Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Saint Louis Bertrand Church
Louisville, Kentucky

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Proverbs 2:4-5 If you seek (Wisdom) like silver, and like hidden treasures search her out, Then will you understand the fear of the LORD; the knowledge of God you will find.

Proverb 4: 5-7: 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.

Often ignored in recent Christian experience is our Wisdom tradition. The emphasis on enthusiasm, which is sometimes confused with "The Holy Ghost," dismisses learning and its innumerable disciplines as too controlled and too traditional. Learning, experience and expertise seem to leave no room for spontaneity. American anti-intellectuals especially distrust the effete experts who have gone the extra mile to know what they’re talking about.
Ignorance breeds mediocrity at best; at worse it breeds trouble – especially in our religious traditions. “There is no cure for stupid.” Nor is there any excuse. 

Innovative people of genius work hard to develop their skills. When I was very young I supposed the Beatles were totally spontaneous creators of a whole new tradition. Only later did I discover they had studied rock and roll. Hitting the big time, they studied more intensely many forms of music. 

Brilliant surgeons, generals, scientists and philosophers learned from the masters. They will claim only to stand on the shoulders of giants as they make their astonishing advances. 

Saint Paul spent three years in intense study after his conversion before he set out on his missionary journeys. The saints Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua studied the scriptures and could recite them by heart. Saint Anthony, in particular, was a doctor of theology before he joined the Franciscans. 
The Church has a long, respected tradition of scholarship. When Europe was overrun by barbarians, scholars from Ireland build monasteries throughout the continent to preserve and develop learning. They often began their instruction with how to sit at a table and eat like a civilized human being. 

Long before Carl Sagan fumed about the Church's suspicion of Galileo's ideas, Franciscan friars were building universities, exploring Mongolia and China and searching for Prester John. The Renaissance is unimaginable without the impetus of Christian humanism which encouraged study of the secular sciences. 

On this feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola we especially remember the incredible contributions to learning the Society of Jesus continues to make throughout the world. It's often said, there are only three things God doesn't know: how many religious communities of women there are; how much money the Franciscans have; and how many schools the Jesuits run. (but I can assure you from personal experience the friars have little money.) 

In his parable about the treasure buried in a field, Jesus urges us to seek wisdom like silver, to get wisdom and get understanding!

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

During the First Iraq War, General Schwarzkopf described the American Army’s method of driving the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. He said they did not specifically intend to kill the soldiers but they would destroy their weapons. I understood him to say, “If they get out of their tanks, they’ll be safe; if they lay down their RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) they will not be harmed.”

That seems to be the Lord’s approach to the Final Judgment. On that day, the weeds will be collected and burned up with fire. Evil will be destroyed; goodness will be vindicated. Those who led good lives despite the taunts of the wicked, who lived modestly and reasonably, caring for their neighbors as they cared for themselves will be honored.  

Those who hide from God’s judgment within their heavily armored weapons of conceit, intemperance, entitlement and self-satisfaction risk grave danger. They are snakes who cannot shed the skin of the old person; turtles attached to their shells. They will say to God, “Love me! Love my stuff!” Fearfully, they will suffer gravely when their stuff is destroyed.

Louisville and the Ohio River
on a pleasant summer night
The righteous are those who abandon their weapons against God’s justice. When he calls them from the grave they will say with Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Jesus, Mary and all the saints, “Here I am!” They will come leaping like Lazarus to meet the Lord, as happy as children in city fountains on a hot summer day. 

Saint Martha

Lectionary: 401/607

Jesus told her,
“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,
and anyone who lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord.
I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

I know a fine young Veteran with a severe drinking problem who reminds me so much of my young self it hurts.

He has returned to treatment repeatedly -- most substance abusers return to treatment several times before they settle into their new way of life -- and he always asks the same question, "Why do I keep doing this?" 

I have urged him not to ask that question. "Knowing the answer won't help. And if you ever understand why you relapse, it will not be for many years."

"In the meanwhile, obey the Lord!" and I remind him of the authority he knew in the military. He says he enjoyed his brief military career. 

