Wednesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 433

While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and walking
according to the manner of man? Whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely men?

We can hear in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians his surprise and disappointment. When he left them he thought they had pretty good insight. They were meeting together and praying and sharing with one another; there was real harmony.

Then news arrived they were quarreling and factions had appeared. How could it happen? How could they not see their regression and loss of faith?

The spiritual life is nothing if not cyclic. We make progress; we enjoy peace of mind, insight which seems like wisdom, and harmony with others. Then it all falls apart. Peace of mind wanders off like a distracted child; insight proves to be no more than opinion; and relations with others are fraught with suspicion. And then someone comes along and says, “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Get what?” you ask. “What am I not seeing?”
Saint Paul identifies factionalism among the Corinthians. He can’t believe he has been reduced from an apostle to a party. “I belong to Paul!” his so-called allies say. Nor does he recall any conflict with Apollos. How could they have divided the gospel between these faithful preachers?
Two thousand years later and we have yet to understand that factionalism takes us further from the truth and not closer to it.

In the 19th century Cardinal John Henry Newman taught that heresies had helped the Church identify and define the truth of the gospel. Those “definitions” actually avoid definition. They say in effect, “We may not know how to express this mystery but that is not it!” We have defined the Trinity, for instance, by insisting that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not lesser gods, although both are obedient to the Father.

These hard-won un-definitions help the Church remain open to the mystery of God and to diversity among us. No one needs to leave the communion to find the Truth. It remains among us if only we’re willing to do the hard work of listening to others, explaining ourselves, finding common ground, identifying differences and letting time reconcile them. More often than not our theological differences reveal non-theological issues like avarice, egotism, or greed. Forming another sect in God’s church will only institutionalize our shortcomings.

As we experience cycles of grace – Saint Ignatius called them consolation and desolation – we should expect moments when we must refrain from embracing, but they should not signal a split in the community. Rather, they invite us to deeper reliance on the Lord who claims sole ownership of the gospel.

Tuesday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time


The Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among men, who knows what pertains to the man except his spirit that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.

As the Christian movement spread among Jews throughout the known world, and then to gentiles who proved to be equally excited about Jesus Christ, the disciples found themselves reeling in a world of confusion. Old barriers, especially those between Jews and gentiles, had broken down. Slaves, free persons and slave owners worshipped together. Women uttered prophecies. Disreputable people became saints and martyrs. Saint Paul’s Corinthian congregation was a polyglot of “people of color,” speaking different languages and wearing odd clothes. If two men agreed on anything they were hard pressed to find a third. There seemed be no “common sense” about anything and yet they all loved the Lord Jesus.

If there was any reliable guide it had to be the Spirit of God, that same spirit which had driven Jesus from Nazareth to Jerusalem, from the river to the wilderness to the city.

Suffering “future shock,” we too wonder where do we go from here. What are we supposed to do? There seems to be no common sense about anything.

As the first Jesuit Pope, Francis speaks of discernment and the right disposition. There might be a textbook answer to some problems but it probably won’t help. Rather we have to ask God, “What do you want me to do? and “What do you want us to do?” The odds are good the forthcoming answer will not be predictable.

Pope Francis especially asks us to pray for the right disposition, to be disposed to hear the Holy Spirit. An old solution to a contemporary problem might help but the old attitude will not.

Some years ago, amid the controversy one cardinal declared, “We don’t have to dialogue; we already know the answer!” But we do have to dialogue because there are people involved, each with his and her own attitudes, sensibilities, experience, opinions and beliefs. The church has learned that people have a right to participate in decisions that affect their wellbeing. It’s not enough to expect and demand obedience; there are no slaves among us.

The Lord has given two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He didn’t say we must agree on everything. We are first a people of communion; our truth is rooted in our unity. We seek that deep understanding and respect that friends have for one another, especially those friends who have quarreled and learned to honor their differences. Our obedience is joyful, willing and generous; never repressed, fearful and resentful. Only the Spirit who “scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God” can effect this unity among us.


Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Lectionary: 431/634

I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,

Readings for today’s Mass come from two sources, the passage from I Corinthians is for Monday of the 22nd week of Ordinary Time, and the gospel marks the “Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist.”

