Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 572

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.

In response to my reflections on this feast last year a friend wrote to me,
I'd like to share a woman's point of view on the Visitation. I remember what feelings it stirred in my heart telling another woman, "I'm pregnant." Especially if the other gal was pregnant too, there was such a bond, a sense of knowing, and a connection. Magnify that in Mary's and Elizabeth's circumstances. It makes sense to me for Mary to hurry to her cousin to share the joy, the excitement, the awareness of God's power, the uncertainty of the future, the fear of delivery, and hope of a new baby. Motherhood is being a companion to God; you are a direct part of creation. Mary, of course, would share that event in her life with Elizabeth, but she also shares that event with all mothers.

I can add little to that – but of course, I’ll try:
John Lennon, of Beatles fame, once said, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”
Mary, of Jesus’ fame, teaches us to experience life as it happens while the Lord makes our plans. Repeatedly Saint Luke tells us she pondered these events. Even as the Angel Gabriel was speaking to her she “wondered what his greeting meant.” Her song, the Magnificat, reflects her ability to see God’s hand and reflect on its presence in the life of a poor Galilean woman.
This feast of the Visitation with its story of two women miraculously pregnant teaches us to see God in the commonplace. There’s nothing unusual about pregnancy, and yet it’s the most astonishing thing that can happen to a person. It is full of expectation, fear, hope and wonder. Another human being is forming who, hopefully, will outlive her mother. What will she see and know and learn in those years after her mother’s death? What will she carry into the future from the wisdom of her father? What must she understand about her parents' life before she was born?
Pregnancy is about letting something wonderful happen. The pregnant couple must do everything they can to allow the new life to flourish. The environment of the womb, the body and the home should be free of harsh chemicals, cruel thoughts and conflicted emotions. The couple cannot decide if the child is male or female; they cannot abort the child if it fails to meet their expectations; they can only prepare their hearts and minds and home to welcome the new creature into God's world and theirs. 

Dragonfly(?) with blue abdomen
and black wings
Too often we think we must make something happen; Mary teaches us to let something happen -- and ponder its development. 

Is pregnancy wonderful? Or more common than mud? Is life filled with the presence of God? Or just an unlikely mix of so many parts oxygen, water and carbon?
Only the one who contemplates in prayer can answer such questions.

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Sing it, Little Brother!
How beautiful are all his works!
even to the spark and fleeting vision!
The universe lives and abides forever;
to meet each need, each creature is preserved.
All of them differ, one from another,
yet none of them has he made in vain,
For each in turn, as it comes, is good;
can one ever see enough of their splendor?

The sage Jesus ben Sirach, a Jewish philosopher who introduced Greek wisdom to his contemporaries, and wrote the Book of Ecclesiasticus, recognized in Greek thought the Lord his people had worshipped for a millennium. He is the Lord of glory and power, of wisdom and beauty, and goodness and right. He is simultaneously just and merciful, which to our minds seems impossible.

Sirach discovered in Greek thought and in Jewish history our longing for eternity. His is more than idle, mathematical speculation about endless possibilities. He beholds majesty everywhere he turns.

Many of our contemporaries, scanning a universe with sophisticated tools and methods far beyond Sirach’s wildest imagining, suppose there has to be some purpose to it all. It can’t possibly be entirely bereft of intelligent life, except for our seemingly inconsequential Planet Earth. What would be the point of such vastness? Surely there are other beings out there and surely they are searching for us! Only self-conscious sentience with aspirations of technological progress and upward mobility can justify the existence of a universe.

But these critics fail to note the superabundance, the over-compensation of life all around us. Why does a single maple tree drop hundreds of thousands of “helicopter” seeds each year? There may be millions, for all I know. Most of those seeds will never germinate. I watch nature television and see sea turtles laying thousands of eggs in the sandy shore. Odds are none of those baby turtles will attain maturity. Many will be gobbled up before they hatch; and most will not make it past the terns, seagulls and hawks to the sea. This profligality is all around us -- and within us. For that matter, do we really need how-many-billion people on the earth right now?