Jesus understood that military authority. He was so faithfully and instinctively obedient to his Abba/Father/God that a centurion recognized him as a colleague, though of a different "army." Jesus described that obedience in John 5.30: 
“I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
There is a lot to be said for understanding things. Our scientific culture searches and researches for explanations of why things are as they are. Children learn that attitude early in life; almost as soon as they can talk they ask, "Why?" 

Eager parents will explain things to their child. And then they'll send them off to school to learn more about this world and how it works. 

But sometimes the child will ask "Why?" once too many times not about scientific research but why he has to make his bed since he's going to sleep in it later anyway -- and the answer will sound throughout the house, "Because I said so." 

Explanations and reasons are wonderful things but in the end authority answers the question. 

In the second alternative gospel of today, from the Gospel of Saint John, Jesus asks Martha, "Do you believe this?" 

She replies, "“Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God. In those words I hear a woman say, "I believe you because you said it."  

"Believe in the words I have spoken." That is a constant theme of the Gospel. Jesus' last word in John 21 is, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." 

Many people are critical of the Catholic Church and its structures because we rely so much on authority. They want explanations. But when explanations are given, even reasonable ones, they still argue and refuse to accept the teaching, since they don't like the reason and cannot agree with it.  

For many the relationship ends there. And that's a shame. It's unfortunate and sometimes tragic. 

I have learned to hear the explanation and ponder it. I feel my rebellion. I don't have to like it. But, very often, I come around. I let the reason reshape my thinking. 

What me, worry?
Some things may never make sense to me. There are changes in the Church and its policies I hope for but don't expect to see. If they come they'll come in God's time, not mine. And that's okay with me. Why should I worry about it? (See illustration...)

Embracing authority is welcoming the mystery of life in all its dimensions, so much deeper, wider, higher and grander than my comprehension. And far more beautiful. 

As we celebrate Saint Martha -- a woman who scolded the Lord! -- we ask God to give us her willing spirit. 

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 111

Give us each day our daily bread
and forgive us our sins
for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us,
and do not subject us to the final test.”

Saint Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is shorter than Saint Matthews. From time immemorial the Church has preferred the latter; but on this 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time we ponder the prayer and its setting in Saint Luke’s narrative.

Unlike Saint Matthew’s gospel which emphasizes the command to forgive one another, Saint Luke’s prayer is followed by a teaching about prayer, and especially asking for God’s blessings in prayer. Rather than specific prayers to say or rituals to perform – some mumbo-jumbo – Jesus recommends a quality of prayer -- persistence. In-your-face prayer which continues day and night and refuses to back down and will not give up and appeals for help with boundless energy -- makes the difference.

The cynic might ask, “Is God hard of hearing? Perhaps he’s not paying attention? Doesn’t God already know what he will do for us? What’s the point of asking when God already knows what we need and will provide it if he wants to?” I used to ask similar questions about the TV show Bewitched. If she can do this, why can't she do that? That was before I was bewitched by Elizabeth Montgomery, God rest her soul. 

In any case, such questions miss the point. Jesus has come to tell us Our Father wants to know us personally, not as statistics in a universe of creeping, crawling creatures but as sparkling reflections of divine glory. As hard as it might be to imagine, the Lord God of the Universe, who created all things and controls the destiny of all things, wants to visit us in our homes.

I met a Veteran who told me he admired the way Christians seem to have a direct, personal relationship with God. For whatever reason, he had never seen that divine confidence in his family, although they practiced a similar religion. Shortly before he died he was baptized.

We find this confident persistent prayer in today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis. Abraham approaches God as a friend, arguing that God should be more tolerant of human failings. What kind of God would wipe out a city when there were fifty good people in it? Or forty? Or ten? How often have we had that argument among our friends or family? You might have reasoned with your angry brother that he should not act irrationally; or perhaps your friend talked you down off your high horse of righteousness before you did something foolish.

Abraham could not dissuade the Lord from destroying the the irredeemably wicked cities but at least he spared the few good people there: Lot, Lot’s wife and family.
To be fully human we must learn to ask for help from God and from one another. We knew how to do it as babies. We should relearn it in our old age. But especially blessed and wise are those who realize and own their shortcomings in the between years, when so many fools regard themselves as self-made persons. 

