Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 459

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

In today's first reading we hear God's challenge to the complaining Job, 
Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning and shown the dawn its place for taking hold of the ends of the earth, till the wicked are shaken from its surface?
The authors of both texts suppose that we human beings are overwhelmed by displays of power. Anyone who can "shock and awe" his opponent commands submission.  Chorazin and Bethsaida should have fallen down in homage before Jesus. Job should have quit his carping when he God appeared to him in the tornado and demanded answers of his puniness. 

But they didn't fall down in worship and he didn't quit complaining. Nor did the Iraqis quit resisting the American invasion. They developed IEDs, suicide bombers and ISIL. 

Saint Francis also showed a stunning lack of respect for authority. He absolutely swore obedience to the pope and every bishop; but he also approached them with a confidence born of faith. He was not cowed by their clouds of incense and colorful red garments. Unshaven, barefooted and dressed in rags, he boldly requested special indulgences; first was permission to start a new Order of Friars Minor, though he had only twelve followers and no written rule; secondly, a special indulgence for pilgrims to his wayside chapel at the Portiuncula. There was opposition among the cardinals to these proposals but he asked the pope directly and the pope consented.

If we stand in awe before God, it's not because we have seen his mighty works, it's because we have seen his humility. "Look," Saint Francis said, "at the humility of God."

Only a God of supreme power can divest himself of power and authority to be humble. A lesser god is controlled by his power. 

The theologian Hans Urs Von Balthazar especially pointed that out to the 20th century church. Our God is a humble God who comes to us in the form of a helpless baby. The infant must be rescued by a peasant couple from Herod the Great. How awesome is that! He chooses to own nothing when he has command of twelve legions of angels. He will be arrested, condemned, tortured and crucified without complaint, like a lamb led to slaughter.

The world must always mock that display of power. They cannot see it. Only the faithful, the chosen, stand in awe of Christ Crucified and beg for his mercy. 

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

Lectionary: 647

War broke out in heaven; 
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.

Each day and many times a day, when we recite “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”, we recall this passage from Revelation. Saint Michael purged the sky of Satan and his minions... 
Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them.”
but the diabolical army still roams the earth and torments the blessed. Fortunately we have Saint Michael and his angels at our side. 

As he prepared to capture Jericho Joshua was surprised to find an ally:

While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or one of our enemies?” He replied, “Neither. I am the commander of the army of the LORD: now I have come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The commander of the army of the LORD replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Nothing more is said of that "commander of the army of the LORD" in the account of battle. Joshua marched his ragtag army of men and women and children in procession around the town for seven days, with the Ark of the Covenant leading. Then the walls collapsed and he captured it. Given the divine assistance there was hardly any surprise. 

In the closing days of the 19th century, according to legend, Pope Leo XIII had a dreadful vision about the coming twentieth century. He had bad feelings about an era that is remembered for two world wars and the beginning of the atomic age. The new doctrine of total war, developed in Germany and tested in the American Civil War, called for the annihilation of entire cities and all their inhabitants. War was no longer a contest among combatants; it had become a struggle of nation against nation, each attempting to terrorize the enemy populace into submission. 

Afflicted by this dread, Pope Leo commanded that every Mass should conclude with his Prayer to Saint Michael: 
Saint Michael Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
The prayer fit the times, an "end time" when the "world as we know it" was ending. During the twentieth century kings were unseated, war was transformed, ten thousand years of stable global temperatures began to disintegrate, and a global economy appeared. 

A global Roman Catholic Church also appeared with cardinals named from Asia, Africa and Micronesia. The rift between the eastern and western churches became less wide, and Christians of every sort began to discuss reconciliation. 

Ironically, during the so-called end time, the institution which is by nature conservative and traditional -- that is, religion -- began to dream hopefully and prophetically of moving forward into an unimaginable future. 

True, many religious people would prefer a return to the monarchical papacy with its triple crown. Everybody always knows what that pope will do and say. They call themselves sedevacantist

But God in his mercy has given his Church a new generation of popes who teach us confidence as we look to the future. Pope John Paul II urged us to set out for the deep! And Pope Francis reminds us that God wants mercy, not sacrifice. 