If every maple seed should have a Purpose, and every sea turtle have ambition for upward mobility, then life may be indeed be pointless.

But that kind of thinking is anthropocentric. Why should it all make sense to me? Does the universe owe me an explanation or apology for its being? For its beauty and vastness and wonder? For its complexity and subtlety? Should Glory squeeze itself into the limits of my comprehension?

When I surrender to this enormity I see the hand of God. Like an artist, poet or sculptor, God delights in creativity. Why make one when you can make a million? Or a billion? 

There's a bird in there
But – lest we forget – “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me.” Once again the anthropocentrist thinks, “God is too busy to pay attention to me.” Because the human brain can pay attention to only one thing at a time, this armchair philosopher says, “God doesn’t have time for me.” As if God is only another limited human brain. Would you not let your God watch over you and your neighbor too?

We cannot imagine the Lord of All Creation. Nor can we grasp all creation. But we can sense – philosophers call it intuit­ – the presence and majesty and enormity and beauty of God. We can bow down and worship.

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 349

Come to our aid, O God of the universe, and put all the nations in dread of you!  Raise your hand against the foreign people, that they may see your mighty deeds.  As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory.  Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.  Give new signs and work new wonders; show forth the splendor of your right hand and arm.

The seer is one who sees what others cannot see. In this first reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, the wise man prays that all people – the elect and “the nations” -- will have the vision to see God’s mighty deeds.

The enemies of God’s people should see the holiness of his people. Our morally upright behavior, our religious practices, and our habitual awareness of God’s presence should demonstrate what it means to be God’s beloved people. And, conversely, the frustration of their wicked plans should reveal the glory of God to us. The Book of Esther demonstrates God's ability to deliver his people, even by the hand of a beautiful young woman. 

As I prayed for a Veteran’s recovery recently I was reminded of how we must be given “eyes to see.” This particular Veteran is in very poor condition. He can barely walk and must rely on his elderly wife for much assistance. I don’t know his exact condition but I think he has not long to live.

And yet I prayed with him for the recovery of his ability to walk and care for himself! It seemed ironic, at best, to think he might recover any of his former strength.

But then I realized that God might show him “new signs and new wonders” that we might not otherwise notice. He might not walk again, but he might have the vision to see beauty in his helplessness. 

Saint Francis had that gift of sight. Toward the end of his life he saw a terrible spectacle, the death of an entire city, Damietta in Egypt. The city was under siege for several years by Crusaders. They cut off every external source of supplies. When they finally assailed the gates and captured the city, they met no resistance. Every single human being had been dead for several days. They had died of disease, starvation or suicide.

Francis saw that, and yet he could still pray, “You are good, all good, supreme good!” Clearly he saw something so intensely beautiful it could overwhelm even the horror of a dead city.  

All of us will die and many of us will die when we would prefer to live. Some of us will die in great discomfort. Lord, give me eyes to see. Train me to see as you see that I may see clearly your new signs and new wonders, the splendor of your right hand and arm.  

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 348

Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously, according to your means.
For the LORD is one who always repays,
and he will give back to you sevenfold.
But offer no bribes, these he does not accept!

For those who have even a passing familiarity with Our Lord, the idea of bribery is ludicrous. We can hear his roaring response in Psalm 50:13, “Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? He thunders a rebuke also in the opening verses of Isaiah:

"What do I care for the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs, and goats I find no pleasure. When you come to appear before me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! To bring offerings is useless; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath, calling assemblies— festive convocations with wickedness— these I cannot bear!”
…and so forth for several more verses!

The saints and the scriptures continually assure us that God wants only our love; but the spiritually illiterate have such a hard time understanding what exactly that is.
Today we speak of presence, of “showing up.” The key word in scripture is hineneh, translated as “Here I am.”

In prayer that is often a matter of driving everything else out of the mind with loud, direct shouts at God. I often pray, “You are good, all good, supreme good!” – the wonderful words of Saint Francis. The Cloud ofUnknowing recommends one syllable words like love, peace, joy or you. Sometimes I find it helpful to “speak” within my mind the Our Father, one syllable for each breath: “our, fa, ther, who, art, in, hea, ven….”
Because The Word is God I can worship God by worshipping each word and each syllable of each word.

