Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle

Lectionary: 684

Thus faith comes from what is heard,
and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.
at Holy Cross Retreats, Las Cruces, NM
But I ask, did they not hear?
Certainly they did; for
Their voice has gone forth to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world.

Is preaching outdated? We have entered a new age and many old familiar ways are disappearing. Communication is a digital event. Words and sounds  flow through billions of miles of copper and fiber wires. Even objects can be sent electronically; one of this year's Christmas toys will be "three dimensional printers." 
At one time preaching was done only with an unassisted human voice. In some places, clever architects designed amphitheaters where the voice was amplified. Beyond city walls, crowds learned to move downwind from the speaker to hear more clearly. When Jesus preached to five thousand he apparently moved from group to group, repeating his message over and over. We know he also used the carrying power of calm water to preach to people on the shore. 
In many situations the preacher stood before a densely packed crowd. They saw his face and felt his immediate presence. Those who stood close enough might have caught the spittle that flew from his mouth. Preaching was a up-front-and-personal. 
Educated persons of the ancient world specialized in public speaking. They learned the art of communication; how to announce, teach and persuade with reasonable and even subtle arguments. As recently as the Civil War, large crowds of farmers and merchants listened with rapt attention to closely detailed argumentation between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas . Our ancestors enjoyed the clever mot as much as we do, but expected more than sound bites from their leaders. 

I suspect preaching is sapped of its strength by electronics. Even the ubiquitous microphone alters the human voice, alienates the messenger and depersonalizes the messageI have seen adults sitting not ten feet in front of me acting as if I am on television. They don't seem to realize that I am in the same room where they squirm, signal and whisper to one another as I speak. Growing up in a television environment, they don't know how to pay attention to a live human being, one who feels offended by rude behavior. 

Preaching happens between human beings with real flesh. The apostle is not just a talking head. When the Word becomes flesh it feels personal, warm and friendly. It is familiar, as in family, and knows your name. Preaching, as Jesus and Saint Paul knew it, has gone underground. Many people cannot hear it even when they're in the very room with the preacher because they don't want to be with those people, in that congregation or a member of this church. 

The New Evangelization might attempt to utilize copper wires and fiber optics but it will have to impact our very real flesh. It will draw us together again, and we will hear, touch, smell and speak to one another. 

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Junior Rodeo
at the MN State Fair
Lectionary: 506

A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea and said: "With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down, and will never be found again. No melodies of harpists and musicians, flutists and trumpeters,
will ever be heard in you again. No craftsmen in any trade will ever be found in you again....

Jesus said to his disciples: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.

During this last week of the liturgical year we hear grim predictions about the fate of powerful cities. But prophesies of doom are not new to us. Our queen and mother, the Virgin of Galilee predicted as much when she greeted Elizabeth:
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The message is good news for those who wait on God, the Lord of History. We have nothing to fear. For Americans this message might be easier to hear if the United States had not invested so much in national security. Stunned by Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we have attempted to protect ourselves from surprise attack. 

Many Americans like to play with the Christian's favorite psalm: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the baddest *** in the valley. They intend this as a joke, but they also mean it. They have invested heavily in technological, earthly power. Many are heavily armed with their own personal weapons; many vote consistently for whichever party promises more to the military. Perhaps unconsciously, we have become a militarized society.

Isaiah warned his contemporaries about such bad investments, when heavy equipment were war horses and chariots: 
Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord! (Isaiah 31: 1)

For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high... (Isaiah 2: 12)
Prize winning horse
at the MN State Fair
Faith in God does not permit such a compromise. Either we believe in God or we don't. I lived in Australia for a while, and have visited Canada, Ireland and Italy. None of these have invested so much in security. They strive to live with other nations, without dominating anyone. Sadly, I found it easier to breathe in those countries than in my native land.

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 505

Show your stuff!
at the MN State Fair
Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.

