Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 286
Our seminarians enjoy the sunshine
on a Good Friday afternoon.

If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe. I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over me, but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”

Parents who love their children are usually sad when they see them go off to college, but that doesn't stop them from encouraging their children to "Go and study hard!" We would say the same for anyone who has done well and is moving on to higher places, whether it's a mayor who runs for governor or a priest ordained as a bishop. Though we feel sad at their absence and will miss their immediate leadership, we wish them all the best.
Jesus has won the victory over sin and death and God his Father calls him to sit at his right hand. "Go with God!" we will say to him on Ascension Thursday.
But there are deeper dimensions to this gospel, as there always deeper dimensions in the Gospel of Saint John. On Easter Sunday, after greeting the Magdalene with unutterable kindness, "Mary!" he will say, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."
Sometimes our loved ones must disappoint us. Those children must set out for their own lives, with their own careers and, God willing, their own families. They were given to their parents for a little while, but not forever. Christian parents willingly, if sadly, let them go.
God will also disappoint us -- often. We think we know how we should be loved; we think we know what we need. But God is not a sugar daddy; nor is his son a slave to our desires.
As Jesus returns to his Father he reminds us that we must Let God be God. That means we cannot control the outcomes of our projects or the decisions, attitudes or feelings of others. 

We pray for God's Holy Spirit to guide us; we act according to the lights we're given; and we let the chips fall where they will. No one can see the Big Picture. That is God's providence. We can only pray daily, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. '

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 285

And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city,
brought oxen and garlands to the gates,
for he together with the people intended to offer sacrifice.

This comical passage in the Acts of the Apostles invites us to reflect upon the challenges of evangelization, and especially the danger of exploitation. After his experience at Lystra Saint Paul was well aware of the danger. He acknowledges there is profit in religion but it is of the spiritual kind. Thanking his friends in Thessalonica he wrote: 
For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen
Travelers to Europe often marvel at the wonderful churches and cathedrals they find there. Tourists in older American cities and small towns also find astonishing churches, both Catholic and Protestant here. They remark on how expensive these buildings are, and at the sacrifice Christians made when they erected them. Maintaining them is sometimes more than the local church can afford. 

Why did they build such buildings? For the glory of God, and because their sense of ownership was not confined to their own personal property. If they could not boast of their homes, cars, second homes, bathrooms, art work or toys they could show off "our church." It was adorned lavishly with costly workmanship and exotic materials. Those Irish linens, golden vessels and embroidered vestments were not donated by the manufacturers! 

That generous tradition, of course, continues with the construction of new churches. I was overwhelmed with the grace and beauty of the new Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles. When I remarked about it to some Los Angelinos I heard them complain about its sumptiousness. But I heard in their remarks the grumbling of Judas Iscariot; when the prophetess anointed the feet of Jesus "in preparation for my burial," he said the oil should have been sold and the money given to the poor. As if....

Our faith teaches us to share our goods with one another and to hold everything in common. My Franciscan Order gives to the poor also, as provinces and as friaries. But we risk our vocations when we adopt personal charities. We should not claim ownership of anything, not even charity. 

The "profit" the Christian enjoys is primarily spiritual; we belong to a Church which, as "the Body of Christ" saves the world through out practice of faith, hope and love. 

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 54

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

When I came out of the seminary to enter parish life, I was surprised to discover communities of affection who made our seminary groups pale by comparison. We had been together as classmates and friends for many years; in some cases more than half our lives. Yet here were Catholics who had known each other for generations. 

Parishioners told me, "My grandfather dated his grandmother." "Our children grew up together." "My mother nursed his daughter at the hospital." 

If it's true in America that "Everyone moves every five years" -- a statement that reflects statistics of relocation -- it's also true that most people live within twenty-five miles of where they grew up. 

There is a certain class of people who move often, pursuing their careers in business, the military or education. But many people live in the same homes where they were born. Many people have known their neighbors since early childhood. 

In the five parishes where I have lived -- two in Ohio, one in Wisconsin, one in Australia and one in Louisiana -- I always found people who could tell me about every family tree, and about all the brushes, bushes and vines that bound them together. I soon learned to "Say nothing about no one because they're all related." 

When Jesus commands us to "Love one another!" he speaks to people who know each other well. These are people who live, work, play, pray and (often) sin together. They are people who carry grudges and remember feuds for generations. 