We should still pray to Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel to guide us during these confusing times, but we can do so with great confidence. Our God is with us, and where we're standing -- this world between worlds -- is holy ground. 

Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

I know well that it is so;
but how can a man be justified before God?
Should one wish to contend with him,
he could not answer him once in a thousand times.
God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
who has withstood him and remained unscathed?

In a vision the Prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on his throne in the temple, high above the priests and their clouds of incense, while seraphic angels cried, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts!” That vision informed the rest of his writing, and the writings of the two other “Isaiahs” who added to the book. The vision inspired the liturgies of the Christian church, especially with our “song of the angels” in the Eucharistic prayer. It had a deep impact on the imagination of Saint Francis, the “seraphic saint,” who saw in a vision the Crucified Lord with the wings of a seraphic angel.

Isaiah saw God as magnificent, powerful, benevolent, beautiful and altogether adorable. He is worthy of all praise. As Saint Francis said, “You are holy, God, and all your deeds are wonderful.”  

The Wise Man Job has a similar experience of God, though perhaps less colorful. It is a moralistic vision; God’s goodness is beyond question despite his overwhelming power. That is not how we ordinarily experience power in our corrupt world. Although the powerful make claims of generosity, innocence and goodness, clouds of suspicion follow them. There is no one so rich, benevolent or wise as to satisfy the demands of poverty. The needy always feel they’re being cheated of their rights.

Tempered by physical pain and crippling disappointment, Job’s vision is painted in shades of grey. "Why do the innocent suffer?" he demands. "Is this fair?"

Few would claim to be satisfied by the resolution in the closing chapters of the Book of Job. According to the story, God appeared to Job and demanded, “Who are you to question me?” That answer had already been proposed by the sages who visited Job and by the loudmouthed Elihu.

There are no words to answer Job except the Word who became flesh; the word who was as meek and silent as a sacrificial lamb, even when he was led to slaughter. 

This question of theophany appears in many forms in hospital ministry; it probably appears as often in schools, jails and parishes. Some people find it a plausible excuse for leaving the faith. But there is little satisfaction in that answer either. That option only ignores the conundrum of human existence, “Why are we here?”

The other day I raised a similar question among the Veterans searching for sobriety. I pointed out that we human beings are never satisfied; we always want more. More pleasure, more freedom, more security, more love. One fellow got up and walked out. I can’t blame him; I’ve thought of doing the same.

Perhaps Job and Isaiah were satisfied because they saw what Francis saw in Jesus’ crucifixion, the astonishing beauty of God. If it only stuns the mind into silence, it fulfills everything in the heart.

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

Lectionary: 456

When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled,
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.

Last Friday we heard the song of the Wise Man Qoheleth which might be called “The Appointed Time.” Pete Seeger put it to music in the late 1950’s and when the Byrds recorded it, Turn,Turn,Turn became an international hit. The thought, both optimistic and fatalistic, seems to appeal to many spiritualities.

The wise person is the one who knows the time and can act gracefully; the fool does not know the time and is always out of sync. He wears heavy clothes to the beach in July, and goes jogging in a t-shirt in January. She wears rags to a wedding and evening gowns to a hay ride.

Jesus of Nazareth -- Wisdom Incarnate and thus a wise man like Qoheleth -- always knew the time. So “when the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”

Saint Paul called this “a mysterious, a hidden wisdom.”

Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

The Christian strives to know the time. Our liturgical seasons teach us that awareness as we learn confident hope during Advent, joyous satisfaction during Christmas, grief and remorse for our sins during Lent, and overwhelming, grateful relief at Easter. This Ordinary season with its many saints’ days orient us in this time between Pentecost and the Parousia. We have heard the good news; we know it’s not yet fulfilled. Knowing the time we act accordingly.

