Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

Lectionary: 401

On the next day Moses said to the people,
"You have committed a grave sin.

You know you're in deep trouble when Moses announces, "You have committed a grave sin." But you may not know this is very good news. 
"Context is everything!" and the context of Moses' angry announcement is, "You are God's chosen people." This is very good news. 
The human being, unlike other animals, notices when things are profoundly wrong. We feel the threat both to our personal existence -- "I may die!" -- and to our existence as a species.
Perhaps we have this sense because we are so absurdly helpless for so much of our lives. A newborn infant can't even turn over, much less flee to safety. She'll be well into her second or third decade before she is ready for relatively independent living, and during her last decades will again rely on others for a lot of help. Although she is never totally self-sufficient, during her strongest years she must assist others: the young, sick and elderly. We survive only because we help one another.
But evil remains a constant threat, both the evil of accident, disease and natural disasters and the evil of human perfidy. Everyone of us acts selfishly and thoughtlessly at times. In consequence people die.
Call it "original sin." Call it, "the way things are." We know it shouldn't be that way; we know we're made for better things. Human life is so very beautiful and good when we care for one another. That satisfaction more than makes up for the disappointments; it makes it all worthwhile.
The Lord comes to us in our weakness and espouses us as his own beloved people. We're saved! but....
When I trained as a lifeguard I learned that exhausted swimmers often give up at the moment they're rescued. Just as the boat arrives they say, "Thank God" and quit trying. That relaxation can be fatal; the lifeguard must be prepared to lift an exhausted, defeated person out of the water. She may be "dead weight."
We seem to act that way when God comes to save us. No sooner did God deliver his people from Egypt than they began to carp about the food and to entertain themselves with false gods. They forgot to pay attention to the expectations and demands of this unfamiliar savior. That's when they heard Moses thunder, "You have committed a grave sin!" 
God's demands go much farther than we ever imagined. "You shall be holy as the Lord is holy!" We had not thought of that. It doesn't even seem necessary.

"To me, therefore, you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be my own."
Isn't survival enough? Why should we flourish?
Perhaps we had not noticed that we cannot survive unless we flourish. The Lord will not keep us as animals in a zoo. God wants more of us because we are capable of more; realizing this we too want more.
"You have committed a grave sin!" is a very serious warning and a wonderful invitation; it surpasses everything we had expected of human life. Hearing that threat we accept the embrace of arms stretched as wide as a cross, and then stretch our hands to take up the cross.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 109

The Lord said to Solomon, "I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now,  and after you there will come no one to equal you."

Eugene D. Genovese, in his book Roll Jordan Roll, the world the slaves made, tells the story of a plantation owner who strolled about his estate and met his wheelwright, a very happy man. The slave showed him how he could arrange twelve wooden rods of equal length into a circle of six equilateral triangles and make a wheel! 
The master told, "We have known that for thousands of years."
Shocked and saddened, the slave replied, "Sir, you would have saved me a lot of trouble if you had told me that!"
I've been reading a book lately by a well-known psychiatrist who has done much research on how the brain works and the mind arises. He has much to say about consciousness and learning but he says nothing of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Freud, Marx or any of the great thinkers of the past. He is reinventing phenomenology, and delighted with his own brilliance. 
He dwells much on intellect; I am halfway through the book and he has yet to say anything about the will. He doesn't seem to know he has taken his stand in the Platonic tradition, as opposed to the Aristotelian.  
This Sunday's readings invite us to ponder Wisdom, and to ask God to bestow that gift upon us. Wisdom is a treasure buried in a field and a pearl of great price. This divine gift teaches us to sort out good from evil and wisdom from foolishness in a world inundated with Too Much Information. No individual, no matter how clever or blessed, can do this alone. Only a community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit can hope to hear music in this world's cacophony or detect God's whisper in the thunderstorm. 
The Christian churches have always invested much in learning. We are not anti-intellectual; we do not cultivate stupidity; nor even, like some politicians, the image of stupidity. Although "book learning" without lived experience may spawn noxious attitudes among some people, especially among young people as they take their first steps into the adult world, time, maturity and continual study ripen their learning into wisdom. 
Wisdom "is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." 
The apostolic generation of the Church, those first missionaries who announced the Resurrection of Jesus to the world, strove mightily to discover the antecedents of the Gospel in the Hebrew tradition. The Jews had not yet formulated a bible, (an "Old Testament") and the "New Testament" would not emerge from the letters, treatises and gospels of the Way until several centuries later. 
That first generation studied, discussed and quarreled with each other as they made sense of what had happened in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit kept sifting them through the colander of the cross to separate kernels of truth from nonsense. Often what appeared absurd to the worldly-wise and sacrilegious to the pious was the Way of the Spirit. 
As we pass through this desperately troubled period, when learning seems to have split into polluted streams of "conservative" and "liberal" we ask God's Holy Spirit to help us bring from God's storeroom of wisdom both the new and the old. 