God is eager to hear our prayers. We have only to ask. 

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 400

Moses took half of the blood and put it in large bowls;
the other half he splashed on the altar.
Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people,
who answered, “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.”
Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that the LORD has made with you
in accordance with all these words of his.”

Perhaps all aging people experience this: here is something I have been told so often that I believe it, but now I see it’s true!
I was told from early on that Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses, psalms and prophecies of the Old Testament:
He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Recently, however, as I pray the psalms of our daily “Liturgy of the Hours,” I am again astonished at how they fit so perfectly into my Christian experience. I find it amazing that everything in the “Old Testament” makes sense in the light of the “New Testament.” I suppose many Jewish scholars will object to this claim. Their traditions diverged from the Christian path after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Even their reading of the texts developed differently. But it is impossible for the Christian to deny or ignore the roots of our faith in the “Hebrew Scriptures.”

We have been hearing stories from the Books of Genesis and Exodus over the past few weeks. Today’s reading brings us to the foot of Mount Sinai and the covenant which God established there with his people, our spiritual ancestors. The Catholic will recognize Moses’ ritual gestures: the readings and the sprinkling. Our Mass has the same two-step form; first we read from the scriptures, then we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus from the altar.

If Moses’ ceremony seems messier and perhaps less appealing to our fastidious tastes, it nonetheless adds drama to our less sanguine rite. Whereas they are bound to the altar and the God of the altar by the sprinkling of a heifer’s blood and eating of its flesh, we are united to Jesus by drinking his blood and eating his flesh. The calf was slain, butchered and roasted on a stone altar; Jesus was slain on the altar of the cross; and we come to eat and drink at the altar. Although the Jews have not performed this ritual since the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed, we celebrate the Mass daily in churches throughout the world.

I find beauty here, and much consolation. True, the world is changing rapidly around me. Many of us suffer present shock, which is the present tense of future shock. The more I hear of what is happening the less I understand. But I am sure the Mass and the Sacraments, the tradition and the gospel, the Lord and his covenant will last forever.

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 399

I, the LORD, am your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves
in the shape of anything in the sky above
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.

The Jews gave us Jesus. The Greeks gave us a philosophical foundation for our religion. And the Romans? They gave us patron saints.
The scripture scholar and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson has described how the social-economic structure of the Roman Empire shaped Roman Catholic spirituality. In the Roman world who you knew was more important than what you knew; and your personal wealth was less important than either. Wealth in that world, as in ours, is ephemeral; it can vanish overnight.

Roman society throughout the Empire was built on connections. To get ahead you had to belong to the right family. Failing that you married into the right family or cultivated friends within the family. Families, of course, were always ascending or descending in power. The most powerful were emperors; the least were slaves. Scholars, artists, and skilled laborers jockeyed for position among powerful families, cultivating friends – call them patrons – who could give them work.
In that system the client promoted the interests of his patron, and the patron bestowed privileges and opportunities on his clients. Dr. Johnson points out university systems still work like that. If you want to get your doctorate, it helps to have the right mentor. He or she can usher you through the interviews and exams to get ahead. Also, from what I hear of power in our nation’s capital, the right connections still make all the difference for lobbyists, news reporters and civil servants.

Ancient Christians could not imagine a spiritual world without patronage and so they cultivated relationship with the martyrs. Before they were hauled into the arena, the devout asked prospective martyrs to pray for them and to carry greetings to their loved ones in heaven. Because memories were long in a world where no one moved very far from their place of birth, people befriended the saints and martyrs who had lived and died in their own small town. They might remember the saint lived “right there in that house,” worshiped God in that chapel, healed a leper on this street and is buried “there in our cemetery.” 
It helped if your patron saint was especially famous and beloved throughout the world, but how could you not love a saint who spoke your own dialect and enjoyed your local cuisine – even if she died three hundred years ago? In a world without change, time meant nothing.