Knowing this is the time when our expectations are not yet fulfilled, we can live with the dissatisfactions of hunger, pain, longing, grief and so forth. It’s okay to feel these things. I can say, “There is nothing wrong with me or my loved ones that I feel this way. Nor should my family, job, government or world be totally satisfactory; the time of fulfillment is not yet!”

Without that sense of time, I may feel great dissatisfaction with the way things are. I may use chemicals to satisfy my longing for pleasure; I might threaten or harm people in my quest for justification or vindication; I may wander from Kentucky to Katmandu looking for the Kingdom of God in this world. And, despite all these adventures, I will know only disappointment.

Knowing the time I can wait with a better sense of what I should do in the meantime. Especially in imitation of Christ the Christian is open to the impulses of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit can direct us to say and do the right thing at the right time even when we don’t understand what is going on around us.

How many times have you been told, “Thank you! What you said (or did) was precisely what I needed?” That was the Holy Spirit revealing in us a “a mysterious, a hidden wisdom.”  

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 455

Hear, LORD, my plea for justice;
pay heed to my cry;
Listen to my prayer
from lips without guile.
From you let my vindication come;
your eyes see what is right.

The Book of Job and today's selection from the Gospel of Saint Luke concern disputes that arise among people and with their God. The litigant Job will appeal to a court of law against his adversary, knowing full well that his adversary and the judge are the Same God. Jesus overhears a dispute among this disciples about "which of them was the greatest," and he settles the argument with an unforgettable show and tell, "he took a child and placed it by his side and said to them...."

Saint Paul, hearing about factions in the Christian church of Corinth remarked, 
... I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it; there have to be factions among you in order that (also) those who are approved among you may become known.
We would hardly be human if we didn't have our differences. Two eye-witnesses looking at the same thing see different things and tell different stories. One of the strongest arguments for the authenticity of the four gospels is their amazing -- almost unearthly -- agreement! Although each author has his own distinctive style and emphasis, they agree enthusiastically on the person and mission of Jesus. He is the Son of God; as Messiah, he suffered and died and was raised up for our salvation. 

If we realize that we must and do have our differences we are left with the invitation to discover, explore and work out our differences; and to seek resolution. To say they are irresolvable is to shortchange the power and wisdom of God. If we cannot see a resolution today that doesn't mean it will not appear tomorrow, or next year, or someday. 

Differences should never be an excuse for schism. After centuries of misunderstanding, suspicion and feuding the one church, in 1054, split into eastern and western factions. Nothing good came of it. In Rome and its dioceses the Mass became the priest's muttered recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer while the congregation found something else to do. In the east, the priests retreated behind an iconostasis to reappear when they had prepared the meal for the faithful. In both east and west the one prayer of the church was celebrated in a language few understood. Out of that muddle the Protestant Reformation, attempting to re-engage the faithful, split again and went further off course. 

Pope John XXIII astonished the world when he invited East and West and Protestants to return to the table and discuss our differences. Inevitably, many refused the invitation and, since the Second Vatican Council, some Catholics have walked away from Communion. Bishops and priests "take their balls and go home!" taking masses of the laity with them into ever-increasing distance from the one Body of the Lord. 

In today's selection from the Gospel according to Saint Luke, Jesus urges his quarrelsome disciples, “Do not prevent [a stranger from casting out demons in my name], for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Find agreement, find mutual respect and reverence, recognize sincerity and authentic experience, discover the limits of your own knowledge and wisdom, admit you do not know and can hardly imagine how God might resolve these disputes; then stand back and watch the Reconciling Mercy of God in action. 

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image of Father Abraham and

Lectionary: 138

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Though our Lord Jesus Christ was rich, he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Alleluia, alleluia.

Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus surpasses every promise of glory to the faithful poor and every threat of doom to the careless wealthy that any preacher might devise.

Here is the traditional image of Hell as a burning underworld of torment; and it’s hard to argue that the sufferer has not deserved his punishment. Even his witless plea that Lazarus should approach this “place of torment” and suffer the unbearable heat demonstrates his mindless arrogance. When that plea fails he insinuates that no one warned him what might happen, and even that someone should have risen from the dead to warn him. But, as the reader knows so well, a man has been raised from the dead and his warnings too were ignored.

