Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle

Lectionary: 684

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

On the last day of November, with Advent soon to begin -- or in some years, having already arrived -- we celebrate the Apostle Andrew. The year begins with the Advent of Jesus and ends with the call of an apostle. 

Our reading from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans reminds us of the privilege, pleasure and duty of every Christian to announce the Good News of Jesus. We must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts. One who confesses with his mouth is saved. 

When I was a child, missionary work was the work of priests, brothers and sisters who went to foreign countries. The surprises of the Second Vatican Council included the announcement that everyone is called to evangelize. Those who fail to inspire others by their way of life fail -- period. It's not enough to avoid mortal sin, stay out of trouble and pay whatever taxes the government can wrest from you. 

If it seems that we Catholics have been slow to recognize this duty, we can be reassured by the history of the Church. After the first fervor of the earliest centuries when dying martyrs inspired mass conversions, mission work seemed less important than the vital tasks of developing our religion and rebuilding a civil society in a lawless world. 

The crusades were billed as missionary actions. Muslims would be converted by the sword. The natives of the western hemisphere would suffer that misguided fervor. 

Bishop Moorman, in his history of the Franciscan Order, tells how the friars tired of collecting funds  from disinterested Europeans to support endless crusades. The war between Europe and Africa seemed to go nowhere. The friars, drawing inspiration from the Rule of Saint Francis, suggested missionaries should "live among the Saracens" and win them by their quiet, pious life. Although a slower approach, it might be more effective in the long run. It required only that Christians actually practice what they preach. 

Since the Second Vatican Council we have come to appreciate far more about individual dignity and respect for the right of every individual to worship God according to his own lights. We recognize the evil we suspect in unbelievers lies more often in our own hearts. Encounter and dialogue with enemies leads to a deeper conversion of one's own heart -- and the edification of strangers.  

Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi, urged all Christians to understand and take up the duty of evangelization. He reminded us that our testimony must be corroborated by our manner:
Father Simon is ready to attend the
Province Assembly 2013
The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice. Without this mark of holiness, our word will have difficulty in touching the heart of modern man. It risks being vain and sterile.

Pope Francis, in his own straight-forward manner, calls proselytizing, "pious nonsense." If our kindness, compassion and generosity do not persuade people, our words certainly won't. 

Advent is upon us. Let us hear once again the song of the angels and the response of Virgin. We will rush with the shepherds to see the Child, and then we'll tell everyone what we have seen and heard.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 507

...in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away, 
but my words will not pass away.”

On Sunday the Church enters another liturgical year. As the seasons flow into one another without sharp division, from winter to spring, from spring to summer, from summer to autumn, and autumn to winter -- so our liturgical cycle passes from the expectation of judgement to the expectation of salvation. 

I know little more of heaven than anyone else but I cannot imagine being human without this experience and expectation of cycles. We sleep and wake, we fast and eat, we laugh and cry: it's all good. Surely there will be cycles in eternity also. 

My sister spent a few years with her sailor husband in Hawaii. She missed the seasonal changes we grew up with in Kentucky. There were daily cycles; it rained every day. But it was never terribly cold or hot, and never dry. She was glad to return to the mid-west. 

One thing, however, will remain certain and stable. That  is the Word of God. The Incarnate Word of God will be our light and darkness, our privilege and pleasure, our gladness and joy. 

The Lord is my rock and my foundation, whom shall I fear. The Lord is the stronghold of my life. 

Jerusalem is built above the Jordan rift; it has always known earthquakes. But the scriptures describe the dependability of God; it's like a rock. 

The end of the year and the beginning of another may feel ominous to some of us. Will this be my last? Will we live to see another? 

We have no fear in God. 

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."

Thanksgiving Day

Lectionary 943

Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable. 

We have an expression, "It (something) disappeared into thin air!" 

But air isn't thin. In fact, it's very thick and very heavy. Open the door of a sealed room and notice how the windows and other doors shudder. Watch how creatures from tiny insects to Lockheed C5 Galaxies swim through the air. Watch how the air can erase a town or village from the map. 

