Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies....

Halfway between the Annunciation and the Birth of John the Baptist we celebrate the Visitation. Or, in plain, non-Catholic English, more-or-less midway between March 25 and June 24, we celebrate Mary's surprise visit to her cousin Elizabeth.

The Church offers for our reflection on this day a passage from the Prophet Zephaniah, who lived in a dark time and prophesied doom:
Zephaniah’s prophecy of judgment on Judah and Jerusalem emphasizes, perhaps more than any other prophecy, the devastation and death that divine judgment will bring. Described as the day of the Lord, the day of judgment is pictured as a time of darkness, of anguish and distress, of destruction and plunder of cities, and of threat to all life, human and animal alike. The major sins motivating this judgment, in Zephaniah’s view, are Judah’s worship of other deities (1:49) and its unjust and abusive leadership (3:14). (copied wholesale from the USCBB website.)
But in today's citation, the prophet offers a hopeful note. Using an ancient name of the Holy City, he calls out to Daughter Zion, "the Lord has removed the judgment against you."

Several hundred years later, the Jewish people had experience much turmoil; changes which would have shattered any other people. But still they kept faith. 

At the appointed hour, Mary went to visit her older cousin in Jerusalem. In Elizabeth's pregnancy and Mary's visitation we see the prophecy fulfilled: The LORD has turned away your enemies....

In the Joyful Spirit that fills the women, we recognize God's merciful presence in the troubled, holy city. God the Holy Spirit has visited his people. Reading the Gospel of Saint Luke we hear that expression several times:
  • Luke 1: 68: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people
  • Luke 1.78-79: -- because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
  • Luke 7: 16 --Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, “A great prophet has arisen in our midst,” and “God has visited his people.
  • Luke 19: 44: ...they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.

The Gospel of Luke celebrates the Visitation of God the Son, beginning at Galilee and ending in Jerusalem. And with many references it anticipates the Visitation of The Holy Spirit, who will send, lead and guide the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. 

Recently the Church celebrated the 100th anniversary of Mary's appearances at Fatima. The Feast of the Visitation reminds us that these remarkable appearances of Mary throughout our history -- but especially during critical times -- began there in Jerusalem when Mary visited Elizabeth and God visited his people. 

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 298

"Father, the hour has come.
  • Now this is eternal life,
  • Now glorify me, Father, with you,
  • Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
  • And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you."

I have often thought of the word hour in the Gospel of Saint John as the ringing of a bell. When we first hear it in Chapter 2 -- "Woman, what is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come." -- it sounds faintly and from a distance. But as we move through the gospel and Jesus approaches Jerusalem the bell sounds louder. 

  • Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
  • Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
  • He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
  • ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,
  • Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Today, I notice the word now in John 17, the "priestly prayer of Jesus." If now is a bell he is hammering on it. In literature and poetry this repetition of a word or phrase is called anaphora. Charles Dickens began his Tale of Two Cities with an unforgettable anaphora: 
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Anaphora often directs our attention to this particular moment with its immediate urgency, as in Winston Churchill's powerful speech:
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
Jesus' words sweep us into this moment and his intense prayer to the Father. (Now) the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you.... 

We are here in the Sacred Liturgy, at his Last Supper, witnessing his sacrificial passion, death and resurrection, caught up by our devotion, loyalty and affection for him into his all-consuming love of God. 
I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
 Caught up as we are, we cannot turn away. 

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Lectionary: 297

Jesus answered them, "Do you believe now? Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.

Ancient iron smiths discovered that their steel grew harder and more resilient each time they folded it on the anvil and flattened it with their hammers. A Damascus steel sword might have been folded into literally thousands of microscopic layers; it could cut through leather, wood and iron without losing its edge. It's no wonder they named their swords and sang songs about them.

I hear Jesus hammering on his eager disciples in today's gospel. They think they know something about him, and they do! 
Now we realize that you know everything and that you do not need to have anyone question you.
But their confident knowledge will be shattered on the anvil of Good Friday and they will be dumbfounded into uncomprehending silence. 

