Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

On account of the Jews of that region, Paul had him [Timothy] circumcised, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem.

It is ironic that Paul had his new disciple Timothy circumcised although he had just finished a lively discussion in Jerusalem over that very question. He had opposed requiring gentiles like Timothy to undergo the ordeal upon being baptized. He had faced down much opposition from more conservative leaders of the church. In fact, in the very next breath, Saint Luke tells us they were announcing as they went "the decisions reached by the Apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem."

Although the apostles had agreed to relax the old rules during that “First Council of Jerusalem” -- it was the will of the Holy Spirit -- the controversy did not go away. Years later Saint Paul would display some anger about it in his Letter to the Galatians. In fact he had some distinctly unsaintlike opinions of certain "so-called super apostles” and their "other gospel."
Apparently young Timothy didn’t mind the imposition and could honor his new brothers and sisters in the Church despite their reservations about him.

The story reminds us of how reluctantly religious people are to alter their religious practices. Beliefs and opinions can change but they don't really matter until we get to the actions -- the rituals, gestures, songs and words of the religion.

After the Second Vatican Council Pope Paul VI promulgated a revised way of celebrating the Mass. The priests should face the people across the altar of our worship; we should read the Eucharistic Prayer aloud for all the people to hear and participate. In fact the best historians and liturgists could not tell us why that cardinal prayer of all the people had become the whispered prayer of a solitary individual. After the Council every syllable should be articulated clearly and audibly so that everyone might meet in one voice, one prayer and one heart.

But there were some old priests -- old guys in their sixties (like me) -- who could not make the adjustment. Many were retired and "said" their daily Mass without a congregation. So the Holy Father compassionately allowed them to continue in the old ways. The Tridentine Mass, it could not be denied, was a legitimate way to "say" the Mass.

However, that compassionate gesture proved to be the camel's nose under the edge of tent. The rest of him was coming in!

So a few old people wanted to watch the old priest say his solitary Mass while they prayed their rosaries. And then some young people, disenchanted with the determined (deterministic?) enthusiasm of their parents for the "New Mass" wanted to observe the "old Mass."

Then Pope Saint John Paul II permitted the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated with congregations with the local bishop's permission. One canonist I knew grumbled that he split our religion into two religions by permitting two different rites. The Saint was not a canonist; he had a compassionate heart.

Pope Benedict XVI went further, giving all priests permission to use the old rite.

Personally, I can understand a lay person wanting to be left alone and undisturbed while she prays -- even if she does it while people are joining as a congregation around her. I've had my days when I wanted no one around me. 

But I cannot support a priest who would not permit the congregation to understand the words he prays in their name. How can they say "Amen" when they don't know what he said? He might be simply mumbling, as I did when I was an altar boy and still hadn't nailed down the Suscipiat.

They tell the story of the old Byzantine priest who was instructing a younger Roman priest in the particulars of that rite. As the two incensed the altar the old man muttered, "Learn these prayers now because if you don't get them now you never will!" Meaning, he had never learned them in his eighty years of ministry. Who would know?

But if it doesn't matter -- as some might say -- then words don't matter and nothing that happens in our church matters. It's just sentimentality for the masses. 

Dear Saint Paul and the compliant Saint Timothy went along with the old folks in Derbe and Lystra, allowing them to have their old ways for the time being. These dear hearts would not have to pray with a gentile, not even a Christian gentile. Paul could let God's plan work itself out in God's own time. Perhaps I can learn from him. 

