Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

Demas, enamored of the present world,
deserted me and went to Thessalonica,
Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.
Luke is the only one with me.

We know little about Saint Luke beyond what he has written in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. We know he was a Christian scholar with extraordinary insight into the Gospel and spoke fluent, beautiful Greek. He may have been a physician since he shows some interest in the biblical account of healings. He shows more sympathy than other divine authors for women, although some critics still detect chauvinism. He makes a few cameo appearances in Acts when he writes of "we" (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–37; 28:1-16). Finally, Saint Paul mentioned Saint Luke in his Second Letter to Timothy.
Today we celebrate the faithful friend who stayed with the disgruntled Saint Paul when everyone else abandoned him. In that respect he was like the Apostles who were appointed to be with the Lord. Our vocation is often simply to watch with the Lord and his disciples.
Some Christian communities keep prayer vigils as members take turns throughout the night. Some parishes and group of parishes maintain "perpetual adoration" to watch with the Lord day and night, seven days a week, throughout the year. In many ways we obey Saint Paul's injunction to "pray without ceasing."
We stay with one another too, as I often witness in the hospital. Spouses stay with their partners, parents with children, children with parents and siblings with one another. Even friends sometimes make the effort for the lonely patient when there is no one else. There is a volunteer organization dedicated to staying with the dying.
This dedication to presence is not an animal instinct; if it were we could not refuse to do it. Rather, it belongs to our spiritual nature to watch and wait with one another even when we can think of nothing else to do. We well remember Jesus' asking his sleepy, somewhat tipsy disciples to watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We still regret their inattention.
Luke is the only one with me. It's what we do; it's how we show we belong to Christ and to one another.

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Lectionary: 468

I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous by faith will live."

We have begun a series of readings from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. This is the most important theological document of the greatest theologian in our history; every sentence, phrase and word is laden with meaning and burdened with controversy. Much of his earlier writing has led up to this teaching, and theologians often study his Letter to the Galatians to see the development of his doctrine. "For freedom Christ set you free!" (Galatians 5:1) must lead to "There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)
I find in Paul's writing a convergence of these mysterious words, freedom, salvation and "no condemnation," or "vindication."
In our common experience everybody knows freedom and vindication. Freedom is like getting out of jail or passing through immigration. You can go where you want to go and do what you want to do. Vindication means the judge has ruled and you are not guilty. We're a little less sure about salvation. Many Christians say it has something to do with heaven, like "When you die you go to heaven."
As I ponder these words, given my Catholic upbringing and personal experience, salvation, freedom and vindication represent deliverance from the anxiety which is the shadow side of freedom. This anxiety is often so unbearable people will do anything to be rid of it, from conformity to others' expectation, obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions up to suicide. The bizarre rite of murder/suicide which has appeared in recent history may be the conformist's last desperate attempt to escape the pain.
Jesus heard the words of his Father, "You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests." Taking those words to heart he could move freely among friends, family, strangers and enemies, saying what the Spirit prompted him to say and going where the Spirit led him. He had the endorsement and authorization of God. The Father wanted what he wanted, and he wanted what the Father wanted. They are of one mind, one heart and one Spirit despite the singular difference that the Father is not the Son; nor the Son, the Father.
If he suffered anxiety like any other human being -- as, for instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane -- it was relieved by prayerful communion with the Father. He never hesitated to speak or act out of some anxious concern; rather, he moved with astonishing ease and grace. People would say of him, "Where does he get such authority?" They might say in the same breath, "Where does he get such freedom?"
Oddly, Saint Paul never met Jesus in the flesh before his crucifixion and death. He knew Jesus only by the word of others and the Spirit that confirmed it.
In that Spirit, Paul found his own freedom to speak and act with complete confidence. He too had heard, "You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests."
With that experience of freedom he could write, "The one who is righteous by faith will live." Faith is willing to be both guided and restrained by the Spirit of God.
"Romans" begins with his astonishing greeting, "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus... to all the beloved of God in Rome." He enjoys the mysterious paradox of being both a slave with all the security of one who is owned by, directed by, and obedient to another; and the freedom to speak, act and travel as he pleases.

A slave who has totally surrendered to the will of his owner, told to sit in the corner for eight hours, might do so with complete equanimity. It would drive me nuts!
Paul suffered anxiety but not for himself or his salvation; he knew only God's anxiety for the churches which he loved so dearly. He found freedom, salvation and vindication in his complete surrender to the Holy Spirit.