Nor is Christianity a lone voice in the wilderness; most religious traditions warn against reliance on riches.
  • The fool is his own enemy. Seeking wealth, he destroys himself. Seek rather the other shore. (Buddhist)
  • The Prophet pointed out with his hand towards his right, his left and his back (while illustrating it). He proceeded with his walk and said, “The rich are in fact the poor (little rewarded) on the Day of Resurrection except those who spend their wealth like this, and like this, and like this, to their right, left and back, but such people are few in number.”  (Islam)
  • If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people he gives it to. (Jewish)
  • Even with vast sums of wealth, the mind is not satisfied. Gazing upon countless beauties, the man is not satisfied. He is so involved with his wife and sons - he believes that they belong to him. That wealth shall pass away, and those relatives shall be reduced to ashes. (Sikh)

The pursuit of wealth is a singularly bad investment of one’s time, energy and talent. It can lead only to segregation, ignorance, confusion and deepening distress. Isolated by security, insulated from want, separated from the fellowship of fellow pilgrims in this Valley of Darkness, without their friendly guidance and helpful criticism, the rich can expect only to stumble and fall. They invite catastrophe and pathetically beg for sympathy when it falls on them.

To live in the United States at any time since the Second World War is to suffer a particular danger. The only nation to come out of the war wealthier and more powerful, our policies have pursued greater security, more military power, and more extravagance even as we entertained the fiction that every nation and every human being should enjoy the same “freedoms.” From within this gilded cage it is hard to persuade our children that their so-called freedoms are, in fact, severe restrictions.
The Christian must follow the path of Jesus into poverty and communion. 
Though he was in the form of God Jesus did not consider Equality with God something to be grasped. 

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 454

But they did not understand this saying;
its meaning was hidden from them
so that they should not understand it,
and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

In today's gospel, Jesus has been telling his disciples, "The Son of Man will be handed over." and they cannot understand it.

Some intellectuals and many pseudo-intellectuals of the ancient world belonged to "mystery religions." Because they were secretive to start with, and later suppressed by the Christianized empire, we know little about their rituals and beliefs. Members were invited to join and there were probably certain social, political and economic incentives to join; much as today's Masons, BPOE, and Woodmen of the World offer benefits to prospective members. 

Entering through arcane rituals they were told certain secrets of a religious nature. These mysteries probably had as much to do with real life and everyday experience as some New Age notions do today, but knowing them gave one a sense of superiority. 

Saint Paul would use the word mystery to talk about the cross. There is something inexplicable here; it makes sense only to initiates. 

The gospels recall the dumbfounded confusion of the disciples when Jesus told them what would happen at the end of their journey. As they approached the Holy City, it should not have taken a weatherman to tell which way the wind was blowing, but the disciples apparently hoped against hope that the inevitable wouldn't really happen. 

To this day, believers and non-believers alike try to avoid the truth of the crucifixion. We would rather think that good will be rewarded and wickedness will be punished. That sounds like a rational system and life sometimes works out like that. We all know of criminals who went to jail and generous persons who were honored with banquets. Didn't the Cowardly Lion receive a medal for his courage? 

Can there be any reasonable explanation for innocents who suffer and the guiltless who are punished? 
But Christians cling to the cross as our greatest treasure. We keep our eyes fixed on this mystery like a light shining in a dark place. If the thinking mind cannot interpret it the faith-filled heart embraces it. We are drawn to the cross as iron to a magnet. 

In the beginning the cross teaches us simple things. We learn "To have a friend you have to be a friend."; "It's not about me."; and "There's no I in team." We learn, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." and "Take the lowest place." 

Later, the cross will teach us more mysterious lessons: "If you think you can do well by doing good, be careful. Be very careful!" and "Make friends in this world with dishonest money." 

Finally, the cross will lead some of the elect into the black hole of martyrdom, an apparently senseless sacrifice with no obvious reward. The Church celebrates these mysteries, saying, "The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church." But to the rational mind it is nonsense. 

