Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle

Lectionary: 684

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

What one says with the mouth does make a difference. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous challenge one another to "Walk the walk; don't just talk the talk!" 

But the talk does make a difference. Once a man or woman has said, "My name is ___ and I am an alcoholic." it can never be taken back. Those words are out there in the minds and hearts of other people. They have changed everything; the universe has absorbed those words and been reconfigured by them.  

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 
Of course, words can be used to testify against the speaker. "He declared in the meeting he was alcoholic but he still frequented the tavern." or "She confessed that Jesus is Lord but she continued to swear like a sailor, drive like a maniac, shop like a pagan and lie through her teeth." 

Or they might be recalled in admiration, "She not only talked the talk, she walked the walk." "He professed his faith, renounced his former ways and found a useful place in our church." 

Without the practice the words are not meaningless; they stand like a curse in testimony against us. 

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter and one of Jesus' first disciples. Hearing the Lord's invitation, he immediately declared his faith in the Lord. 

In Saint John's Gospel he is one of two disciples who heard the Baptist declare, "Behold the Lamb of God!" He then went and told his brother Peter, "We have found the Messiah!" 

That is why we celebrate him on this last day of November, as we enter the Advent season. Andrew has appeared in the very beginning of Jesus' ministry and models our response. We hear, we follow and we invite others to come with us. 

It's fascinating that Andrew said nothing when he heard Jesus greet his brother Simon, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas." If Peter would be Jesus' right hand man and leader of the disciples, Andrew -- despite his seniority in the group -- would not object. He was happy just to be there. 

We too are grateful to have heard the call of Advent, to declare our faith in Jesus, and to take our appointed place in the fellowship of Christmas. 

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent

Lectionary: 176

“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

Saint Therese of the Child Jesus taught the world about "the little way." It would be the way she lived, quietly, in an isolated, cloistered monastery, out of sight, and unimaginable to the greater world around her.

When Jesus' disciples returned from their missionary adventure, astonished at their success, he praised God for the hidden things that were being revealed to the childlike.

These were mysteries beyond the imagination of the powerful, influential or elite of this world. His truths did not require sophisticated mind-games or violent efforts to believe the incredible. They did not need admen to promote them, or an army to persuade others to see them. In fact they were comprehended better by those who had little investment -- financial, social or educational -- in this world's thinking.

The mystery we should apprehend at Christmas will seem too subtle to many people. It will be like tea to coffee drinkers or lemonade to alcoholics. When we offer our explanations they just don't cut it.

When we offer our lives, they do. When they see our assurance in difficult times, our generosity in hard times, our courage in perilous times then they might comprehend this perfectly ordinary, little way Jesus has shown to the childlike.

Monday of the First Week in Advent

Lectionary: 175

“Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. 
I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.”

The question we might ask of every reading during the Christmas and Easter seasons is, "Why do we hear this particular reading?"

The story of the centurion and Jesus is not taken from the beginning of Saint Matthew's Gospel. It does not concern the birth of Jesus. So why do we hear it today, as we settle into Advent? 

My friend Chaplain Bishop at the VA "owns" this story as he comprehends like few others the centurion's reluctance to have Jesus enter under his roof. A man of terrible violence, he would not feel worthy at the approach of Jesus, despite his apparently desperate need. Jesus' entering the centurion's house might be too much for the commander who must maintain a stern countenance before his subordinates. 

So perhaps we should first notice the awed deference at the Coming of the Lord. The fierce soldier is all but paralyzed by his sense of unworthiness and yet he cannot stop himself from asking for help. 

His asking is even more astonishing when we consider the contempt the typical Roman soldier would feel toward the "locals." They are mostly "hostiles," but without the training and discipline of the most powerful army on Earth. To Roman eyes the Jewish men of Capernaum might be pathetic if they weren't so suspicious. 

But this centurion has set aside his pride and has risked at least some of his authority to approach Jesus. 

The Lord, fully aware of the gentile's predicament, is deeply impressed, "...in no one in Israel have I found such faith." He says that of no one else in the New Testament. 