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

When we think of the Prophet Jonah we usually remember his being swallowed by a whale and then spewed up on the shore. Children like this kind of story and their parents enjoy telling it. Like the Tower of Babel, the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Noah's Ark, Jonah and his whale inevitably appear in graphic images of the bible. In children's literature these stories seem innocuous and harmless.
But when Jesus references Jonah as "a sign to the Ninevites" he does not cite his epigastric adventure; rather, he points to the prophet's preaching and the Ninevite's repentance.
He did the same when he reminded the Nazarenes that a Sidonian woman had fed Elijah, and Elisha had cured a pagan general of leprosy. His point being God's mercy is not confined to his people, nor is it owed to his people.
As we were reminded on a recent Sunday, God can show mercy and generosity to anyone he wants anytime he wants. He does not consult with our politicians or theologians when he does so.
In gratitude  the Nazarenes "drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong."  
The Prophet Jesus, like his forebears, is often "edgy." He is never far from the metaphorical brow of the hill as he speaks God's word.
Nor should his Church. If lots of good, compassionate, civic-minded people are not angry with us, we're failing our mission. When I hear that we should defend our liberties by arming homeowners with automatic weapons I know there's going to be trouble. When good people trash the world's oceans with plastics I'm sure they're not paying attention to the Truth. When I hear compassion used as an argument for divorce and abortion I know we're no longer listening to the Crucified Son of God.
The Son of Man will be a sign to this generation if Christians keep the word of God, but it will not be comfortable for anyone.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. 

Long before Saint Francis of Assisi walked out of the security of his family home Saint Paul was walking from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, announcing the Gospel of Jesus. 
His plan, like that of all the disciples, was very simple: he would speak of Jesus to anyone and everyone who would listen. How this project should be financed, where he would sleep, what he would eat, who would care for him in his sickness: these God would provide. 
He slept wherever people offered him a bed, and occasionally in the jail cells provided by enemies of the Good News. He ate whatever local food was provided; not for him to prefer his native cuisine of Tarsus. Strangers nursed him back to health, strangers directed him on the unmarked highways; strangers welcomed him to unfamiliar cities and friends -- entirely new friends -- sent him on his way. 
Francis would describe the food Saint Paul ate as "the Banquet of the Lord." There was always enough food because our Father provided everything for his Son's wedding to His Bride the Church. How could there not be more than enough when Isaiah had prophesied: 
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines?
During those Roman times, our ancestors lived closer to the cycles of sowing and reaping than we do today.  Children knew where milk and eggs came from. Without modern transportation a drought and famine might afflict one city while its neighbor a hundred miles away enjoyed prosperity. Savvy governors might try to forestall hunger and the food riots it spawns, but there was only so much they could do. 
Many today ignorantly assume those days are past -- unless they read about New Orleans, Houston, Florida or Puerto Rico. They might even dare to sit down to a meal without the "wedding garment" of grace. 
The Lord teaches his disciples not to worry overmuch about their material needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 
So long as we're willing to share there will be plenty.

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 466

Apply the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe;
Come and tread,
for the wine press is full;
The vats overflow,
for great is their malice.
Crowd upon crowd
in the valley of decision;
For near is the day of the LORD
in the valley of decision.

I don't know that any other nation is as concerned about "the Day of the Lord" as the United States. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, often sung on national holidays, is all about Dies Irae (the Day of Wrath and Day of Mourning), typified by bloody violence, when the Lord tramples out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
With so many stories of devastation in the news lately, even the secular press wonders if the Apocalypse is upon us. Even the recent eclipse of the Moon -- the "Great American Eclipse" -- was greeted with misgivings.
The Blessed Mother, who is invoked in today's gospel, often appears during apocalyptic times, as when the territory now known as Mexico, suffered the Spanish invasion and Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. These are times of great, unsettling change when the future appears bleak and millions suffer mass anxiety. Wars break out as governments try to secure stability in the face of upheaval and prophets say, "You can't handle the truth!" 
Mary has been popping up all over the place in the last two centuries, from Knock (Ireland) to Lourdes (France), Fatima (Portugal) and Medjugorje (Bosnia) -- to name a few. 
Mary is a sign of God's immanent appearance, as Elizabeth recognized when she greeted her young cousin. She cried, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Virtually all the seers say something similar when she appears to them.  
May grieves for the sins of the world and she warns us to repent, but her very presence is more reassuring than threatening.  
I often give rosaries to the Catholic Veterans in the hospital. I tell them, "It's like the tow rope on a motor boat when you're water skiing. Just hold on it and it will pull you out of the water." 