Memorial of Saint Martha

Lectionary: 400/607

Taking the book of the covenant, he read it aloud to the people, who answered, "All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do." Then he took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, saying, "This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his."

Today's first reading has a two-part structure which should be familiar to any Catholic, and to any Protestant whose denomination has preserved our liturgical traditions. 
First Moses "related all the words and ordinances of the LORD" and the people shouted their assent. This first part corresponds to the "Liturgy of the Word," when we hear passages from the Old and New Testaments, the responsorial psalm, and a selection from one of four gospels; and then a homily by a bishop, priest or deacon. On Sundays and solemnities we assent to the Lord's teaching by reciting the Creed. 
The second part of this reading and our Mass concerns the covenant. Once again we welcome this undeserved blessing. Moses splashed the blood of sacrifice on the altar, which represented God, and all the people, who represented themselves and all their descendants. The feast with the flesh of the animal completed the covenant ceremony. 
We give our consent to the New Covenant through the four part ceremony of the Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer, Fraction and Reception of the Eucharist. 
Saint Martha would have been familiar with these rituals as she welcomed Jesus to the home she shared with Mary and Lazarus. They were the customs of an ordinary Jewish meal. Everyone knew them; Jesus learned them from his mother and father. As he went throughout Galilee and Judea on his way to Jerusalem, he taught the people, and then "broke bread" with them. 
With other familiar prayers he would have recited the command from Deuteronomy 8:10:
...when you have eaten and are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for the good land he has given you.
Jewish and Christian scholars believe the ancient Jews recited that verse at the beginning of every meal, just as Catholics recite, "Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts..." before we sit down to eat. 
As they celebrated the Mass, Christians, realizing that Jesus had created a new religion, replaced Deuteronomy 8:10 with a new formula, 
"On the night before he died he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take this all of you and eat it. This is my body.' Then he took the chalice, blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying, 'Take this all of you and drink of it, for this is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me." 
Liturgically, faithful disciples of Jesus experienced a very smooth transition from their ancient Jewish to the new Christian religion. They believed as Saint Thomas Aquinas taught:
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing /Newer rites of grace prevail;
Many, like Saint Paul, were surprised and profoundly saddened that all Jews did not accept the new religion.  
On this memorial of Saint Martha, we celebrate her new faith and ours:
(We) have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God,
the one who is coming into the world."

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Hear the parable of the sower."

Today's gospel reflects the disappointment of the early church and its satisfaction.
Much of their missionary effort seemed to be wasted on those who hear without understanding, those who dive into it with inane enthusiasm, and those who devoutly embrace the gospel but never surrender their worries and anxieties.
Psalm 126 recalls the hardship of sowing:

They go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing; and the joy of the harvest: they will return with cries of joy, carrying their bundled sheaves.
There is such sweet delight at the end of this parable! We should contemplate that joy and consider Jesus' interpretation of his parable, "...the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."
I am no farmer but I suppose a yield of a hundredfold is astonishing; sixty- and thirtyfold are more than satisfactory, even when one considers the blood, sweat and tears that went into sowing the seed. Gathering such a harvest the farmer becomes like the mother who has forgotten the agony of her labor as she nurses her newborn.
Anyone who has worked for the Church knows that satisfaction but with this remarkable difference: we're talking about human beings. They cannot be counted, sorted or tabulated with numbers.
Occasionally it happens that I meet a former patient of the VA Hospital who has learned the hard lessons of recovery and no longer drinks alcohol, smokes crack or shoots heroin. It happens rarely because they don't need to come by the hospital often. But it is such a pleasure and thrill to meet this person.
This is not the satisfaction of a job well done, though the Veteran may thank me for my ministry. It's more like the happiness of seeing God's glory fully alive. It's nothing I did; it is far more beautiful than anything I could do. This is the work of the Lord, indeed we are glad!

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 398

The disciples approached Jesus and said, "Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?"
....He said to them in reply, "...blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

You and I should be familiar with the disciples' dilemma. We too are caught between the Lord and "the crowd." We understand, or think we understand, Jesus' teachings but we don't understand why the crowds don't. Or we don't understand why he can't explain himself and his teachings in ways the crowd will understand.

We wonder, "Why does he speak to the crowd in parables?" Can't our religion be explained more simply? Can't our faith be more palatable to the public? If we stand firmly with our bishops on the issue of abortion, must we also take their stand on birth control, climate change and immigration policy?

Jesus' reply is typically enigmatic. "Blessed are your eyes because they see...." What do we see?

If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we see that he is the standard for all attitudes, policies and judgment.

"Eyes fixed" means continual contemplation of his life and teaching, and a measured suspicion of what the "world" may tell us about him or anything else. We don't, for instance, worship "The Economy." Those who study that peculiar science, known as "economists," are not even remotely infallible. They try to predict human behavior as if it operated on mechanical principles of ebb and flow, or "fear and greed," without factoring in grace and mercy. And yet they pretend to tell Christians how we should use our money. The only thing economists can predict is that they will periodically lead us off a cliff.

"Eyes fixed" means allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our personal and family life, our business and economic decisions, our private, social and political life. The Spirit of God is wise to the ways of the world; its ways are often hidden to the clever and the learned.

"...many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it...." 

The Lord has revealed himself to you and me for a purpose, and it's more than our personal gratification. We have been sent from Jerusalem to be a light in darkness, a city on a hill visible even to distant travelers. When they weary of the constant fluctuations of fashion, the economy and political correctness they will look for stability to those who belong to Jesus and are guided by his Spirit.

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 397

The children of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died at the LORD's hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!"

Someone asked the question, "Why do female elephants live longer than their reproductive years?" An explanation has been offered: some parts of Africa experience 35-year-cycles of rain and drought. Large animals perish during the dry periods. But elephants have long memories and many outlive the cycle. Grandmother elephants remember where springs of water flow beneath the dry, dusty surface. They learned these sites from their grandmothers. The old cows lead the herd to those rare places, dig through the crust and produce water holes for the thirsty calves.

I am always reluctant to use animal behavior as an analogy for human behavior -- their differences are overwhelming! -- but, as we celebrate Jesus' grandparents, we can look at the ministry of grandparents. 

Grandparents face particular challenges today. Under the pressures of modern life, many families disintegrate and children are orphaned. Their grandparents have little choice but to take them in and face the trauma of loss with them. Many are raising their grandchildren; some open their homes to their great-grandchildren.

Grandparents remember when families ate, worked, played and prayed together and they teach their grandchildren how to live as family. Many grandparents have finally put aside their own foolish behaviors, those that alienated their children, and can atone for their youth with their new ministry.

Historians who study religion in the United States say, "The children try to remember what their parents tried to forget." This has been true of Protestant religions since the Revolution; it has become true of Catholics since the Second Vatican Council. Many Catholic children of the Boom Generation have a fondness for old fashioned prayers and rituals, the very "traditions" that so repelled their parents. Some young priests glory in cassocks and birettas, sending older priests like me into hysterics.

Religious grandparents keep our traditions alive; they remember the devotions of their own grandparents -- sacrificial giving, the rosary, pilgrimages, novenas and Sunday Mass. Many grandparents attend daily Mass. Like old elephants, they teach their grandchildren these ancient ways and preserve them for generations to come. 

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

Feast of Saint James, Apostle
Lectionary: 605

Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written,
I believed, therefore I spoke,

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; 
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells 
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's 
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; 
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, 
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. 

I say móre: the just man justices; 
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces; 
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is — 
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places, 
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his 
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins requires more than one reading. By the time I had studied this poem and had learned to understand each line, I had memorized it. Well worth the trouble! It might be explained quite simply by Saint Paul's statement: 

I believed, therefore I spoke,
Baptism has been defined as the sacrament which leaves an "indelible mark on the soul." That was a fine explanation for second graders but it means little to adults. Baptism is the sacrament by which a person is transformed within her innermost being into a child of God. 

From that moment she must "justice;" that is, "do justice." She will deal out that being indoors which she is: a child of God. She can do only "one thing and the same" if she would act with integrity. She can only "go" herself, and no matter what she says or does her faith will "speak and spell" Christ. 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Apostle James and we hear Saint Paul speak of what it means to belong to Christ, to be his apostle, "I believed, therefore I spoke." Believing in Christ he could do no less than "act in God's eye what in God's eye he is -- Christ...." 

For Christ plays in ten thousand places -- that is, Jesus is present wherever a Christian abides. He is lovely... to the Father who sees him through the features of human faces; of your face and mine. 

Just as a bell sounds its name across the countryside (Bell! Bell! Bell!); a tucked (plucked) string of a guitar tells; and a stone, falling into a well, rings as it strikes one wall then the other, so does the apostle sound the name of Christ. 

...we too believe and therefore speak, knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence.

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 395

“Tell the children of Israel to go forward.”

I used to enjoy playing chess. It’s a beautiful game of amazing complexity. Until computers outstripped the human ability to play the game, many people believed chess was a game of infinite depth. Grand masters studied the game endlessly and considered themselves beginners. I found that thought intriguing and beautiful and I loved the game.
But I was a lousy player. I had no patience at all and I can’t stand to lose. Whenever I lost it seemed A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME! So I’ve not played in years. If you want to learn chess you’d better be prepared to lose. There is always someone who can beat you.

Anyone who does anything meets failure, and probably, often. Those without the intrepid spirit quit after a few attempts. They just can’t stand to lose.
The Hebrews in Egypt had vague memories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but mostly they remembered the endless frustration of slavery. Their successes were consumed by their superiors; their disappointments were heaped upon them. They had no history of achievement. Caught between the Red Sea and the massive Egyptian army, the runaway slaves despaired. How could they resist bowmen and swordsmen on chariots, the cutting-edge technology of its day?

Then the order came from Moses, “Go forward!” Toward what? The Red Sea?
In today’s gospel Jesus meets the same resistance among the Pharisees, though it is more sophisticated, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you."

Before we move forward we want some assurance that this will work out, that we’re not diving into another failure. We don’t see an opening here.
The Hebrews could not imagine the waters opening before them. The Pharisees could not imagine the Nazarene being raised from the dead.

Often we must obey the impulses of the Holy Spirit when we cannot see the road ahead. We practice charity when our resources seem already stretched; we practice patience when we have run out of patience; we listen when we already know the answer. We give our enemies the benefit of a doubt. We feel like Charley Brown attempting a field goal as Charlene holds the football. We take the chance.
Saint Theresa of Calcutta reminded Christians throughout the world, the Lord requires fidelity, not success. For that, we are grateful.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 106

The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.

Gardeners tell me they must tend their garden plots often. Weeds appear in a matter of days, within a week of sunshine and rain they smother vegetables and flowers. True hobbyists enjoy weeding despite the hot sun, kneeling on all fours, stiffness in the back and the effort to stand up again. It’s a necessary part of the process and if you don’t want to weed you’d best take up another hobby. The joy of gardening absorbs its challenges; we call that virtue patience.
Today’s gospel offers three parables about God’s divine patience. First there is the farmer whose fields suffered an invasive species; then the tiny, unpretentious mustard seed; and finally the yeast that disappears into dough. The farmer might have been frustrated by the appearance of weeds; someone might expect nothing of so small a seed, and the ignorant would ask, “What’s the point of adding yeast?”

In all three cases the wise know to wait patiently while the ignorant rush to judgment and wasteful, ineffective action.
These later chapters of Saint Matthew’s gospel concern the mission of the disciples and the life of the Church. The new disciple, eager to announce the Gospel and more eager to get results, will suffer endless frustration. He might go to war with certain elements of the Church when they disagree with him. They represent evil to him. Even baptized and fully engaged members with impeccable credentials suffer his interdict when they present obstacles to his success. He would weed them out of his church.

The same tyro will regard the small stuff, the mustard seed, as unimportant and unworthy of attention. The little birds – children, elderly, disabled, poor – will not find shelter in his presence; he is out there doing Great Work.
Finally, he’ll take short cuts as he kneads the community and bakes it into a communion.  He might ask, “What difference does the yeast of personal prayer make anyway? If the bread fails to rise it’s the fault of those people who shouldn’t be in my church to start with!”

These parables teach us about Divine Patience. Unlike the annual cycle of planting and harvesting, God has all the time in the world. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” His Kingdom of Heaven will appear, but not in the foreseeable future, nor within the time I have left.
No one can know yet which members of the church are wheat and which are weeds. The wise tell us, “Call no one happy before she dies.” Likewise, call no one saved and no marriage successful before they have ended in grace. Those judgments belong to the Lord who planted the Seed of Justice in a garden just outside Jerusalem.

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Lectionary: 603

The Bride says: 
On my bed at night I sought him 
whom my heart loves– 
I sought him but I did not find him. 
I will rise then and go about the city; 
in the streets and crossings I will seek 
Him whom my heart loves.

When many people think of the word Catholic or Catholic Church the first thing they think of is a Roman Catholic teaching about sexuality. It might be the issue of birth control or abortion. It might concern "homosexual marriage" or the required celibacy of priests. Or perhaps it's the refusal to ordain women. Many people rightly suspect the Church has a low opinion of transgender medical procedures. And extra-marital sex is still out of the question. Artificial insemination? No, thank you. We also frown upon incest; marriage is permitted only between persons who do not have a first degree (mother/son or father/daughter), second degree (brother/sister) or third degree (uncle/niece, aunt/nephew.) Fourth degree (first cousins) relations are reluctantly permitted. 

If a fertile couple intends not to have children -- that is, not to accept them as a gracious gift from our generous God -- they do not have the wherewithal to be married. Likewise if they intend to be unfaithful, or marry with the proviso that they might divorce, they may appear to be married but are not. 

No matter the issue, if it's sex, we've got a teaching, policy or position; and it's probably not conformed to the currently popular opinion. 

Unfortunately, that negative publicity overshadows our enthusiastically favorable attitude toward sexuality. Especially, we love the Sacrament of Marriage. Even a grade school child should notice that neither religious life nor celibacy is a sacrament, while marriage is. 

Historically, that has been controversial. There is a shadow tradition of Manichean heresies among Christians, beginning even before the birth of Jesus. They have always despised Marriage. Their dualism sees only good and evil: the divine is good, human is evil; spirit is good, flesh is evil; male is good, female is evil; friends are good, enemies are evil; and so forth. Manichaens  have opposed the institution of marriage because  they suspect everything about flesh, desire and pleasure. But it's a lot easier to suppress marriage than sexuality; the very people who despise the sacrament as carnal often slip into carnality. 

Clearly, by anyone's account, Saint Mary Magdalene was attracted to Jesus. Thousands of people flocked to hear his words and to be healed by his touch; she readily joined the throng. Did she have a sexual relationship with him? Only in the fantasies of today's sexually-obsessed public. There's no indication of that in scripture. 

Much can be made from an argument of silence -- that is, "Just because the Bible doesn't say it doesn't mean it didn't happen." -- but nothing persuasive. An argument from silence could just as well suppose Jesus traveled to China. 

We celebrate Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus. She wept at his grave and he appeared to her on Easter Sunday. Their embrace ended when he sent her to tell the others. We know little more than that about her. She loved him intensely and he loved her as well. Like every relationship of two persons, like your relationship to Jesus and like mine: theirs was absolutely unique. 

But of course there were sexual feelings as there are around any desirable male or female. Did Jesus exploit the desires of the women or men who came to him? That would fit no one's image of Jesus. 

We honor Saint Mary Magdalene among the disciples of Jesus for her chaste devotion to him. During this licentious age, insanely preoccupied with sex and gratification, we pray that her Spirit might guide us in all our gatherings, conversations and interactions. 

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 393

But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you.

It is wonderful to see the number of Catholics who more deeply participate in the Eucharist as they drink the Blood of the Lord from the chalice. This privilege, once permitted only to bishops, priests and deacons, belongs to the baptized. 
One of the Fathers of the Church, remarking on that practice, promised his congregation that the Avenging Angel, seeing the blood on the lips of God's people, would pass over them. 
There are innumerable references to blood in the scriptures, beginning with the blood of Abel that cried to heaven for revenge, through the "blood and water" that fell from Jesus' body when he was crucified, to Revelation 19: 13: 
He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. 
The implication is always violent. Blood is not supposed to leave the body; it does so only when the body has been violated. But this violence is a sacred sacrifice which is beautiful and precious in God's sight. The Father is pleased and grateful for the Son who offers his life to save his people. 
So when the Christian drinks the Blood of the Lamb she welcomes the full measure of blessings and trials that must come her way. 
If Jesus was not exempt from suffering, obviously his disciple will not be either. 
Saint Francis readily embraced the way of the cross when he taught his friars that poverty is the easiest, surest, quickest and most blessed way to heaven. Just as Jesus was homeless and poor, as he relied on kind strangers in every town he visited, so should the friars prefer neediness, shortages and the ever-present possibilities of hunger, cold and privation. 
As Francis' teaching worked its way into popular devotions, traditional expressions appeared. We say things like, "Offer it up!" and "All for Jesus." These sayings help us cope with the disappointments which are natural and inevitable. 
If my first emotional reaction was self-pity and "Why me?" remembering the Blood of Jesus I will ask, "Why not me?" 
Today's liturgy gives us an even more delightful response to difficulty, "I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord."
It is a phrase we should recall each time we step from our pews to join the procession to the altar, as we slowly step forward, and as we bow before the Eucharistic Minister who offers the Precious Blood of Jesus. 
"I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord."

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 392

Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this my title for all generations.

A child's first word is "Momma." The simple sound of m and ah, created by pursing the lips and shaping a breath, thrills the infant's mother. If the baby is her first she has a new identity, one she had hardly dared to dream of or expect. Though she cannot be unfamiliar with the word, it is entirely new when it's mouthed by a new born baby.
The baby's word is a new identity for the new mother. Regardless of titles ahead of her name, or degrees fastened at the end; regardless of whatever she was called by her parents, friends, enemies or government, the one that matters to the child and to her is "Momma." 
In Exodus 3 the Lord reveals his name to us. That is, he reveals the name by which we shall call him. It is not an abstract concept  like god, which might prove useful for the classroom or theological debate. It is a sacred name by which we enter the unfathomable mystery of God's presence, entering freely and without hesitation, as a child runs into his mother's room crying, "Momma, Momma, Momma!" 
It is a privileged name, given to a particular people. Not every child in the neighborhood can call this woman, "Momma." They have their own parents. Likewise not anyone can call on the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob unless they have been adopted or born into the family. 
"This is my name forever; this my title for all generations.
Like the proud new mother, the Lord boasts of his name and would be called by this name "for all generations," precisely because the Lord is proud of his people. 
so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, to be my people, my fame, my praise, my glory

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Moses said to God,
"Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
He answered, "I will be with you;
and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you:
when you bring my people out of Egypt,
you will worship God on this very mountain."

I find it more than remarkable that the "proof" God offers for Moses' authority is the worship the Hebrews will offer on Mount Sinai. We usually look for more spectacular demonstrations and there are plenty in the history that follows this conversation in the wilderness. Who would not be persuaded by the ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians, the parting of the Red Sea and the complete destruction of Pharaoh and his army? But these mighty deeds were not the proof the Lord offered. Nor would they prove a reliable foundation of faith.

Rather, it was the worship the Hebrews offered on "this very mountain."

"No sign will be given!" Jesus thundered at his critics. His changing water to wine and feeding five thousand in the desert did not satisfy them. Neither his compassionate healing nor his numinous presence could bring them round. They would not see his passion, death and resurrection as a proof of his authority. As he had prophesied, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."

We read of that proof in Exodus 24, when Moses presided over the Mount Sinai covenant. He sprinkled the blood of an ox on the people and on the altar, which represented God. Thus they were bound together in the blood.

The Church sees this remarkable ceremony as a prototype of the Mass. We are joined to our God and to one another in the Blood which was shed on Mount Calvary. It flowed from his open chest when a soldier pierced his side with a lance; it is the very blood which we drink at the altar.

The proof God offered during that burning bush epiphany was the covenant of communion with himself.  This sign is recognized with the eyes of faith, by those filled with the Holy Spirit.

There will always be cynics and critics who demand more persuasive, "scientific" proof. They point to the persistence of evil -- which abides even in Christian hearts! -- to show that an all-powerful God is neither good nor just.

Our eyes have been opened and we see God's vindication on Calvary and our Communion in the Blood of the Lamb.

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 390

And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Growing up in the mid-western Catholicism of the 1950's I remember presumption as one of the more serious sins. Although I conformed to the six laws of the Church and the innumerable laws of civil society, I should not presume I would go to heaven or, to use the Protestant word, be saved. I should still cultivate an attitude of fear and trembling before the sacred mysteries of faith. The nun, the priest, the church, the sanctuary, the tabernacle and the Most Blessed Sacrament demanded and deserved great reverence. If I walked or drove past a Catholic church or cemetery I should sign myself with the cross; I should be afraid not to do so. 

This training met some resistance with the onset of cynicism in American society during the 1960's. Resistance to the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the furor around birth control and Humanae Vitae and many other circumstances created an atmosphere more tolerant of presumption. 

Advertisers in particular told me, "You deserve a break today!" Baby boomers were special, entitled and privileged.  Americans in general were supposed to colonize the world with our culture of privilege. There would be no more minorities; everyone had the right to think, feel, speak and buy whatever he could afford. Laws might prohibit abortion, guns, gambling, Sunday shopping, divorce, and recreational drugs but they could be changed for the entitled generation. With a new millennium even "same sex marriage," which had been both unmentioned and unimaginable, became not only a privilege but a right for those who wanted it. 

In this Brave New World everyone was saved; Hell, Purgatory and Limbo were no more. A Good God who loves everyone unconditionally must assume everyone into heaven immediately upon their death, regardless of their deeds. 

Theologians tell us presumption is a sin against the virtue of hope. Where hope stands in eager waiting before a generous God, presumption ignores the Presence of God. Where hope wonders what gifts might appear as unexpected adventures unfold and insurmountable difficulties arise, presumption wants no challenges . Presumption knows what it wants, expects and demands it. 

Where hope ennobles, presumption enslaves. Hope allows the Holy Spirit to bless one with courage when distressed and joy when disappointed. It recognizes the sovereign freedom of God to give and withhold gifts, and remains confident that His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me. Presumption disappointed plunges into angry despair. 

Finally, hope recognizes presumption and does penance for it. If I am disappointed I know it comes from my expectations and not from God's failure. Presumption cannot be converted to hope; it clings to itself and bitterly resents every challenge. 

In today's gospel Jesus uses the strongest possible language to warn against this sin. It must suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, even as hope confidently waits God's mercy. 

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 389

A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, "Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country."

Exodus is the story of refugee immigrants. No descendant of Abraham, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Mormon, can forget that God has given us a home along with our traditions and identity. We are the people he chose for his own; if we prosper it's because we were blessed when the world hated us.

Christians in particular cannot forget, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." The infant Jesus was a refugee, whisked out of Bethlehem in the dead of night to flee with Mary and Joseph from Herod's soldiers. There are many passages in the Old and New Testaments that remind us to welcome refugees; for instance:
You shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this. When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; that is why I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22)
Refugees and their descendants do not forget where they came from. Syrian, Kurd and Iraqi refugees fleeing to Europe want to return to their homelands. Most do not intend to stay in foreign, strange lands. When they ask for help it is first to help them survive the moment and then to return to a safe, stable home. They truly become displaced persons when they and their children forget their native land. 

The cruelest people are those who have forgotten their native lands. Many American have lost their memories of Northern Europe; they do not remember the religious violence that drove them out of their homelands. They call themselves "Americans" and feel entitled to taunt and jeer at the latest refugees to reach our country. They would build walls against Latin Americans; some even discriminate against the Americans native to the southwestern territories stolen from Mexico.

Our Catholic traditions teach us to remember our history, including the suffering of our ancestors, and to show both compassion and hospitality to refugees. Not to do so is to betray our own souls; not only do we lose our heritage, we take for granted the blessings God has given us. 

Wikipedia lists twenty-one places in the United States named "Providence." Their founders believed God would provide for them through the hardships of building a new home far from their native lands. Only those who have lost faith in Providence, who believe God no longer provides for this country would build a wall against Latin Americans fleeing the drug wars spawned by North America's addicts. 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 103

"Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 

The Gospel of Saint Matthew addressed the Church as it gained more experience of different problems in different countries speaking different languages in radically different cultures. The "saints,' as they preferred to call themselves, were to be tangy salt and brilliant light. They should make a difference by being different. If they dressed like their contemporaries and ate the same food and lived in similar houses, if they carried on the same trades and shopped in the same places, their style had to be different. 

Their difference was their knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heavenThese mysteries were not readily disclosed to strangers. 

A fellow, seeing my Roman collar in a supermarket, once asked me about the Blessed Sacrament: "This is supposed to be the Body and Blood of Christ, isn't that right?" 

How do you answer a question like that? If I reply am I throwing my pearls to swine or casting seed on barren soil? 

The fellow had been told he should prepare his son for First Communion but he was frankly unfamiliar with our rituals and beliefs. He supposed the instruction could be summed up in a few words, perhaps in between sitcoms and the evening news, weather and sports. He was not willing and wouldn't take the time to attend the adult instruction his parish offered to parents. 

These mysteries are known over a lifetime or not at all. They're not found on Wikipedia; you can't google the answers. They engage the heart and the mind; they demand sacrifices of time, talent and treasure. They discipline one's work and play, one's eating and sleeping, one's associations and intimacies. 

Jesus, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, says of our contemporaries: 
Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. 
Recent studies of the brain show how difficult it is for bad habits to be broken and good habits to be formed. We adopt many attitudes before we can walk or talk, and they are changed only by deliberate and persistent discipline. Many of those changes can occur only by moving into a new environment; treacherous friends must be shunned and dysfunctional families kept at arm's length

When the Roman Empire became nominally Christian many devout souls moved out of their homes and villages to pursue holiness in the isolated wilderness. When that experiment failed, they created monasteries and wrote Rules that would be administered by strict abbots and abbesses. To this day religious life is supposed to be markedly different from the culture. But the continual history of reforms shows how difficult it is; there is no formula for holiness. Nothing about it is automatic. 

In our time, the Spirit has again challenged the institutions of the Church, and especially has reminded us that everyone -- not just "professional religious" -- must be salt for the earth and light on the mountain. If few are called to monasteries, convents or friaries; everyone is shown the mysteries of the Kingdom of God through a lifetime of daily fidelity.