As a pastor I soon realized there were problems in this church that were older than my ministry and would probably persist long after I left. "Lord," I prayed, "you have problems here! And you will have to work them out!" 

But more often I was grateful to find affections that run deep in the Catholic parish. A spirituality of individualism declares everyone lives and dies alone. It supposes that "me and Jesus have something special between us." But it overlooks the mesh of relationships that binds us together as human beings. We need one another because no one lives alone.  We are saved as a church, or not at all. 

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 284

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
Preachers sometimes complain about the Gospel of Saint John. How does one preach about a gospel that seems to repeat itself endlessly? And yet it’s hard to find any two phrases in the text that are exactly the same. It circles endlessly around the same themes, finding new ways to lead us ever deeper into its mystery.
The Gospel reminds me of Buddhist stories of the eager disciple and the elderly teacher. The boy never seems to “get it” though he can recite the words of his teacher chapter and verse. Bright, eager, clever: he hasn’t a clue and his teacher continually berates his stupidity. But one day he sweeps the floor or dusts a bookshelf and the old man lavishes praise on him, “Now you’re getting it!”
“Getting what?” the boy asks and the elder laughs – but says nothing.
The Gospel of Saint John circles around me continually, like an impatient teacher, repeating familiar phrases that I thought I understood; and complains, “Have I been with you for so long a time…?”
“I believe. Help my unbelief!”
The Gospels are about faith -- and hope and love. It is not enough to understand. In fact it is not possible to understand without love and hope. The three "theological virtues" are bound together and one cannot possess one without possessing all three; nor can one neglect one without neglecting the others.

Sometimes we try to do the loving thing although it doesn't seem to be the wise thing to do; or the "pastoral" without the prudent; and we realize later it was neither pastoral nor prudent. Fidelity to truth is, in the long run, kindness; but it may not feel like it at the time.

Each year at Easter we return to the Gospel of Saint John to ponder its depths. Each year it leads us deeper and we rediscover its inexhaustible wisdom. Such is the mystery of God.

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 283

“My brothers, children of the family of Abraham, and those others among you who are God-fearing, to us this word of salvation has been sent.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes a sermon of Saint Paul to a mixed crowd of Jews and gentiles, and its reception. The gentiles were delighted to hear the good news, as were many of the Jews; but the leaders of the synagogue opposed him. Eventually they would run him out of town. Saint Luke uses this story to describe the unexpected metamorphosis of Christianity from a Jewish sect to an international religion.
Saint Paul’s appeal to “those among you who are God-fearing” has always been the foundation of our missionary work. Whereas the first missionaries went from city to city preaching to Jews within their synagogues, we go through the world looking for men and women with the innate ability to recognize the truth when it appears. The expression “God-fearing” includes virtues like reverence, piety, devoutness, and respect. The “God-fearing” know that honesty is the best policy, that a person is a person no matter how small, and one’s word is one’s bond.
The Christian proclaims the gospel to God-fearing people and they welcome it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not something they could have discovered on their own. It is neither a philosophical principle nor a set of teachings, though it carries elements of both. It is rooted in an unprecedented, unrepeatable historic event. People learn of it only through missionaries who announce it. They become Christian only when this historical event is integrated into their own personal histories.
It is a word from God that finally evaluates, integrates and makes sense of human experience. God-fearing souls welcome it because they always knew there was something missing but could not name.
The Church still appeals to reasonable, God-fearing people, "Come let us reason together." As we speak with people of different religions and free-thinkers of no religion about abortion, euthanasia, suicide, birth control, capital punishment, health care and innumerable other issues, we appeal to that universal sense of decency that stands beneath all civil society. 
God-fearing people understand that the Church's principles are wise even when some of our people act foolishly. They listen to us as we listen to them. Human beings do not relish killing one another. Human beings are built with an inexhaustible capacity for sympathy. We can work things out.

Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

Lectionary: 555

So humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God,
that he may exalt you in due time.
Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you.