A lot of people think they know Jesus until something dreadful happens in their life. The devout will complain, "I thought my faith was stronger!" Others will disown their belief in God, religion and piety, shedding it like a snake sloughing dead skin. Still others will continue to talk the talk although their actions bear little resemblance to our Christian manner of life. 
In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world." 
The New Testament faithfully records the disciples' disbelief, denial and betrayal of Jesus so that we might recognize our distress in their stories, and find reason to hope. Jesus had laid the foundation; the Holy Spirit would build the edifice. We volunteer to be the living stones they use to build a sanctuary for God the Father. 

The Ascension of the Lord

Lectionary: 58

...baptizing them in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit....

Historians of the Church tell us these final words from Jesus as he ascended into heaven -- a very clear indication of the Trinity -- developed first into the baptismal formula which we still use, and then into the creeds, the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian

The word Trinity does not appear in the Bible and is not a name of God. It is rather a beautiful teaching which helps us to understand the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to one another and to us, without explaining that which is beyond human comprehension. 

Because Jesus told us to "baptize them in the name..." we don't readily recognize any other formula. In the New Testament the only alternative is "in the name of Jesus" but, typically of Christians, there is a lot of controversy around it. 

Some theologians have suggested an alternative like "in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier" but these proposals fall flat for many reasons. For one, those works belong to Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When we name the Father as the Creator of All we do not imply that Jesus and the Holy Spirit did not create the universe. The Father and the Holy Spirit redeem us; and the Father and the Son sanctify us. Secondly, the Bible will be around a thousand years from now, long after late-arriving bogus formulas have disappeared. We don't try to improve on the Bible. 

On this feast of the Ascension we celebrate the man we have known, one of our own children, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who has been given and has taken his appointed place at God's right hand. This is a wonder and delight; that a human being is the Son of God. He is not adopted in the sense that there was a time when he was not the Son of God. He was always, from before eternity, the Son of God; by his death and resurrection and ascension he has been revealed to us. This was beyond our imagination and comprehension. We would not believe it if we had not seen it. No one could have dreamed this up. 

Many would refuse the title to him. They think God should not do it; or they simply deny that God exists in any form, human or divine. They refuse to take our word for it. They might believe many things people tell them but they won't believe that. Their skepticism certainly causes us sadness and grief; it might even force us to rethink our beliefs. But we keep coming back to what we have seen and heard, and what the Spirit of Truth has reaffirmed in our hearts. As Isaiah said, "Who would believe what we have heard?"

Their skepticism and the doubts that abide in our hearts -- Saint Matthew says "When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted." -- only urge us to deeper prayer. We have found peace, satisfaction, joy, generosity, courage and solidarity through our practice of faith; we cannot surrender such gifts for a few lingering doubts that only lead to perdition. 

Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 296

Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. 



Which of us has not greeted this reassurance with some skepticism? “Whatever you ask he will give you? Ask and you will receive?” I don’t think so. I have asked for many things in prayer and did not get what I asked. Needy as I am, making demands upon others and upon God, I’ve become inured to disappointment.

 But neither can I ignore the words of the gospel. There is a context in which Jesus’ promise makes perfect sense; in which it is absolutely assured. That place is within the Eucharist and the Life of the Holy Trinity

 Saint Hilary of Poitier, one of the great western theologians of the fourth century, emphasizes the connection between the Mass and our belief in the Holy Trinity. The following reading is the non-scriptural reading for the Office of Readings, Wednesday the fourth week of Easter: 

If the Word has truly been made flesh and we in very truth receive the Word made flesh as food from the Lord, are we not bound to believe that he abides in us naturally? Born as a man, he assumed the nature of our flesh so that now it is inseparable from himself, and conjoined the nature of his own flesh to the nature of the eternal Godhead in the sacrament by which his flesh is communicated to us. Accordingly we are all one, because the Father is in Christ and Christ in us. He himself is in us through the flesh and we in him, and because we are united with him, our own being is in God.