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 465

Gird yourselves and weep, O priests!
wail, O ministers of the altar!
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
The house of your God is deprived
of offering and libation.

I am reading a biography of the American poet, Walt Whitman. Doctor Reynolds has reminded me that the United States has a long history of religious relativism. That is, the belief that all religions are the same; there's only one God; it doesn't matter if you attend church or not, believe or not, etc. 
Most Americans are deists, believing that the God who might exist left the building a long time ago. Whitman, despite his nostalgia for the agrarian society of his youth with its family-based economy, could not remember when the family worshiped together. 
Not many Americans can. But the problem is hardly new, as we discover in reading the Bible. In today's first reading the prophet Joel laments the neglect of God's temple, which "is deprived of offering and libation." He goes on to warn the people of impending disaster, "Yes, it is near, a day of darkness and of gloom, a day of clouds and somberness! He foretells an ecological disaster: 
Like dawn spreading over the mountains, a people numerous and mighty! Their like has not been from of old, nor will it be after them, even to the years of distant generations.
The invading army is a cloud of locusts, darkening the sky and consuming every leaf of vegetation on the ground. This "army" is more thorough, relentless and mindless than an army of human warriors. Armed men might grow weary of killing; they might show some compunction to their victim; they might not search every nook and cranny for victims. But insects -- like earthquakes and hurricanes -- don't care who or what they destroy, and they miss nothing.
The Hebrew prophets believed God set these "natural disasters" in motion to punish his people for their infidelity.
It's not hard to read that punishment into the ecological crises we face today. Although we meant no harm when we created the automobile culture and the drug industry and the consumer economy, we would not uproot these ingrained practices when we saw their devastation.
Perhaps, had our faith not been deprived of offering and libation, we would have retained the maturity and flexibility to adapt before the problems became crises. We would have remained obedient to the truth as it appeared to us, instead of to our habits and false belief that "it will all work out in the end." 
There is still time to repent. Life on earth will persist for millions of years, and it can wait until we change our ways; but the consequences of human suffering will not wait. Future generations will wonder why we hesitated to repent in the face of the obvious for so long. 

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 464

And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

"He fathers forth whose beauty is past change. Praise him."
Gerard Manley Hopkins concluded his sonnet, Pied Beauty, with that homage to God the Father.
Scholars of the New Testament tell us that Jesus taught us to honor God as "our father" although the Hebrew Scriptures rarely use that title of the Lord. This was a singular insight of the Nazarene.
They also suggest, in these our troubled times, that we study carefully how Jesus used that word. Given our history of innumerable wars and their enduring emotional impact, a cult of alcoholism and a tsunami of drug addiction, many men in the United States cannot handle the challenges of adulthood and marriage, much less fatherhood. Some have handed their children snakes when they asked for fish, and scorpions when they asked for eggs. They simply know no better.
Consequently, their children tremble with anguish, not holy fear, when they consider the "Fatherhood" of God. They remember abusive parents and grandparents and stories of cruel great-grandparents. Authority in general has been arbitrary, moody and petulant; not even vaguely paternal.
Jesus was familiar with violence. He saw the vicious injustice of Roman occupation, the indifference of Herodian rulers, and the quisling cowardice of the Pharisees. There were no good shepherds for his people and fewer good fathers.
But Jesus came down from God and he knew another reality which was only suggested by their Jewish religion. He heard his Father's blessing, "You are my beloved son; on you my favor rests." Throughout his life, even amid the violence that chased his family into Egypt, and the whispered threats that pursued his ministry, he knew the reassurance of a Father who loved him. He often spent nights in prayer, resting in God's arms with the confidence of a child.
When we think of God the Father we should think: "The Father of Jesus." Our own dads loved us as best they could and sometimes their love was reassuring and substantial. But they were flawed human beings and Jesus assures us the Father's love is greater than anything we have ever experienced or imagined.
Most of us, as we experience healing, will recall the heroic sacrifices our fathers and mothers made, especially as we understand their times and the challenges they faced. We realize now they were not prepared for parenthood by their families, schools or churches; they were winging it as parents do today. My own mother read "Doctor Spock" devoutly, like the preacher reading his bible.
Healing teaches us to stand in public and declare: "I would not trade my father or mother for any other parent on earth!" The Father of Jesus can do that because his grace is superabundant, beyond anything we can expect or imagine, because "He fathers forth whose beauty is past change. Praise him."

Memorial of Pope Saint John XXIII

Lectionary: 463

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."

