christian should only wait for the Day of Judgment and Justice.

Apparently, the writers of the New Testament did not foresee a day when members of the Church would actually sit on the benches and judge this world's criminals.  For the most part, they were happy to avoid the attention of judges, prosecutors and other representatives of civil law. But since some judges are Christian and most Christians in the United States have an activvoice in selecting their judges, we have been handed the duty of judging fairly. Is there a way to live by God's law and not judge others, while living in this world where we must make judgments?  I think there is.

American prisons have three specific purposes: punishment, rehabilitation and containment. Containment entails both removing the criminal from the public sphere where he does harm, and protecting him from harm. Unfortunately the electorate has never decided which of these three policies should govern our prison system. Do we put them in prison to punish them, to give them time to repent and reform, or to protect both our society and the malefactor?

From everything I have seen and read, punishment is ineffective. The criminal usually doesn't think he deserves the punishment, nor are potential criminals dissuaded from committing similar crimes. Many of today's youth expect to go to prison anyway, and they enjoy the company of their friends when they get there.

But more to the point, I think the teachings of the scriptures dissuade us from punishment. That is God's prerogative. But we can and should remove certain individuals from the public for their own good and for our protection. That requires an assessment of this person's future behavior, based on his past behavior. That is not exactly a judgment.  While he is there we can provide him or her with opportunities for rehabilitation.

Granted there are no guarantees the rehabilitation will take effect and in some cases it seems unlikely from the get-go. We need not be foolish about these customers. Some of them would not know kindness, truth or grace if it bit them on the leg. But we need not say, "This person is evil and always will be." That's demonizing one's enemies and that is invariably a projection of one's own worse tendencies on someone else.

Most incarcerated people are there because they're too much like you and me. In a society that values absolute freedom, some people take too much. In a society that values money, some people steal it. A society that is fascinated by violence inevitably produces violent people. A sexually-obsessed society produces all kinds of perverts. A society that wants to fix every problem with a drug generates drug-addicts. That should come as no surprise! Punishing those people only confuses them. They rightly say, "I'm just doing what everyone does!"

You, my dear reader, might say, "Father Ken is idealistic." To which I reply, "A society of romantics produces many foolish idealists!" I still hope ideals can inform our decisions, though they should never dictate them.

I am certain -- and here I have the reflecting church and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to agree with me -- that God has not given us -- neither me nor the collective us which is the State -- full authority to kill criminals. We can put them away, even for life. We can love them as our enemies, deliberately and with all the necessary precautions. We can even provide them with opportunities behind bars to be useful, contributing citizens. I have visited inmates in two jails, talked with prison chaplains and former inmates of prisons, and I am sure Grace can penetrate even electronic surveillance, iron bars, barbed wire and concrete fortresses. There are saints even there, for Jesus has broken down the barriers that set us apart.  

Perhaps, when the Non-judgment Day comes, the Lord will notice that we obeyed his teaching, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." 

Friday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

return, rebellious children, says the lord,
for i am your master;
i will take you, one from a city, two from a clan,
and bring you to zion.
i will appoint over you shepherds after my own heart,
who will shepherd you wisely and prudently.

Recently a Veteran attempted to draw me into an old quarrel about leadership in the Church. Specifically he challenged me about the Sacrament of Penance and whether a man can forgive sins. I replied that they challenged Jesus on that very issue -- I couldn't resist getting one point in -- before I diverted the topic back to our original discussion. 

But the question of leadership for the Lord's "rebellious children" goes back a long way, even to a thousand years before Jesus was born. You might remember the last judge Samuel reluctantly anointed Saul as the first king of Israel. He did so at the Lord's command, and only after fixing his skepticism deep in our sacred literature. (I Samuel 8) His ambivalence persisted into the New Testament, with its criticisms directed against ostentatious rabbis and pretentious Pharisees. Although they certainly echoed Jesus' sentiments these remarks were lodged in the New Testament a half century later because the Church was suffering under its own misleading leadership. 