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

“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Summarizing his life’s work in philosophy the 20th century Scottish philosopher, John Macmurray wrote,
"The simplest expression that I can find for the thesis I have tried to maintain is this: All meaningful knowledge is for the sake of action, and all meaningful action for the sake of friendship." (Wikipedia)
Macmurray understood friendship as the encounter/dialogue/bond of one person with another and all persons in a community. A survivor from the trenches of World War I, he recognized and spent his life sounding the alarm about mechanistic and organic explanations for the human being and human community. Created in God’s image, I am not a machine, not even a marvelous physical/chemical machine. Nor am I an organism mindlessly reacting to the environment.
A group of human beings is not a machine or organism. We cannot use that excuse for our criminal behavior.
Sciences like economics, psychology, anthropology and sociology – founded upon mechanistic and organic paradigms -- might help to explain some human behavior but they can neither fathom human freedom nor excuse our sin. 
When Macmurray speaks of knowledge and action he is speaking of the decisions a human being makes. Systems may react but they cannot choose; they do not act in freedom. Only a person or community can act in freedom.
When the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, did the nation act or react? I remember the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as inevitable reactions; they played right into the schemes of Al Qaeda. I pleaded with a small congregation the next day saying, “This was a criminal act. Let us not go to war!” Fifteen years later I hear the same nation demanding that we withdraw from the chaos we spawned; but that withdrawal would be a reaction in pain and grief, not the action of a Spirit-guided nation.
To react is to withdraw from the invitation to engage with another human being. When Jesus commands me to “Love your enemies” he insists that I regard every human being as a child of God, regardless of that person’s intentions or responses toward me. Even a pleasant reaction in desire ignores the reality of the other person; he or she was not placed in this world to satisfy my lust, avarice or greed.
The command to love is God’s commission – God’s sending you and me – to welcome, engage and embrace the other as one who enjoys God’s favor. That command should be the starting point, the core of my response to others, rather than my primitive pleasure in the company of an attractive woman or man, child or adult. 
(In Roman Catholic doctrine grace builds on nature, meaning that the Holy Spirit can animate and direct the natural pleasure we feel in another's company -- the joy of a woman for a stranger's infant, for instance. But that animal response is not a human response unless it is disciplined by the Holy Spirit.) 
After the wars and genocides of the last two hundred years – conducted systematically, thoroughly and diabolically by formerly Christian nations -- we surely must be ready to hear Jesus’ “new command” to befriend one another.

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

…we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way as they.

Every experience of joy or love tells us this and yet we cannot seem to buy it: “There is no containing God’s grace.”

In today’s first reading we hear the disciples of Jesus making a critically important policy decision: we must announce the gospel to every nation without restraint or restriction.

These Jews had their presuppositions about who should be told about Jesus and how new converts should accept the Lord, but they could not stand in the way of the Gospel they were supposed to announce.

The late Andrew Greeley once remarked, “Despite the best efforts of the priests, the Church continues to grow in North America!” The Chicago priest ("who never had an unpublished thought") was very critical of clerical and magisterial efforts to contain the Word of God within traditional limits. He was more inclined to the Irish definition of Catholics, “Here Comes Everybody.”

Today’s gospel should deepen our appreciation of God’s uncontainable grace.

I have told you this so that
my joy might be in you and
your joy might be complete.”

The Lord who appears to us in John 15 is fully aware of, and entirely ready for, crucifixion. The synoptic gospels described his “agony” of at least one hour following the Last Supper but John 12 describes it as a single, brief conversation with Jesus’ Father as he entered Jerusalem:

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.”

With this glory already secured Jesus can speak of his joy and his desire that we should know his joy. 

The stoic will suppose he embraces joy when he stifles his fears and disdains discomfort. Unfortunately, he has suppressed his capacity for all feeling and his joy will not arrive when the ordeal has passed. His expected victory over suffering is based upon the triumph of his own grim determination, rather than in confident trust in One who will save him when he has been utterly crushed.

In the VA hospital I meet Veterans who gaze impassively in the face of death. I can admire their courage but I cannot emulate them. They have chosen not to know happiness. 

Facing crucifixion, Jesus’ joy arrives immediately as he surrenders in confident and generous love to the Father. If the prospect of crucifixion -- tomorrow! -- cannot smother a man's happiness, nothing can! Jesus can think of nothing he would rather do than carry his cross and be crucified for the love of God. Overwhelmed with happiness he must invite his disciples to go with him and to witness – not as bystanders but as participants – his crucifixion, that their joy may be complete.

Now we have seen his death and resurrection. We have seen his ascension to God’s right hand and have been anointed with the gladness of the Holy Spirit. We thought we could keep this Good News to ourselves? Or decide who is worthy to hear and how they should celebrate this saving event? No one can restrain that much happiness; it has to be announced in the highways and byways to anyone.  

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 287

Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.

I wonder if anyone has written “A Controversialist Reading of the Bible.” I haven’t the time or the talent to attempt such a project but its basic premise might be, “Every word, phrase and sentence of the Bible was written to settle a dispute.”