He himself testifies that we are in him through the sacrament of the flesh and blood bestowed upon us: In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.

If he wanted to indicate a mere unity of will, why did He set forth a kind of gradation and sequence in the completion of that unity? It can only be that, since he was in the Father through the nature of Deity, and we on the contrary in him through his birth in the body, he wishes us to believe that he is in us through the mystery of the sacraments. From this we can learn the perfect unity through a Mediator; for we abide in him and he abides in the Father, and while abiding in the Father he abides in us as well – so that we attain unity with the Father. For while Christ is in the Father naturally according to his birth, we too are in Christ naturally, since he abides in us naturally.

He himself has told us how natural this unity is: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him. No one can be in Christ unless Christ is in him, because the only flesh which he has taken to himself is the flesh of those who have taken his.

He had earlier revealed to us the sacrament of this perfect unity: As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me. He lives because of the Father, and as he lives because of the Father so we live because of his flesh.

Every comparison is chosen to shape our understanding, so that we may grasp the subject concerned by help of the analogy set before us. To summarize, this is what gives us life: that we have Christ dwelling within our carnal selves through the flesh, and we shall live because of him in the same manner as he lives because of the Father.  (From the treatise on the Trinity by Saint Hilary of Poitiers) 


Through all my reading of the last two or three years about the doctrine, I have found no one who says it so clearly as this fourth century theologian. While all Christians salute the doctrine of the Trinity, its meaning is revealed through the Eucharist, sacraments and liturgy.

Given our being "in him through the sacrament of the flesh and blood" we should not be surprised to hear Jesus say, "...ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete."
At the point the author or preacher always says, “But of course I am not worthy and fail to live up to… blah, blah, blah.”

Forget all that. Let us pray with the confidence that we want what Jesus wants who only wants what God His Father wants. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit we bring everything to God in prayer. Of course we’re disappointed from time to time as Jesus was disappointed but our victory is assured.


Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, Priest

So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
In the hospital ministry I meet a lot of people who are suffering with pain. It may be a sharp, stabbing pain in a certain part of the body, or an acute pervasive discomfort throughout the body.
Some patients suffer in silence; others complain loudly; a few will complain their rights are being violated.
Recently that "right" threatens to become political as we address the epidemic of opioid abuse. For a brief moment some experts believed medicine could abolish all pain with a judicious application of “pain killers.” I have seen patients who, according to the doctors, were taking “enough pain medicine to kill a horse;” they groaned in agony and demanded more relief. One patient could not bear to be touched. Apparently the effort to eliminate all pain only made them more sensitive. Alcoholics and drug addicts, unfortunately, choose a path that only leads to increasing sensitivity, accelerating hunger for relief, overdose and death. In some cases, it seems, the only cure for pain is death.
In today’s gospel Jesus promises his disciples, “…you will grieve.” There is no escaping it. The effort is worse than a fool’s errand.
The Christian’s specific grief follows from knowing the Lord. We have enjoyed the ecstasy of his company; we must now suffer the agony of his absence.
The mystics tell us they are the same thing, two sides of the same coin. The measure of your joy is the measure of your sadness. When Jesus promises the fullness of life he offers us that two-sided coin, but not a choice of which side we prefer.
As a Franciscan I contemplate the life of Saint Francis of Assisi with the same intensity that I read the gospels, and I recall his passionate love of “Lady Poverty.” When everyone despised, avoided and shunned her, he courted, betrothed and wedded her. He knew her as the widow of Jesus Christ, abandoned since the day he died but now honored in the houses of Franciscans.
In our own time, still fleeing poverty, the world adds failure, disappointment, loneliness, frustration and pain to the list of untouchables. Marketers assure us we should be happy, satisfied, secure and pain free all the time. If we’re not there is something wrong and what are you going to do about it? (Buy my product!)
Jesus promised his disciples, “…you will grieve.” If you have known the Lord you know grief. If you have known compassion you suffer helpless sadness. You have seen your savior lifted on a cross and there was nothing you could do about it. You have seen your children and grandchildren make foolish, unnecessary mistakes and you were helpless to prevent it. You have expressed your opinion clearly and been accused of narrow-minded arrogance and stupidity. You have tried to alleviate poverty and been rebuked by this world’s wisdom. You have allowed the Holy Spirit to guide your decisions and could not explain why things ended so badly.
As the season of Lent/Easter comes to an end, we accept as gift this two-sided coin of life in its fullness.