Harold Bloom, an American literary critic, has written that the greatest authors are those who disappear into their work; and he especially admires William Shakespeare. Which of Shakespeare’s greatest characters are most like William S? Was he Hamlet, or Lear or Prospero? Was he Henry V with a bit of Richard II? Was he disappointed in love like Othello or betrayed like Troilus? What was his religious belief in an age when it made a difference whether you were Catholic or Protestant? Scholars have scraped away at the shards of evidence and know almost nothing about the Bard. He disappeared into the greatest writing of the English language.
Bloom considers Shakespeare’s evasiveness his greatest virtue. It might be called irony or humility. It is irony in the sense that the author distances himself so far behind his writing that the subject – Hamlet or Lear or Brutus – becomes more real than the playwright.
We can say the same about the Evangelist Saint Mark. Who was he? Where did he live? How was he educated? “John Mark” appears in the New Testament as a disciple of Saint Paul and Saint Peter but there is no clear evidence it’s the same man.
Ancient painters sometimes placed a self-portrait in a corner of a large painting; it’s possible that Saint Mark placed himself in the passion narrative of his Gospel, chapter 14, verse 51:
Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked.
The one who appears in the Gospel of Saint Mark, of course, is Jesus. His character is clear and forceful; his authority is overwhelming. As in the other canonical gospels, the Jesus of Saint Mark’s gospel stands head and shoulders above everyone else. He has no equal. The reader and the listening, attentive congregation are so fascinated by him they forget the evangelist altogether.
When we celebrate the feast of Saint Mark we celebrate the mysterious genius who humbly disappears into his work. If he is the naked disciple, he deems himself the most abject of all the disciples who fled from the Garden. 
We should ask God to give us a measure of his penitential, evangelical spirit. Those who encounter us meet the Lord and recognize him as the Son of God. Like that of Saint Mark, my life is not about me; and my gospel is Jesus.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words
has something to judge him: the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day,
because I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
So what I say, I say as the Father told me.”

The Roman Catholic Church sometimes excommunicates people, but rarely. More often they excommunicate themselves. By breaking certain laws, they bring automatic excommunication upon themselves. For instance, a priest who marries without a dispensation from his ministry has put himself outside the church; as does a bishop who ordains another bishop without the Pope's permission. The Church needs no judge to rule in these cases since the penalty is immediate and automatic.
Jesus warns his listeners about bringing judgment on themselves in today’s gospel. He does not want to judge and has no need to. The word itself will condemn those who refused to listen to him.
Seeing this consequence is as painful for him as it is for us. We can warn our loved ones about the dangers of chemical abuse, adultery, greed and so forth; but when they bring the consequences down upon themselves despite our warnings, they cannot blame us for that. We suffer with them especially when they cannot feel their own pain.
I think of a Veteran who cheerfully greeted me when I met him several years ago. He did not expect his disease was fatal, and he vaguely entertained the idea of returning to the Church. He went so far as to accept my anointing and Eucharist from the Eucharistic Ministers. 
But as the consequences of his life style closed in he became progressively angrier. In the end he would neither speak to me nor receive any kind of prayer. He died a few weeks after our last visit.
I wonder about him. I don’t judge him; or if I do my judgment means nothing. His children cared for him during his last days despite some bitter memories of their upbringing. They would not judge him. And Jesus insists he was sent neither to judge nor to condemn. But I wonder. What did that Veteran finally decide? Or was it too late?

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 280
My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand.

Recently, as I drove to the hospital on a Sunday morning, I heard Christa Tippet being shouted down by a young scientist. He could barely contain his contempt for religion as he expounded his own (religious) belief in science. 

He finds his why in the how of things. The reason things are the way they are is their causes, and cause is the only meaning he recognizes. He thinks it’s wonderful that scientists can understand some things; and that they don’t understand others yet; and there seems no end of mystery in the world of causes and effects.

I had been reading only the day before Pope Benedict’s book, An Introduction to Christianity, and his history of facts. The word comes from the Latin root facere, meaning “to make,” as in facts, 
factory and manufacture. Facts are things we make. Against the Scholastic equation verum est ens (being is truth) Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) advanced his own formula, verum quia factum. That is to say, all that we can truly know is what we have made. 

Scientists are very good at making and compiling facts, and from them they build theories to create more facts. Although many facts are later disproved by better theories, it’s not unreasonable to hope one’s facts correspond with Truth, as a photo might agree with the face of a loved one.