In both readings we find the weakness of God. The Christian witness is like John the Baptist, defenseless against savage powers of this world. The Christian missionary is equally powerless to force the gospel on anyone. Paul reminds the Corinthians that he came to them in weakness, fear and much trembling. Nor did he use “persuasive words of wisdom.” 

Paul was well educated and he knew all the standard methods of argumentation. He had tried them in Athens when he spoke of Jesus, only to find the crowd unpersuaded. When they heard of Jesus’ resurrection they laughed and walked away. So when Paul moved on to Philippi and Corinth he dropped the professional, polished style and spoke simply of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

The Gospel is so exquisitely fragile, it cannot bear even the coercion that goes on in ordinary family life. Sometimes people excuse themselves from their religious obligation saying, "Religion was forced down my throat when I was a child." I am not inclined to believe that story; I suspect they picked up the phrase from someone else and adopted it for themselves. But if there is any truth to the legend, it reveals the infinite gentleness of our merciful God. He gave us our freedom and will not take it back. 

If someone came to you and said, “The Son of God was executed in federal detention in Terre Haute, Indiana; and was raised up on the third day!” would you believe it? Obviously, this message is going to need a different approach. Cinematic special effects and slick advertising may entertain but they’re not likely to persuade anyone to believe in an executed-but-resurrected criminal.

Remember, Paul was not simply asking strangers to believe that it happened; he wanted them to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. To succeed at all, his mission required divine intervention within docile hearts.

They would have to believe in him, that is Paul, first. If he is lying, his message is obviously bunkum; but if the messenger is honest, sincere, unpretentious and willing to face some opposition without getting upset, perhaps there is something to what he says.

After many false starts the Church has learned that the message of the gospel depends upon her own credibility. That may seem like a weak foundation but Jesus insists upon it: “Peter, you are rock! And the gates of hell cannot prevail against you!” Not even decapitation can take the wind out of our sails. In fact, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Saint Francis urged his disciples to “Look at the humility of God.” In the long run, God's weakness is irresistible.

Americans love their powerful guns, computers, tractors and military; they gorge themselves on power. Many American Christians celebrate God’s Power; their religion is more patriotic than evangelical. It comes to nothing. 

Today’s memorial -- the Passion of John the Baptist -- invites us to consider the weakness of God and to reconsider how we live, announce and teach our religion.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 126

Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Gospel of Saint Luke is rich with stories and teachings about meals; they are invariably pleasant gatherings of people sharing food, values and camaraderie.

There are no potluck dinners in the Gospel of Luke. The host provided all the food and drink and there was always enough.

(I take exception to those "explainers" who say that, when Jesus fed the 5000, the crowd actually became willing to share what they already had; it only seemed like a miracle. That interpretation misses the point altogether.)

There could be nothing worse than planning a party, inviting the guests, welcoming them to the table and running out of food and drink. You'll recall the crisis at Cana when Mary whispered to Jesus, "They have no wine." I don't remember ever attending a dinner when they ran out of food. Even in my childhood, scraping as we were to make ends meet for an ever-growing family, there was enough food.

Jesus uses this custom of the host's munificence to speak of God's extraordinary generosity, and of our own charitable practices. We should not invite people to dinner expecting to be invited back in return. That's not generosity; it's only an economical way for comfortable people to share their comfort. There's no harm in it, but don't call it generosity. Rather, the Christian invites and hosts the needy who cannot afford to play that game.

When the Catholic contemplates this mystery of generosity we think of communion. Communion is that spirit which draws people together and binds them in community. There is mutuality in that spirit. Some people would call it synergy, as they generate more willingness, enthusiasm and joy than they would have separately.

But Jesus will remind us that communion, which begins in his Sacred Heart, must also begin in my flinty heart. I should not wait for an invitation to be kind to others. Communion begins when I open my heart to receive whoever will enter.

This is more than risky; it's practically guaranteed there will be disappointment, hurt and betrayal. That's what the crucifixion means; and that's why the crucifix is placed front and center of every Catholic Church. 

When we see the blood and water pouring from Jesus' wounds, we know the Lord has exhausted his infinite resources in love for us. 

Inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to dinner is a simple gesture, a way to display the generosity of God, with all its attendant risks. 