John, the Seer of Patmos, has promised to show us the things that are to come. That being the case, I read this song as the Praises of God sung by those who had won the victory over the beast when that Judgement Day arrives. 
This is the great crowd who will be gathered before the Lord and thanking God for the Righteousness of both his justice and mercy. The point is not whether each of us personally agree with the decisions God makes about each of us or any particular individuals. Remember that God will judge not only individuals, he will also decide about cities, counties, states and nations. 
And he will certainly not ask for your opinion or mine. Nor should we say, "I agree" or "I understand." If we have not learned to shut up by then, it may be too late! 
I met a woman once who said she didn't like the Grand Canyon. She said it was too big and it made her feel small. I was astonished, I didn't know one could offer an opinion about the Grand Canyon. 
Likewise, God's decisions about us are not subject to our approval. 
But I do hope and pray that I am caught up with everyone else in wonder and praise of the Mighty Works which God does, and especially of his Justice and Mercy. If God shows clemency to those I've regarded as wicked, So Be It! And if God decides that, after all the blessings God gave me, that I am not worth saving, so be it! Nonetheless, God and God's Ways are just and true
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 504

MN State Fair
Then another angel came from the altar, who was in charge of the fire,
and cried out in a loud voice
to the one who had the sharp sickle,
"Use your sharp sickle and cut the clusters from the earth's vines,
for its grapes are ripe."
So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth's vintage.
He threw it into the great wine press of God's fury.

American culture was at one time profoundly influenced by the scriptures. If the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock and the pioneers who traveled west had any book at all, it was the King James Bible. Children learned to read by the Book, and searched its pages for imaginative experiences. They were as familiar with the Deluge, David's sling and Saint Michael's angelic hosts as children might be familiar with whatever passes for entertainment today. They knew "where the Grapes of Wrath are stored" and "his terrible swift sword." 
They learned they were accountable to God for their thoughts, words and deeds, and that a Day of Judgement would come. 

Unfortunately, they probably did not get the liturgical references of passages like the one above, from the Book of Revelation. Nor would Catholics catch the allusions to the "cup of suffering" which Jesus drank, because they were never invited to share the chalice at Mass. They would not understand that Jesus' disciples must also drink the "blood of the grape" which flows from the "great wine press of God's fury." Where Jesus has gone, we must follow. 

Eventually, as the Catholics built their churches and painted the ceilings and apses, they would see Christ upon his throne, beneath the Authority of God the Father and accompanied by the Holy Spirit: 
I, John, looked and there was a white cloud,and sitting on the cloud one who looked like a son of man,with a gold crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.
Those images are still familiar to us, though the Lord might be holding a scepter or a shepherd's crook in his hand. The sharp sickle (or scythe) generally appears only in comics nowadays, in the hand of shrouded, hooded Death; or on December 31, as the old year departs. 

Having celebrated the Feast of Christ the King last Sunday, and now anticipating the First Sunday of Advent, we pass these darkening days of November remembering that all things are passing. All must come to judgement, and those who sustained their hope for salvation in the Day of Wrath will be delivered. 

Echoing Dante's vision of the dead, whose spirits floated about in an endless tempest of their own passions, T.S. Eliot wrote:
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 
Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,
To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours
With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine. 
It is a vision less violent than Revelation 14 but nonetheless disappointing. Christians pray daily and hopefully for deliverance from the futility of death, to God the Father and to Mary Full of Grace:
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil...
Pray for us now, and at the hour of our death. Amen

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 503
One of the rides
at MN State Fair
(no thanks!)
They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne,
before the four living creatures and the elders.
No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand
who had been ransomed from the earth.
These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
They have been ransomed as the first fruits
of the human race for God and the Lamb.
On their lips no deceit has been found; they are unblemished.

At various times some Christian churches take 144,000 very seriously. Most recently Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons insisted that only that number would be saved. Inevitably, as their numbers grew,  their teaching changed.
The medieval church supposed the number must be pretty nearly filled out by the 13th century. That would be one thousand saints per century, which seemed doable. That belief generated particular energy in the mendicant movements, including my own Franciscan Order. The end is near! Get in while the getting is good!
I suppose, to the biblical author, 144,000 sounded like an awful lot of people, and it carried the ring of fullness about it. Twelve times twelve is as far as our multiplication tables go (but the Chinese learn up to 16x16 – smart alecks!) There was no city on earth as large as 144,000; there were probably less than a million people in the whole world at that time. And, considering that most people are rogues, 144,000 sounded pretty generous.
But Saint John also allowed that more people might be admitted to Paradise; they just would not be among the elect:
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. Revelation 7:9
The Seer’s thinking was not complicated by our modern notions of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Since all is God’s gift and God owes nothing to anyone, the promise of 144,000 elite saints and a great multitude of others sounds generous indeed.
After twenty centuries of recording the lives of holy people and canonizing many of them, we have more experience of holiness; and we know that some of them were really awful people in their early years. Deceit had been found on their lips; if these saints are now unblemished that is another of God’s marvelous works. In Jesus Christ their innocence, integrity and purity was restored. They are worthy not by their heroic efforts alone – though we should admire that – but also by the Grace of God.
The day may yet come when the Catholic Church will have beatified and canonized 144,000 people, and still the roll call will continue. The Lord has done this and it is wonderful in our eyes. (Psalm 118:23)

The Solemnity of Christ the KIng

The surprising art
of polymer clay

Lectionary: 161

Jesus answered, "You say I am a king.
For this I was born and for this I came into the world,
to testify to the truth.
Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice."