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy."

If you live and breathe you volunteer for grief. It comes with the choice to be human.

When I make such a statement I include the principle of intentionality. It might be called awareness but I prefer the nuance of deliberateness. I intend to live.

Sometimes in meditation I have simply paid attention to my breathing. Resting easily I notice inhale and exhale and a significant pause before inhaling again. Eventually, before I feel oxygen hunger I say to myself, "I will inhale now -- because I want to." The Lord has commanded us to choose life and breathing is a very good way to do it.

To be human is to breathe; to be human is to grieve. Especially because we have a dual sense of the way things are and the way things should be, we feel great sorrow about the difference. No one should have to die and yet my loved ones die. I too will die. How fair is that?
And so we live with that. Sometimes we ignore it; sometimes we try to put it off. Neither effort changes the reality of grief. We speed away from it like motor boats on a calm lake, until we stop and the wake of sorrow catches up with us. Unprepared, we may be thrown from the boat.
Approaching his death, resurrection and ascension Jesus knew his disciples would suffer grief almost beyond human endurance. He suffered with them like the dying parent who wishes she could stay with her children. Jesus must go to Jerusalem to face arrest, prosecution, torture and execution; a fate he chooses in obedience to his Father. He must do this just as surely as the parent must die; and he chooses it with the same freedom I choose in my breathing meditation.
But his choice entails grief for himself and his disciples. Sadness is a blessing. Mysterious, dark and unavoidable it searches for us relentlessly, like the Hound of Heaven. It ignores our preference for joy and dismisses our predilection for comfort. It creeps into our hearts, separating us from others and teaching us the ache of loneliness until we choose to share it with others. And then it becomes joy, for in our sadness we remember his words, "I am with you always."
Our Catholic tradition is not shy of grief. We treasure the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross and the Seven Dolors of Blessed Virgin. In grief we find companionship with Mary, the saints, the Lord and his Church. There we realize our end is more than happiness, it is communion.

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

In today's gospel, from John 16, Jesus is wrapping up his "pre-crucifixion" instruction and admits his disciples have a lot to learn, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now." However, he promises to send the Holy Spirit.
The philosopher John Macmurray remarked on our willingness to learn the truth. It's not as easy as you might think. The truth is something other than my beliefs, opinions, preferences and desires. It exists apart from me, and all my ideas about it bear only some resemblance to the Truth. It is always greater than the mind can comprehend.
The human being has the capacity to receive the Truth, and even to welcome it, but it is nonetheless alien to the receptive mind. We will often be disappointed either by reality or by our sorely limited ability to comprehend it.
Aware of our disability, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The "Third Person of the Blessed Trinity" is the Truth and loves the Truth; he prepares our minds and hearts to receive it, which we must do with humility.
During the Festival of Faith in Louisville last month, Karen Armstrong reminded the gathering that compassion expects to suffer. This kind of compassion doesn't dole out excess wealth to the unfortunate. Rather, it recognizes that another's suffering is my own and I must respond to it as eagerly as I would were it my own. It doesn't matter who is hungry -- myself or someone else -- I feed the hungry. It doesn't matter who is cold, tired, homeless or naked -- myself or someone else -- I see to the need. Compassion does not act because it feels good to be nice; it is driven by a far deeper urgency.
Have I changed the subject? I was speaking of truth and now I speak of compassion. The subject is the same. Truth in action is mercy, and no other truth matters.
The disciples "could not bear" what they saw on the morrow. They fled from the Garden of Gethsemane even before the day broke. Mercy remains with the Lord as he remains with us, welcoming the truth that is almost merciless in its demands upon us.