As we enter the season, this story invites each of us to consider our readiness to have Jesus "enter under my roof." Do I feel unworthy at the approach of Christmas. Do I take for granted that the Lord walks right into my heart as if he is welcome? 

But the Lord does not go where he is not welcome; he "stands at the door and knocks." Is he, in fact, welcome to come in and rearrange my attitudes, habits and relationships?
We do well to begin Advent with the gentile centurion's words, "Lord, I am not worthy." Silenced by the approach of God, we might begin to appreciate "the real meaning of Christmas." 

First Sunday of Advent

Lectionary: 1

In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it;
many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways,
and we may walk in his paths.”

With Advent Christians might ask one another, "Do we teach the world how to celebrate Christmas, or do we ask the world how we should celebrate this feast?" 

Christmas did not appear in Christianity until the fourth century. It was the Roman church's attempt to baptize a pagan festival. The rest of the Church, both east and west, clung to January 6, known as "Epiphany," as the day to celebrate the Incarnation. On that occasion they read all of the Nativity narratives from Matthew and Luke, not just the truncated story of the magi. 

After seventeen centuries of attempting to baptize this winter festival, I frankly think we have failed. December 25 is still a pagan holiday, and many Christians fall in line behind it. 

In today's first reading, the Prophet Isaiah foresees the day when the world will come to Jerusalem seeking instruction "in his ways" that "we may walk in his paths." He doesn't suppose that Jerusalem has much to learn from the nations about the worship of God, much less justice or mercy. 

This year we can enjoy the longest possible Advent; Christmas falls on Sunday this year. We will hear all twenty-eight Advent readings! The Christmas season, however, will be short, with Epiphany falling on January 8 and the Baptism of the Lord on Monday, January 9. If you want to enjoy Christmas this year, you start today. 

My particular joy comes from hearing the scriptural readings of the season. They are rich with anticipated joy, which is the best kind. I have often found it better not to open birthday or Christmas presents before the day, since they're usually disappointing. The longer I can wonder what might be in them, the better. 

The scripture readings of this season, from the First Sunday of Advent to the Baptism of the Lord, teach us to feel the longing, to nourish, protect and sustain it. This Hope must be the driving force of our lives. It should not flare out the moment we open our Christmas packages. 

Expectations of the Messiah drive us into the workplace, school room, Internet, voting booth and political arena to represent God's justice and mercy. Even the shopping mall should hear our Gospel. In all those places we honor the people we encounter as images of God -- regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity or religion; regardless of their wealth, education or capability. 

Without our Hope the world is doomed to endless, meaningless cycles of rise and fall, expansion and collapse. It's technical gimcrackery leads nowhere, not one step closer to justice; it's peacekeeping only forestalls war. But...
hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Only the Lord can show the world where He is leading, and we are his prophets. We know the path not because we have scouted ahead but because we walk in it each day. If we are true to our calling the wise of this world will finally notice, they will say,
“Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 508

An angel showed me the river of life-giving water,
sparkling like crystal, flowing from the Throne of God and of the Lamb
down the middle of the street....

The "street," in case you missed it, is in the New and Heavenly Jerusalem which has come down from heaven, beautiful as a bride adorned to meet her husband. 

The life-giving water, coming from the Throne might be the Holy Spirit. And there you have another image of The Holy Trinity, a mystery infinitely more beautiful than that three-word expression. 

But, since the Holy Spirit of the Scriptures seems to love irony, perhaps we should notice that most streams flowing through the streets of all ancient cities and many impoverished cities of today are anything but healthy. They would be sewers carrying the offal and filth of human beings and their animals. You have probably seen images of them in new clips, along with sad stories of suffocating poverty. During a downpour they might present some relief from the overbearing stench of communal life, but during the dry season people would rather not think about them. 