The Holy Spirit will never permit the Church to lose the cross. Another word for mystery is sacrament; with these rituals we teach each generation to "follow him", and "Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus." The faithful are identified by their fascination with the cross. 

Memorial of Saint ("Padre Pio") Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

Lectionary: 453

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every thing under the heavens.
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant....

In his first chapter of Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth complains about the endless cycles of nature and the plight of the human creature who is both subject to these cycles and critically aware of them. 

With his wonderful poem about appointed times, he presents the cycles of the spirit. If we prefer to make a platonic distinction between matter and spirit, between blind nature and deliberate intelligence, Qoheleth points to the inevitable cycles that bring war and peace, prosperity and poverty, affection and contempt, joy and grief. The Hebrew poet cannot draw a sharp distinction between flesh and spirit; we are incarnate spirits subject to cycles of the flesh and of the spirit. 

Those who let their preferences control their attitudes and behaviors are fools; or, at least, they risk condemnation as fools. Everyone recalls British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's happy announcement, "Peace in our time!" following the Munich Agreement. Less than a year later, Hitler's armies invaded Poland and Europe was thrown into a second world war. He declared peace in a time of war; and his name will always be associated with that catastrophic delusion. 

I often hear people say, "I oppose war!" Well, yeah! Who would love the violence, waste and horror of war? 

But have you examined the roots of war? Have you asked how do masses of people allow themselves to be drawn by the cycles ineluctably and irresistibly into the eddy of conflict? Will your unresolved quarrel with your neighbor contribute to the momentum of next year's or next century's mortal conflict? Will your attitude about certain races, religions or sexual preferences, inherited by your children and grandchildren, create internment camps twenty or thirty years from now? Does your "hobby" of shopping contribute to the waste which generates poverty and violence? 

Did you, during a time of peace, stupidly wage war? 

Only the Holy Spirit knows the time. Human beings, caught as we are in the cycles of nature, enslaved by our fears and desires, cannot see above the fray of daily challenges. We do not know what is really happening around us. We must pray daily for that willing, compliant attitude that is compelled by the Holy Spirit who knows what to do and when to do it. 

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 452

One generation passes and another comes,
but the world forever stays.
The sun rises and the sun goes down;
then it presses on to the place where it rises.
Blowing now toward the south, then toward the north,
the wind turns again and again, resuming its rounds.
All rivers go to the sea,
yet never does the sea become full.
To the place where they go,
the rivers keep on going.

Because I am somewhat melancholic, I've always enjoyed the Book of Ecclesiastes and its author, Qoheleth. He provides an antidote to the roseate cheerleaders who see life as gloriously happy and invariably beautiful. The Professor and I prefer the darker hues of life. We invariably notice the scuro in chiaroscuro. 

In this first chapter of Ecclesiasticus the author considers the endless cycles of the world around us: day and night; drought and flood, ebb and flow; summer, fall, winter, spring. Nature begins with the round Earth circling the spherical Sun, tilted at such an angle as to produce in its temperate zones the seasons and in its polar zones, long days and nights. All rivers go to the sea, yet never does the sea become full.

Because of the cyclic seasons, life appears and inevitably must reflect the cycles. Deciduous trees sprout leaves in the spring and drop them in the autumn. Flowers blossom to morph into seed-bearing fruit; bugs lay eggs to produce larva and more bugs; frogs beget tadpoles.  The lungs breathe in and out; the heart pumps systolic and diastolic; we ingest food and excrete waste. The cycles are as invariable as the rivers rushing to the sea, and yet never does the sea become full. 

Most of these living creatures -- the animals and plants and fungi -- pay close attention to the seasons but never notice them. They cannot ask, "Why?" Only the human creature can notice these things and ask, "What if...?" 

Oddly, the human creature can work in the day and the night. An omnivore, it can eat almost anything organic. It likes to reproduce at any time of year, without regard to the seasons. The human creature has far more choice than any other animal or plant, and bewildering sets of choices. 