Air is very, very dense. It's weight crushes down upon us every moment of our lives. 

Life is like that. Sometimes it's too heavy to bear. I don't think we could stand it if we didn't continually Thank God for life. 

What are you supposed to do when you see the misfortunes that fall on other people? When you watch the evening news or visit the hospital or attend a funeral, you must thank God for the sorrows you have been spared. 

Your pity for other people and their troubles is not satisfying. You would not dare to take their sorrows from them, nor would they give them to you if you asked. 

No, the Lord gives a cross suited for each and every person and you cannot have someone else's. But their sorrows do remind you of God's mercy, for you would be crushed if they fell on you. 

It has been said that life is too serious to be taken seriously. We need the relief of humor, certainly; but that is only one of the ways we cope with its weight. We also celebrate with song and dance and symbolic rituals. We also share the weight of life with others, as we bear one another's burden

Sometimes, of course, people just quit. Overwhelmed, they slip into depression or substance abuse or ennui. They busy themselves with business. They meddle in other people's lives, violating the boundaries that permit freedom and integrity to each person. They pursue entertainment hour after hour. (Two hours of TV per day = one month a year) They fret, worry or obsess. 

The greatest and most appropriate relief is gratitude. "Thank you, God. You are good, all good, supreme good." 

May God bless you on this Thanksgiving Day. May he keep you in this grace through the Christmas season. 

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 505

Suddenly, opposite the lampstand, the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace. 
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked.

"This can't be good." Blake Shelton sings when he sees the sheriff's car approaching while the sheriff's drunken daughter dances atop Blake's car. 

The drunken King Belshazzar  thought the same thing when the fingers of a human hand appeared to write Hebrew letters on his plastered wall. "This can't be good." 

The rule of the schoolyard applies here: I can't beat up my brother; you can't! 

Despite all the sins of God's people, as we find them enumerated in the Old Testament, they remained confident that God would deliver them on Judgment Day. When times were especially bad and they knew they had invited this catastrophe by their own sins, they looked forward to deliverance and that final outcome with glee. If it was bad for them, it would be worse for their enemies. 
Saint Bede Hall
at Saint Meinrad Archabbey

Christians who suffer for their faith and look forward to deliverance share that confident hope. Our God is the God of Heaven. His throne rests high above the chairs of this world's petty tyrants, presidents, prime ministers and kings. If they never look up to see him, they are nonetheless subject to his Day of Wrath. 

During November the Church reflects upon death and judgment, heaven and hell. We don't want to be caught unawares by the near approach of Truth. Rather we pray to be guided each day by the blessed goodness of God. Generosity, courage, kindness, mercy and joy should guide our daily activity. That Spirit is our privilege and our pleasure, our comfort and delight. 

Sing hymns to the LORD enthroned on Zion;
proclaim his deeds among the nations!
For the avenger of bloodshed remembers,
does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
 (Psalm 9:12-13)

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 504

In the lifetime of those kings
the God of heaven will set up a kingdom
that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people;
rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms
and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.

I once attended a workshop among Lutheran ministers. The speaker said to them, “You can ask any Catholic and he will tell you, ‘The Church is two thousand years old; the United States is only two hundred.”

“Guilty!” I replied. We have seen them rise and watched them fall: the Roman, Byzantine, Holy Roman, Spanish, Dutch, French, Russian, Islamic, Assyrian, Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Norman, Viking, Aztec, Incan, Mayan and countless others. The Word of God endures forever.

The Church, of course, is not an empire; it is only a loosely-organized institution sustained by the Holy Spirit and fed by the Word of God year after year, generation after generation. It has no life apart from God’s grace; needs constant reform; and is always on the verge of collapse. Membership is not for the faint of heart.

