Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle

Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle
Lectionary: 684

...how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news!

In his encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis insists that a Christian is also an evangelist. The roles are inseparable:
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love. Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”. If we are not convinced, let us look at those first disciples, who, immediately after encountering the gaze of Jesus, went forth to proclaim him joyfully: “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41). The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him “because of the woman’s testimony” (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, “immediately proclaimed Jesus” (Acts 9:20; cf. 22:6-21). So what are we waiting for?
I can add nothing to the Pope's remark except to say, Pope Paul VI insisted upon this more than forty years ago (Evangelii Nuntiandi); and every pope since then has repeated the call, especially Benedict XVI who announced the Holy Year of Faith.
Each year Saint Andrew leads us into Advent. After a single meeting with the Lord he told his brother, "We have found the Messiah!" There is no clearer, simpler explanation of what it means to be Catholic. 

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 505

Suddenly, opposite the lampstand,
the fingers of a human hand appeared,
writing on the plaster of the wall in the king's palace.
When the king saw the wrist and hand that wrote, his face blanched;
his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook,
and his knees knocked.

You've heard the expression, "the handwriting on the wall?" This is where it comes from, the Book of Daniel. People use the expression when they realize their best efforts must fail; there's no point in trying any longer. If they see the sign before anyone else they may be able to salvage their own investments while the rest collapse.
The end of today's scripture passage was lopped off; the thirtieth verse tells us, "That very night Belshazzar, the Chaldean king, was slain."
Reading further into the text we learn that the Lord of History revealed the future to the Jewish seer and advisor to the king. Daniel represents the inspired wisdom of God's people; they survived Belshazzar's fall as well as that of his successor, Darius. In fact, the story was written hundreds of years later, and that was thousands of years ago.
We've seen them come; we've seen them go. Kingdoms, empires, nations, cities: they enjoy their moment of glory; they suppose they must last forever; school children tire of hearing about them as they represent only the past.
Shelley's poem Ozymandias mocked the tyrants of the 19th century and the pretensions of 19th century cities.
We have celebrated Christ the King Sunday. With the First Sunday of Advent we are about to begin another annual cycle. Wisdom suggests that we ponder the brevity of our lives and the futility of our pretensions; we should consider our aspirations and ask if they are worthy of us. Do they represent eternity or only the present world? 
Shelley's poem, fixed by rote in the memory of school children, stands a better chance of surviving the ages than much of our failing infrastructure; but it too will be long forgotten as only the Word of the Lord endures forever.

note: Chaldean is pronounced with a hard ch, as in Christmas.

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 504

"See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
'I am he,' and 'The time has come.'
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end."

"Dog bites man. That's not news. Man bites dog. That's news."

Recently I heard an expert on terrorism remind the radio audience to be afraid when mass killings don't make the news. Fortunately they still do. Traffic accidents, tax evasion, drug busts: they're not news. They're absorbed into the daily comings and goings of a busy city. Exercise ordinary precautions and you'll be reasonably safe.
There are no effective precautions against mass shootings and truck drivers who intentionally run down pedestrians but they don't happen that often so don't worry about it.

The entertainment industry drives a lot of fear, sometimes quite intentionally. "Be afraid!" they say, "Be very afraid." That line first appeared in the film, "The Fly." It's great fun for some people; the rest of us can get on with our fearless lives.

Advent is about to begin. It will be short this year. Christmas is upon us. This is no time to cower in fear. Rather lift up your heads and expect to see the King of Glory enter.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 503

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

On my way to greatness I was often put off by gospels like today's. I heard preachers assure their congregations that the "quiet lives" they lived, on the margins of great historical developments, overlooked by the influential and the powerful, were nonetheless honored by the Lord of Heaven and Earth. I got the point but I wanted to think I would -- or could or should -- make a difference.
I got over it.
As I watch the powerful from afar I see how they are driven by power; and, despite their delusions, they are not at all in control of what they're doing, thinking, saying or feeling. Wall Street, it's been said, is driven by fear and greed. The powerful in general are driven by fear and avarice.
Only those who despair of having power, who let it pass them by, who welcome their powerlessness might be given the blessed insight of Jesus. In their willingness, generosity and courage, they can, if they choose, "put in more than all the rest."
I have lost the quotation I'd love to cite; but Thomas Merton was asked how he felt about being successful. He was outraged by the question and replied, to the effect, "Be a fool, be a scoundrel, be a drunk, but at all costs avoid success! If I one time wrote a book that was successful, it was the worst mistake I ever made!"
Jesus, arriving in Jerusalem and en route to Calvary, saw this woman and was cheered by her courage and generosity. She was not cowed by the ostentatious characters all around her, as they noisily dropped jangling coins into the collection. She knew her own worth in God's sight, the worth of her two copper coins, and the worthiness of God -- whom she loved with all her heart, mind, soul and strength.
The good deeds of the faithful make a difference not because they're well-intentioned and not because they are "good" but because the Holy Spirit inspires them. God's deliberate, far-seeing, essential, creative impulse calls them from nothingness into being. Fear, greed and avarice create only phantasms of progress; they are shadows that disappear in sunlight.
The only memory that endures is God's. He notices us as Jesus noticed the woman. He remembers as we remember her two copper coins. Of another unnamed woman, Jesus said,
Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

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

Lectionary: 160

As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.