Like the breath of the Risen Lord which is incredibly beautiful although it comes from a man who has been dead for 48 hours, this astonishing sewer gives life and healing. It is that same stream which flowed from his body when the soldier pierced his chest with a lance. It is Baptismal Water, our refreshment and delight, gathering everyone who drinks of it to the Heart of God. 

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 507

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Romantics think of history and human life as organic. Hearing of God's promise, of a new heaven and a new earth, they suppose these mysteries must appear as surely as the sun rises in the morning, as surely as Spring follows Winter which follows Autumn. 

And the Church often uses these natural signs to describe the fulfillment of God's word. I love Isaiah's reassuring poem:
...just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
But we trust in God's promises not because we have seen the natural cycles of our circling planet but because we believe in God. 

The Communists were romantics; they believed that "history" must inevitably bring down the mighty and raise up the lowly, that the proletariat would have an innate wisdom and integrity which were foreign to the wealthy and powerful. They believed -- pathetically as it turns out -- in Nature rather than God. 

That 19th century idealism finally collapsed at the end of the 20th century though it survives in various liberal movements. Many people still believe democracy and capitalism will inevitably, organically create a just and peaceful world -- if only certain selfish people would get out of the way.  These romantic notions are sometimes called determinism, and they persist among many atheistic scientists who cannot find freedom in their test tubes. 

We believe in the promises of God because we believe God is faithful and true. In the darkest hour of our despair we saw him raise up Jesus and seat him at his own right hand in heaven! 

How God's other promises will be fulfilled we do not pretend to imagine. It seems they are as often accomplished by setbacks as by advances. No one really knows whether this unexpected development or that is a success or a failure; and I suspect God doesn't know the meaning of those words. Success and failure are theoretical criteria, not real, existing only in men's minds. They cannot be used to measure anything in God's mysterious plans. 

What we can expect of God is the unexpected; we can expect to find grace in disappointment and darkness in light. We can be sure that, no matter what happens, God is still in charge. 

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Thanksgiving Day
Lectionary: 943

He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, two words of Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians stand out for me: faithful and fellowship. Because God is faithful our fellowship abides; we remain as a church for one another throughout difficult times.
When Saint Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians the word Trinity had not appeared in Christian discourse. It would not be heard until two hundred years later.

But passages like this contributed enormously to its discovery. One can sense the emergence of the doctrine in the words, "by him you were called to fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Saint Paul knows that the Father of Jesus will keep you firm and irreproachable, for he is faithful. Jesus is the Son of God, a title he can deserve only if there is Father who begets him. Finally the Holy Spirit appears in the word Christ. It means anointed and Jesus cannot be our Savior unless he is anointed as the Christ by the Holy Spirit.

But Saint Paul is not discovering a dry doctrine; he is thrilled with the beauty of the Father's love for Jesus, and with the grace that keeps you firm to the end and irreproachable. He is amazed by the God who is faithful and by our fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saint Paul has known that fellowship intensely and intimately in the breaking of bread; that sacred ceremony we call the Mass. In this rite the Son and the Holy Spirit gather us to the Father. 

During the past half-century the Catholic Church has struggled valiantly to restore the Mass to its original splendor, and to invite everyone who attends to feel the real presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We celebrate the Eucharist -- a word that means thanksgiving -- in the presence of our Triune God.

Not by our human strength or good intentions has the Church maintained its unity amid so many ripping and tearing forces -- the so-called conservatives versus so-called liberals -- but by the will and the gracious mercy of God. Their struggle for power must stir God's laughter. 
The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord derides them. (Psalm 2:4)
If we could tear the Father from the Son and the Spirit, our Church would disband. Thank God, that cannot happen. And so we remain firm to the end and irreproachable.

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 505

The Song of the Lamb
“Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Songs need no explanation. As a child I sang "Ring around the rosie, pocket full of posies" without ever wondering what rosies or posies might be. More recently I got a kick out of All About that Bass though the words don't seem to relate to its suggestions; or perhaps I'm in the dark because no one has dared to explain it to a priest. As the Christmas season comes I wonder how many people will ask, "What are cloven skies and unfurled wings?" They won't ask; they'll just sing.