Our long memory gives us an extraordinary perspective and great responsibility. We can see through the absurd pretensions of our contemporaries. We know that gay marriage is an oxymoron and there is no divine right to own guns. We know that private ownership of property or wealth comes with grave responsibilities, especially to the less fortunate. We know that personal freedom is always contained by the rights and needs of the community. The very idea of rights, though based in revelation and the principle of human dignity, is a human construct.

Most importantly, we know that every human being and every human institution is subject to Judgment and “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.” He is the “stone which was hewn from a mountain” which will shatter ever pretension:
...breaking them in pieces. The iron, tile, bronze, silver, and gold all crumbled at once, fine as the chaff on the threshing floor in summer, and the wind blew them away without leaving a trace. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 503

He said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

Jesus, by all accounts of the gospels, is surrounded by moral inferiors. No one can hold a candle to his courage, generosity, compassion and honesty. But all those virtues and many more would mean nothing if he could not see greatness in others, as he demonstrates in today's gospel.

When a poor, nameless widow drops "two small coins" into the temple treasury, Jesus exclaims with wonder and admiration. He has entered Jerusalem and nearing his "hour." Calvary looms on the horizon. He will surrender his own body to his tormentors like a sacrificial lamb, saving nothing for himself. Yet he pauses in wonder to honor a poor widow. 

Working at the VA Hospital has been an especially happy one for me because I hear and see so many professionals honoring one another's skills, generosity and openness. There are problems, of course; a system as complex as a hospital is rife with problems. And yet we make the system work because our morale is good. 

Statue of Saint Catherine
at Mundelien Seminary.
She is represented by the wheel of torture.
This is the Spirit of Jesus, a human spirit and vital to every human organization. Nothing can be accomplished if people are not willing to work with each other. It doesn't happen automatically. Steel cogs, cams and wheels don't generate their own oil. Mutual admiration is like transmission oil; it is a gift of God shared throughout the company. 

Families, companies, parishes, volunteer and civic organizations work well when people stroke one another. 

Take nothing for granted. Admire those around you and let them know it. And thank them when they return the compliment. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Lectionary: 162

He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

A friend of mine asked how the Church regards the possibility of intelligent life on exoplanets. A recent study determined there may be millions of "Earth-like" planets in "Goldilocks" regions of the Milky Way. Can anyone reasonably dispute the possibility of self-conscious life among all those potential biospheres? Add to that the vision of "billions and billions" of other galaxies in the universe, can anyone insist that a human being of our Planet Earth is King of the Universe

With the introduction of our new Roman Missal in December 2011, the Church has given this Sunday a new name. It is no longer simply "Christ the King." It is now "The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe." 

Clearly, we're not backing away from our claims about Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary. We are willing "to boldly go" where philosophasters fear to tread. Accused of anthropocentrism, we plead guilty, so long as the "anthro-" in question is Jesus, the Son of Man. 

What gives us such confidence? It is not images of Jesus on a throne with a golden crown and ermine cloak. Rather, it is sober contemplation of Jesus Christ Crucified, as in today's gospel. 

Only such a man could be worthy of such a title. As the Incarnate Son of God he is Lord of all creatures, including life in every form.

Saint John tells us "The Word became flesh." The Incarnation must include all that is essential to life: dirt, air, water and fire. Or, if you prefer, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, all the elements and every chemical. Living flesh cannot be isolated from the universe in which it lives. Elements of Jesus' body were created in the heart of collapsing stars before they exploded to populate the universe with their treasures. The Word ate our food and breathed our air and found shelter under the canopy of our skies. Mormons fantasize about other universes and other gods. They're god is too small for us. 


Recently, a Veteran very dear to my heart decided not to leave the hospital AMA. He knew that if he left he would immediately buy a fifth of gin and a gallon of orange juice and plaster himself to the floor. He's done it repeatedly many times already. The next time may kill him. He made the decision to live at least for one more day. 

He was very glad of his decision and I heartily congratulated him. He chose freedom for one more day. I reminded him that, because he had chosen not to drink that day, he would face the same choice on the following day. If he passed through that day, it would come up again on the third day. Every day that he does not drink he has the freedom to choose on the following day. But when he chooses to drink, he might never have the choice again. 