Aware of time past, present and future and that the seasons are not always alike, the human realizes choice makes a difference. We cannot change the past but in every present moment we make the future. That power is a blessing and a curse; it is opportunity and a grave responsibility. 

Qoheleth felt the burden and the isolation of that freedom. The winds that ceaselessly blow in every direction don't mind what he decides; they neither support nor resist his choice. The sun shines on his wicked acts as well as his virtuous; it doesn't care what he does. But, neither caring nor opposing, they might nonetheless wash away his every effort. Even the Egyptian pyramids must be swallowed up by the surrounding desert. The universe simply ignores us. 

Only the Word of God endures forever. That is our faith. If anything in this old, endlessly changing world which seems to go nowhere persists into eternity, it will do so by clinging to the Word of God. That is why we call it new.

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

In his confrontation with the Pharisees Jesus quoted the Prophet Hosea, who was never shy of confrontation; and we should consider the setting in which Saint Matthew has placed this ancient formula.

First we notice it’s in the house of Saint Matthew where Jesus and his disciples have repaired for dinner. In the gospels a meal always reminds us of heaven. If we’re able to sit down at table and eat without quarreling or contention we’re halfway there!

The celebration of a meal begins with the carnal fact that the human being needs to eat; it’s an animal activity. But the meal is also a human activity as we share food equally among us without discrimination or preference, and as we enjoy one another’s company. The momentum from animal feeding to human sharing directs us toward heavenly delight. In the comfort and ease of shared gustatory pleasure and enlightening conversation we sense the company of the saints.

Secondly, we notice the pleasant banquet is invaded by quarrelsome Pharisees. They see the religious company of Jesus and his disciples sitting down with certain unsavory characters and they don’t like the leveling effects of the meal. The sacred and profane should never mix; the latter will render the former unclean.

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” sounds like a thunderclap in this stormy setting. This is not distant thunder; this one is right overhead, the kind where we see the flash and hear the boom instantaneously. It shakes the house and trembles the bones.

Pope Francis’ call for mercy has sounded like a thunderclap throughout the Church and into the secular world of economics, politics and war. He would put mercy ahead of the rules and regulations and SOPs that govern our behavior like so many overbearing Pharisees. The first question in any difficult situation is, “What would Mercy do?”

I should ask myself not, “What’s the least I can do?” but, “What should I do?”

The rule of law is a good thing; it’s far better than chaos. But law is a human creation; it expresses the preferences and desires of those who can make and enforce the law. It is not necessarily just, fair or reasonable. A democratic society flatters itself by thinking, “We have formulated these laws to suit the needs of all the people.” But the instrument is never perfect and that flattery cannot hear the cries of those who suffer its unfairness.

Jesus’ demand must always be a goad and gadfly, urging us to examine and reexamine our beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Good enough is not good enough.

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Lectionary: 450

Like a stream is the king’s heart in the hand of the LORD; wherever it pleases him, he directs it.

Today's gospel invites us again to ponder the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus describes her and his family as "those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

The first proverb in today's reading speaks of Mary's manner before the Lord. In a broad, flat land rivers meander haphazardly. Continually moving silt they build it up in one place and then wash around it to another place. They form "oxbows" of looping curves that periodically jump their banks. 

Mark Twain, remarking on the oxbows of the Mississippi River, joked that, if it kept shortening its course by jumping its banks, the trip from Saint Paul to New Orleans might soon be no more than fifty miles. A map of the Mississippi/Louisiana border, or a air flight over the region reveals innumerable bends and oxbow lakes. 

The Proverbialist imagined the good king's heart as pliant in God's hand, like the meandering river. The Hebrew author could not imagine anything happening that God did not intend. He had no truck with fate, luck or karma. If it happened, God intended it, even the wanderings of a river that ebbs and floods from time to time. 