Of course there are many other prayers: Maranatha, Hail Mary, Alleluia, Glory be, and so on.” The point is to pay attention to nothing but God. I will gently shove all else out of my mind with "God!" For this moment of prayer I will forget about my duties and responsibilities, my worries and anxieties, my resentments and fears. I will care about and think about nothing but God – because I believe (credo) God is worthy of all my love.
Settling into God’s presence, I might want to bring a gift – as a gift, in gratitude for all God’s gifts. But a bribe? Fuhgedaboudit.

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Flags for our Veteran
Friars who served in Army, Navy
and Air Forces
Lectionary: 347

To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.
Return to him and give up sin,
pray to the LORD and make your offenses few.

The penitent who would return to the Lord might well ask, "What is the way back? How do I get there from here?"

Is it possible for the murderer to undo his killing? Or the rapist to erase the trauma of his crime from the women and children he has ravaged? 

The incarcerated are not the only ones who ask such questions. Some military veterans also suffer fearsome nightmares and paralyzing daylight flashbacks, memories of what occurred in another place and time. In some cases they were under orders, but rationalizing does not bring back the dead. Many seek relief -- if that is what it is -- in suicide. 

At one time the Church offered the way of mortification. If you saw the movie, The Mission, you might remember the tormented soldier dragging his sword, shield and armor through the jungles of Brazil in an effort to purge himself of guilt. Penitents might go on pilgrimage, tracing hundreds of miles on their knees, fasting, wearing hairshirts and chains. They hoped their physical suffering would atone for what they'd done. 

Eventually wiser saints would urge the Church not to impose such burdens on the penitent. That is not the way. 

Our Catholic tradition offers the Sacrament of Penance, but this should not be misinterpreted as simply a whispered "confession" and "three Hail Marys." The Sacrament of Penance is an encounter with Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is an act of faith that Jesus, by his cross and resurrection, can, has and will undo all the harm of our sins. 

The Sacrament is a divine glance that confounds the furies of guilt and shame. Standing within Jesus' gaze, the penitent knows he is welcome to follow. [follow those links for relevant scripture passages]

Today's penitent might not be reassured by a word. We are a visual society; and words, it is said, are cheap. But we still believe in what we see; and penitents who look into the eyes of Jesus find the Way. 

The wise man said, God "has chosen for them the lot of truth." She must become our passion, our craving, our desire, need, hope and preference at every hour of the day and night. As a young man desires a woman or an alcoholic craves a drink, the repentant sinner loves and adores truth. She demands much and he gives everything in return for peace of mind. 

Relieved of guilt and shame, sinners find ways to atone for their sins and, with Jesus, for the sins of all creatures. 

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Lectionary: 166

Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; from of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.

During his last year in office, Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics around the world to practice a "Year of Faith." Not simply a year of prayer, this should be a time of study and contemplation. He urged us especially to study our creeds and read The Catechism of the Catholic Church
I have found myself especially blessed because a friend's suggestion of several years ago finally germinated -- I read Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity. Suddenly I understand why the Pope Emeritus introduced a Year of Faith. We must anchor our spirituality in the Creed. Veneration of the saints and devotions to Mary are all well and good, but every Christian should contemplate our beliefs. Our imagination, thinking and decisions should be shaped by those principles that set us apart. Without the Creed we are salt without savor
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity invites reflection on the Apostles Creed and Nicene Creed. But the whole world could not contain all the words that should be written about such mysteries. Let's take a fresh look at one facet: 
Today's first reading is from the Book of Wisdom. "Wisdom" describes herself as a beloved child of God who watched the creation of the world since its very beginnings. She is the "forerunner of his prodigies," and she pervades all things. Wherever the wise look they find wisdom and beauty and pleasure. God's hand is manifest in the stars above and the sand beneath our feet. God's mystery appears even in our capacity to see and hear beauty. As the poet George Herbert wrote, "Who made the eyes but I?
Cardinal Ratzinger believes the Jewish sage who wrote this book was influenced by Greek philosophy. (We already know he was writing in Greek.) Wisdom was logos, the expression of Being which underlies all existence. So it was no great leap of imagination for Saint John to tell us, "the logos became flesh and pitched his tent among us." 
The Christian understands God the Father (who is Being) speaks the Word (logos) who is Jesus, and their Spirit is total surrendering love to one another. 
The Cardinal is adamant that we should understand this Greek philosophy which had long pondered the nature of Being. Without a foundation in Ontology -- the study of being -- one's notion of God is apt to be "mythological." It will change and fluctuate with the ever-shifting culture in which we're immersed. God might appear to be a tyrant to one and a father to another and energy to a third. 