My limited knowledge of Church history tells me the entire quarrel between Catholics and Protestants is about leadership: Who should lead? How are they chosen? What qualities and qualifications should they have? How are they dismissed from leadership? How are leaders trained, organized and led?  What are their responsibilities and duties? What are the limits of their authority? What should we reasonably expect of our leaders? What are unreasonable expectations? And so forth and so on.... All the arguments about the nature of the Eucharist and the roles of the Blessed Mother and the saints are side issues. The real issue is leadership, and everyone has an investment in it. 

A daily reflection is no place to take a stand on any of those questions but it is the right place to urge prayer for our leaders. They are, at best, vessels of clay. All of our leaders, both men and women, deserve our prayerful support, our gracious welcome, our ready obedience, our intelligent criticism and our mature friendship. They have the same right to forgiveness as any other Christian; and perhaps more so because their character defects are so apparent to everyone but themselves. Finally, our leadership should enjoy the vision of new generations of leaders as parents, families and churches encourage their young to consider entering the ministry. 

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

"but blessed are your eyes, because they see,and your ears, because they hear.amen, i say to you, many prophets and righteous peoplelonged to see what you see but did not see it,and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.".

Loving the Mother of Jesus as we do, we are naturally curious about her parents. They too must have been wonderful people. The one who called out to Jesus, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breast that suckled you" might have been speaking about his grandmother and her precious daughter. The scriptures, as you know, say almost nothing about Jesus' grandparents, except to name the father of Joseph as Jacob.But Catholics have never been bound to the limits of the Bible. We wrote it, and appreciate its origins in the many complex relationships of human life.Indeed Jesus might have been speaking of his grandparents when he made that statement above,
many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

A fellow asked me recently about the Church's teaching on "election." (Now there's a complicated question. He seems to be agonizing over whether he is among the elect.) 

I tried to explain to him that the Catholic teaching of election is very wholistic. Election begins with God, of course, and continues with the married couple who want the best for their yet-to-be-conceived children. They begin in prayer and dedication to their sacrament of marriage. Then follow that prayer with healthy living -- bed rest, good diet, abstention from excessive alcohol etc -- as they conceive children. 

The newborn is formally "elected" when he or she is baptized, given the Eucharist and Confirmation and raised in the practices of our faith. Election is nothing as rational as Calvinist doctrine, nor as mechanistic as "double election." Rather, it's the decision of the Holy Spirit which finds expression in the pious zeal of people who believe in God.
Saint Joachim and Anna took their place in God's plan of salvation much as you and I have. Could they know how blessed their daughter might be? Probably not, nor did they need to know. It was sufficient for them that they raised their little girl with the best insights they had and fidelity to their Jewish faith.

When we celebrate Joachim and Anna we honor the millions of people who live in the warmth of God's love and do their part, never imagining how God might favor their heroic sacrifice in the centuries to come.

If you can spare the extra minute, let me comment on another mini-controversy that the "new translation" has stirred up. During the Eucharistic prayer, at its high moment during the consecration, the priest reads "which is given for many" rather than "which is given for all." Is there a difference between many and all?

I will suggest that many is more open-ended. While all certainly includes everyone, many implies limitless.

Everyone is a limited expression, and sometimes everyone means no one. To say that all are elect is the same as saying no one is, like "I love all my children equally." I'm sure the good parent loves all her children equally but she doesn't necessarily mean "without distinction," because each child is different and requires distinction. You can't give all your children boys' toys when some of them are girls, nor all of them size 8 when some need a size 4.

The word many leaves room for more, an indefinite more, and I can live with that.

Feast of Saint James, apostle

Brothers and sisters:
We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

The New Testament never hesitates to show just how earthen these vessels are. If there are heroes in the book they are ordinary men and women chosen by God to do extraordinary things.  The older I get the more I see just how ordinary I am, along with my fellow Christians.