Songs stand on their own with neither explanation nor apology, inviting everyone to sing along. And so we hear "those who had won the victory over the beast" singing the Song of the Lamb; their joyousness invites us to join in the chorus.

The New Testament has many songs; Saints Luke, Paul and John of Patmos made a point of recording them. The Holy Spirit rushed across the Roman world with the impulse of the disciples, arousing wonder and delight. The old songs didn't fit the new way of life so creative song writers sprang into action.

This Song of the Lamb has inspired every generation of Christians to create new songs , in every place where the Church gathers. It inspired the
Te Deum, a Latin hymn familiar to many generations when Latin was the language of the Church; which in its turn inspired Holy God, beloved of English-speaking Catholics. A hymn, by definition, praises God in the manner of this song.

The end of the liturgical year is rich with hope even as the scriptures remind us of anxiety, ostracism and persecution. There's no law that says life should be easy for Christians, but how can we keep from singing?

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

So the angel swung his sickle over the earth and cut the earth’s vintage.
He threw it into the great wine press of God’s fury.

As a sixth-grader I used to walk the half-mile from school to home. One day I happened upon a vest pocket sized New Testament, probably the King James Version. That’s when I learned to read while walking; and I began, of course, at the end of the book, with “Revelation.”

The language and imagery are so compelling, even a sixth grader can read it. Whose imagination would not shudder with the imagery of an angel, sickle in hand, gathering the crops of wheat and grape? Who can misunderstand the threat of “the great wine press of God’s fury?”

It is nonetheless ironic that such a joyous pastoral image, the wine press, would signify God’s wrath. Saint John uses irony used with amazing effect, when he describes Jesus as clothed in purple, crowned with thorns, and hailed as king. Not only is he truly our king, he could appear as our Savior and Lord only by wearing a costume of suffering and mockery. We could not worship a Messiah decked out in gold, silver and ermine.

An overflowing wine press in autumn, I suppose, should be the site of great rejoicing. The farmer and his family must celebrate the bounty of their vineyard. We’re all familiar with joyous images of men and women dancing barefooted in the winepress as the juice of the grape flows into fresh wineskins.

But the juice is red like blood, at least in some vineyards, and the image may evoke other memories. Veterans are especially adept at noticing unnerving similarities between cooking smells and carnage, burning firewood and firebombed buildings, firecrackers and RPGs. 

The scriptures in general and Revelation in particular never venture far from images of violence. Not for them the pastoral scenes of half-dressed boys and girls dancing to the shepherd’s pipe. That innocence was lost in the second chapter of Genesis. Our imagination is harsher, remembering how we struggled to survive under the burden of Egyptian, Greek and Roman oppressors. Even our own rulers -- Rehoboam, Ahab, Herod -- are remembered for their violence rather than their just, merciful rule.

Our scriptures teach us to sing "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord; he has trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored."

We pray for the coming of that Day of the Lord when God's justice and mercy are established once and for all; and we will shout with Doctor Martin Luther King, "Thank God Almighty we are free at last."  

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

The Memorial of the Presentation of Mary provides us with another opportunity to thank God for our Blessed Mother; and Saint Luke’s gospel, an appropriate vignette. She too has “offered her whole livelihood” on the altar of Calvary.
I was not enthrall of Mel Gibson’s movie about Jesus but I appreciated his portrayal of Mary, and I was especially touched by the words addressed to her, “See, Mother, I make all things new!” It’s a reference, of course, to the Book of Revelation and it reminds us that only the faithful can see what happened on that dreadful day.
Luke has placed this story about the woman and her copper coins after his arrival and entry in Jerusalem, in anticipation of his Last Supper, arrest, trial and crucifixion. The Hour of Judgment is approaching and the wheat is being sifted out of the chaff.
But only Jesus can see what is happening. The powerful are making substantial donations to the temple to show off their great wealth, to impress their neighbors, as it was in the days of Noah:
As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage up to the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Similarly, as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building; on the day when Lot left Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from the sky to destroy them all. So it will be on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
So far as Jesus is concerned there is nothing spectacular about these ostentatious displays of wealth. They mean nothing and change nothing. Large amounts of money change hands but the transaction only maintains the status quo.
Meanwhile the poor like Mary, Joseph, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna – the Hebrew word was anawim – live out their earthly existence in grinding poverty, relying not on the mercy of the powerful but on the providence of God. They know their paltry donations to the Church cannot build magnificent edifices but they give anyway, to express their hope and confidence and gratitude to the Lord.
Like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet in preparation for his burial, this poor woman will survive the Day of Judgment. She will be remembered and honored eternally, long after our glorious edifices – from the pyramids to the Trump Tower – have collapsed into ruin.