But we believe at the heart of all existence is Being, or One who is love. God does not simply love; God is love. God does not simply sacrifice his only begotten son; God expresses (empties!) himself totally in speaking the Word who is Crucified Love. That Spirit -- their Spirit -- exhales and exhausts in creating, sustaining, redeeming and fulfilling the universe. 
When we say, "I believe" we invite this Being to take up residence within our being, to draw us together into all being, finding our meaning and purpose, our healing and forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation in the One who is All. 

Saint Francis knew this intuitively as he prayed, "My God and My All." 

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 346

Limited days of life he gives him,
with power over all things else on earth.
He puts the fear of (man) in all flesh,
and gives him rule over beasts and birds….
With wisdom he fills their heart;
good and evil he shows them.
He put the fear of himself upon their hearts,
and showed them his mighty works,
That they might glory in the wonder of his deeds
and praise his holy name.

18th century sailors often found South Pacific islands where the creatures had no fear of them whatsoever. Hunters could walk right into nesting areas killing birds and gathering their eggs. There were places like that in North America during the 17th century until the few surviving animals learned fear of man.

Sirach was not familiar with these wild places. He took it for granted that creatures fear man as man fears God. Only in Paradise had there been a brief moment of natural concord.
But Sirach also knew the human creature is responsible for all the earth, for God has given us “rule over beasts and birds.” If he could not imagine an earth-spanning blanket of fossil-fueled pollution, he knew that sin has its consequences; and they often include drought, floods, earthquakes, fires and war. 

Until recently we scoffed at such naiveté. How could sin cause forest fires or drought? Global consequences seemed absurd, especially when we defined sin as a personal thought, word or deed and not the work of a nation, city or church. 

Unfortunately, we now know that we have deeply harmed our Earth and its life-sustaining systems, and failure to respond to this crisis is collectively sinful. True, much of the damage was done without harmful intent, when no one imagined such catastrophic consequence. In the 1920's, who could suppose that Henry Ford's flivver might pollute the atmosphere? But it doesn't matter whether the damage was done by malice or ignorance, it was done. And it must be undone. 

Apparently we supposed the Earth has God's capacity for inexhaustible mercy. We supposed our rivers, streams and oceans were beyond our capacity to pollute; our sky was too vast to harm; our soil, too pure to be tainted. 

But worse, we regarded the Earth as man’s domain and disdained the Fear of the Lord who created it. We parceled the Earth into nations and nations into tracts of "private property" and forgot the Lord who entrusted His Earth to us for our husbandry.

This particular stage might be described as the interim when most of us know that all are responsible; and some of us know we can do something about it; and a few of us are trying to convince the rest of us to do the right thing. But what should we do and how soon must we decide? If democracy is like making sausage, this particular stage is especially unappetizing.

The religious contribution – from Christians, Jews, Muslims and virtually all legitimate religions – will be “the Fear of the Lord.” "The Lord's is the earth and its fullness."

No one will listen to the wild-eyed Christian prophet who says, "God told me to tell you..." But they will respect our preference for long-term consequences over short-term benefits. They will acknowledge that the Earth is our home and our descendants must live here for millennia. They must share our pleasure in nature's beauty even as we worship the God who is Beauty. 

Failure to respond is not an option because the Earth can outwait our misguided behavior. She will become increasingly inhospitable to us until we come to our senses. 