The book – or the first volume of the book because this may be an encyclopedic task! – could start with the Gospel according to Saint John. But it wouldn’t take long to circle around and begin at the beginning in the Book of Genesis. I suspect the Divine Author’s statements, “male and female he created them” and “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” addressed major crises within that prehistoric community.

In any case, the Church which Jesus Christ founded has always grappled with controversy. As one pundit at the Vatican Council declared, “The only time the entire church ever agreed on anything is recorded in Gospel of Mark, ‘They all deserted him and fled.” Throughout the rest of our history, the truth has appeared only in controversy.

The Acts of the Apostles describes the first major crisis in the early church: “Should male, non-Jewish converts to the faith be circumcised?”

Had the question arose in the 21st century there would be no contest, the marketing department would have settled it instantly. “There is no way on God's green earth someone is going to join our cause if he has to be circumcised first! Tattoo? Maybe. Body piercing? Possibly. Circumcision? Forget about it! No way, Jose. Nix! Nyet! Impossible! Next question!

But it didn’t take a marketing specialist to settle the matter for the Apostles. They had the Holy Spirit.

We should not be surprised at the controversies that swirl around matters of birth and death, hospitality and membership. The distress and confusion these arguments stir send us back to prayer, study, and conversation with one another.

There was a time not long ago when church leadership strove mightily to avoid confusing the laity. Unwilling to do the hard work of lifelong study, the clergy found it was easier to suppress discussion and ignore questions. Unfortunately, their efforts, in some cases, led to charges of conspiracy and racketeering; prosecutors have invoked the RICO act against bishops!

It is better to engage in conversation, debate and controversy; and through adult catechesis, mystagogia and lectio divina to ponder the mysteries of our faith under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. An educated laity eager for complex responses to complex questions would be good for the whole Church. 

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter

I will no longer speak much with you,
for the ruler of the world is coming.
He has no power over me,
but the world must know that I love the Father
and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”

On the night before died, as his “hour” approached, Jesus carefully explained to his disciples why he would die by crucifixion. In the presence of a living, healthy man it’s very hard to imagine his being dead within a few hours, much less why it is necessary. I wonder if his disciples were even listening.
Jesus explains it simply, “… the world must know that I love the Father, and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”
His crucifixion will seem to the ignorant like the defeat of all goodness and the triumph of evil. Some will behold this spectacle in apparent foolishness and draw the obvious conclusion -- that Evil and Satan have triumphed once and for all. Didn’t he calm the waves with a whisper? So why should he die? Obviously evil was more powerful than good.
They will see no purpose in Jesus’ crucifixion. They will dismiss prima facie every reasonable explanation. They will see that the “ruler of the world,” who was “coming,” had more power than Jesus and could impose his will upon anyone regardless of their power, wealth or influence.
These pundits are not prepared to wait even until the third day before they announce their findings. They have drawn up their conclusions and drawn down their open-mindedness and disregarded every new datum or fact or bit of information.
Theirs is not a bad way of life if you have enough money to block out all the signals from reality. You’d have to start from a gated community someplace, with a v-chip to block out all images of faithful, honest people who live happily with their poverty. You could assure yourself that no one can be happy without excess power, security, pleasure and material goods. Your v-chip would have to interface with whatever drug you’re taking to stifle the discontent in your soul, that rumor in some neglected corner of your mind that there must be more to life than this.
But not even that gated community with its v-chips, alcohol and drugs can completely suppress the news that Jesus loves the Father and does just as the Father has commanded him. 

Feast of Saint Mark, Evangelist

Lectionary: 555

Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.

I may be a sweet guy but I’m not sweetened by the word coexist. I see it on bumper stickers; a clever graphic artist collected symbols from several world religions to form the word; the Muslim crescent for a c, the peace sign of the Vietnam War protest for an o, the Christian cross for a t, a six-pointed Jewish star for the x, and so forth. True to the principles of the alphabet the t is no bigger than the e is no bigger than the x; these symbols for which people have lived and died are just letters, (but the c of Islam is capitalized).

The first problem with coexist is it means we should live with and tolerate something we regard as fundamentally wrong. We’ll just look the other way. Since no one’s religion is the true religion, and no religion is better than any religion, we can exist with one another and ignore those unpleasant differences.