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It is the custom after presidential elections for the lame duck president to issue pardons for certain convicted felons. Some, the president believes, have been convicted unfairly; others were given too harsh a sentence and they have suffered enough. Or, similar crimes are not punished as severely today as when this particular fellow was sentenced. The custom is a time-honored opportunity for the retiring president, now that he is beyond the reach of politics, to show mercy. Though some of the decisions may be controversial, most people view this as an opportunity to right the wrongs a cumbersome system has created.
In today’s gospel we hear the story of Jesus, whom we know as Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, showing mercy to a condemned man. Oddly, neither the convict nor his compassionate judge will escape the punishment their tormentors have placed on them; both will die of crucifixion. But Jesus promises to accompany his new friend into Paradise.
This end-of-the-year solemnity celebrates the Last Judgment, the authority of Jesus Christ to judge each of us and to finally set things right, to accomplish something we could never manage. Though we have occasionally ended wars and created peaceful cities and nations, our best efforts and greatest successes have been pathetic shadows of the justice we know should prevail. The wicked are rarely punished, the wounds of crime are rarely healed, the innocent are rarely vindicated and the repentant are rarely forgiven. Peace is only a balance of terror; prosperity is time to prepare for war.
We could not manage justice. Our political systems could not engineer it; more often they only prolonged and intensified injustice.
Today we celebrate the principles of mercy and justice by which Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe will set things straight. We long for that Day to come. Yesterday would not be too soon.
Christians can be eager for the Judgment Day because we readily own our sins and often go before the throne of judgment to find mercy. We make no claim of innocence except by the baptism of blood in which we were washed. We have waited seemingly forever for the appearance of the Judge. We have been appalled at human crime and horrified to realize how deeply each of us is enmeshed in the crime.
No one can claim innocence. No one can say, “I am opposed to war” because each of us has enjoyed its benefits. All too often we were ready to declare war at the slightest provocation, at the least threat to our security. Some have preferred to incarcerate hundreds of people without trial or inquest to the possibility that one of those persons might be a “terrorist.” Others let that happen without protest.
Before Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe we renounce our title of innocence and, like the thief on Calvary, beg the Lord to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 502

I, John, heard a voice from heaven speak to me: Here are my two witnesses:
These are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

The Book of Revelation has had an enormous effect on Catholic worship. Symbols from the book appear in our stained glass windows, our statuary and our rituals. We cannot imagine worship without the lamps (candles), the incense, the wheat and the wine. 

Perhaps that is why, in nearly every Catholic church or chapel I have ever visited, there are two witnesses on either side of the main altar. They are usually Mary and Joseph, but sometimes they are Mary and Francis of Assisi, or some other couple. Here at Mount Saint Francis both witnesses have placed one foot on an apparent evil: Mary treads upon a snake; Francis steps over a bag of coins. Their stepping over these objects is a prophetic statement about our values. We have no truck with evil; we are gravely suspicious of money. 

Since the day of its appearance Christians have pondered who these witnesses might be. Did Saint John have two particular martyrs in mind as he describes their death, resuscitation and ascension? Perhaps his first readers knew something that has been lost to history. 