Recently I mentioned to the Veterans in my Spirituality Discussion Group at the VA hospital, that some priests seek treatment for alcoholism. At least one fellow was shocked by this revelation, and angered. “How can they tell me how to live when they can’t do it themselves?” he said.

Good question. I’m not sure I have an answer, except to plead “We are only messengers.” God uses earthen vessels used to carry a priceless fluid. 

Occasionally God does choose an extraordinary person, some spiritual genius, to convey the message. That one will be a Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa of Calcutta; and the world watches closely to see if there are beneath their golden faces, feet of clay. We’ve seen the spectacular fall of many apparent saints; and cynics like me expect the worse.

But more often God uses damaged goods like you and me. As Saint Paul said:
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

If I could say, “Do it my way and you’ll be as good as I am” I would say it. But it would not be true. I can only urge my fellow, damaged human being, “Trust in God. He will carry you through.”

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

A small fish in a shallow creek
in bright sunshine
Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt

Thirty years ago my spiritual director insisted that our God is loving and kind. I wanted to believe her, but I didn’t.

One’s image of God is shaped largely by life experience. I may hear of more desirable ways of imagining God; I may see lovely artistic renditions of God; and I may wish to believe in such a God: but it’s hard to set aside one’s deepest convictions. Because God is the wellspring of all reality, I can only conclude that the reality I know expresses the truth about God. And that conviction about God might not conform to Church doctrine or any other teaching.

Encountering a generous and gentle spiritual director, I became convinced that the lord whom I worshipped was not the true God. At that time, I also joined a twelve step group and there I learned of their kinder, more forgiving God. When I “made a decision to turn (my life) and will over to the care of God as we understand him” it was their God I chose.
But that decision didn’t immediately reverse a first impression of 30+ years. Conversion doesn’t come simply, nor does healing. (Of three kinds of healing – physical, mental and spiritual – it seems the physical comes quickly, the mental comes eventually, and the spiritual takes longest.)

This is why God must reveal himself to us. We cannot know God without divine intervention, which we call Revelation or Salvation History.
For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!

Saint Francis of Assisi grew up in a violent home and a warlike city. Despite his small stature and frail health the young man was ready and eager to march off to war. But a series of revelations turned him around. First he realized how little he knew of God, and then he encountered the truth of God in a colony of lepers. Finally he went to work, spending long arduous hours in desperate contemplation seeking a deep conversion. A companion said he would disappear into the mouth of a shallow cave for prayer, and emerge hours later, filthy and sweaty as if he had been mining gold.

Blessed as few others, this spiritual genius learned to see God’s goodness everywhere. Living out of doors, he was exposed to pleasant spring days, torrid summer heat, glorious autumn vistas and fierce winter storms; all revealed God’s majestic gentleness. When his body shivered with cold his heart burned with love; when gnats and chiggers tormented his body, contemplation of Jesus’ wounds soothed his soul. Neither the contempt of men nor the horrors of war could distract him from the vision of God’s goodness. His sight was clear. “You are good, all good, supreme good!” he prayed and taught others to pray.

Three little fishies in the water, choo
I pray for a healing like that of Saint Francis. I want to know the God…
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but delights rather in clemency,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
"Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."

Chaplain Bren Bishop, my colleague at the VA hospital and a retired military officer, tells of the time when he had been reassigned to duty at Fort Knox. He looked forward to completing his years of service and retiring with a pension. A young lieutenant asked him, “What year did you join the Army, sir?”

Chaplain Bishop, long steeped in military culture, knew exactly what the young fellow was doing; he was challenging him in a game of one-up-man-ship. He replied, “1972, sir. What year were you born?”

In today’s gospel certain scribes and Pharisees challenge Jesus, “We wish to see a sign from you.” They were asking for his credentials. But, if he does present something to validate his authority, they will probably laugh it off. He is, after all, a country boy from Nazareth, not a cosmopolitan of Jerusalem. But Jesus offers nothing, neither signs nor credentials. He is what he says he is; take it or leave it.