Memorial of Saint Monica

Lectionary: 430

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Yesterday we heard Saint Paul explain the mystery of the cross as a scandal to the pious and nonsense to the worldly wise, today's selection immediately follows that passage as the Apostle considers our place in God's plan. 
"Let's face it, people! You are not exactly the creme de la creme! You're not even the pick of the litter!" he might have said in Americanese. 
We often reflect on the sorry bunch of disciples that Jesus elected to follow him  -- fishermen, tax collectors, subversives -- and on his humble origins among the poor and the outcast. 
The Old Testament reveals God's predilection for the weaker and the seconds. He preferred Abel the shepherd over Cain the hunter, and Jacob the momma's boy over Esau, daddy's favorite. David was the least promising of all Jesse's sons. 
The religious might prefer the traditional elite and the wise would certainly choose the stronger and smarter, but God often prefers the world's overlooked. There is logic to this, of course -- thus to show God's glory!
How fitting it was that Saint Paul should arrive in Rome as a prisoner in chains! There was no triumphal entry for the Gospel. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the founders of American Pentecostalism travelled by rail -- that is, by box car and tie rod! -- to spread the good news. 
It's easy to be discouraged by the failures of the Church. We are way too human for most tastes. Even our best efforts to market our product end in disaster, as when the successful preacher is found in bed with his assistant's wife. 
But schooled in the cross we continue undaunted. Our faith is deeper than our wisdom; our conviction, firmer than our piety. 

Here is a second thought; it came to me with the word place. In our sacred liturgy we find our place in God's sight. Through baptism and eucharist, especially, we know where we belong, despite any misgivings about our putative worthiness. 
When I grew up, the oldest of ten children, I had a very definite place at the table. With Dad at the head of the table and Mom at the other end, I was placed halfway between. With my long arms I could move bowls and platter and pitchers from one end to the other better than anyone! That was my place and it went unchallenged, like Dad's and Mom's. Everyone else also had his and her place at the table. 

There is great comfort in knowing one's place, even if it's the lowest

Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 429

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

This passage from 1st Corinthians is the key to the cross. It opens to an understanding of Jesus' mission and to ours. 

Saint Paul addresses two different cultures: Jews and Greeks, the religious and the secular. Religious speak of signs and power. They are emotionally vulnerable and subject to the painful experiences of scandal. They despise sacrilege and weakness; and worship power. 

The wise speak of knowledge and understanding; they disdain foolishness. They are persuaded by reasonable arguments that make sense. 

Neither is particularly open to the unexpected. Religious have their formulas and rituals and are willing to welcome only that which flows within their traditional understanding. 

The wise cannot accept prima facie something that fails to explain itself. They want to know where this is going and will walk away if they suspect it's going nowhere. You'll recall the Athenians who walked away from Saint Paul when he spoke of Jesus' resurrection. They had followed him up to a point. Remembering the martyrdom of Socrates, they might have been willing to accept Jesus' crucifixion. But Socrates was not raised up and they saw no possibility for Jesus' revival. 

Even the fact that certain reputable people had seen the risen Lord did not sway them. As far as they were concerned, "Men don't rise from the dead and that's that!" 

Jesus' cross, then, is a scandal to religious. We Catholics are used to seeing a naked man on a cross; it's there in every Catholic church. We have to be reminded of how grotesque it is, that the Son of the Most High God is described with that image. We are sensitive about the sacrilegious and yet fail to notice the sacrilege of that brutal murder. When we introduce the curious to our faith we will probably fail to prepare them for that horrible image. 

We're equally nonplussed by those who doubt the resurrection. Christians accept the testimony of the eyewitnesses who saw him raised up. Without their testimony we have no faith. If "the wise" refuse to accept that testimony we might try to explain the resurrection. We'll remind them that larvae become butterflies and fetuses become babies. Such explanations might help but they won't persuade. Only grace can do that. 

We find in the cross of Jesus, the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is beyond human comprehension and it reminds us continually that our comprehension is feeble. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him! 
The mystery of the cross will always challenge our habitual ways of thinking. Every culture from the monastery to Wall Street will occasionally take issue with the cross and be confounded. (Hopefully, the monastery will be more open to the challenge but Wall Street needs it more.) 

The cross teaches us to "be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth." 

Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 428 you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,

The New Testament uses the word Christian only three times. Perhaps the followers of the way avoided the word because it had been coined by strangers as a word of contempt. The authors of the gospels and letters preferred disciples, friends and saints. In Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians he describes his recent converts as sanctified and "called to be holy." 

This is not a static expression like blessed chalices, rosaries and churches. The holy ones is a dynamic description, fluid with movement and endless potential.  The Church readily adopted the language of Leviticus, the holiness code of the Torah. The Lord had said through Moses, "You shall be holy as I am holy." 

Saint Paul was delighted and amazed with the holiness he found in his Corinthian friends. There is irony here because Corinthians were famous for their sexual liberties. A port city with a daily influx of sailors is rife with red light districts. The Holy Ones of this ancient congregation were markedly different from their fellow citizens. 

In today's gospel, Jesus gives another clue about the life of the holy ones. They are awake and alert, ready to do good and avoid evil. They are ready at every hour to greet the master of the house. 

It doesn't take much imagination to know what erodes our readiness. Alcohol, recreational drugs, sexual liberty, obsessions, anxieties, overwork, etc. 

However, maintaining one's alertness is not so easy. After a few hours of high alertness even the well-prepared are apt to take a break. Ever since 9/11 we have tried to maintain a constant alert against terrorism. We fuel this alertness with imaginative preparations about where and when the enemy might strike -- only to find that he has struck again where and when we were not prepared! 

Our Lord's coming is infinitely more delightful. He comes in gifted moments as when we make generous sacrifices for our loved ones. As gratifying, too, are those little victories when we pass up the opportunity to do evil. We should celebrate these received graces with gratitude: "Thank you, God, that at least on this occasion I chose to do the right thing!" 

More challenging are the corners which might be cut: the time saved that should not have been saved; the opportunity missed because "I'll make up for it tomorrow." 

The faithful use the daily examen to study the hours of each day. What did the Holy Spirit want me to do, and did I do it. Was the Holy Spirit prompting me to speak when I kept silent, or -- more likely -- urging me to silence when I spoke out? 

I met a woman on the airplane once who told me she was studying motivation. "Wow!" I said. "That's incredibly important! How do we maintain our motivation?" She hadn't a clue. She was studying marketing or something, how to get people to use their computers to accomplish chores. She had not considered the spiritual dimensions of motivation. 

If it depended upon us, we would be in deep trouble. Fortunately, our God is with us, ever drawing us with love most delightful and with threats most dire to,
“Stay awake!For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

Recently I came across a speech by the religious philosopher John Macmurray concerning Jesus’ “revolution”: It’s entitled “Ye are my friends,” and reads in part:

Copernicus made a revolution in human knowledge merely by shifting the center of the solar system from the earth to the sun. The world revolution of the Christians came when Jesus discovered the true center of human life.
“Not servants but friends” is the proclamation of the revolution. The keyword of the Christian gospel is not service but friendship. Of late, I believe, we have been thinking too much in terms of service—service of God and of the world.
There is nothing distinctively Christian about that. It is the natural way of religious thought when it becomes practical. Socrates called himself the servant of Apollo. Christ's revolution consisted, like that of Copernicus, precisely in denying the “Natural” point of view and substituting friendship for service.
“But surely,” you will say, “we are called as Christians to serve Christ and to serve the world.” No, we are called to be the friends of Christ and the friends of men.

 Today’s gospel and Macmurray’s citation, “Ye are my friends,” both come from the Gospel of Saint John. The philosopher, a Veteran of the trenches of the First World War, reacted against traditional ideas of servitude. He witnessed the wholesale slaughter of millions of men at the behest of incompetent leaders, chosen only by their aristocratic birth as kings and emperors. The "Great War" marked the end of their authority; a new age of human equality had arrived. There would be no slave or free, no citizen or alien, no male nor female, but all could be friends with equal standing.

Does the Enlightenment also reflect on our religion? Can we speak of equality between God and the human creature? Can a candle be likened to the Sun; or a breath, to a hurricane?

Created in God’s own image, we enjoy being. Although it began in time and God’s being began in eternity, the human being may attain eternity if she is willing to step out of herself into friendship with God. Jesus described the process as dying to oneself, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it .“

I might be only a mirror in the bright light of God’s love, but I can shine brightly, even blindingly, as the sun shines.