I'll go with the NABRE interpretation, that they represent the disciples Jesus sent two by two. There is far greater power in the witness of companions than there is solo missionaries. Anyone can declare "God is love!" with great affect, but does this missionary truly act lovingly? 

I have known of at least one incredibly effective solo missionary in the recent history of my own province. He went off to a foreign country and drew people to himself, then came back to the US to raise funds for his projects. In the last half century he collected millions of dollars. But, as time wore on, problems emerged. He could not relinquish control; he began to lord it over his grateful subjects. When called to account by his superiors, he abruptly left the community. 

The original Christian church surely had the same problem with enthusiasts who couldn't abide companionship. The intimacy of travelling together, of hearing the same sermon time after time, of noticing certain discrepancies between what the companion says and what the companion does become too much to bear. You'll remember that even Saint Paul and Barnabas split after a while. They quarreled about retaining John Mark in their company but there may have been more issues than Saint Luke -- who often glossed over problems -- wanted to record. 

It's not easy to be Christian or Catholic -- which leads me to an old saying that I thought up recently: 
1) You cannot love Jesus without belonging to a church. (If you think you love Jesus but refuse the fellowship of a church you are loving an imaginary god.)
2) You cannot belong to a church -- you'll find it unbearable! -- if you do not love Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. 

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 501

So I went up to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll.
He said to me, “Take and swallow it.
It will turn your stomach sour,
but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.”
I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it.
In my mouth it was like sweet honey,
but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Then someone said to me, “You must prophesy again
about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”

The Prophet Ezekiel was also commanded to swallow a scroll which, he discovered, was sweet as honey in his mouth. (This chapter -- Ezekiel 3 -- is worth a read if you have the time.) Though he does not tell us how it felt in his stomach he was left, like the Seer of Patmos, with a "spirit angry and bitter." He had to take a Word of rebuke to his people in Babylon. 

The Word of God is sweet to one who loves God; like the Father, the Son of God who is the Word of God is "good, all good, supreme good," in the words of Saint Francis. 

But, in all honesty, we sometimes find it hard to bear. The curse of abortion which lies upon the United States and many nations is a burden hard to bear. As the priest of Bethel reported to Jeroboam when he complained about the Prophet Amos, "...the country cannot endure all his words." 

Since 1973 and Roe v Wade we have seen a deluge of pornography, a worsening drug plague, a severe corruption of our political system that begins with a corrupt electorate, the deterioration of our infrastructure, irreversible climate change and a catastrophic increase in suicide. And yet, no nation seems ready to stop aborting its children. 

What curse will come upon the world when we redefine marriage as an asexual temporary partnership? 

The Word of God left Ezekiel with an angry, bitter spirit; it upset Saint John's stomach. As the Spirit continues to send Christians to our respective nations with a word which is delightful to the elect and repulsive to the doomed, we can expect push back. We will find less welcome in all the familiar places and will have to find more welcome in prayer, both personal and communal. 

During these last weeks of the year, as we approach Advent and Christmas, recalling the birth of Jesus in poverty and his narrow escape from Herod, we will celebrate with great joy the mystery revealed to magi -- in the dead of night. 

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious

Lectionary: 500

Worthy are you to receive the scroll
and break open its seals,
for you were slain and with your Blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth.”

The question was raised, "“Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to examine it."

John, the Seer of Patmos and author of Revelation, agonized during that long moment of uncertainty. There was a long silence in heaven and on earth as all creation waited for a Savior to appear. This was worse than waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series or the presidential election to be resolved. Finally, one of the elders whispered to the prophet what no one else could imagine, "The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals.”

He goes on to tell us of that magnificent heavenly liturgy when all the saints hailed Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the World. 

Somewhere during the 19th century, the apocalyptic spirit came to America. It had been spawned by the anxiety which erupted into the Civil War, but as a religious movement it persisted, giving birth to the fundamentalist movement which organized at Niagara Falls and set out to insinuate itself into every Christian Church. Only the Catholic Church, because of its deep faith in its educated priesthood, escaped the plague. 