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, the young Frodo Baggins momentarily argues with the wizard Gandolph about ownership of the Ring. Suddenly Gandolph stands up, towering over the hobbit; he thunders with authority and dazzles with a mystical light. Terrified, Frodo backs down and Gandolph resumes his gentle, avuncular pose.

That is never Jesus’ way. Even when he rises from the dead he does so without a great display of power. He just appears to some folks along the road to Emmaus and in the Cenacle. They know him by his wounds or by his breaking of bread. There are no deafened ears or shattered windows in his wake; no one is blinded by his brilliance.

Jesus had as much authority as any other man simply by his human nature, but he never chose to browbeat another human being into obedience or submission. He does not want that kind of respect. Rather, in his profound regard for our dignity -- and in his even greater reverence for our wounded, frightened spirits – he would appear as no more than one of us. Even when his opponents mock and berate him -- daring him to “Come down off that cross, if you are the Son of God,” – and it appears his restraint is pointless for they will never get it; he remains meek and humble of heart. He cannot do otherwise.

Contrary to popular belief faith is born of love, not of fear. It does not believe in signs, no matter how spectacular. We should not believe in a God who might punish us for failing to love, honor and obey him; rather we believe in the Lord who offers himself in all humility as the way, the truth and the life.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

for he is our peace, he who made both one 
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity,  through his flesh, 
abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, 
that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, 
thus establishing peace, 
and might reconcile both with god, 
in one body, through the cross, 
putting that enmity to death by it.

I suppose most of my readers remember the Berlin Wall and the "Iron Curtain." Most of us remember thinking those fortified, mined barriers would never come down. The first thing I ever learned about international affairs was the Iron Curtain. It was impregnable and permanent. It seemed only a nuclear war could bring it down and, given that "something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down" (as Robert Frost suggested) World War III seemed inevitable. 

And then it was gone. One day East Germans started driving around the one and through the other; the next day the East German government dismantled the wall. Shortly after that, divided Germany was reunited. And today Germany prospers like no other nation. 

Walls are meant to last forever, although nothing does. Jewish worshipers were very familiar with the wall between the Jewish and Gentile courts in the Temple of Jerusalem. Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God were welcome to enter the Temple, but only so far. 

Saint Paul chose that uninspired barrier to describe the impact of Jesus. With his broken body and within his own flesh, he broke down the barrier that set apart Jews and Gentiles. The New Chosen People would not be limited to cradle Jews, cradle Christians or cradle Catholics. Anyone could enter the Holy of Holies and be swept into salvation. Anyone could claim a rightful place within the heart of God and our Eucharist. 

This teaching remains as a challenge to us. Walls and barriers remain. Today America is divided by "gated communities;" their residents take care of themselves and shun their fellow taxpayers in their school districts, counties and states. I took a little trip into one some years ago, with a priest friend. Sure enough, we found ourselves tailed by a car with two unfriendly looking men as we drove slowly about. We didn't need to be told we were unwelcome; and we left. 

"Location, location, location" we're told are the three criteria for property values. If you live in the right place your home is worth something; if not, you're out of luck. In Jennings, Louisiana I lived in the African-American neighborhood, one of the few white folks who lived there. Even the nicest homes paid low property tax, or none, because location determined what they were worth. That neighborhood had no wall around it but the railroad track -- as in "the wrong side of the tracks" -- served the same purpose. The American dream struggles in such an environment. 

When I was in Louisiana I enjoyed visiting the city and parish jails. I often spoke to the inmates within their walls about this very passage. Jesus Christ has broken down the wall that sets apart criminals and law-abiding citizens. 

The wall that so many would love to erect between the United States and Mexico is equally doomed. Too many Americans want their intoxicating drugs to abide such an absurdity. 