We see that obedient, pliant spirit in Mary. We meet her first as she responds readily to the Angel Gabriel's message. "I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me as you have said!" At Gabriel's suggestion she hurries up to Jerusalem to visit her relative Elizabeth and be with her to witness the birth of John the Baptist. Prompted by a generous spirit she immediately speaks to Jesus during the wedding feast of Cana, "They have no wine!" She must follow the spirit that leads her to Calvary on that terrible day of Jesus' death. Finally, she will pray with the disciples as they wait for the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. 

Always Mary's heart is directed by the Lord. 

Throughout the warmer months there is a colony of ducks here at Mount Saint Francis on our lake. I like to watch a pair of drake and hen fly together. Neither seems to be leading the way. With their wide-set eyes they watch one another; moving together without hesitation or argument they select a spot to land and alight gracefully. 

That's why we can pray to Mary. Whatever she wants is what the Lord wants; and she wants only what the Lord wants. They obey one another in that meek spirit typical of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If the initiative comes from the Father, you would not know it by the ready obedience of Jesus' first disciple; her obedience is immediate. We pray to receive a measure of her spirit in our daily activities. 

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 449

Plot no evil against your neighbor,
against one who lives at peace with you.
Quarrel not with a man without cause,
with one who has done you no harm.

Jerusalem was never a major world capital but it had political, economic and military connections and the world’s literature flowed through its schools. Scholars could sort through it all and choose the best. The divine authors of The Book of Proverbs gathered sayings from Egypt, Greece and Mesopotamia, selected those that fit Jewish beliefs and used them to teach their students the traditions and wisdom of our faith.

Many passages in the Book of Proverbs address children:

  • Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching…
  • My son, should sinners entice you, do not go if they say, “Come along with us…
  • Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight…
  • My children, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth.

In many ways the biblical proverbs seem obvious, especially to those born, raised and educated in our faith. Do good. Avoid evil. Plot no evil against your neighbor. Quarrel not with a man without cause: what could be more obvious?

And yet the world teems with other sayings that find no place in Proverbs. I think of sayings like, “Revenge is a dish best served cold;” “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven;” and ”"An armed society is a polite society.” Some children are taught those attitudes and beliefs. As adults they know no other way of thinking.

Like everything else in the Bible, Proverbs is written amid controversy and the struggle is for the future; that is, for the minds and hearts of children. It's less concerned about national debt, foreign wars or infrastructure than about the quality of people who live in that future age.

The prophetic religion takes its stand in a firestorm of differing opinions about the good life. Is it prosperity, security, popularity, good health, or large family? Wisdom promises all these blessings but the wise know they don’t add up to the good life.

Without the fear of the Lord there is no good life. “Come children, hear me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Those who fear the Lord are truly free because they fear no one else. 

Those who belong to the Holy Spirit ponder our Proverbs; they choose their attitudes and make their decisions under God’s guidance.

Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

There is an assumption in the Gospel of Saint Luke that appears in today’s reading: wealth is basically dishonest. There is something essentially corrupt about being wealthy, whether one has become wealthy by inheritance, hard work or good luck. Although one’s intentions may be good it’s very hard and perhaps impossible to avoid its corruption. Money is sometimes described as fluid; the hand dipped in money comes out wet.

Not many saints were born to wealth; fewer died with it. Saint Francis and his disciples, many of them born to comfortable middle class, simply walked away from it. Bernard of Quintavalle, a fellow Assisian of Saint Francis, threw his fabulous home open to everyone in town. Within two hours it was stripped by the mob that converged on it. With nothing more than the shirt on his back, Bernard followed Francis into destitution. Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was a queen; widowed at a young age, she gave everything away and died in poverty. To this day, many religious men and women have left their wealthy families to share the life of the poor.

The fact is, not many people in the history of the world have been wealthy; the rich are a small minority; most people always struggle to make ends meet. Unfortunately we have never figured out a system for distributing goods according to need; in fact we’ve never taken much interest in the project. The Communists, perhaps, made a stab at it but failed so miserably it’s hardly worth mentioning.

The Bible tells a few stories of redistribution according to need. There is the legend of the Hebrews in the desert who collected manna off the ground and shared it equally among them. Conveniently, anything stored overnight rotted, except on Friday night. That daily wonder made it easier to keep the rule.