The preachers would have been surprised to discover, had they taken an interest in history, that the mendicant movement of the 13th century was even more evangelistic and all the more apocalyptic. But the Franciscans, Dominicans, Crosiers and other groups prepared for the Coming of Christ by stripping themselves of worldly goods. In imitation of Jesus, they practiced seraphic poverty. 

The princess Elizabeth of Hungary was caught up in that movement. Married very young to a fond, devout husband she had several children by him even as she consulted with Franciscan friars how they should govern their little corner of Europe. She began to give away enormous amounts of money to the poor. 

When he husband died young she and her children were turned out of their palace. Homeless like Jesus, she surrendered her children to relatives and continued to pursue the Jesus' way of life. Still ministering to the poor despite her poverty and rigorous fasting, she died young. 

We don't hear much about that kind of eager preparation for the Lord's coming among today's apocalypticists. Intending to do good, many do very well by their books, tracts and television programs. 

Christians like Saint Elizabeth of Hungary are sent to the nations to remind them that a judge will come one day. He will separate the wicked from the just, the foolish from the wise, and deliver into his heavenly kingdom those who followed the Lamb on the road to Calvary. 

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

....Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king, bring them here and slay them before me.’” After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.

Saint Luke occasionally throws in an unexpected line or two that freezes us in our tracks. These phrases relate to the preceding passage but could just as easily be left out. We would not miss them at all. Wouldn't Jesus' teaching be complete without "Where the body lies, there vultures gather" and "When the Son of Man comes will he find any righteous persons?" These apparent afterthoughts have a chilling effect on the warm, cozy feelings we have about the Gospel. 

Arriving at the end of Jesus' parable of the three servants, each of whom received ten gold coins from an extraordinarily severe sovereign, and were expected to pay him back many times over, we have heard how the slacker was deprived of his coins. By now we may have forgotten a particular detail of the story,
His fellow citizens, however, despised him and sent a delegation after him to announce, ‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
However, the story teller (Jesus) has not forgotten, nor has his fictional protagonist who demands that these “enemies of mine” be slaughtered immediately and in his presence – apparently for his personal entertainment and satisfaction.

Finally, Saint Luke closes the narrative – slams the door? – with After he had said this, he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.” Jesus appears like the president or monarch who takes a few questions from the press, responds, and then abruptly leaves the room, leaving the reporters still shouting more questions.
So what do we make of this one-verse detail? It reminds me that, for all the humility of God who comes to serve and not be served, he is still our judge with authority of life and death. He is the absent king who will return with full authority to reward and condemn. 

The Bible, rooted in Jewish tradition, permits us to complain against God’s authority. Fifty psalms of lamentation, Job, Qoheleth and the prophet Jeremiah extravagantly complain about God’s rule; they sometimes declare our innocence before God, even in the face of God’s innumerable complaints against us! There is plenty of grumbling on all sides.

But all this grumbling – both ours and God’s – is silenced by the Incident in Jerusalem. Jesus entered that eternal temple, stood before the throne of God, and offered the last drop of his own blood in atonement for our sins. Saint John insists on that when he tells us that "blood and water gushed from his side." He has nothing left to give.  

If anyone has a rightful complaint against God and against us it is Jesus, but he has not accused us in God’s presence. The Evangelist Luke will tell us of his mercy, of how he prayed for us: Father, forgive them. They know not what they do." And of his promise to the "good thief: Today you will be with me in Paradise.  

Luke 19:27 seems to say, ‘Speak your peace, and then Be still and know that I am God! We hear his warning and fall in line as he makes his journey up to Jerusalem.

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

“‘The one who has the seven spirits of God
and the seven stars says this: “I know your works,
that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die,
for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent.

The great Jewish philosopher Martin Buber is remembered for his book, “I and Thou.” He, John Macmurray and other twentieth century philosophers have tried to reintroduce the spiritual into the scientific, to reinsert such mysteries as love, faith and wisdom into that which we call knowledge. Where the scientist speaks of facts and supposes that all knowledge is factual, these philosophers speak of relationships between human persons.