Pilate's reply to Jesus --  "What is truth?" -- reflects everything the powers of this world know. Had Pilate answered his own question he would say, "Truth is what I make it. Power is the only truth." 
I often speak with those wise Veterans who have decided to take a few days off from their troubled lives to spend time in the psych ward. Some have been there repeatedly and have found a kind of haven in its stark halls and unadorned rooms. I speak with them about courage and cynicism. 

  • Cynicism, I define as, "Oh to hell with it. There are no values. I'll just go along to get along. I'll survive in this crazy world by doing what everyone else is doing. My values don't count and I don't count." 
  • Courage is defined as, "Here I am. I believe in goodness, truth and honesty and by staying here I can make a difference. I will not ignore or abandon myself, or forget who I am."

Pilate was a Roman official. Like everyone else in the world-as-he-knew-it, he had to obey his superiors. They told him, "Keep a lid on problems in Jerusalem by whatever means." The means at hand were his soldiers. 
Like soldiers of all time who find themselves far from home in an occupied country, they cared only for each other. Placed in a hostile land, their first loyalty was to their battle buddies. They lived only to survive another day; and, for fun, they bullied the locals. Pilate could use that contempt to fulfill his mission and, perhaps, advance his career. 
Power, as I have said of violence, despises intangible virtues as piety, integrity and honesty. What use are they to an empire that believes only in security and engages in continual war? 

Jesus spoke a foreign language to Pilate when he spoke of truth. It made no sense to the procurator. How can Jesus even pretend to be a king when he had no armies, no weapons and no subjects. Why would anyone call a helpless man a king? True, Pilate knew of peripatetic philosophers who taught about a Platonic spiritual world. But he had no time and no interest in lofty ideals. They might as well be somewhere over the rainbow. 

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has called upon Catholics and Christians throughout the world to celebrate a Year of Faith. It should be a year of prayer, renewal and recommitment to a New Evangelization. 

Christians find ourselves in a world quite similar to the Roman Empire. We are an odd minority amid rapidly developing economic and political systems that would scrutinize every human being. Their values are power, security and control. 

Within a century it will be possible to know the complete genetic code of every person on earth, and their interests, needs, desires, religious beliefs and political opinions. We have seen that Tower of Babel collapse once already, in the form of Communism. The Party set out to create the perfect soviet citizen by controlling the arts and sciences, education, economics, technology and politics -- and by destroying every dissident. Inevitably, the Tower with its ideology collapsed. It could not control the corruption of the human being, that insatiable instinct to promote one's own interest at the expense of others. 

A future Earth that attempts to manage every human being with data will also fail -- amid enormous suffering -- because data is not Truth. There are no cyber-systems that can manage Truth. It abides in this world, but is not of it. 

This Feast of Christ the King reminds us that, under the delusion of pursuing power through knowledge, we have neglected Wisdom. In the end he will judge those who worshiped power and neglected Truth. 

Memorial of Saint Andrew Düng-Lac, and martyrs of Vietnam

Lectionary: 502
A woolly mammoth
at the Minnesota State Fair. 
If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths
and devours their enemies.
In this way, anyone wanting to harm them is sure to be slain.
When they have finished their testimony,
the beast that comes up from the abyss
will wage war against them and conquer them and kill them.

The eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation describes a strange story about two martyrs. First they are invulnerable and irresistible. Then suddenly, they are destroyed by their enemies. How is that those who are obviously loved by God, who are both righteous and powerful, so wrapped in security -- are suddenly stripped of their invulnerability, apparently abandoned by God and handed over to their vicious enemies?
This might sound very strange until we notice their story copies that of Jesus. He went about freely announcing the gospel and healing people left and right. Even when they picked up stones to hurl at him he passed through the crowd and walked away. Then suddenly, they arrested him and crucified him, and his career ended as abruptly as it began.
Going further into the history of prophets, however – and martyrs are nothing if they’re not prophets – there is the story of Elijah. He called down fire out of heaven to scorch and consume the sacrifice he had drenched in water. Then he personally cut the throats of five hundred prophets of Baal. And then he fled into the desert because Jezebel was after him!
So is the prophet powerful or not? (I’d like to know because I’ve thought about applying for the job.)
The answer is no. God is powerful, the prophet is only his obedient servant, a human who has voluntarily given his life and will over to the care of God, to be used as a tool of God’s mighty works.
Ordinarily, the martyr sees the road ahead well enough. He or she knows where this is going. But as a witness the prophet can speak only the truth. When the world needs to hear the truth but also hates it, the martyr is given the ferocious courage and irresistible strength to say it. Then, to make certain the world understands the martyr dies. His words are writ in blood.
Today we celebrate the feast of Vietnamese martyrs, and recall one of the most brutal campaigns of torture and murder against Catholics in the history of the Church. Even as we thank God that a similar massacre of Christians is not likely to fall upon us in the United States, we pray that our faith will be as strong as that of the Vietnamese. 
We should pray especially for those whose faith is lukewarm, who claim to be Catholic and misrepresent the Church and our God. They are like dead wood. But perhaps they are kindling. We pray they will catch fire and burn for the love of God.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 501
Miniature A-frame
at the Minnesota
State Fair
So I went up to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll.
He said to me, "Take and swallow it.
It will turn your stomach sour,
but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey."
I took the small scroll from the angel's hand and swallowed it.
In my mouth it was like sweet honey,
but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Then someone said to me, "You must prophesy again
about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings."

The young nurse smiled helplessly as the Veteran made a great show of tasting and gagging over the awful taste of his medicine. After two or three of these outlandish demonstrations, with several minutes of whining and complaining in between each sip, he had made virtually no progress against the small 8-ounce glass of liquid. But the nurse maintained her pleasant smile through it all.
A few minutes later an older nurse, unsmiling, entered the room. She handed him the glass and he drank it -- with no apparent ill effects. Sometimes the prophet with the sour disposition is the one who delivers the goods.
Some Christians think they should be cheerful, happy and joyous all the time; but sometimes the prophet has a sour stomach and a sourer disposition -- not from what she ate but from what she must say. There are some things that cannot be said with a smile.
It’s not easy to be a prophet. At first the invitation may sound wonderful. It is a great privilege to know the Lord and to claim Jesus as one’s Friend, Savior and Lord. It is good to be a member of God’s prophetic people, the Church.
But it’s not easy or fun. Nor should it be. 
A young fellow asked me once about my ministry as a hospital chaplain, “Is it fun?” I was floored by the stupidity of the question.
The training of the prophet involves many difficult and hard looks at oneself. It requires availability to the push back of others. There criticisms may be hard to take but they must be acknowledged gratefully. I must see that my love was, in fact, lust or arrogance or envy or fear. My desire to help was my need to control. My advice was judgment. If I want to take the splinter from another’s eye I must acknowledge the log in my own.
The call to prophecy is not a guarantee of righteousness. It is not that uniquely American commodity -- personal salvation. It is not about me. It is a calling to endure a sour stomach with the Christ who drank his cup of suffering to the dregs when he spoke the truth to us.

Thanksgiving Day


Miniatures at the Minnesota
State Fair
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
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. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.

The Christian attitude toward daily life begins with thanksgiving. We are grateful for the beauty all around us and for eyes to see the beauty. We are grateful for the work of our hands and the hands that do the work. 

Thanksgiving challenges both the negative attitudes of the world and the ungrateful attitudes that linger in our own hearts. If we can find no reason for gratitude we can thank God for the Spirit of Repentance that recognizes and abhors our fears, resentments and offended sense of entitlement.

Thanksgiving is a practice and an attitude. It does not just happen. Parents must teach their children gratitude, just as they teach their children cleanliness, politeness and reverence. Eventually, somewhere in later childhood, we take responsibility for our own practices and start searching for things for which to be grateful. Once the practice has taken root we thank God for the good and the bad, the pleasant and unpleasant, the desirable and the undesirable. It is all good; all are opportunities to give God Glory.

There are moments when words of gratitude do not rise from our hearts to our lips; then we must wait in silence and in sorrow. Sometimes it is better to say nothing. Like it or not, life occasionally overwhelms our virtue. It floods like a storm surge and staggers our comprehension. This too, is by God’s decree:

…who shut within doors the sea,
when it burst forth from the womb…
(who) set limits for it and fastened the bar of its door,
And said: Thus far shall you come but no farther,
and here shall your proud waves stop… (Job 38:8-11)
And when the flood washes out to sea again, we pick up our lives and thank God for whatever is left.