Saint Luke, in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, said the earliest Christians shared everything in common.

All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.

That halcyon moment did not last very long. Cheating appears in the fifth chapter and ethnic discrimination in the sixth. Throughout the history of the church religious communities and utopian societies have struggled to imitate the experience of that early church; the key word is struggled.

In today’s gospel Jesus advises his disciples not to disavow ownership but to “make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth.” That flies in the face of the urge to amass and hoard. Most people assume that private wealth provides for one’s security in an undependable society with an unreliable economy. You might as well set sail for Europe in a leaky bathtub. He suggest you invest your money wisely in the welfare of others. A community of shared poverty is far more secure than an atomised society of 1% rich and 99% poor. 

His statement also acknowledges the inevitability of wealth in a corrupt world. Denying that we have any advantage over others is absolutely the worst approach. We must realize the danger to our immortal souls and ponder deeply the real purpose of our material advantage over others.

Franciscan Feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis

Reading for this Special Franciscan Feast

From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

Two years before he died, several days after the Feast of the Holy Cross, while praying in solitude Francis had an astonishing vision of the Crucified Lord. 

Since the beginning of his new life he had always been especially drawn to the crucifix of Jesus. You might say, "Well, yes, who can not be fascinated by the cross?" but in fact your familiarity with the cross and crucifix owes much to Saint Francis. 

Before his conversion Jesus was more often represented as the King of Glory, enjoying and administrating imperial authority over all the earth. He was more often represented on a throne with a crown of gold and silver. 

Francis earliest experience of the cross was Jesus' speaking to him from the San Damiano cross, which displays a man clad in the High Priest Aaron's ceremonial drawers. He is not in agony but standing comfortable with his arm outstretched in welcome and embrace. His hands and feet are bleeding but the angels are catching the blood in chalices for distribution to the faithful. 

Francis' vocation, then, was not only riveted by the words he heard, "Rebuild my house, which you can see has fallen into ruin." He was also moved by the image of Christ Crucified. In fact, when he designed a habit for the friars he said it should be shaped like a cross, so that we put on Christ's cross whenever we don the habit. 

Throughout his life he continued to meditate in an entirely new, revolutionary way on the suffering of Christ, rather than on his comfort. 

"Look," he said, "at the humility of God!" 

With his penances -- fasting, midnight vigils, exposure to the elements (heat, cold, wet, bugs, etc.) and other mortifications -- Francis wanted to put on Christ. He would own nothing more than what Jesus had owned, which was nothing. Francis was continually astonished that the Son of God renounced the security, comfort and luxury of heaven to live and die in poverty. Francis had tasted enough wealth growing up in a rich family to know both how seductive wealth is, and how false. 

When we consider the life of Francis and his fascination with the cross, it comes as less of a surprise that he was marked with the wounds of the cross -- nail marks in his hands and feet and a gaping wound in his side. These bleeding, painful wounds appeared on him after he had seen the Crucified Lord in a vision. 

It came about like this: as he knelt in prayer under the open sky he saw something coming toward him from the heavens. Fascinated he watched as it fluttered birdlike over him. It had six wings like those he had scene in paintings of the Seraphic Angels. But in the middle of the vision he saw the living Christ crucified. It was both terrible and beautiful. The pain of the Crucified was unbearable; but the love he showed in his eyes for Francis was overpowering. 

We don't know how long the vision lasted but only when it disappeared did Francis fall out of his trance. Days later, the wounds appeared. He was signed with the stigmata. 

When Saint Paul boasted of his own wounds he was probably referring to the whip marks on his back and other scars he'd picked up along the way. He could say in all sincerity, "I bear the marks of Jesus on my body." 

A thousand years later, recalling Jesus' wounds and Saint Paul's words, the first disciples of Francis and the deeply troubled Church understood the stigmata although it was without precedent. The Church was in desperate need of new direction and new inspiration. It could not come from an imperial pope, cardinal or bishop. It had to come from a man who wanted nothing more than to live and suffer like Jesus.