In 1982, I could not imagine what sign the whole world might see, the sign predicted by the seers in Medjugorge. But the prophecy fascinated me. Given the possibilities of rapid communication and transportation, might the whole world see an astonishing demonstration of God's life-giving, energizing goodness? And then the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain disintegrated, and the Soviet Union fell apart. A nation that had fewer weapons than the United States but nevertheless could destroy every living creature on it -- chose not to use its weapons to save itself. Surely that is God's work. 

Can anyone say the whole world will never recognize our universal peril and take effective action? Don't discount the Holy Spirit. Stand up, pray, watch and wait

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 345

Spring arrives at MSF...
The Pharisees approached him and asked,
“Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?”
They were testing him.

Saint Mark’s editorial remark throws a wholly different light on Jesus’ teaching, “They were testing him.” Apparently, they knew his opinion already because they knew the Law of Moses. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.
Sometime in the early 1980’s a woman asked me the Church’s teaching about adultery? I assured her that it had not changed through all the upheavals of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was pretty well spelled out in the Decalogue. She had been told otherwise by a minister who exploited her vulnerability.

Since time immemorial, it seems, people have waited for God to change the commandments about marriage. When his disappointed disciples realized that Jesus would not change the ancient teaching they remarked,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted.”
The fact is not everyone should get married. It is a privilege not given to everyone. Nor, for that matter, is it a right. I remember another woman who wanted to discuss with me the question of marrying once again, for the seventh time. (Actually, she would remarry number five; he said he’d kill himself if she refused.) When I suggested, “Maybe you should never have married in the first place.” she said that had never occurred to her.

The sudden acceptance of “gay marriage” has caught many by surprise. To anyone who knows our philosophical and religious tradition, the idea is obviously absurd. Its acceptance only reveals the widespread failure of Christian education and formation.
One facetious argument is that gay marriage is like miscegenation, which was illegal in many states. If a black man can marry a white woman, why can’t two men marry each other? The answer should be obvious: a black man and a white woman can conceive children. A gay couple cannot.

...all in awhirl.
Marriage is about sexuality, after all. Sexuality, from the Latin word, secare, meaning to divide, is related to the words section, secular and sect. It concerns separateness, difference and the meeting of opposites in creativity. Sexual is how children are conceived. Whatever two men or two women do in the privacy of their shared beds, it’s not sex.
They were testing him. Sinful humanity will always test the Truth, looking for easier ways. They will always want the Church to bless their excuses for divorce, adultery, abortion, and so forth. And, like Socrates’ gadfly, the prophetic Church will always speak the Truth in love.

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 344

Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?”
for the Most High bides his time.
Of forgiveness be not overconfident,
adding sin upon sin.
Say not: “Great is his mercy;
my many sins he will forgive.”
For mercy and anger alike are with him;
upon the wicked alights his wrath.

While the scriptures often reassure us of God’s great mercy and compassion, they also warn us against the sin of presumption.
Late one night, when I was young enough to be sociable late in the night, I chatted with a group of teens. They were planning to attend a party even later into the night and I asked, “Have you asked your parents?”

One replied, “She doesn’t care.” The speaker meant by that, “It’s okay with her;” but he chose an awful expression.
If God seems to be silent; if lightning doesn’t strike when you sin; does that mean “It’s okay with God?” Or, “God doesn’t care?”

Sirach warns the sinner, “The Most High bides his time.” and “upon his mercy alights his wrath.”
The wise always have a strong sense of God’s terrifying holiness. Their faith assures them of God’s mercy, but instinctively they tremble in the presence of The Other.

This feeling is akin to the instincts of the married couple who pay attention to one another. They know better than to ignore one another. Can a football game or a phone call be more important than our relationship? A moment’s inattention can take hours or days to amend, especially if that particular slip was ill-timed.
Wisdom pays close attention to God all the time. It is always aware of God’s watchful concern. Confident of Benevolence, it will not presume upon a grace so freely given.