But to believe in facts, or to put one’s faith in the process of creating them, is to walk on very thin ice. It’s like supposing the photo is your loved one. Some Christians invest heavily in the Shroud of Turin, for instance. It was for centuries revered as a sacred relic of Jesus' burial. In the 19th century a scientific instrument, a camera, revealed something mysterious about it. In the negative a clearer picture appeared. Perhaps it really is Jesus' burial shroud! Millions of tourist/pilgrims flock to see it. But if it’s ever proven that the shroud was woven in the Middle Ages, as seems likely, the faith of some Christians will be shaken.

Our faith is not built on facts, and we have no need to argue the “facts” about God. But, for the time being, we let the atheists shout their scientific facts against the fundamentalists. Both sides agree on a seriously flawed argument: that facts can say anything about the existence of God; and from there, something about God.
The mad scientist on Ms Tippet's show went on to say that, "Life is what you make it." If you're satisfied with what you made of yourself, you should be able to die happily. What more could you expect? Can there be any meaning, purpose or reason to human existence than what I make of it? 

In the same book, Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the “little way” of Saint Theresa. He attests what priests see every day from our side of the altar; there are many saints in the world today. They are quietly following in the footprints of Jesus, without shouting or making their voices heard in the streets. They remain blissfully unaware of the highfalutin arguments of fact-makers and fact-checkers. They cling to their Shepherd for reassurance and guidance.
The day is rapidly approaching when even the high school dropout will lose faith in verum quia factum. (I've noticed that high school dropout philosophy is generally two centuries behind.) On that day we will celebrate the return of wisdom and the vindication of faith. And the whole world will see that Saint Therese's little way is streaming with sheep, for no one can snatch them from them his hand. 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 279

“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

Once again we hear Jesus' oath, "Amen, amen!" announcing a very important teaching. Whichever disciple, as Christian or a leader of Christians, does not enter "through the gate" is a robber and a thief.  "But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep."

The metaphor needs little explanation. In a small, poor village the shepherds gathered their sheep into a single corral, then went home for the night. In the morning they sorted out their sheep by singing to them, each sheep recognizing his shepherd's voice. Then then led them out to the meadows. If someone climbed the fence in the middle of the night, he was obviously not one of the shepherds. The sheep would flee from that stranger with his unfamiliar voice. 

So what is the gate for the Christian? The Cross. It comes in many forms but the Holy Spirit can help us discern. I met a woman once who tried to lead her employer to the Lord by having an affair with him. Need I say it didn't work? It was all I could do to keep a straight face as she told me the story. 

The Cross will not promise wealth, security, fame or ease because God cannot deceive. There is joy, but only on the other side of suffering. There is freedom, but only in obedience. There is even the security of possessing nothing, and of claiming nothing but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

Today's first reading recounts how some Jewish Christians reacted when they heard that Saint Peter had evangelized and baptized gentiles. Peter seems to have broken a taboo when he did so. But, as he carefully explained to them, he had obeyed a very clear directive from the Holy Spirit, and he had announced to the gentiles in Joppa the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Saint Luke faithfully records,
We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and (in) Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.
The narrow gate is no wider for us twenty centuries later than it was for Jesus and his disciples. He leads the way through the cross and we must follow. As we used to teach the children when I was a counselor in summer camp, it is
...so high you can't get over it, so low you can't get under it, so wide you can't get around it, O bless my soul 

Good Shepherd Sunday

Lectionary: 51
The first minnow appears
in a melting stream
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.

Every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter the church presents gospel readings that describe Jesus as the good shepherd. This teaching and image challenges the romantic stoicism of Invictus: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
In fact, in my experience, the captain of his soul who sees himself as an isolated hero is more likely to be the lamb slaughtered in the marketplace of drugs, alcohol and assorted foolish behaviors. Without an authority to guide him he is prey to every dreary idea that comes down the road. If he dismisses a thousand of them, the 1001st will get him.
A recent New Yorker describes the tragic death of a 1970’s champion of feminism. Raised in an emotionally violent home under a tyrannical father, she threw herself into the movement and immediately became the most radical in the group. Many of her ideas about women’s rights to respect, security, equal pay and equal opportunity deserved attention; but her energy came out of an angry, sorely wounded soul. She could only alienate the women who flocked to hear her speak; they would not accept her leadership. In the end she starved to death in her apartment, isolated by madness.
In spring the lake turns green with life. 
The author, reflecting on her story, cites the growing prevalence of schizophrenia and notes how often ideologues are isolated by their convictions. She concludes, “Social support protects against the development of schizophrenia.” 