On this day I thank God for 42 years of priesthood.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 292

...when (the Advocate) comes he will convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation: sin, because they do not believe in me; righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; condemnation, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

The weekday gospel readings during the Easter season after the octave, are taken from the Gospel of Saint John. We are now in the 16th chapter, the final chapter of Jesus' Last Supper discourse. The 17h chapter will be a prayer directed to the Father, and Jesus will proceed to Gethsemane and his crucifixion in the 18th chapter.

So today's passage begins with the word now, as in, "Now the hour has come..." This sixteenth chapter concerns the agony of judgment that must fall upon the entire world, beginning with Jesus' disciples. They will be overwhelmed with grief as he ascends to the Father, especially because his "ascension" will appear to all the world like nothing more than his being raised upon a cross.

I spoke with a Veteran recently who has been struck with paralysis on one side of his body. Eight months later he can walk, but just barely. He has not adjusted well and was almost suicidal before he was brought to the hospital. Having hit the bottom of self-pity, he is ready to turn around and come back to life. Because he is an extraordinarily devout man I could suggest to him that his disability is a "communion" with the Crucified Lord. "It's certainly not the cross you might have preferred, but it's the one he gave you."

Like most people, I would like to see Justice Reign Supreme, and the sooner the better. However, I am not quite so ready to have it begin with me. I can think of a dozen others who should change their ways before I do. Once again, that's not the way it works.

In today's gospel, sin is defined as not believing in Jesus. He does not set the standard; he is the standard of what is valuable and what is not, of who is righteous and who is not. Salvation, or "freedom," begins with believing in him.

It is right that he should go to the Father, even by way of the cross. Further, it is right that we should "no longer see" him; for we must find that inner way of faith that leads to the Father through him.

By the time this Gospel was written Jesus would have been a hundred years old, but the Gospel recalls the incomprehensible waste of a good man with so much more to do, accomplish and give. How is it that we, the disciples at that table, should see him no more? How can that be good or righteous?

They, like you and me, must live by faith. It will be an astonishing faith, as the Acts of the Apostles reveals, which is driven to announce the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Their boldness was unimaginable on that particular evening, in the quiet days before the Passover, but it would soon burst into view.

Finally, with their new faith they will see "the ruler of this world" condemned. Although he is rich and powerful with armies at his beck and call, he weighs nothing and means nothing. In God's sight he barely exists!

I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 291

When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

Christian mystics throughout the centuries have experienced, celebrated and taught about the "indwelling of the Holy Trinity." Though the doctrine of the Trinity seemed incomprehensible, confusing and thoroughly uninteresting to most people, and especially to those entrusted with teaching it, mystical writers thrilled at its beauty.

Only with the twentieth century effort to restore the Mass to its original splendor has the Holy Trinity begun to glimmer in more minds and hearts. Once again we realize the Holy Spirit is gathering us to the church and the altar; once again we enter into communion with Jesus and one another as we eat his flesh and drink his blood; once again we enter the presence of God the Father and, in persona Christi, offer our sacrifice to Him. In the Mass we find ourselves swept out of the mundane by the Holy Spirit and our Savior Jesus who joyfully, graciously introduce us to the Father.

In today's gospel Jesus promises to send the Advocate from the Father; the Advocate is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. Advocate is a juridical word; advocates speak to the judge and the jury on behalf of their clients. In Jesus' teaching the Holy Spirit advocates to the Father for us; and to us, for Jesus. If we believe in Jesus it's because we have accepted the Advocate's assurances. If we are saved it's because the Father has accepted the advocacy of the Holy Spirit and of Jesus on our behalf.