The God who died for us on a cross never takes away our freedom. When he permitted his hands and feet to be fastened to that wood he surrendered every claim to an authority that would control, limit or contain us. He can only invite us to come to him. The devil would rule like a tyrant. He would control our every thought, wish, desire and impulse. He suppresses every possibility of freedom. The King of the Universe rules only by his love. 

When we look at "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe" suspended helplessly between heaven and earth, unable to fall down or rise up, stretching his arms in a gesture of welcome to every creature, we recognize him as our God. There can be none other. This is the King who wants us to be free. Even in the worst moment of his life, as we hear in today's gospel, he promised everlasting freedom "in Paradise" to a fellow victim. 

Jesus, the Son of Mary, is worthy to be God. I would have no other: 

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell  down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:13-14)

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 502

The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise. 

A religious friend of mine spent some of her time in the Philippines preparing young women to enter the convent. She recalled that some of the teenage girls were surprised to find toilets in the convent. Though they had not thought deeply about it, they had somehow expected otherwise. The sisters should be "like angels." 

The Church's tradition of celibacy is based on teachings of Jesus and Saint Paul. As a present sign of the coming Kingdom, when "those who are deemed worthy...  will neither marry nor be given in marriage," priests, nuns, monks, brothers and sisters take vows or promises of celibacy. They do not marry. 
(For that matter, they don't even engage in extra-marital sex. That too, is a sign of the promised kingdom; and, for many in this age, astonishing.) 

Jesus makes a second statement about those "deemed worthy," they can no longer die. Marriage is associate with death. It will not be seen in that Kingdom. 

In my experience as a "cradle Franciscan" -- I entered the seminary when I was thirteen -- life-long celibates have a very different experience of death. Almost all the friars who taught me in the seminary have died. Soon after I entered the Mount I attended the funeral of a friar and witnessed his burial in our provincial cemetery. There were perhaps twenty graves at the time. Fifty years later, there are many graves out there, and yet our life continues. As it has since 1209 when Pope Innocent III formally recognized the Seraphic Order.  
I have not known many friars to grieve excessively when one or the other member passes. We love and care for one another but our individual lives and identities are not so deeply twined. 

Marriage ends when one or both partners die. So said Jesus. Perhaps he was speaking only of the reproductive nature of marriage, its specifically sexual dimension. 

Surely the friendships continue into Eternity. I remember how my mother missed my dad, and looked forward to their reunion. She waited over twenty years for that day. Their bodies sleep peacefully together in Saint Andrew's Cemetery. I have no doubt they enjoy one another's company as angels, and continue to pray for their family. 
I have appointed them as a welcoming committee to the Veterans I send in their direction. I often ask the dying Veteran to carry my love to them. 

...and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. During this penultimate month of the year, before the cycle begins again with the First Sunday of Advent, we think long thoughts about death. We pray to be found worthy of his kingdom; we dare not claim it for ourselves. We simply trust in the Good God who has promised such rewards to those who keep faith. We look forward to that Reunion of the Saints, and to meeting again the rascals we have known. 

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

Lectionary: 501

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”

Jesus’ outraged cry, because it is the Word of God, cuts like a two-edged sword. It is a surgeon’s scalpel lancing a boil in the individual conscience, the parish, diocese and universal church.