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Wisdom breathes life into her children
and admonishes those who seek her.
He who loves her loves life;
those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord.
He who holds her fast inherits glory;
wherever he dwells, the LORD bestows blessings.

Perhaps I don’t read enough spiritual reading but I find little about wisdom in my reading. The writers of both scripture and piety often speak of “Lady Wisdom” and esteem her as one of God’s greatest gifts. In our time she has been overwhelmed by knowledge, which has been fragmented into facts, which are ground further into factoids and sound bites.

Like many people I yell at the radio as I drive and last week I heard a story about a new school someone wants to build. It would be a SET school: science, engineering and technology. I hollered, “and philosophy?”

Who is going to teach these whiz kids how to THINK about what they’re doing? How are they going to live in the new world they build if they don’t know how to think about it?

The technological world is changing daily around us under tidal waves – now called tsunamis – of new ideas; but millions of Americans still think the world was built in seven days. They’re still thinking Jesus went “up into heaven” as if heaven is a sky-floating island out of the movie Avatar. I don’t suppose the whiz kids suffer those illusions but they’re perceptions of life in the 21st century may be just as skewed. Many will bring 19th century religious and 20th century philosophical ideas to their mid-21st century decisions. They will not be able to imagine, see or comprehend what is happening around them or within them – even as life passes them by.

Inevitably, others will make decisions for them. When I was in Louisiana I heard a preacher chide the youth of his church, “While you were rapping and napping, someone else was mapping your future!” I might say to today’s philosophically illiterate whiz kids, “While you were tinkering with your toys, someone else ate your breakfast.”

Only the Wisdom of God, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, can prepare us to live in our rapidly changing world. This is not a simple matter of “Pray More!” – although that’s important. Wisdom requires study, discussion, listening, pondering and asking for God’s guidance. It requires a deep knowledge of our Jewish roots, Greek origins, Roman legal structures, English customs and Christian traditions.

Lady Wisdom knows the future. She will show it to her favorites as it happens.
Get wisdom, get understanding!
Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you;
love her, and she will safeguard you;
The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom;
whatever else you get, get understanding. Proverb 4:5-7

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

My son, when you come to serve the LORD,
stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.
Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.

The service of a great lord, one might suppose, is a cushy job. It is that “Easy Street” of which Rooster and Miss Hannigan sing in Annie: Easy street / Easy street / Where you sleep till noon… Easy street / Easy street / Where the rich folks play / Yeah, yeah, yeah / Move them feet /Move them ever-lovin' feet / To Easy Street.

Neither Testament makes such a promise to the faithful Jew or Christian. The consistent message is “Expect adversity.” Although one is “sincere of heart and steadfast,” although one inclines the ear and receives the word of understanding, God's servants will be tried.

Perhaps that's why I find the Parable of the Talents so amusing. The fellow who was given ten talents and returned ten more talents, was then given ten cities to manage! And the fellow who produced five talents from his five was given five cities to manage. I suppose the parable presumes these successful entrepreneurs will rake outrageous fortunes from their new responsibilities, but as a Franciscan I'd want to say, "Thanks, but no thanks! I've been there and got the t-shirt." 

The privilege of discipleship is enduring trials with Jesus. I often remind my Veterans in the hospital, the young and the old, "It doesn't get easier. It's not supposed to." Whoever coined the expression Golden Years was not speaking of the world we know. 

Many people will search for another road to happiness, a road that is less daunting and more inviting, a road of quick, easy and short-term gains. 

But the Lord's highway is a long road indeed, and the long term gains are beyond our imagining. In That Day we will see every wrong righted, every wound healed and every sorrow comforted. In the meanwhile, 

Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not;thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 341

All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him it remains forever, and is before all time The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain, the days of eternity: who can number these?
Heaven’s height, earth’s breadth, the depths of the abyss: who can explore these?
Before all things else wisdom was created;
and prudent understanding, from eternity.

Though the Easter Cycle will tail off on the coming Sundays, with feasts of the Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi, it’s over for the weekday cycle. “We now return you to your regular programming…” taking up where we left off, with Monday of the seventh week in ordinary time.