Today's parable of the Last Judgment may be the first New Testament scripture passage that comes to mind when we think of Jesus as Judge. Who can forget the image of angels gathering every human being who has ever lived to an enormous field where they are sorted into two groups. Suddenly the LORD appears as the Conquering Sovereign who, taking his place above and before the separate mobs, invites one into Eternal Bliss and bans the other to Endless Misery.  

The confusion of both crowds is striking, "When did we see you?" they ask of this All-powerful King. The virtuous have habitually shown mercy to many people; they don't remember this particular figure among the hungry they fed, the naked they clothed or the imprisoned they visited. But neither do the accursed recall his appearance among the unfortunates they disdained. 

This is a powerful parable; it should be enough to arouse sleepless nights in anyone who has ever hesitated to show compassion to a stranger. But this is not the only appearance of Jesus as the Judge in scripture. Several other New Testament passages throw an important light upon this image which might be appear too clear or too harsh without their softening effect. I think of James 4:11-12:
Do not speak evil of one another, brothers. Whoever speaks evil of a brother or judges his brother speaks evil of the law and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save or to destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?
Matthew 13:24-30 -- 
Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
Matthew 3:12 -- 
His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
The promise and the threat of judgment are clear -- God alone will vindicate the innocent and condemn the wicked. Apparent, too, is the sovereign authority of God the Judge.

But we're often tempted to think the judge is "delayed in coming" and we should act in his stead. Saint Peter addressed that temptation: 2 Peter:3, verses 8-10 -- 
...do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.
And finally, Hebrews 10:31:
We know the one who said: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” and again: “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Many self-described Christian cities and nations have been too eager to establish the Kingdom of God, and they often began by condemning and killing the weak, vulnerable and "ungodly." They suppose their righteousness excused them from the Old Testament law, "Thou shalt not kill!" 

In these New Testament passages God tells us in no uncertain terms: He alone is the judge. On his terms. In his time. 

In the meanwhile, we watch, wait, pray for deliverance, do good and avoid evil.  

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 502

That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called 'Lord' the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive."

The resurrection of the dead is no easier to imagine today than it was at the time of Christ; and yet it is a fundamental doctrine of faith for us. Today we are faced with a growing body of science that finds intimate connections between the structures of the brain with its liquid chemistry and the personality. We wonder if a criminal can be converted to a law-abiding citizen with the right pharmacology, or a saint to a criminal with a bad mix. How can we expect the person to exist in eternity when we've seen her brain deteriorate into dust? 
Yet, Jesus insists that his Father is the God of the Living, including the long dead Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
I go back to the Bethany and recall Jesus' authority as he called his friend by name, "Lazarus, come out!" 
There is some evidence that animals, like dolphins, use personal names; but they only identify themselves with peculiar whistles. These intelligent mammals, swimming in murky water, maintain their familiar pods by repeating their "names."  But they don't call each other by name, nor do they give each other names as we do. 
Human beings have nicknames, pet names, baptismal names, formal names, legal names, and innumerable titles to address one another. We use these names to identify, show respect, tease, flirt, harass, caress and reassure one another. 
The name is the relationship. Many are privileged names; belonging only to certain relationships. Many children do not call their parents by their first names; although they hear their parents using those names. They are permitted to use only affectionate titles like Dad and Mom.  Their grandparents also have affectionate nicknames while their aunts and uncles deserve those titles. Living away from my family for many years and returning only lately, I always feel honored when I hear, "Uncle Ken!" 
When the sound of his name, redolent with divine authority, passed through the tomb, Lazarus' eyes opened and he answered, "Here I am!" He was instantly reborn and stumbled out despite the swaddling wraps around his ankles and legs. This was only a resuscitation, of course; he died again sometime later. But I take from this story the divine authority to restore to life those whom the Lord calls by name.  