Nobody knows as well as the priest how difficult it is to find time for daily prayer. He is the one who is supposed to model a life of prayer for other Catholics; and yet, after meeting the demands of his ministry, his disposable time and his disposable energy have elapsed and collapsed. He too suffers that concupiscence that prays with great reluctance.
Hospital chaplaincy in the VA, which permits and pays for no more than forty hours per week, has allowed me ample time for prayer but I find my prayers are formal, if not pro forma. That is, after observing the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass and a rosary -- all formulaic prayers -- I don't have much to say to God, and little energy for silent listening.
In my defense I often re-recite psalms and prayers that rattled through my skull-cage unheeded the first time. The current phrase for these second attempts is "mindfully."
Saint Luke often tells us of Jesus' personal prayer, as he does in today's gospel. That may come as a surprise to some people. Why would God need to pray?
Perhaps he enjoys it. Probably, he wants to. Very likely, he must pray to maintain his focus as he nears Jerusalem.
There is no suggestion anywhere in the gospels that Jesus found his ministry easy. It was a challenge, an uphill climb every step of the way. Jerusalem and Calvary are hilltops, literally and figuratively. No one accomplishes these challenges without the fortification of prayer. The weak, cowardly and reluctant will drop out, along with the inattentive and querulous.
The Christian disciple discovers that prayer is like eating, drinking, sleeping and breathing; we cannot live without it. Saint Paul has told us, "Pray without ceasing." Something dies when we stop praying.
In today's gospel the disciples asked Jesus, "Teach us to pray...." He will give them more than words, he will give them the breath of prayer. Words are formed when they pass from our brains to our vocal apparatus (cords, tongue, teeth and cheeks) and are animated by breath. Say a word without breath and nothing comes out!
Without the Holy Spirit we cannot pray. Jesus gives us the Breath and our prayers enter His Father's presence.
This gospel reminds us that we must ask Jesus to "teach us to pray." We fail so readily. We cannot find the time or the energy unless he awakens that hunger -- like air hunger -- which forces us to inhale his Holy Spirit and exhale our words of prayer.
Taking a moment to say "Lord, teach me to pray!" gives the Lord the opening he needs to arouse the hunger and the willingness to pray constantly.

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 462

"Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

I hear great affection in Jesus' words to Martha, and great reassurance. But I wonder what is "the better part" that Mary has chosen. I'm sure a thousand preachers could suppose a thousand different things.
Greek philosophers long ago discovered, and handed on to western civilization, the dual mystery of "one and the other."
The Lord Jesus has appeared among us as one of us. He is Mary's child, a man of Nazareth, a Jew, a subject of the Roman Empire. He speaks a human language and worships with a human religion; he has all the usual needs of a human being, meaning he depends upon others for his survival. He is one of us.
But, being a human being, he is also an other. There is no one like him in all the universe; he is unique like every other child born of woman. Whenever I meet any other person I meet someone who is and will always remain utterly mysterious to me. I will never "figure him out." I might understand much of what he says about himself and I might guess what he will do but I can never know what he is thinking or feeling or what he might do next. We live with strangers.
Jesus appeared to Martha and Mary like that familiar stranger, a man who is partly known. But, our faith tells us on the testimony of the Apostles, that Jesus bears the burden of another kind of otherness -- of a totally different magnitude.  He is the Son of God.
And so we look at God in terms of familiarity (one) and strangeness (other). Created in God's image we cannot be utterly unlike God, nor God unlike us. We use the word person (cautiously) to describe our similarities. That word connotes both familiarity and strangeness. A person is independent, dependent, interdependent and dependable.
Mary has chosen to welcome this Stranger into her home, and to listen to him with open-mouthed attention, despite her sister's noisy clattering in the kitchen which can only indicate disapproval of her behavior. Martha represents society with all its expectations and demands. Jesus represents an authority which is both alien and superior to society.
Welcoming God we welcome an Other whom we cannot know or control. God is an Other who comes with Authority to lead us into unity (oneness) with others, ourselves, the world and God-self.
Jesus is that Way; we believe He is the Only Way to communion. As Peter said, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." and "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
The world is struggling today with the mystery of alien others. Should we welcome them or fear and despise them? Mary has chosen the better part.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