The Protestant Reformation would attempt to uproot that system of patronage. As the structures of power mutated from connections to knowledge, skills and experience, a world embroidered with degrees, certificates and diplomas, Protestants dismissed patron saints as idols.
That was unfair. Patron Saints were friends in high places to those who lived on the margins of society. If the least among us are generally despised by the powerful, what would inspire them to hope that the Most Powerful All-Seeing God would care about them? But a humble saint, who lived right here in this neighborhood and scraped out a living as I do, who had reached the unreachable and attained the unattainable: she will pray with me before God.
On this feast of the parents of Mary the Mother of God, we thank God for the friendship, patronage and inspiration of Joachim and Ann, a married couple who adored their grandchild. 

Feast of Saint James, Apostle
Lectionary: 605

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

The above words and those that follow from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians are an astonishing testimonial to the mystery of grace and the subtlety of Christian wisdom. They conclude with, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” There is irony in the words, but no sarcasm; there is good-hearted humor and deep faith.

Saint Paul writes with amazing conviction about his own faith and an equal confidence in the faith of his people in Corinth. But this is not to suggest he does not know their frailty, failings and infidelity. He has been horrified to learn they are going to civil courts with law suits against one another; he has torn his hair out over their divisions, as some claimed to be for Apollos and others for Paul and still others for Christ. He knows even their betrayal: they permitted an adulterer to worship with them.

But these sins and the grief he feels over them have only shown him the “surpassing power” of the Gospel. God’s purposes will not be frustrated. In fact the glory of the gospel and its brilliant purity shine all the more clearly through the foolishness of its adherents.

Critics of the Church, of course, don’t understand this. Atheists will point to a thousand scientific proofs why we should not believe in miracles. Some will dabble with the gospel and, discovering the sins of Christians, will give it up. They are like the seed thrown on barren soil; they sprang up with enthusiasm but could not grow roots. They cannot see what the eye of faith sees so clearly.

Some will attend the services for years on end but, when scandal hits too close to home, turn away. This is an enormous sadness and a painful disappointment for us. We understand their distress and feel it in some measure, but we cannot stop trusting in God. In the deepest parts of our troubled hearts God holds us captive in love. We feel the dismay of the disillusioned and we know that we too are earthen vessels, prone to sin and prey to distraction, but the liquid of grace does not drain out of us.

On days like this, the Feast of the Apostle James, we remember the long history of these earthen vessels from the apostolic age till today. We celebrate the everlasting Covenant which God has made with us and, by God’s Holy Spirit, we have kept.

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The children of Israel set out from Elim,
and came into the desert of Sin…
after their departure from the land of Egypt.
Here in the desert the whole assembly of the children of Israel
grumbled against Moses and Aaron.

In today’s reading from Exodus 16 we learn of the people’s grumbling against Moses and Aaron. The fourteenth chapter described God’s mighty victory over Pharaoh and the Egyptian army:

Thus the LORD saved Israel on that day from the power of Egypt. When Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore and saw the great power that the LORD had shown against Egypt, the people feared the LORD. They believed in the LORD and in Moses his servant.

The fifteenth chapter records the Victory Song that Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord:

I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.

If you read these three consecutive chapters in one sitting you’ll have to be amazed that the people should so quickly shift from celebrating to grumbling. But this new grumbling echoes their complaint in Exodus 14:

“Were there no burial places in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

In their “official history” the Israelites did not hesitate to show themselves in a bad light, in order to reveal the overwhelming goodness of God. The Lord is not only all-powerful; he is also provident to the point of prodigality if we will only rely on him. And the Lord is merciful, giving freely and generously to people who chronically complain.

Democratic nations demonstrate this principle. They forget their history as soon as they are confronted with an uncertain future. No sooner had the first President Bush won a short, glorious war over Iraq in the Kuwaiti desert than Candidate Bill Clinton hammered him on the economy. Although presidents have little control over the economy, the electorate threw him out.

Fortunately, the Lord will not be voted out of the Covenant. He calls us back to the Eucharist time and time again:

Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table. (Proverb 9:2)

Because God’s Spirit abides in the church and our saints sense the movements of the spirit in the manner of sailors in the ocean, they teach us how we ought to respond. Saint Francis abandoned all the privileges, luxuries and securities of his wealthy family to enter the wilderness of poverty. He cast his cares upon the Lord and the Lord cared for him. He found blessings in everything that happened to him and the worse the event, the
more blessings he found. Everything pointed to Jesus; everything led him to deeper intimacy with Jesus. No matter how unsavory it seemed he heard Moses’ invitation: This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.”