But now, thus says the LORD,
who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name: you are mine.
When you pass through waters, I will be with you;
through rivers, you shall not be swept away.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,
nor will flames consume you.
For I, the LORD, am your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your savior.
I give Egypt as ransom for you,
Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes
and honored, and I love you,
I give people in return for you
and nations in exchange for your life.
Fear not, for I am with you;
from the east I will bring back your offspring,
from the west I will gather you.
I will say to the north: Give them up!
and to the south: Do not hold them!
Bring back my sons from afar,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth:
All who are called by my name
I created for my glory;
I formed them, made them. (Isaiah 43:1-7)
We have been given knowledge of the Everlasting Name of God; we pray by God's name each and every day. When the Day of the Lord comes, he will call us by our everlasting baptismal names and there will be no bonds, chains, fire or water to keep us from leaping into his arms. 

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs

Lectionary: 501

For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar
and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices
of deliverance and praise.
They ornamented the façade of the temple with gold crowns and shields;
they repaired the gates and the priests' chambers
and furnished them with doors.
There was great joy among the people
now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.

In today's gospel we hear of Jesus' prophetic gesture as he drove the moneychangers out of the temple. Needing validation for their natural emotion of anger -- which they have been told is an unchristian emotion -- people often misread this passage. They suppose that Jesus was angry and it's okay to be angry.  
It's true that it's okay to be angry; and it's true that Jesus, being a human being, experienced anger; but that misses the point of the story. 
He did not "lose his temper;" rather, his driving the moneychangers out was a prophetic gesture and recognized as such by the authorities who demanded "What sign can you show us for doing this?”
The Book of Proverbs remarks, "In all labor there is profit." and Saint Paul told his disciple Timothy, 
"Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor, especially those who toil in preaching and teaching. For the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is threshing,” and, “A worker deserves his pay."
Saint Luke's gospel adds, "Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment."
The divine authors of the Old and New Testaments certainly knew the reality of money. It's been with us since prehistoric times; nor is there any shame in the church's handling of money. The minister whose profession is service to the church should be paid, just as the masons, carpenters and plumbers who built the church were paid. If we're waiting on unpaid volunteers to build and lead the Church we may be waiting a very long time.
But a culture preoccupied with money, which measures the worth of anything by pecuniary standards, desecrates its own good works.
This is as true of the grocery store as it is of the church.
We realize this during crises. When systems which provide food, medical care, shelter or energy are suddenly disrupted and many human lives hang in the balance we expect our neighbors to set aside the profit motive and give as they are able. Equally, we expect our churches to open their hearts and comfort those stricken by grief. Prices should not go through the roof when a disaster strikes.  
If it happens we can expect massive anger; the Prophet will reappear with his whip of cords to drive out the profiteers.
In today's first reading we find the Maccabean rebels, having driven out the gentile invaders, reconsecrating the temple and rededicating their nation to God's service. We maintain shrines, churches and temples to provide a place for God in our world, and to remind us of the sacred quality of our human interdependence.
Always we stand before the throne of God who measures our worth not by what we have but by what we have given to others.

Thanksgiving Day -- USA

I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Despite the imagery of Puritan settlers with their sun bonnets, buckled shoes and peculiar hats, Thanksgiving Day began with the Civil War. The federal government and various states often called for days of prayer before the Civil War. They prayed to avoid the coming conflict; they prayed that it would end.
As the worst war in American history was finally winding down, President Lincoln called for another day of prayer on the last Thursday of November. It would be a day of thanksgiving that the American economy had not faltered, that no foreign nation had intervened, and that God still promised peace to those willing to live in peace.
He didn't live to see the day, but a grieving, exhausted nation established Thanksgiving as an everlasting memorial, more permanent than an eternal flame or Washington monument.
During this time of edgy tension in the United States, when many people cannot agree to disagree but feel compelled to hate one another, we should remember the Civil War. Today's gun culture seems as deeply rooted as slavery, the peculiar institution. Many people, like slave owners, have a religious conviction of their right to own gun. They are no more willing to compromise their right than Christians are to compromise about the Resurrection of Jesus. The death of thousands of children and adults says nothing to that religious principle. The discussion ended soon after the slaughter of innocents in Connecticut.
We pray this intransigence will not lead to another civil war. We can expect many more will die of gun violence: by murder, suicide and accident. Everyone should expect friends, neighbors and loved ones to be murdered; it's not a matter of if but who and when. We're passed the point of surprise.
In the Spirit of Thanksgiving, we pray that God will lead us out of this impasse. Because God's ways are unpredictable and often unimaginable, we should expect only the unexpected. Deliverance from gun violence will be as astonishing as the Resurrection. How long will it take? As long as it takes. Will you or I live to see the day? Probably not. But, as the Wise Man Job said in another hopeless situation,
As for me, I know that my vindicator lives,and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.This will happen when my skin has been stripped off,and from my flesh I will see God:I will see for myself,my own eyes, not another’s, will behold him:my inmost being is consumed with longing.

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr

Lectionary: 499

...he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.