We all know Jesus' answer to that question; he told the story of the Good Samaritan. That may be the best known of all Jesus' parables.
It's also a stunning response to the reason the scholar of the law asked the question, "because he wished to justify himself."
There's a lot of "self-justification" going around nowadays, though it might not be recognized as such. I think especially of the "white power" movement, which has found new impetus in reaction to "black lives matter."
There are victims and there are "victims." Some have been treated unfairly because every human system of economics and politics is unfair. That's what we call "original sin."
No matter how hard we try, now matter how good our intentions, an organization devised by human beings will fail to serve all the people fairly and justly. Even the first generation of apostles, organizing the Church after that marvelous Pentecost, discriminated against the widows of non-Jewish Christians.
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
The only way to deal with that fact of Original Sin is to hear the complaints and try to address them fairly, as the Apostles did. Reacting defensively won't help.
When I hear people claiming to be victims and loudly defending the Christian, European, male heritage of American culture and its benefits to society -- without reference to its deliberate oppression of women, African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and the disabled -- I hear people trying to justify themselves.
But, as their own Christian tradition insists, justification comes only through Jesus Christ:

For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.
Loud arguments about one's heritage and hard work and heroic actions mean nothing in the sight of God, and not much to the rest of us. And the louder the complaints the less persuasive they become. Add threats, intimidation, violence and murder to the argument and we're disgusted by the very thought of "white culture." Its rebuke is long overdue, and we can pray that God will restrain his punishment as we hear the suffering we have caused and make amends.
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. (1 John 1:8)
The apostolic church thrives because the Spirit persuades us to hear any and all complaints, recognize grievances and address them. We're not called to be right but to be merciful. Striving continually to practice mercy, we let God take care of justification.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 139
Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, 'They will respect my son.'
There is great sadness in that remark. The landowner doesn't seem to understand what should be obvious. His tenants have already snubbed, mistreated and finally killed the messengers he sent them. How can he believe they will respect his son?
Because the parable obviously refers to the passion and death of Jesus it highlights the enormous trust and superabundant love God has for his people. Even yet will he love them.
The Gospels invite us to meditate on God's trust and love for us.

First I think of God's "investment" in the Virgin Mary. Catholics understand her vocation as "The Immaculate Conception;" she is full of grace; the most favored one.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux has a marvelous meditation on Mary's conversation with the Angel Gabriel. The Universe hangs in the balance as this young woman ponders the Angel's message and Bernard urges her:
Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet.
Even with so many blessings she is free and has a choice. How often have we seen extremely "blessed" individuals -- people with intelligence, talent, money, opportunities and good looks -- waste their good fortune with extraordinarily stupid decisions?
God trusted Mary to make the right choice even as she stood on the brink of a new axial age.
The story of God's trust extends to the helpless infant born in a manger. Joseph and Mary went to extraordinary lengths to protect the baby from the "homage" of King Herod.

Secondly, today's gospel reminds us of God's great love for us. The son whom we should respect is the same of whom we read,
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life."
This parable accentuates the terrible irony of the crucifixion. We have murdered the very one who was sent to show us how to live in peace, without violence! And yet God raises him up again and restores him to life, and we have seen his glory!
Nor is Jesus beyond the reach of human barbarity. Quite the contrary, he is martyred again whenever we treat any one of his people badly. Saint Paul heard the Lord's groans as he fell to the ground, "Why do you persecute me?"
Whenever an infant is conceived, an alien crosses a border, a person of color applies for a school or a job, an uninsured person seeks health care or an old person needs assistance God says again, "'They will respect my son."

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Lectionary: 460

Fear not, my children; call out to God! He who brought this upon you will remember you. As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God, turn now ten times the more to seek him; For he who has brought disaster upon you will, in saving you, bring you back enduring joy."

Baruch, amanuensis to the Prophet Jeremiah, credits the above words to "Jerusalem." In today's scripture we hear her voice. 
Today we also celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary. Mary is the Virgin Jerusalem, the Holy City who was always faithful to her spouse, the Lord God. We recognize Mary as the New Jerusalem in many scripture passages: 

  • When the magi follow the star out of Jerusalem they are looking for the New Jerusalem; they find her and the baby in Bethlehem. The Spirit of God has left Herod's city and settled on the woman and her child.
  • When the Angel Gabriel announced that Mary would be the Mother of the Messiah, he told her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you..." as the Spirit had descended upon Jerusalem and the Temple. 
  • The "Mother of Jesus" appears twice in the Gospel of John. First, she describes the desolation of Jerusalem, "They have no wine." Then she receives the Beloved Disciple as her son, becoming for all beloved disciples our Mother, as Jerusalem was the Mother. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.
  • In The Book of Revelation, chapter 12, Mary appears as the Woman about to give birth. She is pursued by the dragon and finds refuge in the wilderness. In this symbolism the woman is the Holy People, the City, and the Church. 