In today’s first reading we hear the apostles described as the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem.:

The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

These leaders of the early church were the “friends of Jesus.” They had known him personally and, as their voice goes out to all the earth, we too become friends of Jesus.

We often refer to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord; we are also friends. Therein is our freedom. We can disagree; we can feud; but we continually come back to our Communion, which is the Presence of God among us.

Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 426

We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

Although we sometimes describe the Day of the Lord as dies irae, dies illa (“a day of wrath, a day of doom”), for the people of God it will be a day of vindication. On That Day the Lord will set things right. He will reward his faithful people within sight of all those who sneered at them.

The challenge for Christians is believing it will come despite our not knowing when. Impatient as we are -- an impatience sometimes intensified by actual persecution -- we’d like to know when. The scriptures often indicate it will be soon with expressions like “a time, times and half a time;” and yet it doesn’t happen.
I suspect that Saint Paul’s warning is more about those who are curious than those who are anxious. Some people are “shaken out of their minds” by spirits and oral statements and phony missives from him. Why do they need to get so upset?

They might not be suffering injustice; they might be frankly comfortable with the way things are going. Perhaps they're saying, "Let's do this now while I'm on top!" 

The worst are those biblical cryptologists who think that God has, for no particular reason, coded the end time into certain obscure passages of the Bible. “Otherwise,” they say, “why would writings that are two thousand years old, written in far distant lands by long dead people, with philosophical premises completely alien to our own and cultural nuances we cannot imagine, that have been copied and recopied hundreds of times -- be so hard to understand?”
Or perhaps they're just curious, an honest human emotion. Some people just want to know when the second coming is going to happen. 

If we needed to know when the last day is coming we would be told. The scriptures only tell us, “This is the final hour!” In that same passage from 1 John,  we are reassured, “you have the anointing that comes from the holy one, and you all have knowledge.” 

You already know what you need to know for salvation. As Jesus said to Thomas, "Have I been with you so long and you still ask, 'Show me the Father? Who has seen me has seen the Father!" 
Can I hope in God's promise while in this darkness of waiting? Can I continue to live honestly, accepting what I need and no more; giving what I can afford and then some – without knowing when this contest will end?

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure.

Saint Paul begins his Second Letter to the Thessalonians talking about how he thanks “God always for you.” He crows about their flourishing faith and “the love of every one of you for one another.” He assures them he boasts about them "in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith,” especially the “persecutions and afflictions” they suffered.

He is like a proud father of a family when he thinks about these first Christians. They have excelled beyond all expectations. If he ever had any misgivings about going abroad and announcing the Gospel to strangers in faraway places, their generosity, joy and courageous fidelity have cleared them away.

He can claim a kind of ownership in their accomplishment because he was the first missionary to bring the gospel to them. Whatever conflict he met in that encounter, and every weariness or discouragement, have been completely erased because the Thessalonians have accepted the faith with such manifest enthusiasm.

He can claim a kind of ownership also because he knows the same Holy Spirit in his heart. As Saint Augustine would say many years later, “For you I am your bishop; with you I am your brother.”

Thinking of Mary and her Coronation as the Queen of Heaven we feel the same pride and joy. She is our mother and sister, a poor Galilean woman whom God has exalted above the heavens. He has lifted her out of obscurity and poverty and made her to shine brightly for all the world to see and admire.

If an athlete from our hometown wins Olympic gold we naturally take pride in the accomplishment. Most of us will discover ways we know the champion. We’ll say things like, “I knew his father in school.” or “I’ve seen her at the grocery store.” The city of Louisville beamed with pride a few months ago as we celebrated the funeral of our native son, Muhammad Ali. Many people said, “I knew him when he was Cassius Clay!”

There may be some purists who say we shouldn’t take such pride in a neighbor’s accomplishment but they’re invariably outvoted by the rest of us. When we praise Mary we praise the God who created her.