The stoic is isolated by inability to engage in a workable, close relationship with others. They identify and tend to their own needs, but overlook the need for surrender to the authority of love.
This is a worsening problem, especially as so many people feel threatened by institutions that are growing larger, more powerful and more intrusive. I think of the NRA, which suspects every attempt to limit gun ownership. Members believe the government is compiling a list of gun owners and is preparing to invade their homes, confiscate their weapons and, perhaps, wreak physical and psychological harm on their loved one in the process. 

This movement is more than a lunatic fringe; it is an expression of a growing unease throughout the world. States, both democratic and autocratic, are "crowd-sourcing" to discover and quell rebellion among their citizens -- as we saw this past week. They recall the Nazi invasion of Jewish ghettos in Europe, Stalin's exterminations, the disappeared in Argentina, and the crowd sourcing in Syria, Egypt and Iran. 

Catholics invoke the Good Shepherd when we feel vulnerable before overwhelming global threats. We have nowhere else to turn. We will not delude ourselves with romantic dreams of suicidal shootouts. That is far too cynical, far too pessimistic. Such nonsense abandons the field to the very forces the gun lobby claims to hate. (Not to mention the fact they're sleeping with the international arms industry that also equips the police and military.)

Surrendering to the reassuring voice and guiding authority of the Good Shepherd the Church engages a complex world. We find friends and allies among the “Powers that Be” and rally support for humane causes. Rather than surrender to the Culture of Death that cynically promotes weapons, abortion and euthanasia, we lobby for the rights of all people to security, education, opportunity and health care. We defend marriage and family and the need for human interaction. We may be anxious but we do not despair of the future. Every government which responds to our blessed presence will shepherd its people better. 

Jesus the Good Shepherd and his Mother Mary provide a solid foundation of reassurance. From that place we emerge strong, capable and ready to make a difference for good.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

Lectionary: 278

Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer walked with him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

Christians of every age have struggled to explain, define and articulate the incident in this passage and others like it. Why did many of his disciples return to their former way of life? Were they not chosen? Did God not love them?
In the AA and other twelve step programs I have seen men and women return to their insane behavior and many died of the disease. Why have I not had a drink in 33 years? Why I have I sought reconciliation and healing and the serenity of prayer?
The question of election has been argued heatedly between Calvinist and Arminian Protestants. I don’t know that Catholic theologians have spent much energy on it. As ponderous as it sounds, it’s not as important as the question Jesus asks, “Do you also want to leave?”
There are some things not even the all powerful God can do. One of them is force us to love. By its very nature love is a choice. Because we are creatures of clay it is not a choice we make in an instantaneous moment; it is the choice of a lifetime, made repeatedly in innumerable ways and under countless circumstances.

Jesus puts the question to his disciples, "Do you also want to leave?" One of the few men who survived a suicidal leap off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco said, "In that moment I realized every decision I had ever made could be undone, except this one." It is possible to choose death in a moment, but the decision for life requires a lifetime.

Will you also leave? What is your answer this morning? What will it be this evening? And tomorrow morning? You don't know. You will have to wait and see. You will make that decision as that moment arrives, and each decision will prepare for the next.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

St Francis, in the Valley of St Francis
Lectionary: 277

Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.

To make his point Jesus uses the strongest possible language in the most graphic, even barbaric, fashion. We have often heard him use the expression, “Amen, amen,” which is sometime translated as “very truly” or “verily, verily.” Although he has on occasion told us not to swear at all, he makes an exception to swear by himself as he emphasizes how important this teaching is.

Catholics take this teaching quite literally, regarding the Eucharist as “The Blessed Sacrament.” We believe the bread of the Eucharist has been transubstantially changed to the very flesh of Jesus; and the wine, to blood. We do not theorize on how the change is affected. Like the resurrection from the dead, we leave that speculation to idealists and dreamers. 

But many practicing Catholics also fail to heed these words. Despite Jesus’ command, they will not “drink his blood” from the chalice. Religion is a funny business; it is always simpler and more complicated than anyone can imagine. 

Eating human flesh and drinking human blood would be barbaric in any case, but Jesus’ teaching also flouts the Jewish abhorrence of drinking blood. They recalled God’s command to Noah, the ancestor of the entire human race: “Any living creature that moves about shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” 

To this day some Protestant religions avoid the eating of blood. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, refuse blood transfusions because it may be a form of consuming or eating, though they will accept solid organ transplants. They use that argument to refute the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. 