Every day has its uncertainties; every day offers opportunities to grumble, invitations to prayer and visions of God’s providential care. We have only to hear the call of Jesus, “Come and see.”

Saint Bridget of Sweden

Lectionary: 396
 stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Passages like this in the synoptic gospels should never be misread; Jesus did not disown his mother or his family, nor did he imply that certain men are the children of his mother and therefore his “brothers.” Such interpretations more than miss the point; they skew the message and render it inaccessible to the “little ones” among us, which is a grave sin.
We should read this short story about Jesus’ family in the light of his admonition:
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Hearing that teaching, we can well imagine why some people would prefer to misinterpret today’s gospel. They may not be prepared to reorient their entire lives – their finances, family, work, entertainment, sexual relations, politics and so forth – around the person of Jesus. It seems much easier to splash in the shallow puddles of religious controversy than to set out for the deep with the gospel.
But what we are not willing to hear from the mouth of the Lord often comes to us through hard experience. That is, obedience to God is the easier way of life. Far worse is  subservience to one’s own desires, preferences, obsessions and fears. That invariably proves to be the way of confusion, perturbation, sickness and death. 

Visit any American hospital for a few hours and see the number of people dying of life style diseases. While these diseases certainly appear more frequently in a nation where people live longer, had we been willing to live sensibly sooner, with the sound medical and dietary advice that is available, we would almost certainly be more comfortable in our old age.
Life in the Lord is not easy; the gospel assures us of that. But it is far more pleasant than the alternative. There are only two ways to go, and those who turn away from the darkness of sin and error never want to turn back, despite the challenges.
Our saint today, Saint Bridget of Sweden, chose the Way of the Cross as she abandoned the familiarity of her homeland to reside in the derelict city of Rome. From there she could challenge the Pope to abandon his luxurious life in Avignon and return to the Eternal City. Subsequent history would confirm his decision, but only after the Great Schism was settled. The Vicar of Saint Peter has resided in Rome ever since.  

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

Lectionary: 395/603

Fr Ken and nephew go
as his niece laughs
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
He is my God, I praise him;
the God of my father, I extol him.

People love to speculate about Saint Mary Magdalene. An article in the New Yorker, a few years ago, traced the history of that speculation through the millennia of the Church's memory. She has been saint and sinner, ascetic, female apostle, and mistress of the Lord in the popular imagination. 

So long as there are love, romance and idle minds people will wonder if the Evangelists told us the whole story of Jesus and this woman. 

I, for one, am willing to regard her as one of the holy women who followed Jesus. I am satisfied with the stories the gospel give us about her. I appreciate the feminist critique that points out how the Magdalene has been conflated with several other women in the gospels. She is not the "woman caught in adultery," the "woman of Samaria" or the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair in the house of Simon the Pharisee. 

The Evangelists were not especially interested in her story. Their task was hard enough: to get the story of Jesus right. First, Mark created a new literary form which he called a gospel. Then he had to show how Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified as a revolutionary nuisance by the Romans, was the Son of God. Luke, Matthew and John would make important additions to that narrative, integrating Hebrew prophecy and apocalyptic expectations into the Greek language in a reasonably brief format. 

Their achievement has stood the test of time and will remain for all eternity; a testament to the Holy Spirit at work among fallible human beings. 

Saint Mary Magdalene had a small part to play in that story, as did many other people. She loved the Lord and could not bear the thought of his body rotting in the grave without the funerary balms a Jewish corpse should have. She came to the tomb on that first day of the new week after his death to anoint his lacerated body. 

When she found the tomb open and the body missing she was horrified beyond words. How could these people be so insane as to violate the body further, on the second morning after his death? 

She ran to tell the disciples, who ran to the tomb to discover what she had already told them. The body is gone. 

But still she could not tear herself away. And he appeared to her. 

Anyone who loves the Lord has to feel the overwhelming drama of this story. Who would not throw her arms around Jesus and weep uncontrollably after what has happened? Even the Resurrected Lord shining in all his divine glory must pay attention to her. He must let her joy and relief and affection flood into his transcendent body. 