Nor do we mind saying, “I know her! She’s a friend of mine!” We have only to point to the rosaries in our pockets to prove our friendship with her. She leads us daily through her joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Hurray for Mary, our Mother and Queen, our sister and friend. Your are the ideal of our aspirations and the solace of our disappointments.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

When the thirteen colonies disbanded their federation and wrote a new constitution in order to form a more perfect union, they didn't even know how far it was to the Pacific Ocean. Many supposed there should be a "northwest passage" through the continent, via rivers and mountain passes, that would permit easy communication and transportation from east to west. They believed the continent at their backs should taper up toward its center and taper down again toward the Pacific; its highest mountains being somewhere in today's Kansas.

That vast unknown land was populated by "Indians" although the native tribes had already been decimated by small pox; but it was claimed by the world's super-powers: Spain, France and England.

When the United States, under President Jefferson, bought "Louisiana" from the French, the nation tripled its size but bought into an immediate crisis. If it could not populate that largely unknown territory its purchase would mean nothing. The Russians might move in from Alaska; the Spaniards might move in from California. But there weren't nearly enough people in the United States to settle the land.

What should they do? Invite immigrants, millions of immigrants -- English, French, German, Dutch at first; then later, eastern Europeans, Asians and others -- anyone who would agree to live by American law.

War-weary Europeans heard the first call and came in droves, happily spawning families of ten and fifteen and twenty children. They plowed the plains and cleared forests and carved states out of uncharted territory.

Many Bible-reading citizens believed they were fulfilling the words of scripture: 
They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.

The process -- apparently ordained by God -- has not gone smoothly. Two centuries later we are still trying to fashion one nation under God out of these diverse peoples. Can a nation with no natural geographical boundaries to the north and south, no established religion, and no common language be formed from so many different racial and ethnic groups? Can nothing more than the rule of law mold them into one people?

We have enjoyed some success. Foreign wars have been described as threats to the homeland and used to inspire patriotism. The military has legitimized citizenship for many people, both immigrants and natives. (Irish Catholics, among the first.) Religions that agree about little reinforce adherence to the law; their proselytizing makes people feel welcome even in new neighborhoods. Most people just want to get along with strangers, whoever they might be.

But we have been plagued with racism. If there is an "original sin" endemic to the United States it is racism. It's the negative image of what we claim to be; it follows like a shadow our every step.

The same scriptures that seem to be fulfilled with the American experiment point the way. We must be a hospitable nation, eager not to tolerate but rather to welcome aliens and strangers into our churches, neighborhoods, shopping malls, parks and work places.

The good citizen is the first person to approach a stranger with open hand and friendly face, the first to offer any kind of assistance "as you get settled." That citizen will be the first to inquire, Where do you come from? What do you think? and What do you believe? He or she will be the first to say, "Thank you for coming to America! We've been waiting for you!"

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 424

I fell prone as the glory of the LORD entered the temple
by way of the gate which faces the east, 
but spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court.
And I saw that the temple was filled with the glory of the LORD. 
Then I heard someone speaking to me from the temple,
while the man stood beside me. 
The voice said to me: 
Son of man, this is where my throne shall be, 
this is where I will set the soles of my feet; 
here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever.

God promises to abide with us always. From his revelations to Moses in the desert to the last words of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, and throughout the Book of Revelations we have continual reassurances, "I am with you always." 

In today's first reading Ezekiel, seer and prophet, is shown the glorious temple where God will abide with his people again. Ezekiel had first seen a vision of God -- He was mounted on a flaming chariot that flew like the wind -- near the River Chebar, which was in Babylon. A long way from Jerusalem. That vision assured the Prophet and anyone who would listen to him, "You may be removed from Jerusalem but I am not removed from you! I can go anywhere and I will always go with you." 

In today's vision, Ezekiel sees the ruined temple restored, and more beautiful than it had ever been. More importantly he hears the Lord promise again, "This is where I will plant the soles of my feet; here I will dwell among the children of Israel forever." 

In fact the temple was rebuilt though it was not nearly as splendid as Solomon's original structure. King Herod and his nephew Herod Antipas were still trying to make it splendid at the time of Jesus. All for naught, because the entire city was levelled in 70 AD, leaving only the Wailing Wall to remember the ancient splendor. 

Oddly, as Pope Benedict XVI said in his book about Jesus, the early Church evinced no grief about that disaster. You would think they at least revered the holy place where Jesus had worshipped, even if they no longer went on pilgrimage to the Holy City; but the calamity is not even mentioned in the New Testament. 