All that is interesting but it hardly penetrates the mystery of Jesus’ words. What does he mean and what are we doing when we receive the Eucharist? Why must he use such intense, even distasteful language? 

The answer to those questions is really quite simple: because we must believe what he tells us. Jesus uses every possible argument and persuasion to show us himself and his authority, and the absolute necessity of faith in him. To prove his love even to the most skeptical he will not hesitate to undergo several trials in Jewish and Roman courts, torture, humiliation and crucifixion. He leaves us no choice but to believe in him because there is no other choice. We must take him at his word. When he says, “This is my body! This is my blood” and “Do this in remembrance of me” we must eat and drink. 

Recently a Veteran told me how his faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has kept him in the Church these 70+ years. Like everyone else he has been disheartened by the human failings and sins of our Church. But they never distracted him from the Presence of Jesus and his duties as a husband, father, Catholic and citizen. 

At his feet, a bluebird
Though a thousand fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, near you it shall not come… because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold. (Psalm 91: 7, 9)

On this April 19, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the Waco Texas firebombing, and several other incidents: pray for peace among Americans; and that God will spare us today. 

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip,
“Get up and head south on the road
that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route.”
Saint Philip makes only a brief, but memorable appearance in the Acts of the Apostles. He is a man entirely obedient to the impulses of the Holy Spirit. He reminds me of the comical Jonah of whale’s belly fame. But unlike the Old Testament prophet, he does exactly what he is told the first time.
Why Philip should set out on the desert route to Gaza is not explained. The Spirit says "Go!" and he goes. When the Spirit impels him to “Go and join up with that chariot” – one of many carriages passing that day – he does so.
When the eunuch wants to be baptized in a creek along the road, Phillip recognizes the urgency of the Spirit and complies. Then, afterward, “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more.”
His name appears only once more in Acts 21, when Saint Paul and his followers stay at “the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven.” Given the story from the eighth chapter, we’re not surprised to hear he has four virgin daughters who are “prophets.” What a house that must have been!
Philip could be a precursor of Saint Francis of Assisi. Their method of “discernment” seems to have been to pray for an obedient spirit continually, night and day, and then let God guide their every impulse. Once, as Francis and Brother Matteo were travelling, they came to a crossroad. “Which way should we go?” the brother asked. Saint Francis directed him to spin around like a little child. When the obedient brother got so dizzy he fell down on one of the four roads, the Saint decided, “That’s the way we should go!”
Having surrendered everything to God, he had no concern about where he should go, where he should eat or what he should wear. God would provide. And if God didn’t provide, that would be okay too. This carefree manner of life befits Apostles.
You and I might not be called to live precisely like that, but we should remember the story. You never know when the Holy Spirit might say, “Smile at this person!” or “Pray for that stranger” or “Drop what you’re doing and listen!”
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.

Saint John’s Gospel maintains an extraordinarily sharp focus on Jesus and his mission. This sixth chapter of the Gospel reflects on the Eucharist, the “bread that I will give you,” and in this passage Jesus tells us, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”
A child might ask of her mother, “Do you love me or Daddy more?” It’s not really an appropriate question for a child and the mother might struggle to respond honestly. The child is born of her parents’ love for each other; she is an “incarnation” of their faithful, intense, passionate bond of mutual affection and obedience. She is God’s gift to the married couple. Comparing the mother’s love of her daughter to that of her husband is like comparing apples and oranges.
But the daughter will have to understand that her parents have taken vows of obedience to one another. They will be married long after the daughter has stepped out on her own, beyond childhood and their authority. Despite all her expectation and their manifest devotion to her, she will never be the center of her mother’s life.
Jesus loves us but his obedience is to God His Father. He does not save us because he wants to; he is not driven by his own desires or preferences. Everything he does is done in loving, willing, eager and enthusiastic obedience to his Father.
I am a chaplain in the VA hospital. I get paid by the federal government but my mission is to the Veterans, especially the Catholic Veterans. I try to be conscientious in my duty to the government, and I am certainly available to all the patients, their families and the staff -- but I hope I am driven by God’s passion for his people. I assume that’s why the government hired me.
It is too easy to lose sight of the reason why we do good works. If we do them for anything less than the love of God they will be misdirected; and they will not represent our best efforts. An employee can work for money or the love of God. A parent can protect her daughter because she feels a jealous ownership of the child, or because God has appointed her as guide and protector of this vulnerable young person. A husband can love his wife out of jealous lust or in obedience to the Lord who made them to be one flesh.
During this Easter season, as we see Jesus crucified and raised up, as we share the Bread of Life which he gives us, we should understand we have been invited and gathered and swept into the cyclonic love generated between the Father and the Son, a tempest which we call Holy Spirit.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Lectionary: 274