This annual day of prayer and thanksgiving was authorized by President Lincoln as the Civil War was ending. He would not live to see its first anniversary. To this day, a grateful nation thanks God for the bitter lessons of the War, for opportunities to atone for the crimes of our history, and for the hope of a better future.

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 499
Handmade Presidential Chair
for priest in an
Eastern Orthodox Catholic
at MN State Fair
Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards."
At once I was caught up in spirit.
A throne was there in heaven, and on the throne sat one
whose appearance sparkled like jasper and carnelian.
Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an emerald.
Surrounding the throne I saw twenty-four other thrones
on which twenty-four elders sat...
The literal mind might challenge today’s celebration of The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the time of her birth there was no such rite in the Jewish religion. The feast actually commemorates the dedication of a church in her honor in Jerusalem; it was honored in the east for many centuries, and later introduced to Rome and the western church.
But we could approach this “presentation” as her arrival in the temple which was her Jewish home, religion and nation. Or we might recall her entrance into that holiness where she is greeted as the worthy Mother of God. Finally, we should recall that Mary is the Temple of the Lord; like that ancient building she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit to become Theotokos, the Mother of God.
The greeting we hear in today’s reading might be given to the Virgin of Nazareth, “Come up here and I will show you…” Receiving Gabriel’s greeting, she was lifted up before the entire world, so that all generations to come would call her blessed. She was the first to learn a mystery that she would share with Elizabeth, Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, the servants at Cana and the whole world.
The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables. (Mark 4: 11)
In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth. (Ephesians 1:8-10)
Mary entered the Temple of Wisdom not made by human hands, to wear an aura of holiness as brilliant as an emerald. The more deeply we think of Mary, the First Disciple of Jesus, the Daughter of God the Father, Mother of Christ and Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the more we delight in the blessings God has given her.

Tuesday of the thirty-third week of ordinary time

Lectionary: 498

Two root systems
unearthed monuments

For you say, 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,'
and yet do not realize that you are wretched,
pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich,
and white garments to put on
so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed,
and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see.
Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise.
Be earnest, therefore, and repent.

Approaching the Feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the judgement that must come. It will be a great day for God and, we hope, for each of us. That will be the day when the Lord's righteousness, justice and mercy are revealed. Those who wondered how God could be both merciful and just will see clearly, and they will understand. But some will be profoundly disappointed by what they see. 
The Book of Revelation provides ample warning to the churches. It opens with a series of letters addressed to several of the most prominent Christian churches in Asia Minor. We cannot suppose they enjoyed majority status in their respective towns, but they had attained a certain amount of social and economic security. For that very reason they had lost some of their original innocence and fervor. 
In our time we see that kind of thing happening in movements like Alcoholics Anonymous. When Bill W started this program no one was willing to consider himself or anyone else an alcoholic. It was too shameful to discuss. You might as well announce that you have a particularly infectious type of AIDS, mixed with Leprosy. Bill insisted on the anonymity of the program in order to guarantee members their disease would not be broadcast to the world. 
But time passed and the 12-step program was haled as the only successful way to rehabilitate drunks. Soon judges were sentencing drunk drivers to attend AA meetings. They also had to make a "fifth step." Eventually, as I heard in the 1990's, men would leave the tavern, attend a meeting, and return to the same tavern. People openly discussed their AA membership with families, friends and strangers. They were interviewed on television and gave testimony in churches. It became socially acceptable. The program still "works if you work it" but it doesn't work so well without the social stigma. 
Nor does Christianity. As I watch the United States strutting its military might and expecting invaded countries to be grateful for our largesse, I realize we have not been a Christian country in a very long time. Legally we never claimed it; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit appear in none of our founding documents. Would a Christian country totally ignore the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in its laws? 
In fact today's Christianity enjoys a striking resemblance to the Church of our earliest centuries. The disciples of Jesus can now be a light to the nation, yeast for our society and salt for the hungry -- if we welcome God's reproving, chastising discipline and repent of our sins.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 497

MSF Picnic
Blessed is the one who reads aloud 
and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic message 
and heed what is written in it, for the appointed time is near. 

Lectors who read the scriptures during our liturgies should notice this special blessing that Saint John of Patmos extends to them. They enjoy a particular blessing and a great responsibility. 