Buber taught that the human being is found in two relationships, the I-Thou and the I-it. The I-it has to do with they, he, she or it; the I-thou concerns you and me. The I of the I-thou and the I-it are not the same I; and there is no I that is neither I-Thou or I-it. No one can exist in isolation from relationships.

When you and I speak with one another attentively, respectfully and openly we engage in an I-Thou relationship. This conversation has a timeless quality about it for it is an opening to eternity. However, if we attempt to manipulate or use one another, treating each other as objects to serve our own ends, this is an I-it relationship. It may be necessary at times, as when a surgeon works on me. But it’s necessarily a temporary relationship because it has no opening to eternity.

I mention Buber’s insight because it helps me to understand the challenge we have heard today, “You have the reputation of being alive but you are dead.”

The ephemeral I-Thou allows a glimpse into eternity but inevitably passes, becoming only a memory. It exists neither in the past nor the future. There are no souvenirs of past love; and good intentions for tomorrow count for nothing today.

The “one who has the seven spirits of God” accuses the Sardinian Christians of enjoying their reputation for past piety; however they have not remained in the continual presence of God.

This should not sound unfamiliar to anyone who enjoys a mutual relationship of love. Invariably one will complain to the other, “You don’t love me as you used to; you don’t pay attention to me as you did; you’re here but you’re not here with me.” We can hear that sadness in God’s calling Adam, “Where are you?”

This sacred relationship is not subject to the will which might demand its appearance. You cannot say, “I’ve read Buber’s book; I want that and I will have it!” Rather, it is a gift; the best we can do is dispose ourselves to receive the gift.

Apparently the Sardinians had lost their first fervor and had failed to notice the loss. They assumed they were keeping faith despite their growing lassitude. There is no magic formula for keeping one’s edge but a willingness to be rebuked from time to time helps. We have no historical record of the Sardinian response to this Revelation but we can formulate our own.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 497

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show his servants what must happen soon. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who gives witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ by reporting what he saw.

Today, as we enter the last two weeks of the liturgical year and prepare to segue into the next, we begin a series of readings from the Book of Revelation. Abraham Lincoln may have been thinking of this book when he said, "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." No one should dive into Revelation without some preparation, or at least a humble awareness of the lack of preparation. A good intro may be found on the Bishops' website

The best advice I've heard for reading the book is reassurance. The mysterious author known as John of Patmos intended to comfort the several congregations with the good news of God's righteousness and Jesus' authority. As my preacher friend in Louisiana used to say, "God is still in charge."

This is not a book that intends to scare anyone. That's because: first, the Christians who read it will understand that God is protecting them from all harm; and secondly, the wicked whose doom is prophesied will not read the book! John intentionally wrote it with cryptic symbols that only the elect could understand. Non-believers need not apply. For the most part they still don't read it; and when they do they get angry at us for doing so. 

We have a lovely song that begins with the seer's own words, "I heard the voice of Jesus say..." It goes on, "Come unto me and rest." 

But I remember at least one occasion when a devout woman heard a reading from the scriptures and trembled with fear. I was speaking to a group about Psalm 37. Like the Book of Revelation, Psalm 37 draws a sharp line between wisdom and foolishness, good and evil. It aims to reassure the faithful of God's protection. Reading about certain dangerous persons or groups I have often recalled, "I saw the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again, he was gone; he was no where to be found." 

The woman had apparently suffered much abuse and could not believe that her tormentor -- whether her father, brother or husband I do not know -- did not speak with the authority of God. His violence was diabolical; he knew nothing of God. She needed a very deep healing. 

The Book of Revelation also intends to heal the frightened Christian, but she must claim with no uncertainty her allegiance to the Lord. Entering the Heavenly Liturgy, she will follow in procession the Lamb wherever he goes. She will celebrate his Victory and delight in singing God's praises. Gratefully and eagerly she will eat his flesh and drink his blood. Lost in wonder at God's mercy, she will return to herself comforted, reassured and healed.