Where better to re-begin than Ecclesiasticus, known today as “The Wisdom of Sirach,” and his thoughts about eternity? As I understand there was no word for infinity or eternity in ancient Hebrew, Greek or Latin. The old Latin expression was “per saeculum saeculi,” meaning through ages of ages. A cowboy might call it a month of Sundays.

Though mathematicians developed the concepts of eternity and infinity we still have a hard time comprehending them. Can anything be infinite? And yet, if God is absolutely good and infinite is better than limited or confined, God must be infinite. There is no containing the wisdom, authority, goodness or mercy of God. If the rational mind balks at the idea, complaining “I can’t imagine it!” the heart is delighted. Why should the heart worry about the mind’s scruples?

From what I understand, physicists are discovering timelessness in the black holes of space. They really can’t see it there but it makes sense to them. Black holes are dying stars that have spent their energy, collapsed and are continuing to collapse upon themselves. They cannot stop shrinking! But their gravity, growing ever more intense, sucks the space-time continuum into themselves and both distance and time disappear.

Classical philosophers knew that time is founded upon eternity. Saint Augustine was especially fascinated by the idea. Eternity is not just endless or unlimited time; it is presence, the unlimited now of all time.  This is where God lives, in the eternally present. When he appears in time, within our history, he brings the presence of eternity to us, and invites us to live there with him.

This really isn’t very strange. Lovers gaze into one another’s eyes and lose all sense of time. They are content to be there in the present. Romantic songs delight in eternity,

Tonight, tonight, / Won't be just any night, / Tonight there will be no morning star. / Tonight, tonight, / I'll see my love tonight! / And for us, stars will stop where they are. /

Today, the minutes seem like hours, / The hours go so slowly, / And still the sky is light. / Oh moon, grow bright, / And make this endless day endless night!  / Tonight... no morning star. (from West Side Story)

Look who won the PowerBall!
Which of us has not begged time to stop that we might enjoy this endless night or endless summer afternoon?  

Eternity is a promise God makes to lovers. Young lovers discover it in one another’s arms; parents see it in their children; Christians find it in prayer.

Saint Clare urged her disciples to “Gaze on him!” the Crucified Lord, and know that he is always and forever there for you.

Pentecost Sunday

Lectionary: 63
Hot Air Balloons over Louisville
from St Anthony Church, Clarksville IN
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

The Catholic should understand that everything we say about God begins in our historical experience. As Saint John wrote in his First Letter:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life — for the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us...
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 1980 book, Introduction to Christianity, explains that the Apostles Creed was created for the Sacrament of Baptism. Converts were baptized according to Jesus' precise instructions, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit," The formula expanded as explanatory words were added and the Creed took shape. Later, the Creed was used for catechesis, to teach the faith; and Christians memorized the "symbol" for daily recitation and devotion. 

In the final section on the Holy Spirit, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains:
In the original Greek text the central statement in the third section of the  Creed runs simply, "I believe in Holy Spirit." The definitive article to which we are accustomed in our translation is thus missing. This is very important for the interpretation of the meaning, for it means that this article [the third part of the Apostles Creed] was first really understood in terms of salvation history, not of the Trinity. In other words, the third section of the Creed refers in the first place, not to the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Godhead, but to the Holy Spirit as God's gift to history in the community of those who believe in Christ. 
The Holy Spirit is certainly a doctrine of the Church, but it is first of all God's gift to us, a gift which we have discovered, felt, treasured and cherished in our hearts individually and communally. It is an historical experience in that we remember our spiritual ancestors have always been inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ. (The latest generation is always tempted to think, "We have found the Truth at last, and our ancestors knew nothing." The Creed disproves that.)
Get in line for the PowerBall!