It can be difficult for literal-minded Americans to make this connection. We recognize attitudes toward Old Glory as attitudes toward the United States, we know that mascots represent college teams and logos, corporations; but, oddly, we strip Christian religion of its symbols, which is like taking nourishment out of food. 
Much of the traditional conflict among Christians has been around Mary as symbol of the Church. An individualistic spirit prefers "Jesus" without his Church, the head without his body. This "Jesus and me" spirituality relies heavily on an idea of the Lord which is invoked without sacraments, without actual human contact. They believe one can be "saved" -- whatever that means -- without the Church which offers salvation. Somehow -- inexplicably -- knowledge of Jesus persists as a living memory in the world without the people who remember him. That "knowledge" supposedly abides not in the Church but in a book, the Bible (which the Church wrote). From there, of course, it's only a half-step to believing one is "saved" without Jesus. 
With twenty rosary mysteries we contemplate our belonging to Jesus through Mary and the Church. Readily, we wrap ourselves in her joy, wonder, sorrow and exultation. Her motherly affection does not permit us to exclude any knowledge of Jesus, neither his suffering nor his victory. Nor can we ignore any disciple of Jesus, regardless of their race, nationality or legal status. 
Even as we recite the rosary, the Lord removes those blocks from our hearts, preparing us for the indwelling of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Blessed Marie Rose Durocher
Lectionary: 459

Justice is with the Lord, our God;
and we today are flushed with shame,
we men of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem,
that we, with our kings and rulers
and priests and prophets, and with our ancestors,
have sinned in the Lord's sight and disobeyed him.

Have you ever apologized and not really meant it? Sometimes expedience seems the only way out of a difficult predicament despite its obvious insincerity. 
I may do this because I have been confronted with "the facts" and I can't deny them. Or perhaps I am facing a superior authority and I back down although, "I shouldn't have to apologize because I am right!" Or maybe I realize this arguing is pointless and if we're to make any progress I should just apologize and get on with it. 
The Prophet Jeremiah, Baruch's mentor, complained about these subtle deceptions when he said, 
More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?
In today's first reading, Baruch spoke for all the people when he acknowledged, "Justice is with the Lord!" From their place in exile, having barely survived the destruction of their city, realizing their only hope is the All-Powerful, All-Merciful God, remembering how the prophets complained about the scandal of injustice in God's Holy City, it was not difficult to suppose we have offended the Lord and brought this wrath upon ourselves.
But any city of any size, and especially a capital city with foreign emissaries, merchants and travellers with their slaves and strange gods, is rife with corruption. The poor, widowed, orphaned and disabled flock to Jerusalem because their rural communities could not or would not provide for them. They overwhelmed its charitable resources and present a sorry spectacle to pilgrims. Despite its sacred status, Jerusalem was a polyglot city with many gods and many languages; when it was wasted by foreign armies it was easy to suppose God had punished it for its obvious evil. 
...we, with our kings and rulers and priests and prophets, and with our ancestors, have sinned in the Lord's sight and disobeyed him.
Did the people around Baruch, for whom he spoke, acknowledge their guilt as readily as he confessed it? When they bowed before the Lord with ashes on their heads, weeping and rending their garments, were they truly sincere? Am I truly sincere when I confess my sins and do the prescribed penance? Who can "understand the human heart?" 
This much we know, Jesus suffered and died for our salvation. He has more than made up for our insincerity and irresolution. He has atoned for the sins we acknowledge, and those we don't, and those attitudes and actions we never supposed were sinful. 
By our daily prayers we stand within his Sacred Heart with supreme confidence in the efficacy of His Sacrifice. 

Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 458

Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, 'The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'