We know this as we attend our liturgies. I ask myself, "How did I come to be here?" and I cannot explain it. Was this my idea? Do I deserve credit for entering and remaining with the Church all these years? Has my behavior earned such a reward? I don't think so! Not even close!

This is the work of the Father who sees with the human eyes of Jesus and overlooks my faults in the Light of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus goes on to say, "And you also testify..." Again, was this my initiative? Did I decide to become a Christian, a Catholic or a priest? No, I only accepted what was given to me, including the pleasant responsibilities of testimony.

The mystics have been telling us this all along but Christians of the 21st century comprehend it only through our practice of worship. We permit ourselves to be swept into the Sacred Presence; we allow our lungs and tongues to sing God's praises; we lift up our heads to see the signs and hear the words; we open hungry mouths to be fed and dry throats to be slaked by the Gift of God.

Sixth Sunday of Easter


I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.

There is not a shred of nostalgia in the New Testament for the days when Jesus walked among us. Have you noticed that? This man was so beautiful, compassionate and charismatic -- not to mention Good -- and people came from miles around just to be in his presence; yet afterwards his disciples did not seem to miss him. They didn't even linger in the places where he had been, Galilee and Jerusalem.
Jesus had assured them, "I will not leave you orphans!" and they took him at his word. Though he was dead he came to them and remained with them; and his Spirit empowered them to take his story to the farthest corners of the world.
Many people today suffer from a psychological disability known broadly as "abandonment." Many are women who have been deserted by their husbands or lovers; more are children who have only a nodding acquaintance with their parents.
Some people say this scourge began with the Industrial Revolution when work was mechanized and cottage industries disappeared. Since time immemorial men, women and children produced goods in their own homes, shops and farms. With mechanization they were taken from their homes and separated from their families, men with men, women with women, and children, overseen by strangers, with children. Exhausted by the long day in the factories the families hardly knew one another as they returned home.
Others point to the barbaric wars of the last three centuries when millions of men never came home, or returned as traumatized Veterans. Even when they were at home they were emotionally absent.
Plagues of distilled alcohol and drugs have cost us dearly as well. Ciders and wine gave way to hard alcohol; harmless coca and poppy were reduced to cocaine and opiates. The peace pipe of Native Americans became a cigarette, designed to be addictive.
Finally, there is the cult of individuality, which drives people to succeed as they shed their obligations to family, neighbors and church. Upward mobility is a lonely ambition; you can't take your loved ones with you into the upper atmosphere of elite society.
A religious spirituality of "Jesus and me" only reinforces that removal from human contact. The Christian in John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" deserted his wife, children and neighbors to pursue his lonely road to salvation.
All of these forces leave us feeling very alone in the world, without a sense of belonging or membership. Should anyone be surprised that many find this life unbearable and kill themselves?
Fortunately, an alarm has been sounded and many realize we cannot go on like this.
If there was ever a "Catholic Hour" this is it, when the Holy Spirit must gather us back into communion with our families, neighbors, friends and the Lord.
The Christian scriptures describe a church of men and women supremely comfortable in their bodies, ministry and world. Though arrested, tortured, imprisoned and sometimes martyred they continue to sing the praises of Jesus as hundreds and then thousands flocked to join them.
If Jewish and gentile authorities could not accept Jesus because they neither saw nor knew him, the homeless and dispossessed recognized in the Crucified and Risen Lord a God who embraced them with open arms.
He still promises to anyone who is ready, "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you."

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Easter

"If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me."

There are innumerable ways in which believers and nonbelievers are alike. As fellow citizens of a country, as coworkers and neighbors, speaking the same language, wearing similar clothing and eating the same food, they have much to agree about. They probably share much the same moral code: thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, honor your father and your mother, etc.

But the difference is shocking: nonbelievers "do not know the one who sent me." But, significantly, many suppose they do. Since the Father does not appear in human form; he never shows himself in any gathering; he never stops by to chat in anyone's house -- anyone can claim a relationship to him. Who am I to say you have never known the Lord?