An anonymous preacher of the second century complained:
My name is constantly blasphemed by unbelievers, says the Lord. Woe to the man who causes my name to be blasphemed. Why is the Lord’s name blasphemed? Because we say one thing and do another. When they hear the words of God on our lips, unbelievers are amazed at their beauty and power, but when they see that those words have no effect in our lives, their admiration turns to scorn, and they dismiss such words as myths and fairy tales. 
They listen, for example, when we tell them that God has said: It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but only if you love your enemies, and those who hate you. They are full of admiration at such extraordinary virtue, but when they observe that we not only fail to love people who hate us, but even those who love us, they laugh us to scorn, and the Name is blasphemed. 
An old foundation, now crumbling
under the forces of vegetation
Therefore, brothers, if we do the will of God the Father, we shall be members of the first spiritual Church that was created before the sun and the moon; but if we fail to do the will of the Lord, we shall be among those to whom it is said in Scripture: My house has been made into a robbers’ den. We must choose then, if we want to be saved, to be members of the Church of life. (Office of Readings, Thursday of the 32nd week of ordinary time.)
I meet scandalized “unbelievers” frequently in my ministry to Catholics in the VA hospital. They are men and women who were raised Catholic. Many attended Catholic school and most of the men were altar servers. They tell me their mothers (usually) prayed the rosary every day. Some attended the finest Catholic high schools in Louisville. Occasionally I hear they were “forced” against their will to go to church.

It didn’t take. Despite all the effort of the Church, some of it costly, they didn’t catch the spirit. A few were traumatized by sexual abuse; many drifted off into alcoholism and drug abuse.
The reason one chooses faith and another does not is essentially mysterious and every story is particular. There is no general rule; but we know the blame often falls upon church-going Christians, the so-called righteous. Despite our loyal enthusiasm we are not “members of the church of life.”

I take comfort in noticing when that scathing homily was written: the second century. The scandal of our failure to be a church of life is not new. Although our sin is not necessary, it is typical of us. 
One song sparrow sings

The Spirit of Jesus remains. It always draws people to Himself and (necessarily) to us. It still seduces us into deeper love of Him. 

Praise Him!

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 500

As Jesus drew near Jerusalem,
he saw the city and wept over it, saying,
“If this day you only knew what makes for peace but now it is hidden from your eyes.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his two-volume book Jesus of Nazareth, remarks about how quickly the Christian movement lost its fascination for Jerusalem. The city had been for Jews the center of the world, the holy city. Those who could travelled to the city annually. Those who lived far away scrimped and saved for years to afford their one pilgrimage. Many Jews believed God would gather his faithful people there on Judgment Day. Even the dead, called from their graves, would hurry to Zion on that Day.

The new Christian movement was not interested. They didn’t make the pilgrimage; they didn’t sing about the city. When the Roman army leveled the city in 70 AD, scattering its citizens to the far corners of the earth, Christians suffered no trauma. Despite the welcome Jerusalem gave to the Baby Jesus, Saint Luke recalled Jesus’ grief over its failure to recognize the hour of its visitation, and his prediction of doom. It was not important to the New Covenant.

The Church sees in Mary the New Jerusalem. Our celebration of her presentation in the temple, despite its lack of historical foundation, recognizes the transfer of allegiance from the City to the Woman. Where the city seemed hopelessly mired in sin, this woman has never known sin. Where the city failed to recognize the time of her visitation, she received the Word of God as the Angel Gabriel announced it.

Mary, as Saint Luke tells the story, is the Daughter Jerusalem. Though a child of Nazareth and a mother in Bethlehem her destination is Jerusalem. Her final appearance, in the Acts of the Apostles, is there in the Cenacle.

With Advent just around the corner we look forward to the two great precursors of Jesus: John the Baptist and Mary. They will challenge and invite us. One will urge us to meet him in the wilderness, beyond the hullaballoo of Jolly Holly Christmas and Shopping for the Perfect Gift. There we should consider the tragic consequences of our sins and the Goodness of God who redeems sinners. The other will invite us into the holiness of her boudoir to find the Lord of Heaven nestled in her bosom.