Some have suggested that Mary of Magdala was the leader of the women disciples, the distaff of Saint Peter. I see her more as the complement of the unnamed "beloved disciple." It's not clear whether she clasped her arms around him on that Easter Sunday morning or not, but the impulse is certainly there, just as the beloved disciple was impelled to rest upon his breast during the Last Supper. 

Jesus appears to Mary as her beloved friend and Lord. Her story, entwined with his, invites us to rest upon his breast, to cling to him in our grief and sorrow, and to hope in his tender mercy with our every breath. 

In that vein of welcome to God's tender embrace, the Letter to the Hebrews says, 
You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” 
No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Girls on an inflatable slide,
"Watch me!" 
Lectionary: 108

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I am filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ...

Today's first reading and the gospel, chosen to complement each other, celebrate the virtue of hospitality. Abraham eagerly invites three dusty travelers off the road to come and join him. He and his people will go through an enormous amount of trouble -- killing and butchering the "tender, choice steer," kneading and baking bread -- as he washes the feet of his guests. 

Perhaps he had some inkling of who the three guests were, or perhaps the Holy Spirit moved in his as a Hospitable  Impulse; but he was delighted that his God had come to visit with him. There in the cool of the evening Abraham and Sarah offered what Adam and Eve should have given, a courteous welcome to the Lord.
Our Gospel also celebrates hospitality as Martha and Mary welcome Jesus of Nazareth to their home. Like Abraham's three visitors, God appears as a man to the women, along with his entourage, and they make every effort to make him feel at home. Jesus promises his disciples, both men and women:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. (John 14:23)
Hospitality appears in the Bible as more than a nice thing to do; it is an essential -- if not the essential -- attitude to have toward God and life, others and oneself. It is a natural grace, taught in one way or another by every human culture. Inspired by the Holy Spirit it opens one's heart to faith, hope and love. 

Saint Paul demonstrates how deeply hospitality can change one's heart and mind in today's reading from the Letter to the Colossians. He welcomes -- "rejoices in" -- his suffering. We know that he is writing from a jail, but which jail may never be discovered. He was often in jail as he announced the good news of Jesus. Sometimes he aroused the anger of his fellow Jews, and at other times the suspicions of gentile authorities. His fellow Christians -- the so-called "super-apostles" -- also might have conspired to get him arrested. 

That would seem to us a huge interruption in his missionary work, but Saint Paul took it in stride. As embarrassing and uncomfortable and tedious as it might be, the Apostle believed his suffering also would accomplish God's work. With amazing insight he saw that he was 
...filling up
what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
on behalf of his body, which is the church,
of which I am a minister...
Many of us grew up with the expression, "offer it up." That is so much better than "suck it up." Anyone who is human will meet frustration. That curse was laid upon Adam in the Garden of Eden: 
Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field.
and upon Eve: I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.

But for the Christian frustration, disappointment and suffering are never signs of futility. We make them holy as we welcome then with the hospitable spirit of Paul, Jesus, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, Sarah and Abraham. The saints will call them privileges, as did Saint Francis who suffered grievously the stigmata of the cross. 

If you're old enough to remember your parents or grandparents say, "Offer it up" you know this is not an extraordinary virtue. It's something we can do everyday, and many times a day. 

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 394

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

I am not a great fan of science fiction or fantasy movies but occasionally, as I work out at the club or visit a patient's room, I see an action sequence of one of these films. The other day, for instance, there was a group of good guys -- they weren't wearing white hats but I could tell -- running from zombies. I'd know a zombie anywhere. 

Anyway when the zombies caught up with our good guys, the latter would pull out a pistol and shoot the bad guys, who, although they were already dead, would die again. I guess because they were shot. Or something. 

So why would a gun kill a zombie? I wondered. But that's why I don't watch movies like that. I am willing to suspend plausibility only so far. 

The reason I mention this is I notice on television how often justice or goodness or the American Way is reinforced and reestablished by a gun. Or something like a gun, a ray gun for instance. Although light sabers are pretty cool, they're not as effective as good old fashioned guns. According to our entertainment industry, even in the 95th century the good guys will still be using guns to protect the American way. 