Even when the nonbeliever's actions are hateful -- racist, violent, mean-spirited or downright selfish -- his claim to know the Lord and to act out of his faith cannot be challenged. He might even attend the same church for reasons impenetrable to the believing Christian.

This conundrum has caused troubled days and nights among thoughtful Christians. Martin Luther concluded there is an invisible church which will appear no sooner than Judgment Day. John Calvin suspected the true believer would be happier and more prosperous. (And so many people desperately want to look happier and more prosperous to their fellows.) After five hundred years of Reformation these solutions satisfy no one.

Jesus offers this reassurance to the believer, "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first." Believers and non-believers can expect arbitrary violence in a world of winners and losers, but believers will prefer to lose. They will not volunteer to be victimized as in codependent behavior, but they will recognize there are diabolical forces at work in this world and they will want no part of their victory. They will not measure their achievements by success.

The believer ponders the victory of Christ only after contemplating his kenosis -- his poverty, abandonment, humiliation, suffering and ignominious death. Saint Francis of Assisi wanted nothing to do with success; he shuddered at the thought. His perfect joy was to suffer the cold of winter, the heat of summer, the torment of hunger, the poverty of homelessness and the contempt of the comfortable as Jesus suffered. He desired above all companionship with Jesus and he found it in failure.

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 289

No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one's life for one's friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.

As I write this I am reading a history of religion which details the development of many beliefs and rituals of the ancient world. I always find this kind of study challenging. Millions of people in hundreds of places over thousands of years exercised their customs with full confidence that their gods heard and cared enough to respond. I am sure many of these people considered themselves friends of their benevolent deities. 

So here I am, in what is probably not the last century or millennium of human history, practicing a religious belief that recalls God's affection for me and those I love. I call him My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and he calls me friend
My claim to this confidence is revelation: 
"because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." 
The Lord of Heaven and Earth has chosen for his own purposes and in his own time to show himself to a select people. He has done so not because they were particularly good or deserving but out of his own generosity. Despite the complaints of some people, God is under no particular obligation to treat everyone equally, revealing himself in precisely the same manner to every creature. There have been saints far more favored than I, and sinners not nearly as blessed as I. I do not envy the saints because they have suffered enormously with their privilege; and because I have been blessed far more than I can begin to appreciate.
Grace is like the lung cancer that sometimes afflicts people who never smoked. They didn't earn it and don't deserve it. I certainly have not earned or deserved the title friend, but I'd be a fool if I didn't accept it. The harshest critics of my belief would allow me that. 
Given such a blessing, I must aspire to it. I owe it to the Lord and to myself to announce the Good News to others. They too are invited to friendship with Jesus. It's not a gift if I don't give it away. 

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 288

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. 
Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.

The Latin word for rule is regula, the root of many English words like: regulation, regular, regal, regalia and reign. Regula might be translated as rule, law, commandment, precept, statute, ordinance or any of that family of synonyms.

When we hear Jesus speak of "my commandments" and "my father's commandments" we might wonder about which specific rule he has in mind. Does he mean, "Do good, avoid evil?" Or "Do unto others....?" Or "Love one another as I have loved you?"

But I think the word commandments in this context is about his reign, and our choice to remain under his rule, within his house and abide in his love. We must know the Lord as friend and champion, as savior and  redeemer -- all titles which imply what he does for us -- and as Lord, meaning we are subject to him. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is addressed as "Sir" ten times! We live in his presence as we permit his Spirit to rule our hearts.

I have a pet theory that the ancient Near East was so delighted with their codes of systematic law they considered them heaven-sent. God himself gave the law to Moses, or Hammurabi, or the Pharaoh. Gratitude and love for God practiced obedience to the law. 

But, sinful humans find ways to corrupt the observance. No law can regulate every eventuality, and ingenuity will find ways to serve oneself while ostensibly obeying the law. Stretching the law becomes convenient, then a mindset, a way of life and finally blatant hypocrisy. So long as the Deity is silent we make do with inventiveness. As a commander of the US Army remarked about the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib: without very specific, detailed instructions about interrogation, young soldiers can get "very creative." 