In today's first reading from the Book of Nehemiah we hear a plaintive story of the exiles' return to their beloved Jerusalem. In the course of their struggles through many years they have forgotten the Law of Moses, the law God had given them. That is to say, they had forgotten who they were.
In human history thousands, if not millions, of cities have been built and destroyed. People invested their hopes, lives and dreams in these necessary constructs, only to see them wasted by conquering armies, or by the neglect that comes with climate change.
Architects tell us a city, with its streets, buildings and open areas, expresses, shapes and forms the character of its people. Their identity is molded by the city they have built.  
Inhabitants of destroyed cities, those who survived the catastrophe, scatter to begin life somewhere else. Within a few generations they forget their native language, foods, clothing and customs as they are absorbed by another culture. Americans know the story well as millions have forgotten the ancient customs of Europe, Africa and Asia. How many Johnsons speak Norwegian or Garcias speak Spanish?  How many people with Irish names remember their Catholic faith? 
In today's first reading, the Emperor of Persia has graciously allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. Coming home to Zion, the hill where stood the city of their grandparents, they have found the ruins of a temple and some wretchedly poor survivors. Hearing the ancient law in their own archaic Hebrew, shouted from a makeshift wooden platform, they sob with grief at all they have lost. 
But the priest Ezra and the governor Nehemiah urge them to celebrate the new beginning, "for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!" 
Today's gospel also celebrates a new beginning. But if Ezra and Nehemiah tried to restore the ancient glory, the disciples of Jesus can hardly imagine the glory that is to come. 
What can "The Kingdom of God is at hand!" mean? What should we expect? We know of kingdoms and God but the kingdom of God? 
I want to head off a possible misreading of this text. The last two words, "for you," do not mean "the kingdom of God will be there if you imagine it to be there." This is not "my version of the truth." 
Rather, "for you" expresses the traditional understanding, "God is for us!"; "God is with us!" and "God has not abandoned us!"
We know the kingdom of God is at hand because we celebrate the Eucharist, because we live in peace with one another, because we show mercy to aliens, orphans, widows and our enemies. These signs are sure and true and irrefutable. Seeing these signs we remember who we are, the People of God.

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lectionary: 457

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.

I entered the Franciscan seminary in 1962, a month before my fourteenth birthday. I knew Saint Francis as the man on the birdbath, the lover of flowers and nature. Though I have always loved to read I saw myself as an outdoors person and Francis seemed like all-outdoors. In time I would come to know him much better, even as I spent more time indoors.
Pope Paul VI nominated Saint Francis of Assisi as the patron saint of ecology but long before he was given that title the world knew the Italian as il poverello, "the little poor man."
Francis wanted to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, especially by disowning every property and disavowing every claim to privilege, status or merit. If the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head, Francis would sleep on the bare ground under the open sky or, if necessary, under a bridge. If Jesus suffered the contempt of men, Francis would not curry favor with anyone. He sought only God's mercy.
He was fascinated by Jesus, not by "nature." (There was no such word in any European language at that time.) As he lived that radically simple "life style" (and there was no word for that either) he noticed how God provided for the creatures who lived beyond the world of man. Foxes had dens and birds have nests but only at God's behest. We might remark at how well adapted these animals are to their environment but the 13th century friar knew nothing of "environment." He saw only what the Lord commanded him to see, "Behold the birds of the air...." and "Behold the lilies of the field..." They neither sow nor reap but their heavenly father provides for them. 
The Father had provided for Jesus and his disciples as they roamed Galilee and journeyed to Jerusalem, Francis wanted to live in that same manner, relying totally on the Father's love.
If he was cold in the winter and hot in the summer, if he was hungry or thirsty and no one gave him anything  -- these too were God's gifts. As the wise man Job had said, 
"We accept good things from the Lord, and should we not accept the bad? The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!" 
Why should he expect any kinder treatment than the world gave Jesus? Later in life he set out for Egypt and the front line of the Crusades, hoping to be martyred. He came home disappointed that God had not favored him with that crown. 
Francis heard and accepted a particular invitation from the Lord. Many people, hearing his story, might think him insane. They might react defensively, thinking that no one should be expected to imitate Jesus so slavishly. They miss the point.
Francis was appointed by a particular grace to live as he did and he followed that blessing remarkably well. At the end of his life he reassured his disciples, "I have done what is mine, may God show you what is yours." 
If imitating Francis and Jesus seems difficult, it is more difficult to discern and follow one's own particular vocation. Early in life we ask God, "What do you want me to do with my life?" Later we ask, "What shall I do today?" And each day we ask, "Lord, did I follow your lead today?" 
We hope the life we have chosen is that given us by God. But we also know the Lord  is a master artisan willing to work with whatever materials are at hand. If he had, at one time, wanted me to preach in Africa and I failed to hear that call, the Lord will accept me where I am and direct me from there. He surely directs no one to a life of drug abuse or alcoholism but he makes marvelous use of men and women in recovery. 
Saint Francis of Assisi was a thirteenth-century Italian who challenged and changed the world by listening to the voice of God. During these troubled times we pray that God will speak to us and use us as instruments of his peace

Tuesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

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.