Secondly, it’s not true. We cannot ignore our differences and no one wants his or her own uniqueness to be ignored. If homosexuals didn’t insist they are different no one would notice them at all. The current epidemic of tattoos, piercings and earlobe gouging loudly, obnoxiously proclaims, “I am unique!” Granted, tats are more conformist than rebellious, the stigmatized still want to think their uniqueness is really unique.

Thirdly, coexist dismisses the opportunity to greet, welcome and embrace strangers and their strangeness. Rather than ignoring our differences, please tell me about yourself. Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you believe? Welcome to my world. May I enter your world?

Finally, coexist tells me to take my faith in Jesus back to that musty closet where some people used to hide. No thanks.

On this feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist we hear again the command of the Lord to announce the Good News to every creature. That the Lord has been raised up should be proclaimed far and wide. Never in the history of the world has any other human being been raised from the dead and recognized as the Son of God.

And I should keep this to myself?

Coexisting does no one any favors. It only cleans out the house to allow seven other demons entry. It’s a temporary ceasefire, at best; if not a surrender. It is certainly not a peace treaty.

That will come when Jesus, seated at God’s right hand, with arm outstretched and power in his hands, welcomes every gracious person into his kingdom of justice, mercy and eternal bliss.

Fifth Sunday of Easter

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God.”

A good con knows how to enlist your worst instincts. If you have a weakness for money or love or sex or ease or pleasure, that’s where the seduction begins. Americans, expecting certain privileges for no apparent reason except that we’ve been told we deserve them, are especially vulnerable to the con. Likewise if you feel especially insecure in your entitlement, your anxiety invites exploitation.
As they went from one city to another, speaking with both old and new converts, Paul and Barnabas assured all of them, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
The Christian is entitled only to share in the suffering of Christ.
“What about heaven?” someone might ask.
Be careful! Be very careful. ISIS and Boko Haram recruiters use the promise of paradise to seduce young men and women to kill themselves and hundreds of others.  
If you ask God’s forgiveness because you “dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” and not because your sins “offend thee my God who art all good and deserving of all my love” you may be inviting the con.
Keeping our eyes on the prize, we direct our eyes to the Cross of Christ. It’s fun once in a while to imagine the cross as an opening to bliss; and to attempt, like Alice, to peer through that narrow gate:
…she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway.

We have a hard time getting our heads through the cross, especially when those who recruited us to the Church promised a life of blessings, security and happiness. All we had to do, we were told, is “Stay in the boat. Don’t break the rules. Pay, pray and obey.”
Paul and Barnabas urged their disciples more truly, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
It is better to begin each day with the expectation of many challenges, some disappointment and little if any satisfaction. 

And a prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 284

The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.

I have been reading a biography of the Scottish philosopher, John Macmurray. The devout young man, sent to war in 1916, preferred to serve in the medical corps. He was assigned the job of triage. The lightly injured were treated and sent back as soon as possible to the front. The more seriously wounded were separated into those who could be treated and sent back to the front, those who would never fight again, and those who were doomed. He was instructed to give first preference to those who might return to battle; the homeward-bound and the fatally wounded would get what was left over. 

After suffering a recoverable wound, the preferred type, he was invited to preach to a small Protestant congregation in England. He discovered that he had more affection and sympathy for the German enemy -- men with whom he had fought, killed, sang and laughed -- than the civilians who had never seen the trenches. His message of "Love thy enemies" fell on deaf ears and hostile minds. 

Eventually the young man suffered a severe-but-not-fatal wound which ended his military service. He returned to academia and only reentered a church fifty years later, after he had retired. Like many young veterans, he had discovered the church is only a social organization which promotes stabilizing "family values" while politely ignoring the Gospel of Peace. He practiced his religious faith by developing another approach to philosophy, an approach which recognises the presence of love and invites reconciliation into economics, politics, war and peace. 

The joy of the disciples in today's first reading identifies those who belong to Christ; they may or may not find a welcome in stable, traditional societies. These women and men cannot use religion to lock everything and everyone in place. At times they are jailed for their beliefs, in which case they sing hymns while incarcerated. At other times they are politely "shown the door."