When The Book of Revelation was written few people could read and none would have had a copy in hand to read with the proclamation. At that time, the reading would have sounded even fresher; this public event was the liveliest medium in the world. It was as exciting and as real -- perhaps more real -- than our movies, television or Internet communications. They heard these readings and "saw" the visions of Saint John more clearly than we do on our electronic screens. 

The listeners also understood that this "prophetic message" was coming at them boldly. It could not be ignored or dismissed. The word of prophecy is God's voice speaking to his Church. They and we must understand, "the appointed time is near." 
I am fascinated by the scriptural concept of the "fullness of time." We hear it often in the New Testament: "when the fullness of time had come." It means, among many things, that Jesus could have been born only "at that time," in the days of Caesar Augustus. He could have been born only of the Virgin Mary, in Bethlehem. 

I suppose something similar could be said about you or me. Each of us was born of particular parents in a particular place and time. We are as much people of our "time" as Jesus was of his time. It is nonsense to say, "Had I been born then..." Had I been born then, I would not be me. I would be someone else. But that someone else was born then. 

The child that is born at 11 pm on December 31 has a different experience of the world than the one born at 1am on January 1. The later child is the "first of the new year." The hospital might pay special attention to that child, with little gifts and trinkets for the first of the new year. But the former baby is just one more of last year's children. 

Growing up in certain places and times, we are shaped by our culture. I was born to hear the Beatles, who burst on the scene in the early 1960s. I was too young for Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley, and too old for Lynyrd Skynyrd. I don't even care much for Michael Jackson, though I might admire his talent. Birth dates make a difference, as does the place where we're born. We are shaped by our experience. I could not have been born of Baptist parents, nor of Muslim; though I should appreciate their religious beliefs. 

Jesus was born on our Planet Earth! He is flesh like you and me, of all the elements and chemicals, germs and organisms that enable our flesh to thrive on this peculiar planet. 

Knowing who I am, where I was born and when, of whom, and how my world has shaped me, I am all the more ready to hear the prophetic word of God. I am ready to say with Samuel, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." 

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 158

MSF Picnic

Heaven and earth will pass away, 
but my words will not pass away. 
But of that day or hour, no one knows, 
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

I don't suppose any of my faithful readers are even vaguely curious about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world on December 23. We've seen dozens of these doomsday predictions come and go. But the fact is every day is the end of the world for someone, and we're all seeing the End Of The World As We Know It. The older I get the less familiar the world becomes to me. 

There's a marvelous little museum in Jennings Louisiana. In 1949 a farmer who owned and operated a country store for his sharecroppers decided he was too old to bother with the business anymore. He locked up the building and left it standing on his property, as it was, without a going-out-of-business sale. The food rotted but, amazingly, everything else remained as it was. Despite the perpetual humidity of that dank environment, the clothes, toys, dolls, pots, pans, tools and farm implements remained in mint condition. 

Twenty years later his family decided to box all the merchandise and store it, and there it sat for another twenty or more years, until it was rediscovered and sold to the City of Jennings. They moved it all into an old downtown building and opened the W.H. Tupper Museum. There are Shirley Temple dolls, toys made in Japan, sun bonnets for ladies and ties for men -- all with original 1948 price tags. Collectors of every sort visit the store, make outrageous bids, and are politely refused. To enter the museum is to step back in time to 1949, and a very different world -- a world that ended a long time ago. 

Some religious people will insist, "That's not what Jesus meant." And they're partly right. Jesus meant that we should be prepared to be judged by the Lord of Justice at every moment. And we are indeed being judged at every moment, for He is always near, at the door, and those who ignore the Lord do so at their peril. 

November is the month to remember the last things: death and judgement, heaven and hell. That may be why we hold so many elections and referendums in November. This is the season of assessment and evaluation. Is our government serving us well? Do our representatives still represent us? Where have we been and where are we going?  As time and opportunities race past us, are we choosing wisely, in accordance with God's plan for us? 

Next Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King, a feast that was inaugurated by Pope Pius IX as the age of kings and emperors was ending. The Pope, fearing that even his triple crown might be taken, reminded the world that the Lord is king. Three quarters of a century later Pope Paul VI donated his triple crown to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, and started wearing the miter of a bishop. It is a more modest head wear, better suited to his religious authority and stripped of the trappings of worldly empire. 

As the Church prays through this Year of Justice, we ask the Lord of History to guide us in our daily decisions. We don't have any clear idea of the future, or how the Church will fit into it. But we are sure that the Father will rule over us, Jesus will walk with us, and the Holy Spirit will guide us in The Way.