The Christian controversy introduced another way to abide gratefully within God's presence. That is, we should continually ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God's will for us. We do not assume we can interpret the laws that were formulated in ancient times by vastly different cultures. Rather, we pray that the Spirit will keep us within the tradition even as it adapts to the changing world around us. This will entail conversation, disagreement and patience. It should involve the whole community because the Holy Spirit can speak with equal facility to the newest and least, as well as the oldest and wisest, among us. 

Reading the Acts of the Apostles we see how the disciples eagerly paid attention to the Holy Spirit. They went where the Spirit told them to go, avoided those places where the Spirit prevented them, and prayed continually for guidance. If the Spirit rushed upon them they acted; if not, they refrained. They never had to be in a hurry to do anything unless the Spirit sped them along. 

This is what Saint Paul means by the life of faith. It is not simply a set of opinions, it is a way of being in God's presence continually, gratefully and confidently. 

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Lectionary: 287

I rejoiced because they said to me,
"We will go up to the house of the LORD."
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

In today's first reading we hear  that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to settle a sticky problem that confronted the Church at that time -- and to this day: Do we have to accept outsiders?

They would soon realize Holy Spirit insists upon announcing the gospel to every living creature, a practice that Saint Anthony and Francis took literally. A church that systematically and intentionally bars certain human beings from membership for whatever reason is not Christian.

Our responsorial psalm today celebrates the journey Paul and Barnabas made. It is "a song of ascents" attributed to King David, meaning a song pilgrims sang as they traveled to the holy city Jerusalem. Walking through the gate and setting foot within its walls was a moment of great joy.

This trip for Paul and Barnabas was not simply a pious devotion; it might even be called "a business trip." Without the presence of Psalm 122, which the Church introduces at this moment, we might suppose the apostles had things other than worship on their minds as they traveled.

But Saint Luke tells us it was a very happy journey. As they traveled through gentile territory, Phoenicia and Samaria, the newly converted gentile Christians received them with great joy. They were honored by the apostles' presence and delighted to learn that the faith was spreading so rapidly.

So the trip took on the trappings of a pilgrimage already as travelers and residents along the route shared prayers, songs and religious dances.

The travelling apostles could also look forward to a reunion with their brothers in the faith. At one time they had fled from Jerusalem after Stephen was murdered by a mob and Herod Antipas decapitated James; but now they returned confident of a friendly greeting from Peter and the mother church.

So this business trip is a pilgrimage and their business is a sacred consultation, an urgent invitation to the Holy Spirit to "Settle this matter for us. We cannot manage without you."

Their prayer and their confident joy set the example for parish councils and all their committees, for gatherings of religious sodalities and communities, of synods of priests and bishops, and for ecumenical councils of the Church. We should always be delighted to be in one another's company and eager to welcome strangers. There will never be an end of this controversy and there will never be an absence of God's hospitality among us.

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

Easter celebrates the victory that Jesus has won. Christians celebrate with songs of praise, as in Psalm 68:
"The Lord gives the word to the bearers of good tidings: The Almighty has defeated a numberless army and kings and armies are in flight, in flight, while you were at rest in the sheepfolds. At home the women already share the spoil. They are covered with silver as the wings of a dove, its feathers brilliant with shining gold, and jewels flashing like snow on Mount Zalmon."

Human life is often described as a struggle  between good and evil. But our Christian Scriptures assure us the battle is over:
Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come,  and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.

I need to be reminded of this Victory often. I tend to think, "It's all up to me. I've got to do this!"

The Lord says, "Relax." or better: "Peace be with you." And, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

I will never be happy if I am not happy right now. I will never know peace if I cannot know peace in this place at this time and with these people.

And so I welcome the Victory the Lamb has won for me and for us. "Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.