The story is told of African-American man who decided to attend the white Christian church. He walked into the church, up the center aisle and sat down in the front pew. Immediately two ushers confronted him and walked him out. Undaunted, he started in again and got half-way up the center aisle before they grabbed his elbows and hauled him out. A third time he marched up the steps only to be blocked at the front door. 
Finally he retreated to the street where he prayed: "O Lord, you see that I tried three times to enter that church to praise your holiness and was thrown out each time." 
The Lord replied, "Never mind, Son; I've been trying for fifty years to get in that church and I never got as far as you did." 

There are Christian churches -- parishes and dioceses -- that courageously listen to the Word of God and welcome new people, new things and new times. They believe the Lord walks with them; he shows them the way to the future, and not the past. He helps them to acknowledge their fears and move forward. We have been sent to build and repair these churches; to be different and to make a difference. 

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 283

Do not let your hearts be troubled. 
You have faith in God; have faith also in me. 

I find this passage from John 14 especially reassuring. Jesus invites his disciples to believe in him as they have believed in God, with the assurance that the God whom they have always trusted and loved has personally sent Jesus to them. 

He does not question their faith, though it is inevitably partial and inadequate. Which of us would dare to say his or her faith is total and comprehensive? There are always enormous gaps between my confidence in God and the assurances God gives me. I hesitate at every step forward even as he rushes toward me. 

Jesus understands that. He has known and seen it in me as a brother and a friend, as one who walks with me. He understands my fears and reluctance, and where they come from in a past which is neither forgotten nor remembered. 

Was I betrayed by someone and is that why I hesitate? Probably, though I cannot immediately discern how that ancient disappointment affects my attitudes and decisions today. When did I decide, and why, that I would not trust again, that I would hold back in reserve, that I would prefer to wait and see as opportunity approached and paused and passed me by? 

Jesus was there with me. He remembers the hurt in my soul for he felt it more deeply than I did. 

But he also knows that I have waited on the Lord, that I have kept faith in my fashion. And so he assures me, Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. 

Step by step he walks with me, neither ahead nor behind. 

Does He know where we're going? Does he know how this must all turn out in the end? If he does he doesn't reveal it to me. But I wonder if his knowledge of the future is just as unclear as mine. Perhaps he prefers to walk with me in this present uncertainty, as he assures me of the only certainty that is necessary, his constant presence. 

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 282

“Fellow children of Israel and you others who are God-fearing, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt. With uplifted arm he led them out, and for about forty years he put up with them in the desert….

Americans, and American Christians in particular, have a fine disregard for history. Their story of the past amounts to “Jesus was born and then I was born. Nothing significant happened in between.”

Sometimes, when I tell a story of a saint, someone will ask, “Where is that in the bible?” as if, “If it’s not in the bible I don’t need to know about it.”
That was certainly not the attitude of Jesus’ first disciples, as you can see in today's first reading. Peter and Paul and John were eager to explain to Jews throughout the world precisely where Jesus fit into their history, traditions and beliefs. He could not be the Messiah if he did not.

Salvation includes the redemption of our history, with all its complexity. A recent article in National Geographic asked, “When does genocide end?” Does it stop when the last victim has been murdered? When the last murderer has been tried for war crimes? When the last person who loved a murdered victim has died, many years later? When no one remembers what happened? Or when enemies are reconciled, weeping together for the sins of their ancestors?

There was much discussion of ecumenism in the 1960’s, after the Second Vatican Council. Many Catholics and Protestants hoped the Church might be reunited. But there is a history of bloodshed and much rancor between Roman Catholics and Protestants, not to mention the Eastern Christians who also belong to Christ.
Many of us forget that the worse split in church history was not in 1517 with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation; the Great Schism occurred in 1054 between the eastern and western churches. 

But that split was a long time coming after centuries of heated quarrels, hurt feelings and misunderstandings.  Some people regarded as saints by one church were excommunicated by another. When ecumenism comes do we canonize them or condemn them?
Once a church has split for whatever reason, when tensions again rise it's tempted to split again. But, rather than gaining integrity with each rupture, it loses more and more. 

The only way forward is reconciliation and communion. This is why Pope Saint John Paul II, in his encyclical Ut Unum Sint invited the Church to breathe with both lungs, eastern and western. Until that day we are partially strangled and gasping for breath. 