Saint John and Mother Mary “gather my faithful ones before me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 499

He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”

We can wonder about the impact of the last line of Jesus' parable on those who heard it. Perhaps they expected that kind of simple minded ruthlessness from their kings and tyrants. Why would he not dispatch of them immediately upon his return home? This vindictive king had the authority to protect his own interests and the delegation that had tried to sabotage his appointment was, at best, a nuisance. "Business is business." he might have said to anyone who questioned his judgment. 
But it's a chilling story nonetheless. Saint Luke tells us the story was told as they approached Jerusalem and the business that had to be tended there.
The disciples, no doubt, had misgivings about the venture. They knew it was dangerous to be associated with Jesus. Was it equally dangerous not to be associated with him?
What is the cost of discipleship?
The challenge today is to take our religion seriously. It is not a hobby or a pastime. It is more important than one's political party. It requires time, intentionality, effort and sacrifice. It should be regarded as a matter of life and death.
I once asked a Veteran if he missed being in Iraq. He said he didn't want to go back, but it had a certain appeal. Life is intense in the war zone. You don't know if you will see another day. You don't know if your buddies will survive. Danger is everywhere; no place is safe. Every trip might be your last. Combat focuses the mind and the body and the military unit like nothing else. Drill are only rehearsals. War games are fantasy.
Can we bring the same focus into the life of prayer? Can we stand before the Just Judge and recall the stories, adventures, misadventures, opportunities (accepted, missed and rejected) and flat-out sins of our life? Can we reach out in love to our family, friends, neighbors, fellow workers and enemies with the wide open arms of a crucifix?
The ruler in Jesus' story graciously, enthusiastically rewards the servant who carried out his duties with his own rapacious spirit.
Jesus is not cruel, vindictive or arbitrary in his rule. He is serious. Focused. Intent on his mission to Jerusalem. We must go with him.

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 498
Eleazar spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed,
now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness.

Eleazar's tormentors, like many of the German guards in Nazi concentration camps, were ordinary human beings doing a job. They didn't start out as fiends or monsters. They needed employment; they had obligations; they were constrained by circumstances beyond their control. 
Finding themselves in a difficult moral situation -- they were under orders to torment and kill an old man -- they looked for an out. "Perhaps," they said, "we can reason with this Jew. We will give him a plausible excuse for cooperating with us and sidestep the king's merciless decree. He can appear to obey his religious law and still obey the tyrant's rule. Everyone goes home happy."
Eleazar would not work with them. 

Which of us has not lost control of our temper in the face of such intransigence? Suddenly something gave way and we were caught up in a fury of righteous anger. It seemed at the time reasonable. "You brought this on yourself!" we said.
The Pharisees -- the dominant religious party of Jesus' Jerusalem -- found themselves in a similar predicament. They feared the Roman rulers. They had bitter memories of Roman soldiers unleashed on Galilean guerrillas. They had inherited a religion which no longer aspired to civil rule. David's kingdom had lasted over four hundred years but that was ancient history. Since the Babylonian exile Judaism was a religion of synagogue and household. They could live with alien empires, especially if the empire didn't invade their private lives. They observed the Law of Moses, cared for their families, piously worshiped their God and kept their heads down when trouble appeared. 
Jesus spoke openly of the Kingdom of God. He claimed to be a Son of David with authority to rule. He invited and challenged them to expect something new, unforeseen, unpredictable and unmanageable. He himself was unmanageable. They had no authority to stop him but they knew the Herodians could -- and would. 

When the consequences of his intransigence fell on him they went home and shut the doors.

The twentieth and twenty-first centuries tell us many stories of men and women who fled to their homes to avoid trouble. They didn't want to get involved in controversial issues of justice or mercy. They felt they had more important things to do than challenge the government or church with their moral scruples.

But recent history also tells us how these innocuous citizens were hunted down and exterminated. Ever since Sherman marched through the Confederate states, innocent bystanders have become fair game. The Communists and Nazis in particular searched for citizens who were less than enthusiastic supporters and destroyed them. Citizens in a democracy must be terrified into accepting tyranny. It's not hard to engineer. Public relations specialists can be hired to create slogans. When the price is right lobbyists are eager to persuade anyone to do anything. Laws can be flouted; constitutions can be changed. If necessary, thugs can be employed to chase dissenters back into their rabbit holes. Minorities can be demonized.
During this month of November, as we ponder death and the meaning of life, we pray to be given the Courage of Eleazar and Jesus.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 497

Terrible affliction was upon Israel.