Does anyone sense a problem here?

The Taliban used a gun on Malala Yousafza. They shot her in the head. But she didn't die. I guess she's not a zombie. She is a real woman who believes that Pakistani women and girls should be educated and take their place in a free economy. Guns can't stop the women from getting education. You'd think the Taliban know that. But guns won't stop the Taliban either. We should know that. Doesn't our Bible tell us that? 

When Jesus came he didn't have a gun. Nor did he have a sword, spear or chariot. He had no siege equipment and, being a carpenter, might not have known how to sling rocks. He had only words.
He saved the world without weapons. Imagine that. 

People tell me that guns protect freedom, justice and America. I don't believe it. I think God protects America; or he will anyway, if we ask Him to, and stop believing in guns.

2 Chronicles 20, which we read in the Office of Readings yesterday, tells a wonderful story about how God protected Jerusalem when they trusted him. 

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 393

“This day shall be a memorial feast for you,
which all your generations shall celebrate
with pilgrimage to the LORD, as a perpetual institution.”

When disasters are followed by funerals which are followed by the news media – and it seems to be a daily occurrence – we hear people saying of their beloved dead, “We will never forget them.”

It’s a heartfelt, sincere expression but never and forever are very long times. How do we intend to keep that vow? When President Kennedy was assassinated, a sorrowing nation lit an eternal flame over his grave in Arlington Cemetery. Monuments, usually of granite, have been built to honor the dead of the Vietnam, Korean and both World Wars. We use granite or brass to mark the graves of our dead because stones don’t move themselves and brass doesn’t corrode. These monuments will last a very long time. But forever is even longer.

In today’s first reading we hear God’s command through Moses that the Jews should maintain “a perpetual institution” to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt. Through Jesus the Church inherited that memory and its obligation; we keep it with our Eucharist. We believe that the Word of God and our response, which is faith, outlast even stone monuments like pyramids and Stonehenge. We believe this despite the resistance of our human nature, or perhaps because of it.
Fun isn't just for kids!

Our faith goes further: it teach us this “perpetual institution” exists already in eternity. It is that “heavenly temple” of Hebrews 9:11-12

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation he entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

The Son of God, his sacrifice, the Mass and the Church are perpetual institutions because they exist in God in the Eternally Present Now. We do not create them. Rather, they are revealed to us when we gather in prayer. 

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 392

I am concerned about you
and about the way you are being treated in Egypt;
so I have decided to lead you up out of the misery of Egypt
into… a land flowing with milk and honey.

The Word of God in this passage is enormously reassuring to us but, at the time, it must have been puzzling. The Lord of Heaven and Earth had yet to demonstrate his authority to the Hebrews by leading them out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm. When Moses arrived with God’s greetings from the desert, they could not imagine what God might do for them. Perhaps they had some vague memories of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God they worshipped; but, as the fighting between Hebrew men demonstrates, that memory no longer bound them together.

They treated one another as the Egyptians treated them, with violence and contempt. Tragically, that is what we have come to expect. The oppressed look for deliverance but often fail to see the oppression embedded in their hearts. Whether they are Irish under English rule, Palestinians in Israel or African-Americans in the United States, the disenfranchised treat one another as they are treated. Abused children become abusive parents, even as they swear they will never be like their parents. Former colonies of the European empires still struggle with corruption, long after their corrupt masters have left. Such is the manner of our fallen human nature.

The Gospel of Freedom teaches us a better way, beginning with,

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Freedom begins, in my experience, in silence. First, opponents stop shouting at one another; then they notice the rage that smolders in their own hearts. An argument that lasted five minutes continues days, weeks and years later – until we ask, “When, Lord, does it stop?”

That is when we hear, “Come to me….” Ancient Israelites fled to the mountains and caves when enemies approached. We know from our experience of Afghanistan how difficult it is to find people like that. We too must flee to the “caverns” of Jesus’ wounded heart and take refuge in that silence. We must creep so deep into those subterranean passages that we can no longer hear the shouting of our embittered, traumatized minds. When the Lord sends us out again we take his shalom with us – and bring it to others.