If we retain this sense of history in our daily prayer, we feel connected to those inspired men and women who sang the psalms in the Temple of Jerusalem, which we pray daily. We will remember the zeal of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the fidelity of Joseph. We will readily follow Moses, Miriam and Aaron into the Desert of Zin. We will pray with David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Deborah, Ruth and Judith. All these were inspired by the same Spirit that moves us today. 
Our historical sense of the Spirit binds us to the disciples and saints, including the martyrs, confessors and virgins. 
It also connects us to Christians -- Catholic and Protestant -- all over the world, and especially to those who are suffering persecution for our faith. 
Finally, it promises us an endless future as we see young people caught up in the same dedication and zeal. 
The Spirit of God is the life of God within us. It is the life that will leap up in ecstasy even as our bodies fall back to earth. And, on that Great Getting-up Morning, it is the Voice that will call us by name from the grave to stand joyfully before the Lord when he comes to judge the nations. 

Saturday of Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 302

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours?
You follow me.”
So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die.
But Jesus had not told him that he would not die,
just “What if I want him to remain until I come?
What concern is it of yours?”

A lot of theological speculation, the kind you hear in quick conversations with strangers or tiresome conversation with friends, might be dismissed with Jesus’ last word in the fourth gospel, “What concern is it of yours?” Especially speculation about the fate of others, which falls under the broad headings of gossip and judgment, is wasted time and energy.
The AA program has a useful slogan for that, “Take your own inventory!” That refers to the fourth step of twelve in which the recovering alcoholic takes an inventory of his “character defects.” This is a terrifying process, and it would be overwhelming except that God reveals to each of us only as many of our defects as we can endure. If I saw them all in a glance I’d be seared like a charred strip of bacon.
Often, rather than take my own inventory, I take that of others. That's a lot more fun and not half as painful. Peter seems to be doing that when he asks Jesus about John’s fate. He is effectively told, “MYOB!”
The ancient controversy between Calvinists and Arminians about election and double-election boils down to that. They want to know how God decides who is saved and who is not. Is there any way we can tell who God loves? Are the healthy, wealthy, secure and better educated more loved than the rest of people? Is their comfort in this world a sign of God’s election? They appear to be!
Jesus says, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me!”
But this is also an agonizing question for parents and grandparents who have poured their lives into their children and, watched them make dreadful decisions despite all their training. Can my daughter be saved? Can my grandson be forgiven?
They are left on the cross of uncertainty, of prayer and hope and apparent futility. As their priest and friend I urge them to stay there on the cross of prayerful unknowing. As Jesus hung upon the cross, from that high place, he could see every problem on earth. Had he come down off it to try to manage all those problems personally, he would have failed to save us.
As we witness men and women wasting their lives in sinful, stupid and futile behavior we again hear Jesus’ command, “You follow me!” If we would make a difference in the lives of others, the only way is the narrow gate and the straitened path.

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 301

Spring growth of flowers
His accusers stood around him, but did not charge him with any of the crimes I suspected. Instead they had some issues with him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus who had died but who Paul claimed was alive.”

In this story, Saint Luke describes Procurator Festus’s bewilderment. Twenty centuries later many people still wonder why people get upset about religious beliefs. Outsiders are always bewildered by religious sensibilities. They make ignorant statements like, "It doesn't matter which church you go to, so long as you pray."

To which I reply, "It doesn't matter which party you vote for, so long as you vote." Try telling that to a political zealot.
As insiders, you and I know how important the resurrection of Jesus is. Saint Paul spelled it out in so many words:
… if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised.
For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. I Corinthians 15:12
A sympathetic bystander might have tried to soothe Saint Paul at that point, That's okay, Paul. Now settle down. Remember your blood pressure!" He is clearly very upset by somebody's outrageous remarks about there being no resurrection.

Even today many people do not understand that, if there is no resurrection from the dead and if Christ is not risen, the edifices of Christianity collapse. We are left with only a vague moral code based on “natural law” to stabilize our civilization. 

When European philosophers decided, for instance, we had no further need for Christian faith a series of wars -- World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and the Balkan War – destroyed millions of lives. Without the prospect of heaven and the Judge who oversees admittance, there is no reason not to grasp at the power and pleasures of this world. One can only hope to survive in a death-struggle with billions of other people; and there are no penalties for genocide.
So religious beliefs do make a difference, even to people like Festus who are bewildered by it all.