Short, ominous sentences like that from 2 Maccabees appear in various places in the Bible:

  • Then a new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, rose to power in Egypt. (Exodus 1:8)  
  • Then each went to his own house. (John 7:53) 
  • It was night. John 13:30

They are sharp reminders that our “spirituality” is founded in reality; it remembers real history and records human suffering. It is not a theoretical Lalaland of wishful thinking and ought-to-bes. There is no manufactured history of ideal ancestors; even the heroes are severely flawed characters. 

I find that helpful as we ponder death, judgment, heaven and hell during this penultimate month of the year.
The healing of a blind man in today’s gospel celebrates the vision the Lord gives to us. We have eyes for following Jesus. Our legs and feet are meant to walk in his Way. We have ears to hear the Good News and mouths to proclaim God’s praises.

This is not supposed to be an easy road. Jesus marches resolutely toward Jerusalem despite the fearfulness of his companions, the warnings of strangers and threats from his enemies. He knows as we all know that life must end in death. Is there any reason it should not? He insists that we take up our crosses daily and go with him if we pretend to be his disciples. 

We can always wish that we lived in a different world where Democrats and Republicans like and admire one another, where energy is cheap and clean, where food is plentiful and medical care adequate. 

If we lived in such a place we would not need God. We would not even know God. There would be no merciful healings nor invitations to follow in his steps.

This world as we know it is better than any ideal world because Jesus chose to save it.

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 159

It will lead to your giving testimony. 
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. 
Saint Paul says of his ministry to the Thessalonians, "You know how one must imitate us. For we did not act in a disorderly way among you..." 
He goes on to say, "We wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so that you might imitate us. "

As I grow in my joy at being a Catholic Christian I sometimes wonder that not everyone wants to join us. I contemplate Mary and the saints; I celebrate the Eucharist; I ponder the doctrine of the Holy Trinity; I recite the rosary. Why do so few want to join me in these joyous exercises? They seem infinitely more satisfying than smoking pot or casual sex.

It's not because our teachings and traditions are not fascinating and beautiful.

Jesus discouraged his disciples from preparing an elaborate defense before the ordeal of their arrest, prosecution, conviction and execution as martyrs. Their words would not make much difference, especially if they were not equally prepared to be silent.

Their testimony would be their presence, their faith, their confidence in God's vindication and their unwillingness to renounce their faith, hope and love. Their adversaries could not refute their joy.

The serenity of Christians remains the most convincing testimony about the Lord. Like him, Christians are happy to be here. They are happy to give what they can and grateful to receive what is offered. They don't get defensive because the only judge who matters is seated on a heavenly throne.

I don't believe the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was correct when he said, "There was only one true Christian, and he died on the Cross." 

Perhaps he never met one.

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 496

When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word, from heaven’s royal throne bounded, a fierce warrior, into the doomed land, bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree. And as he alighted, he filled every place with death; he reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth...

After they beheld stupendous wonders they ranged about like horses, and bounded about like lambs, praising you, O Lord, their deliverer.

Today's first reading from the Book of Wisdom recounts with light-hearted joy the ancient story of Israel's deliverance from Egypt. By the time of this writing, it is a very old story. Since then they have seen the destruction of many enemies; the rise, flourish and collapse of their own sovereign kingdom; the sweeping conquest and inevitable fall of several empires; and the settled era of the Pax Romana. 
Under Roman rule they were free to practice their own peculiar religion so long as it didn't directly threaten the payment of tribute to the empire. Trade and learning flourished. There was even some tourism as young adventurers sampled different languages, peoples, cultures and religions. Dispersed Jews from Europe, Asia and Africa could make pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Holy City. They "ranged about like horses and bounded about like lambs." 