They had found the soles of his feet planted in their own congregations, wherever and whenever they worshipped together. 

Our Catholic tradition honors this solemn promise of God with our tabernacles, where the Blessed Sacrament is kept. If they're not front and center in the apse they're available in a smaller devotional chapel, a quiet place removed from the occasional bedlam of the nave. 

The parish church is also a sacred reminder of God's presence. They have been placed in cities, town, hamlets and along country roads for as long as anyone can remember. 

But far surpassing those locked boxes and lovely buildings, the Sunday Mass demonstrates God's abiding presence with us. There the promise to Moses is fulfilled, we meet God face to face. 

God has not promised anyone an easy life. Nor should we expect prosperity, popularity, good luck, or good health. As lovely as those gifts are, far surpassing them is the Presence of God among us.  

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 423

The hand of the LORD came upon me,
and led me out in the Spirit of the LORD
and set me in the center of the plain,
which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among the bones in every direction
so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain.
How dry they were!
He asked me:
Son of man, can these bones come to life?

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; 
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game. 
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair....

So begins the woeful, classic story of Casey at the Bat. I've often recited it when, unprepared, I was called upon to say something. 

Which of us has not been in deep despair about some hopeless situation? They're not uncommon, and we generally decide to invest our time, interests and resources in some other venture. 

What could be more hopeless than a desert valley of dry bones? If you're looking for an army to deliver you from evil, you'll not look there. What could be more hopeless than seeing your Lord and Teacher crucified? 

And yet you escorted his body to the grave where you laid him to rest. You returned on Sunday morning, after the Sabbath, to anoint his body, wondering as you went who would roll away the stone. You did not suppose the body would not be there; nor could you imagine what you would do with the rest of your life, now that he was dead. Something drew you to the gravesite, something sweet and beautiful and compelling. 

Christians are familiar with despair. The more we expect of one another and the Church the more familiar we become with hopelessness. Writers and editors can do a land-office business as they describe "a people adrift" and "merchants in the temple." 

The Lord teaches us through these baleful moments to rely on Him and not on ourselves. We can and should prepare to use our resources well. We can and should plan for success even as so many projects fail. 

Saint (Mother) Teresa of Calcutta has reminded us, "We are not called to be successful." -- you can say that again! -- "We are called to be faithful!" 

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 422

I will prove the holiness of my great name, 
profaned among the nations, 
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

Jesus ben Sirach echoes this passage from Ezekiel in Ecclesiasticus 36:

As you have used us to show them your holiness, so now use them to show us your glory. Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you.
"King Solomon," the Divine Author of Wisdom, says we should shine like sparks in stubble. Jesus wants us to gleam like a lamp in a dark room and stand out like a city on a hill. 

For Christians who want nothing more than to conform, blend in and disappear in the crowd, that's a tall order. 
Can a disciple of Jesus be modest and outstanding, subtle and overt? 

But that's the wrong question. All of these remarks by Old and New Testament authors consider the Church, not the individual Christian. The Lord is not speaking to me but to us when he writes, "I prove my holiness through you." (The first requirement of Baptism is, "Get over yourself!") 

Who are we? How do we appear to others? We worship God. We care for one another. We care for others.

The minister of Baptism during a Catholic ritual begins by asking, "What name do you give this child?" 

One's name is one's identity. It is the name by which we will call this beloved youngster into family, with all its privileges, pleasures and duties. It is not just a handle by which government and other organizations will manage the individual. 

I come to know myself as a member of this family and church. All these people in the congregation are my brothers and sisters. When the Lord speaks to us, he speaks to me. When the Lord proves his holiness through us, he works through me. 

A lot of baptized people leave the Church. During their "exit interviews" they'll blame the Church for its failures. The current, most favorite story is the priest pedophilia scandal. Before that it was "the changes." Occasionally, they blame the birth control controversy. Most often, the real issue is the Church's teaching about divorce and remarriage. 

They rarely say, "I could not live up to the expectations." Even less often they say, "I refused the grace of my baptism." or, "I chose not to bear the cross of Christ." 

Jesus explained it quite simply, "Many are called, few are chosen."