Salvation cannot ignore history; Justice will not permit it. In fact we often refer to God’s saving works as “salvation history.” It is a project that must encompass the entire world and every human being. 

The saving work of Jesus goes deeper than my happy place; it upends that fairy tale castle altogether when God brings my enemies into my room and commands us, “Now work it out!”

Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:25

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 281

 And if anyone hears my words and does not observe them,
I do not condemn him,
for I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world.
Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke,
it will condemn him on the last day,
because I did not speak on my own,
but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.

As Christians announcing the Word of Salvation we seem doomed to walk a perilous line between blessing and condemnation. We are sent to save but tempted to condemn.

I have been hired by the Veteran Affairs Hospital in Louisville especially to bring the sacraments and assurances of our faith to Roman Catholic Veterans. It is an extraordinary privilege granted by the federal government because of the preponderance of Catholics in the United States. Travelling long distances from their homes to receive medical care and beyond the reach of their overburdened pastors, they require my attention.

I was certainly not sent there to condemn anyone for his behavior, choices or life style. I think I avoid that temptation pretty well despite my inside knowledge of their worse habits. All I ask, really, is that they be willing to accept me into their life during their brief stay in the hospital. Give me that much welcome and I can lavish sacramental graces, prayers, sympathy and encouragement upon the Veteran and his family.

Surprisingly, there are some who refuse the opportunity. I am always astonished by that, and somewhat confused. The refusal may be as blunt as “no.” But it’s usually more subtle; an indifference to my presence, as if the priest doesn’t exist, matter or make sense; as if the Sacrament of Holy Orders has no claim upon the faithful. 

Of course I try not to take it personally; they don’t know me from Adam. But my offer was very personal. Denied access to the Veteran’s life, I go somewhere else, often to find a more enthusiastic welcome.

Jesus advised his disciples under similar circumstances to “Shake the dust from your feet in testimony against them.” I interpret that to mean, “Forget about it. Don’t give it another thought. Let me handle it. It's not your problem.”
In his letter to the Colossians, Saint Paul tells us,
“It pleased God to make absolute fullness reside in him, and, by means of him, to reconcile everything in his person, both on earth and in the heavens, making peace through the blood of his cross.”
As Anointed Christians we too absorb everything in our persons.  We make peace by our willingness to be welcomed or rejected, without judgment or resentment, without looking back, grateful for the opportunity to do what Jesus does. 

Sometimes -- I am sure it's happened though I don't keep score -- the patient who declined my visit several times has welcomed me since then. 

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 280

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

It’s not hard to sympathize with the bewilderment of the Jews in Saint John’s Gospel. Why doesn’t “Christ” tell us more plainly what he is about and what he wants of us?

Faith, by its very nature, eludes explanation. We might call it the "key" to human existence but the metaphor fails because neither faith nor the human can be imagined as clearly as a key and a lock. These hard, familiar objects don't look like the invisible mysteries of faith and the human being. 

Explanations and definitions of faith inevitably fail because they have no weight or substance; they’re just words. We know faith when we see it in others; it gleams with courage and integrity. But we're rarely granted that vision within our own souls. I can practice faith and hope that I am truly practicing faith, but I have no proof of that. Neither God nor my pastor will give me that golden ticket which I can flaunt in the face of my own doubts or those skeptics around me. 

If faith is hard to imagine, describing human nature is like hiking through a swamp. We might start with the assumption that a human being is an individual but even a quick scan of the naked creature reveals certain external organs that reveal intimate and vital dependence on others, most obviously the belly button. If the navel no longer functions, the breasts and genitals may still link us to others. 

Is there such a thing as an individual and how divided is this being from others of the same nature? 

Cain thought he had a clever response when he asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" but, yes, he was responsible for the younger brother, born of the same womb; even if Abel was a free man capable of making his own decisions. We are responsible for one another and, yes, we are individually free creatures with the right to refuse anyone who would take responsibility of someone else. 

When Jesus explains what he is about his hearers either delight in his words or walk away deeply confused. He is the Christ; there can be no doubt. But in recognizing him as my Lord and my God, although I have surrendered my life and will, I am still a free agent. 

The Son of God, sent to serve and not to be served, would have it no other way. Nor would we. 

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 279

The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. 
These six brothers also went with me,
and we entered the man’s house. 

Saint Luke never supposed later scholars would separate his opus into two different books, nor that the Gospel of Saint John might separate them in the canon of the New Testament. The Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles form an organic whole and should be read as one book. 

When Luke writes that the Spirit directed Peter or Paul to go here or say that or don't go there, that Presence is just as real and immediate as Jesus when he sent his disciples out two by two. And his disciples were as ready to obey the Spirit of Jesus as when he walked among them -- and more so. 

Their willingness to hear and follow the Holy Spirit's lead sets the pattern for Christian behavior of all time. 

Francis of Assisi had his own ways of following the spirit. He prayed continually, of course, asking God to direct his preferences, desires, wishes and whims. He also asked God to show him in no uncertain terms his own sinful or misguided tendencies. He did not hesitate to do immediate penance for his occasional lapses. 

As when he punished Brother Matteo for the friar's reluctance to assist a beggar. The impulsive Francis was so upset that he ordered Matteo to preach in his underwear. Matteo obediently did so, much to the amusement of the Assisan mob. Francis, coming to his senses, stripped off his own outer garments and stood beside Matteo, confessing his sin to the delighted crowd. 

Later, when he and the same friar were on a missionary journey with no particular destination, they came to a crossroad. He directed Matteo to twirl around like a dancing child until he fell down. And, as the obedient friar sprawled on the ground, Francis decided that was the direction they should take. It worked out well because they found their next city in a civil war. Francis immediately mediated between the angry factions and effected a truce. Clearly, the Holy Spirit had directed Matteo's fall. 

How do we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit? It's not terribly difficult if we renounce our preferences, desires, expectations, presumptions and assumptions and ask God daily, "What would you have me do?" We'll almost surely discover that what we want to do is precisely what the Spirit has chosen. 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Lectionary: 51

My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”

In his book, Man is not Alone, when he might have objected to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and insisted upon the Jewish understanding of monotheism, Rabbi Heschel cited Deuteronomy 6:4, which reads, "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!"

He goes on to say that One is far more than a number. 

  • It means uniqueHis essence is different from all I am able to know or say. He is not only superior, he is incomparable. There is no equivalent of the divine. He is not "an aspect of nature," not an additional reality, existing alone with this world, but a reality that is over and above the universe. 
  • One means onlyGod is one mean He alone is real. One means exclusively, no one else, no one besides, alone, only.... (Significantly, the etymology of the English word "only" is one-ly.) 
  • God is one; He alone is real. all the nations are as nothing before him; they are accounted by him as things of naught and vanity. (Is 40:17) 
  • One means the same. 
  • One denotes inner unity. His law is mercy; his mercy is law. He is a being who is both beyond and here, both in nature and in history, both love and power, near and far, known and unknown, Father and Eternal.

(I can't cite the passage but I recall then-Cardinal Ratzinger also teaching that words like three and one hardly begin to reveal the mystery of God. They are at best human inventions which help us to speak to one another despite the limitations of our words. These great theologians of the 20th century shared deep understanding of faith.)

When we hear Jesus say, The Father and I are one, even as he insists that no one can take his sheep from his hands or from his Father's hands, we apprehend (if not comprehend) the enormity of God's love for us.

Just as The Father and The Son are one in love, so is their uncompromising, unchanging, unalterable love for you and me. Jesus' disciples are the gift of the Father to the Son, and the gift of the Son to the Father. Neither will surrender ownership of us because we belong to both, and their love for one another meets in us. As a wife/mother encounters her husband in their children -- in the genetic reminders of their eyes, their hair, their stature and manner -- so do the Father and the Son see one another in the Church.

If someone beloved gives you a valuable gift you treasure it not only for its particular worth but for the one who gave it to you. It belongs to both of you and binds you together.

We bring that realization to the Mass, the "communion" which we share with one another, and God with us, and God with God.

Rabbi Heschel finished his chapter entitled "One God" with these words:
"One day" really means the day which God desired to be one with man. "From the beginning of creation the Holy One, blessed be he, longed to enter into partnership with the terrestrial world." The unity of God is a concern for the unity of the world.
When we say, "The Lord is my shepherd" we promise one another that God's day will come when there will be one flock and one shepherd and all our divisions will be dismissed.