If the Roman empire maintained its rule with the threat of slavery for armed opposition and crucifixion for criminals, it seemed a fair trade-off for the chaos of former times. Jews didn't mind praying for their civil rulers, so long as they were fair and not terribly corrupt. 
Love and truth will meet;justice and peace will kiss.Truth will spring from the earth;justice will look down from heaven. Psalm 85:10
Justice and judgment are the foundation of your throne;mercy and faithfulness march before you. Psalm 89:15
The Savior of the World was born about fifty years after the appearance of this Book of Wisdom. It was an era ready for his coming, when Greek philosophers admired Jewish ethics and Jewish scholars found verification for their belief in One God in the writings of Greek wisdom. 

Today we can pray that our "Pax Americana" might also produce blessings for future generations. Our experiment with hospitality for all races and religions, with democracy and government by the middle class, and with the four freedoms (of speech, of worship, from want, from fear) might continue even into the fourth millennium after Christ. 

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 495

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan….

Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them. Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.

In the old days – before security precautions overwhelmed such opportunities -- a man might take his son to the airport to see the arrival of the President of the United States. They could watch the airplane land and taxi to the reception area. They could watch the stairs being moved to the airplane and the door opening. They would see the Man descending the steps and being greeted by local dignitaries.

The father would remember the arrival of the most powerful man on earth; the child would remember the airplane.

In today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom, the author observes how the gentiles see the outer beauty of creation but cannot discover the Artist whose essence is Beauty. They are impressed by the “might and energy” of earthquakes but fail to see the All Powerful One.

We are fascinated by what is seen even as the Spirit urges us to ponder what is unseen. Often the unseen is far more beautiful, mysterious, delightful and significant than appearances would suggest. Those who see only the appearance are missing the whole story.

Where the ancients saw the sun, moon, stars and thunderstorms and imagined gods, the modern sees only facts and imagines systems. He would build a universe of facts, and suppose that it resembles life. His universe would have all the charm of a Star Wars death star. 

If anything these modern ideas are less insightful than the ancients’, for they offer no meaning at all. What does it mean that the earth rotates around the sun, or that atoms are made of subatomic particles? Is the universe nothing more than an empty machine, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

The Author of Wisdom may not have had the gee whiz gimcrackery of our advanced civilization but he knew foolishness when he saw it. Not to see the artist behind the art is childish at best. The adult, reading a great book or watching a fine movie, wants to know more about the author or director. The characters may be interesting but, as Steven King said, they are only bags of bones compared to the author. A great actress may play the immortal role of Ophelia or Rosalind but she herself is far more fascinating, mysterious and lovable.  

We enjoy the privilege of intimacy with the Divine Artist. We may call God "Our Father" and speak familiarly with Jesus. The Holy Spirit, that Wisdom who binds the universe, draws us into their company and their conversation. 

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 494

For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the  Almighty; therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
(Collect: Sunday 14 or 32)

During the Year of Faith Pope Benedict XVI urged Catholics to recite frequently the Apostles or Nicene Creed and to study The Catechism of the Catholic Church. He urged us especially to appreciate and celebrate the Most Holy Trinity.

The Jewish philosopher who wrote The Book of Wisdom gave us this wonderful teaching about Wisdom. He used the feminine pronouns she and her as he described her beauty. His artistry was disciplined by the constraints of Jewish religion. Wisdom could not be another god; nor could she be God’s wife. She seems to have a separate existence from God and yet she may be only a literary device, a way of describing God.

Pope Benedict and other Christian theologians have shown how the doctrine of the Trinity resolves that dilemma. There is in the unity of God a trinity of persons. Our human language cannot define the doctrine; even simple integers like one and three fail to describe its subtlety. It is a mystical vision which belongs to the whole church. Saints intuit its truth as they are swept into the life of God.

Wisdom is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. The universe with all its tenderness and beauty, its spectacle and violence, is saturated by the wisdom which binds it all together. She is, in some ways, that dark matter which puzzles astrophysicists. They know it’s there; it’s massive, dense and ubiquitous; and yet they cannot determine what it is. Despite its “darkness” light passes right through it. She penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.

With Pope Benedict’s insight and Pope Francis’ stimulus we hope for and expect a rebirth of wonder in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. We need this teaching now more than ever.