The crowd said to Jesus: 
“What sign can you do, that we may see  and believe in you? 
What can you do? 
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Vulgus vult decipi: an old Latin proverb meaning, "People want to be deceived."

A longer version declares, Vulgus vult decipi decipiatur ergo. People want to be deceived; therefore, let them be. 

It's a cynical remark but may be more true than not. If you watch how marketing, religion and politics borrow from each other, you may come to the same conclusion.

But what happens when someone speaks plain truth, as Jesus did. What would happen to a presidential candidate who said, "The United States is just another country in the world, neither the best nor the worst?" His campaign would be dead in the water. 

Vulgus vult decipi. 

In today's gospel the people want a sign but it cannot be one that speaks the truth. It should persuade, flatter and elate. It should make them feel good. 

Jesus once tested his hearers with a parable about flattery and obedience: 
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.”He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ 
We might also ask, "Which of the sons pleased his father?" I would bet it was the scoundrel who knew just which words please the old man, and how to ignore his obligation to obedience. The owner of the vineyard might fume and fuss about him but in the end he would rather be fooled than deal with the truth about his family. 

Finishing the parable Jesus spoke a hard truth to his colleagues, the fellowship of religious leaders: 
"Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
As the cardinals recently gathered to select a pope, the media eagerly wondered whether the new pontiff might ordain women, bless gay marriage or soften the ban on abortion. They might have saved their breath. They would not be satisfied with such changes; they would only want more.

The Church is not in the business of giving the people what they want; we are under obedience to a Father who can neither deceive nor be deceived. 

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

Lectionary: 273

Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you. 
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” 

During the recent Easter Vigil a Veteran friend of mine was "sealed" in the Holy Spirit, a sacrament I have known as "Confirmation." 

The sacrament has many names and words associated with it: anointed, signed, sealed, Messiah, Christ, beloved, chosen, elect, holy, peculiar, blessed -- and on and on. The words partly explain but mostly deepen its sense of mystery. 

Pentecostalism, beginning around 1900 in the United States, spread like wildfire as they celebrated the wonder and privilege of belonging to Christ. But, inevitably, they also cheapened the blessing as they forced definitions and limitations upon it. When they required a proselyte to claim a particular feeling of enthusiasm to verify his conversion, they clipped the wings of the Spirit. They attempted to fulfill that great Americans ambition, "If we could bottle that, we'd sell it!" But there is no containing the Spirit of God.

In today's selection from Saint John, Jesus declares that "the Father God has set his seal" upon him. If he were to say otherwise he would be lying. 
He also insists that we should trust him; he will give us "food that endures for eternal life." Everything depends upon our willingness to believe and trust Jesus. 
In his "Little Office of the Passion," Saint Francis sang of Jesus:
For the Most Holy Father of heaven, our king before all ages sent his beloved son from on high and he has planted salvation in the middle of the earth. 
To be human is to trust others. From the day we're conceived until the day we die we rely on one another. Dependent as we are, we are obligated to provide the safety of the womb to every man, woman and child until they are laid in the tomb. 

This safety should include everything from courteous conversation to the sound construction of our roads, bridges and buildings. When a contractor declares he will build that public building, for instance, according to the specs he has been given, including its sturdy materials and proven methods, thousands -- perhaps millions -- of people will depend upon his word of integrity. Although the architect may include redundant security systems, he should not have to presume a builder will cheat. 

The foundation of human life is the truth. We speak it; we do it; we love it as a young man loves his bride and an old man dotes on his wife. It is always beautiful, demanding, delicious and desirable. 

Jesus is Truth Incarnate. Upon him "the Father God has set his seal." He is the middle of the earth, the core of all reality. At one time European cartographers believed that Jerusalem was the "pole" of the Earth. Spiritually, they were precisely right. Jerusalem, the Cross, the Christ: there is the center of our vision. 
"The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone."