Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 480

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing
compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
For creation awaits with eager expectation
the revelation of the children of God;

Predictably, the liturgical calendar does not notice the celebration of Halloween. Neither, alas, does the schedule of federal holidays. But it's interesting to notice the readings offered by the Church in the light of the macabre festivities of October 31.

If the Letter to the Romans holds pride of place in the New Testament canon, the eighth chapter may be the sparkling diamond at the top of the crown. Saint Paul might have finished this passage with an astonished question, "Where did that come from?" Clearly it came from the Lord. The Spirit of God had spoken.
Unlike the Halloween visions of life-in-death with agonized howls by damned souls, the Word of God assures us of glory to be revealed for us. We cannot imagine the obscurity which determinists offer. They think the human being is nothing more than an amazing machine. When its break down its parts are recycled; its memory, forgotten.  
Nor do we expect to rest content in a dusty grave like that of the animal kingdom. We heard God's warning to Adam, "ashes to ashes and dust to dust," and we take it seriously -- but God has promised in Jesus the "revelation of the children of God." 
Today's gospel also reminds us that we cannot imagine the glory to be revealed. If the promise is a mustard seed, the fullness will be an astonishing tree. The Spirit of God will fill our being as yeast fills bread (and energizes beer!), bringing satisfaction with it. 
It is good to reflect on these words of promise; just to hear them is to experience the joy of anticipation. 

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 479

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a spirit of adoption,
through which we cry, "Abba, Father!"

Today's gospel illustrates the truth of Saint Paul's teaching, the children of God do not fall back into fear but receive a spirit which cries, "Abba Father!"
Jesus declared to the woman, "You are set free of your infirmity!" She heard the word of God and believed it and immediately stood up straight and praised God! 
But the spirit of slavery was present in the room, in the person of "the leader of the synagogue." Angrily he shouted at the congregation, ""There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day."
With calculation and purpose he used the gathering of people as a kind of concave mirror to focus his anger on the woman and to shame her back into her humiliating posture. Hearing his anger the confused congregation might have blamed her for bringing such a rebuke on themselves. She should be bent over, able to see only the dirt. 
Of course, the leader was really angry at Jesus but he lacked the courage to attack the Savior directly. He must use the woman and the congregation. 
That's when Jesus stepped forward and confronted him and his ilk, "You hypocrites!" 
The spirit of adoption is not bent over double, staring at the ground. It stands up as the woman in the story stood up, to glorify God
I meet many Veterans in the hospital who glorify God but I am especially edified by the ones who are sorely afflicted with their illnesses and glorify God anyway. They might say, "We accept good things from the Lord and should we not accept the bad as well?" 
They demonstrate that spirit of adoption which has been set free from their personal preferences. They are not slaves of their desires but keep their eyes fixed on Jesus. He is our endless delight in every circumstance. 

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 148

Thus says the LORD:
"You shall not molest or oppress an alien, 
for you were once aliens yourselves in the  land of Egypt. 
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.  
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. 

"Everything I needed to know I learned before the first grade." We must often review the fundamentals of our way of life and so we hear Jesus' restating the ABC's of the Gospel life: love God and love your neighbor. By doing so, you will find the Lord Jesus, his Beloved Father and the Holy Spirit taking up residence in your heart.

Once a week we return to the Church to celebrate this mystery, but we know we must drink from that fountain daily, and several times a day, and continually.

The fundamentals of our faith include the bitter history of slavery in Egypt. We were quite helpless there, with both the oppression of overlords and the belief that we are "Children of the Promise." Both were true and the contradiction was painful. Without the promise we might not have struggled with the daily humiliation of subjection to a man who claimed to be god. Our neighbors complied and we might have also. But we were descendants of God's Friend Abraham. We had been honored as the family of Joseph, the Pharaoh's right-hand-man, until "A new king came to Egypt who knew not Joseph." The memory was bitter. 

Then God sent Moses to deliver us "with mighty hand and outstretched arm" and we marched proudly out of Egypt, carrying the gold and silver of our oppressors, to freedom.

But bondage came with us for we also carried suspicion, fearfulness and resentment -- the mindset of slaves -- in our hearts. Even today we suffer the enchantment of sin. It eats at our security as despair, alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide like Elm Street murders snatch our friends, neighbors and families. There is no safe place.

We find our security in the practice of faith, in the love of God and of our neighbor. Freedom seeks no shelter in safe places. Rather, God's grace impels us to forget self-concern and act for the well-being of others. This is why heroes save lives when catastrophe strikes. They cover others when others flee for cover.  
Why did they do that? It comes naturally; it's the thing to do. Possessed by the Holy Spirit, they do what is best for their neighbors.

When we hear Jesus quoting Deuteronomy, we should also recall the words, "Keep repeating them to your children." Our children must learn our history and especially they should know the heroic spirit that does not crave security, that gets going when the going gets tough. Only courage can embrace the dual law which we have heard this morning.

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Lectionary: 666

...built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Long before the infant church could imagine building basilicas and cathedrals and create the astonishing gothic churches of medieval Europe, Saint Paul compared our fellowship to a "temple sacred in the Lord" with "Christ Jesus himself as the capstone."
Imagine, if you will, getting into your car next Sunday morning and taking the familiar course to church. Imagine your astonishment if, upon turning the last corner, you discovered the church is not there. It's gone. Nothing was said; no announcements were made; but the church is missing.
It's a ridiculous fantasy but not so absurd as the possibility that the entire Church might disappear. One of our Eucharistic Prayers recalls that in the flesh of Jesus Christ and by his crucifixion, the Father has bound himself to our human race by "a bond that can never be undone."
That Jesus died and was raised up are undeniable historical facts; history cannot be changed. Equally unchangeable and irreversible is the covenant which God has made with us. The Holy Spirit will always gather people through Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation and the Priesthood to celebrate the other sacraments of Penance, Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick.
This or that person may resist and refuse but the Holy Spirit continually finds willing souls to receive and celebrate the Covenant and announce it to succeeding generations.
The Church will always be reviled and despised; it will always be sinful and demoralized by scandal; and yet the mercy of Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen will still comfort, console, heal, enable and empower apostolic persons to announce the Gospel. No furtive ideology of "spirituality" or "individualism" or "personal salvation" can prevent the Father from sending the Holy Spirit.
This is why we celebrate the Apostles. They are immoveable stones which the Lord himself set in place.
The church which you expect to see next Sunday morning, built of stone, steel, glass or wood, only symbolizes the real church. That is built of living stones, reliable people like you who have been set in place by the master craftsman. You are "being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" and all generations to come will call you blessed.

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 477

I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.

Today's first reading from Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans may be one of the most often cited passages in the Bible, and the most difficult to understand. We hear the heart-cry of a man who ponders his own inner distress; it speaks to the inner distress of everyone called to live the Gospel; but it uses words like body, flesh, and members that are only partly understood.
Many centuries have passed since Paul wrote his letter in Greek to a sympathetic Roman congregation and his words have passed through multiple definitions.
We have inherited from the Greeks the notion of a soul which occupies and animates a body. When the soul leaves the body it collapses and dies. For the Greeks the soul, because it managed and outlasted the body, was superior. The stoics especially saw the body as the animal component which should be disciplined and controlled; they sneered at people who surrendered to their animal appetites. The true philosopher never overindulged in any pleasure except, perhaps, that of the mind.
The 19th century saw the last scientific studies of that theory. Some doctors supposed that the amputee's "phantom pains" indicated the soul (whose limb had not been amputated) still communicated with the mind. The ghostly arm still felt pain when the physical arm was missing. Other physicians carefully compared the weight of a man before and after he died to see how much the soul weighs. Eventually they concluded there is no such thing. They supposed If it cannot be measured it doesn't exist. 
Modern advances in studies of the brain also challenge our traditional notions of the body and soul. Today there are serious discussions about the brain and the mind. The brain is in the skull but where is the mind? Can the mind exist apart from the brain, and is the mind the soul? How do they interact?
Millions of people routinely use mind-altering substances, most of them perfectly legal and unquestionably recommended by conscientious physicians. These substances help them lead more virtuous lives, or at least less obnoxious. Teachers of small children expect the parents to make sure their wards are properly medicated before they arrive in the classroom. We have also seen significant personality changes in people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. Even their moral/ethical behavior changes.
Where do these new questions about the body, mind, brain and soul lead us as we ponder the Letter to the Romans? 
Our Catholic tradition assures us despite Saint Paul's uneasiness, flesh is not evil. God was humbled when he took on human flesh, but he was not tainted with evil. Our Sacrament of Marriage celebrates the goodness of sexuality with its intense desires and promising fruitfulness. Could the conception of a human being not be holy?
But we also know the bewilderment and frustration of Saint Paul who intends to do good and yet perversely does evil. Despite my intense affection I hurt my beloved. Despite my best intentions and all the warnings and all my carefully-made plans, I did exactly what I intended not to do! Why did I do that?
Sometimes we have planned unrealistically. The overeater decided to eat nothing for several days; the alcoholic intended only to visit his friends in the tavern; the angry person was not as calm as he appeared to himself.
And often we are powerless in the face of a higher power and must finally appeal to the Highest Power. Our good intentions are useless unless we are perfectly obedient to God who steps in and takes charge of our impulses and desires.
The chapter ends when Saint Paul arrives at his own resolution:
Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 476

For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.

Freedom for the Baptized Christian begins with giving God his due; that is justice. We often think that justice concerns our relations with other people, and that's true. 
But it begins with a right relationship to the Truth who is God. The one who does not begin the day by expressing gratitude to God fails to do justice. The one who rushes hither and yon in a desperate attempt to meet every expectation, and never stops to praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit does injustice. 
Saint Paul uses stark, challenging language to show what it means to belong to Christ. He insists that we must be "slaves to righteousness for sanctification." This is paradoxical language because everybody knows that slaves are not free. Americans, given our sordid, recent memories of slavery, are especially repelled by this language. And yet the Holy Spirit impels us to surrender our life and will to the care of God, who alone is worthy of our trust, love and adoration. 
A nation of individuals -- notice the word divided at the root of the word individual -- would isolate themselves from father and mother, brother and sister, children and spouses, friends and neighbors, thinking therein lies both identity and freedom. 
The Christian does not go there. Rather, we turn to Jesus who willingly surrendered to death -- even death on a cross -- in his love for the God he called Father. There was no one else worthy of the gift of himself, and only the Father could fully appreciate the gift he offered. 
In our daily prayers and daily Eucharist we physically and spiritually join in that sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gathers us into the Priest, into his own Sacred Heart, as he offers himself on the altar of the cross. With this act of justice, we present ourselves as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. Swept into the Father's presence we hear his reassuring invitation, "Well done, good and faithful slave. Enter your Father's house!" 

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 475

For sin is not to have any power over you,
since you are not under the law but under grace.

A fellow took me out to lunch one time to persuade me to volunteer as the "spiritual assistant" to his Secular Franciscan Order fraternity. Every "SFO" should have a competent spiritual leader to work with the elected officers of the group. He described his vision of the group he wanted to gather. We had never met before this luncheon and I knew little about him. 

I was not impressed by his proposal. I could accept his strict interpretation of the Rule, with its observance of all the prayers a member should do each day, and the good works they should perform. I might overlook his hostility to other groups and the way they practice the Franciscan spirit. His seemed like a rather "conservative" approach to Church, characteristically suspicious of, hostile toward, disagreement.
But his continual smoking from the moment we met, throughout our conversation in the restaurant, and on the drive back, along with the cigarette butts and ashes strewn throughout his car, described a spirituality that ignores fundamentals of a Christian spirituality. He had presented a part of his body -- namely, his lungs -- to sin as a weapon for wickedness.
That was a long time ago and my memory of the incident as I have described it may sound terribly judgmental. I can only say in my defense that I was relieved to get away from that fellow; we were not destined to work together. 
Saint Paul describes an obedience to the Lord which involves the total person. Unfortunately, for the past century or more we have sexualized much of his teaching about personal discipline. (Notice the suggested collect for today's Mass!) Many Church leaders, mostly men, smoked continually and drank liberally and railed against sexual sins. Perhaps the impulse is easier to manage with sufficient quantities of nicotine and alcohol. 
But thanks be to God that, although you were once slaves of sin, you have become obedient from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were entrusted. Freed from sin, you have become slaves of righteousness.
The Spirit of Jesus leads us step by step toward complete physical and spiritual submission. True, it's not realistic to think a new disciple should immediately bring every impulse under complete control. Many recovering alcoholics, for instance, continue to smoke until they have firmly committed themselves to abstinence from alcohol. That may take a while. 
But we learn to submit all these physical desires to God's spirit. Our society provides innumerable guides to that end as we discipline our eating, drinking, exercise, rest, work, pastimes et cetera to the pattern of teaching. 
It is not enough to say, "Well, I don't smoke!" or "I don't hoard!" and suppose God should be satisfied with that low-hanging fruit. You probably weren't inclined to smoking or hoarding in the first place! 
Very likely the Lord lays his finger on the next sacrifice we should make. With that peculiar illumination it's not hard to recognize. It's something one "cannot live without" although most of the planet does. 
So where is God leading us? 
...now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 474

Through one man sin entered the world,
and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.
If by that one person's transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.

I meet twice a week with men and women in the VA who are struggling with addictions. With them I struggle to attain "freedom for..." and "freedom to...."  I come from a privileged place as a priest and Franciscan; I have the wonderful support of friars, fellow priests, fellow chaplains, friends and family. Some of the Veterans in my group have little or no support; no one seems to care if they live or die. 
I urge them to join a support group of Veterans, a church or a 12-step group like AA or NA. "There is strength in numbers; no one can make it alone!"
But many say they have tried the support group route and found only users-attending-meetings. Some of those groups are court-ordered and the attendees have no real intention of getting clean. Or perhaps my friends saw one or two inebriated persons in the group and decided that was reason enough to condemn the whole group and its program. There are certainly many flawed persons attending AA and NA meetings; and many seriously flawed groups. That's why they're there!
As to the churches, I remember one Veteran who described his Catholic church as "full of hypocrites." I suspect that when he entered the church he had known as a child he realized these old friends and neighbors were now total strangers. There were no former combat warriors among them. They had not killed anyone; they had not been shot at; they had not suffered the death of battle buddies. They were eager to say, "Thank you for your service!" but could not imagine what he had been through and frankly didn't want to hear about it. And yet they are the people who sent him to war in the first place. There is some truth in his accusation of hypocrisy. 

Saint Paul says, "Through one man sin entered the world...." These words remind us no one sins alone; we're all in this together. But sin also isolates from one another, fragmenting families and fellowship. 

Romans 5:12 teaches us in Adam all sinned and if that were the end of it we'd have no hope. But Saint Paul continues, 
If by that one person's transgression the many died,how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.
It's almost inconceivable that the Lord can forgive and deliver everyone en masse from sin. One by one, perhaps; but everyone? We would not believe it if we had not seen Jesus raised from the dead and revealed to us as the Son of God. More than resuscitated like Lazarus, he was raised, glorified and exalted and has taken his seat at the right hand of the Father. 
No one could expect that much grace; no one could ask such a blessing unless the Father had already given it to us. 
In today's first reading, Saint Paul dwells on this mystery, repeating the formula of sin/grace five times in today's reading. 
1) If by that one person's transgression the many died,
how much more did the grace of God
and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ
overflow for the many.
2) For if, by the transgression of the one,
death came to reign through that one,
how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace
and the gift of justification
come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.
3) In conclusion, just as through one transgression
condemnation came upon all,
so, through one righteous act
acquittal and life came to all.
4) For just as through the disobedience of one man
the many were made sinners,
so, through the obedience of the one
the many will be made righteous.
5) Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more,
so that, as sin reigned in death,
grace also might reign through justification
for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The revelation is so wonderful Paul can't seem to get past his amazement. 

During the Mass and other liturgies, even as we enter the Mystery of Salvation, the Church ritually admits we have sinned. We dare to see how horrible the sin is -- that it requires the death of the Son of God -- and we await an abundance of grace and the gift of justification 

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 473

Then he said to the crowd,
"Take care to guard against all greed,
for though one may be rich,
one's life does not consist of possessions."

Recently, while nursing a grudge, I was reminded that we are possessed by our possessions. I have been reading existential philosophy lately but I've yet to hear my philosophers remark on that. Saint Francis knew it very well.
Francis saw the hold a resentment, object, idea, position, need or desire could hold on a person, severely restricting one's freedom. There's a sweetness to ownership that promises more than it can deliver.

At first I treasure this thing. It's mine; it's me, an extension of myself. I am proud of it as if I can take credit for it. But things change and the relationship pales. Ownership begins to cloy. It's just stuff and I want something else.
The problem of ownership is that of any system. I can acquire only so much before I have to get rid of something. Closets fill up; storage units pile up; bodies get fat; clutter becomes a way of life. They call it hoarding, an illness of the mind and heart.
Francis' poverty as a virtue would free us from all that. One's life does not consist of riches.

We're seeing in America today how a few absurdly wealthy people, profoundly anxious about the loss of the least amount, have constipated the whole economy. With enormous investments in lobbying they jury rig the system, control the electorate and stifle innovation. As a result, even a prosperous economy does few of us much good.
Eventually only the Holy Spirit can deliver them from their ownership, while the rest of wait and watch for the day of reckoning.
Naked I came forth from the womb; naked I shall go back again; the Lord gives; the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. We accept good things from the Lord, should we not accept the bad as well? (Job)
Philosophers tell us the one who fails to reckon with death is a fool. Accepting its inevitability and its necessity we look forward to being stripped of all that stuff. Starting today.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 145

For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.

Most of us would rather be persuaded to do something than forced to do it. Especially in religious affairs we don't want something "forced down my throat." The American experiment has proven the viability of the gospel, even the Catholic reading of the gospel, within the marketplace of ideas. In an open debate, it could stand up against any and all religions with a presentation that is coherent, beautiful and appealing to any thoughtful person.
But the Gospel is not an idea, and believing the Gospel doesn't come when one is persuaded of its truthiness. I may believe a movie is worth seeing but never see it; or a symphony is worth hearing and never hear it. It takes more than a good idea to change the way people think, believe, love, live and die.
Saint Paul came to Thessalonica not with a Bible -- that would not be collated and published for many centuries -- but with the Holy Spirit. He would speak to anyone who would listen to him but it was the Spirit who persuaded them. He had the same moral convictions of any Jew of his time, but he didn't have a moralizing agenda. He would speak of"Jesus Christ and him crucified" and watch as the Spirit gathered a congregation.
Of  course there was some naivete in this approach. The net would catch all kinds of fish, some apparently less desirable than others. Such is life in the Church.
Sometimes we have to let God and his angels sort that out.
In our time we often find people choosing their own church. They look for their own kind of people: politically, racially, economic or religiously. The automobiles allowed great freedom of choice.
As the priest I don't have or want that choice. I go where I'm sent and try to welcome whoever shows up. In the hospital chapel I don't know from one day to the next who or if anyone will appear. (One woman always comes late and leaves at the sign of peace. I have no idea why she does that.)
But I am grateful that, almost without fail, I have someone to greet me, "and with your spirit." in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. 

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 472

It was not through the law
that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants
that he would inherit the world,
but through the righteousness that comes from faith.
For this reason, it depends on faith, 
so that it may be a gift....

At the heart of Saint Paul's message is this mystery of "righteousness that comes from faith." As we struggle in an endless conversation to find words for this mystery we very often hear, "No, I can't say what it is but I'm sure that's not it." 
More often than not our "definitions" of the mysteries of righteousness, justification and salvation only protect them against definitions. That's how we protect them. And that's why there has always been so much heat in our dialogue. At the very moment I think I've had a brilliant insight, a revelation! someone tells me, "That's not it!" 
And yet, as a preacher or spiritual advisor I can hope that someone who heard me heard what the Holy Spirit was saying to her in particular. That revelation may bear little resemblance to what I said. The thought may never have occurred to me. And that's fine! What's important is what she heard and how she responds to the word. The preacher's work is to speak the Gospel as clearly as possible, and then get out of the way. 
That righteousness that comes from faith is more than just a passive acceptance of grace. I can't say I went by the Church this morning and picked up my grace and now I'm good
We look for gracefulness in the righteous. They are hopeful, confident and move with an air of joy even through difficult situations. They are not just here; they are sent here, and they carry the Presence of God with them. 
The "law" that Saint Paul struggled to uproot from his own spirituality and that of his disciples, especially former Jews, was a fearful clinging to certain toxic attitudes. These obsessions are repulsive and apparent to everyone except the persons themselves, and their hapless followers. 
They are not graceful; they are frightened. And they urge everyone to, "Be afraid, be very afraid!" Their Fear of the Lord is genuinely fearful but never in the sense of that beautiful expression. Even when the righteous ones act joyously it carries a threat with it. "Rejoice with me -- or else!" 
The Lord promised Abraham and his descendants they would inherit the world. The homeless Apostle, wandering from one synagogue to the next, winning souls for Christ when he wasn't being hounded out of town, owned the open road and every city, village and hamlet on it. He was not afraid to enter a town or to kick the dust from his heels as he left it. 
He carried always a gift but never a possession. He had received a gift but it still belonged to God. 
That's what oblation means, a word we often hear during the Mass. It's a gift received and given back and then received again. It belongs to the giver and receiver; it is a bond of their love. 
Life is an oblation, a gift that never belongs to me, like friendship, forgiveness and the sacred duties of our faith. Faith is an oblation, for just as I believe in God so does God believe in me. God knows the Spirit of Jesus that moves in us overcomes every obstacle. 
As I said, we struggle to fathom Saint Paul's doctrine of righteousness through faith. We are sure only that God understands and forgives our incomprehension.

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 471

So also David declares the blessedness of the person to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not record.

When Saint Peter asked the Lord if he had to forgive as many as seven times Jesus reassured him, "No, not seven times..." 
Perhaps he paused for dramatic effect and Peter felt a momentary relief. Perhaps he thought, "Five times, maybe, but not seven. I can live with that." 
And then Jesus went on, "but seventy times seven times!" 
Parents and spouses know that even seventy times seven times is only the beginning. They know too, "...with God all things are possible." 
Grace makes up the difference. Grace finds willingness where none could be found. 
In today's first reading, Saint Paul invokes King David the Psalmist, the warrior king who took the young bride of another man for his mistress and then murdered her husband. David, the ancestor of Jesus, invented the art of repentance. 
Confronted by the Prophet Nathan, he realized the enormity of his sin and how he had egregiously violated the favor God had given him. Then he realized he must do something to atone for his sin: 
Because I kept silent, my bones wasted away;
I groaned all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength withered as in dry summer heat.
Then I declared my sin to you;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said, “I confess my transgression to the LORD,”
Realizing how the Lord has forgiven us is the first step toward forgiving others. I think it happens in stages: 

  1. We greet this other person -- a spouse, child or friend -- as The One who will make me happy. This One is the fulfillment of all my dreams and all my longings! 
  2. Then we wonder, "Who are you and what have you done with my (spouse, child, friend?) 
  3. Recovering from disappointment, we embrace this stranger as God's (challenging) gift.
  4. Finally, we discover that, in many ways, this stranger is a better person than I am!  
Realizing that grace has made me capable of forgiving others, I believe that God has also forgiven me, 
and you took away the guilt of my sin.

Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs

Lectionary: 470

For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus....

In American jurisprudence we suppose the accused is innocent until proven guilty. No one should be imprisoned who is not demonstrably guilty; consequently many criminals inhabit our streets, schools and businesses because their crimes were not proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We believe it's better that a guilty man go free than an innocent person be hanged. 
Unfortunately that presumption of innocence spreads like oil on water into our religious thinking. "I too am innocent before God! And so is anyone that I don't particularly hate!" To hear stories of the deceased at a funeral you would think we're burying a saint. We should initiate proceedings for her canonization!
We often hear about "innocent victims" of crime. Whenever people are murdered, especially in an unprovoked slaughter such as we saw in Las Vegas two weeks ago, we hear stories of their innocence.
They were defenseless; and they certainly didn't deserve the punishment they suffered. No one has the right to kill anyone, nor does any society or state. Victims should seek redress for wrongs they have unjustly suffered. 
But no one is innocent. Not children, not adults, not seniors or the disabled. Nor aliens nor minorities. "For there is no distinction. All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God." 
That is the doctrine of Original Sin. We're born into it.
Lots of people are more than happy to inherit the privileges of wealth and class. Born in a certain place they suppose, "This land is my land." as if ownership comes with birth. These rights are not challenged. 

But they are not so eager to inherit the guilt of their ancestors, genetic, racial, religious, national or cultural.To paraphrase Job, "We accept good things from the past, and should we not accept the bad?"
This reluctance to accept all of one's inheritance has been around for a very long time. The Prophet Ezekiel heard the people's complaint, "Parents eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge." God's reply was a threat to punish everyone for his own sin regardless of his ancestor, which did not sound like good news.
Our Jewish/Christian tradition reminds us that history is real, as are traditions of sin. They don't go away because we wish they would. Reminded of these burdens, many readily agree with Dedalus's complaint, "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." (Sorry, Steven! It doesn't work that way.)

So here's the good news: the Gospel of Jesus Christ promises total and complete salvation, and that includes our history. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus....
If the Lord's blessing were confined only to our present lives, Jesus would have to die again and again in every age:

It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests, but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law, appoints a son, who has been made perfect forever.
Our tradition is realistic. It teaches us to accept responsibility for our guilt and that of our ancestors. We disavow every claim to innocence because repentance ushers us into the shadow of his cross. He has forgiven the Original Sin; He has redeemed our history. Appalled at the ongoing horror of sin, we celebrate God's mercy and freely try to atone for crimes of the past. 

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."