In today's Gospel Jesus sees how exhausted we are with our efforts to distance ourselves from those around us. It's tiring, costly and pointless. We are indeed like sheep without a shepherd, not even knowing how the goats should be separated from the sheep, or who will do it. That is an authority reserved to him, the Just Judge. 
in his days judah shall be saved, 
israel shall dwell in security. 
this is the name they give him: 
"the lord our justice."
But he is our peace and as we follow him, we will see Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled:
i will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them 
so that they need no longer fear and tremble; 
and none shall be missing, says the lord.
P.S. In the wake of yet another mass murder, let us pray that Americans will intentionally disarm themselves. More guns only spawn more killings. There will always be madmen among us, and evil persons, but we have no obligation to arm them.  

It seems unlikely, I know; but so did the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. 

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

he will not contend or cry out,nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.a bruised reed he will not break,a smoldering wick he will not quench,until he brings justice to victory.and in his name the gentiles will hope.

Franciscan spirituality teaches us about a humble God who approaches us without power. Francis was continually amazed at that. Clearly God has the power; Francis saw that clearly too. But by his birth in humble circumstances, his exile in Egypt, his homelessness and poverty, God chose to take his place among the poorest of the poor.

That vision of God has left its mark on Western civilization. At least the Christmas chrechè that appears every December indicates some appreciation for the poverty of Christ. Perhaps that's why it's so controversial. I wonder if our atheist opposition would be more content if we described our God as born in a royal palace with kings and queens in attendance, while the shepherds keep their distance in the darkened pastures. There is nothing unusual about the trappings of power. It's safe, common and predictably suffocating.

In today's gospel we hear how Jesus withdrew from the fray for a while. Some might suppose he was frightened; I would believe he followed the promptings of the Spirit.  Matthew takes the opportunity to recall Isaiah's prophesy, that the Messiah would approach the People of God wrapped in gentleness and humility. This prophesy had not played a major role in Jewish religion; nor, for that matter, has it taken deep root in our religious consciousness, despite the best efforts of the early church and the second millennial efforts of mendicant orders.

God's humility is a deep mystery which appears only to the contemplative. I can speak of it, of course, but I can't say I've actually got it! To get it, one must actually approach others with that same humble spirit which declines the opportunity to break the bruised reed and quench the smoldering wick. Give me an argument and I still go for the jugular.

And so I wait on the healing of God to teach me his foolish ways, those ways that are wiser than mine.

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

i say to you, something greater than the temple is here.if you knew what this meant, i desire mercy, not sacrifice,you would not have condemned these innocent men.for the son of man is lord of the sabbath."

In Louisiana I was occasionally visited by a distant son of the parish, a fellow who never joined the Church in worship but was a member, sort of. He never came to Church because God spoke to him directly and often. Since the fellow wanted nothing in particular from me, and seemed harmless I would hear him out and let him go on his way.

But eventually he had to dispose of his father's property and came by to discuss the matter with me. Without going into detail I can say the parish church had some interest in how the property was handled. He and I disagreed on a particular point and he asked me, "Don't you believe that God talks to me?"

He had never asked that question before.

I had no choice but to say, "No."

I never saw him again but he settled the matter to my satisfaction.

Just as I doubted my peculiar friend, many doubted Jesus' authority. If life is difficult, it is also risky. 
"You pays your money and you makes your choice." There are no guarantees we'll make the right choice. Jesus offered his contemporaries a choice, and they made their choice -- wrongly, as it turns out. I still feel pretty sure about the fellow in Louisiana. He was a nut case.

The Christian is called to live under an authority that will always remain mysterious to the world around us. It is an authority of the Holy Spirit and has an imperceptible immediacy. No one can claim to be driven by the Holy Spirit and expect no challenges from others, neither church authorities, family or civil. 

Daily we must pray that we obey the Spirit of God as we make our choices. We give to some and refuse others. We forgive some and not others. We allow this and refuse that. There are not always clear guidelines for knowing right from wrong. The Spirit of God must lead us as it led Isaiah, Hezekiah, Jesus and his disciples.