It's one thing to decide to do something; it's something else to tell others about it. As a introvert, I feel very strongly about that. 
The difference between an extrovert and an introvert has been described like two generals and their aides-de-camp. The extrovert general consults with his aide inside the tent then goes out to announce his decision. The introvert consults with his aide inside the tent, and sends his aide to make the announcement. As an introvert I often find, because I've told no one my intentions, the decision is not made until I actually do something. Until then, I remain uncommitted. 
When I hear that Jesus "resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem and he sent his messengers ahead of him," I understand he has decided, he has acted, and there is no turning back. Like Julius Caesar, he has "crossed the Rubicon" and must face the consequences. 
As readers of the Gospel we know what his decision means. But Saint Luke puts it differently, "When the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled...." His crucifixion is "his being taken up," his rising, his ascension. Saint John's gospel says he will be "lifted up." 
Jerusalem was on a hill called Zion. Golgotha or Calvary, outside the city walls, was a hillock called "the place of the skull" and is said to have resembled the crown of a human skull. A place of execution should be highly visible to passers-by; crucifixion was especially a very public display of imperial power. And so, when we hear that Jesus resolutely determined to journey up to Jerusalem we know this journey also leads up to Mount Golgotha. 
And beyond...
He will ascend to the arms of God the Father. He will rise to take his place at God's right hand. He will go up to the place where all authority in heaven and on earth is given to him. 
In today's first reading the Prophet Zechariah predicted a day when people of every nation will go with the Jews -- and Jesus -- to their Holy City, Jerusalem. In Jesus that prophecy is fulfilled, in the sense that he is the New Jerusalem and every nation must finally come to him. 

The last word goes to Saint Thomas, the apostle who doubted Jesus' resurrection and then evangelized India, "Let us go to die with him!" 

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

Lectionary: 455/650

Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun, and from the land of the setting sun. I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem. They shall be my people, and I will be their God, with faithfulness and justice.

The image on the right side of this page depicts an angel protecting a man sleeping in the street. I suppose he is homeless, and needs more protection than the street can afford. 
Most of the familiar images of guardian angels -- at least the ones Christians prefer -- describe the guardians of children. Parents must often pray that an army of God's spirits will guide, protect and shelter their impulsive, rambunctious wards from all harm. 
Adults, we suppose, should be able to take care of themselves -- unless they can't -- which is often the case. 
In fact we all need protection. No one has eyes in the back of their heads; no one can foresee every threat or danger. 
A recent NPR article told of the Russian, Stanislav Petrov, who kept a constant watch against the United States:
He was on the overnight shift in the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 1983, when the computers sounded an alarm, indicating that the U.S. had launched five nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Fortunately, he hesitated. An all-out nuclear war, he thought, should begin with far more American ICBMs. The warning proved to be a computer glitch and the world was spared that night. Despite the rank stupidity of thousands of nuclear weapons built and aimed at so-called enemies, one man with common sense chose not to act. 

There is still a lot of stupidity to go around. Persistent pollution, climate change denial, bigotry, drug addiction, alcoholism, abortion, suicide, and so forth: we need God's angels to protect us from ourselves. 

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 136

Thus says the LORD: You say, "The LORD's way is not fair!" Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? 

Some primatologists, according to the entertainment media, have argued that bonobos, those great apes which most resemble us, occasionally act compassionately towards one another. They might even have an innate sense of fair play. 

Some child psychologist think children have a sense of fair play. 
Personally, I doubt it; but I am neither a parent nor a primatologist. What I recall from my childhood and the rare occasions I've had in working with children - and none with bonobos - they complain loudly when they don't get the rewards they expected. Which is to say, they're just like adults.
In today's gospel we hear the story of an unhappy father whose sons don't play fair with him. He asks one son to work in the vineyard and the son refuses. He asks the other to work and the second son also refuses, although he said he would do it. "Which one," asks Jesus, "did his father's bidding?" 
We can well imagine the second son's complaint when his father punishes him for both his disobedience and his lying. He might present a dozen "alternate facts" about his non-compliance -- his good intentions, his excuses, his long pointless stories, et cetera -- with the confident assurance that he deserves understanding, compassion and even rewards for his rank disobedience. 
We can easily his imagine his weary father breaking down and treating both sons equally, despite that unfairness. 
But it is more difficult to imagine Jesus, as he endures the agony of the cross, smiling benevolently on the whining and whinging of those who show no mercy. 
We vividly remember his mercy toward the "good thief" who admitted he was being executed justly, for his crimes. 
Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes...

And then that wretched man went beyond every expectation we may have of criminals and showed mercy toward Jesus, "This man has done nothing wrong!
When Jesus promised the Good Thief paradise he said nothing to the other wretch. 
The world has not changed since the time of Jesus. There are still billions and billions of opportunities to "go out and work in the vineyard today." No one need look very far to find people who need compassionate help. And there are still billions and billions of excuses for not helping others.