According to the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus often counteracts popular expectation. Despite the high hopes in the Bethlehem countryside where he was born and in Jerusalem where Simeon and Anna welcomed him, he disappointed the Nazarenes with his preaching. They were so upset they wanted to throw him headfirst off a cliff.
In today's gospel, because the people of Jericho expected the Kingdom of God to appear soon, he told them about three businessmen and their absentee employer. Two invested wisely and enjoyed a substantial return. Handing their profits over to the Man, they were handsomely rewarded.
The third buried his employer's money in the ground and returned every penny of it, probably in the same worm-eaten pouch. He did not fare so well.
What's the connection to Jericho's expectation?
Christians wait with eager expectation that divine day when the Lord will return. That "apocalyptic" longing appears in the oldest texts of our New Testament (1&2 Thessalonians), throughout the gospels, and brilliantly in the last book, Revelation.
In the two millennia since Jesus' ascension his return has been reinterpreted as a gradual evolution of peace and justice; and as eminent, probably TODAY! with many variations in between. Some have set themselves up as experts in predicting the year, month and day of his return -- only to be repeatedly disappointed.
Others have simply dismissed the notion altogether; as they read the fossil record and astronomical occurrences they see no end in sight. If the human race doesn't annihilate itself with nuclear weapons or environmental pollution, it will be fried when the sun supernovas, several millions years from now.
The Catholic tradition, remembering all these attempts to decipher a supposedly hidden code in the Bible and scrutinize the inscrutable Mind of God, hews more closely to the teaching of Jesus, "Be ready! You know neither the hour nor the day."
The good people of Jericho entertained a natural curiosity when they asked "When will the Kingdom of God appear?" But, like the precise hour of your death, the end of the world is the last thing we humans should know.  
Saint Francis of Assisi, that "most Catholic of saints," urged his friars to keep it simple, "While we have time, let us do good."

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was....

The comic book-movie genre amuses young people and the young-of-mind with outlandish superheroes who undertake epic adventures in bizarre cityscapes with predicable outcomes. Even the special effects are boring. (I sat through the most recent Starwars and was bored out of gourd.)
The gospels tell us about real people and their conclusions are not simply unexpected; they're also challenging to those alert enough to notice. As for instance, Zacchaeus, who is a wealthy man, short of stature. You're familiar with the story. And that's okay because Saint Luke doesn't intend to entertain the idle. He intends to interrupt our way of life with some disturbing, albeit good, news. 
And that is, everything in our universe has been upended since the death and resurrection of Jesus. As W.B. Yeats said, "A terrible beauty is born." 
Zacchaeus is a shining example, as brilliant as a stained-glass window on Easter Sunday morning, of the good news, "Wealth is nothing!" 
If you think your life has meaning, weight or significance because of your wealth, you can forget about it. If your social standing is standing on money, your stature is very short indeed. 
Our society, even more than that of Jesus, measures a person's worth by their money. The wealthy can fly "first class" or in their private jet; but don't point that out to them because they don't like to talk about class. That is déclassé
The wealthy, oddly enough, use the same toothpaste as everyone else, and probably the same toothbrush, and pay the same price as everyone else. In other words, their expenses are the same as yours and mine, but they're standing on wealth -- which is like building a house in a sandy floodplain. 
Zacchaeus sees in Jesus his reentry into standing with his fellow citizens of Jericho. Inviting the Lord to his house, he invites the crowd to follow, and there hands over the advantages he has scrupulously accumulated throughout his career. 
"Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor,and if I have extorted anything from anyoneI shall repay it four times over."
Jesus, delighted with this testimony, declares, 
Today salvation has come to this housebecause this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seekand to save what was lost." 
Salvation is membership in the human community, it is equal standing with the Lord who has claimed a place as the least of all and servant of all. He shares that privilege with everyone willing to wash feet at the banquet table. 

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: "Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us." The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles.

Judah was overrun by Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek armies in the seventh, fifth, and third centuries before Christ and would not enjoy sovereign nation status again until 1948, when it was established as the nation of Israel. Although Jews continued to occupy the city throughout all those centuries theirs was celebrated as a private religion; it was not the state religion.
The several books of Maccabees recalls their efforts in the third century bce to throw off their Greek oppressors and regain their freedom as a nation. They fought valiantly for Freedom of Religion long before the First Amendment of the American Constitution.
Today's first reading from 1 Maccabees describes a situation that might be familiar to many Christians today. If we believe our American culture was basically Christian, it has apparently been invaded and overrun by strange, foreign influences. Marriage has been redefined as friendship with privileges; once-welcome immigrants are despised as illegal; suicide is socially acceptable; avarice and greed are admired as virtues; and most Americans think they are oppressed, minority victims: we are strangers in our homeland.
The Books of Maccabees describe the violent rebellion of Jews against their oppressors. That is always an option for victims. Anger, aggression and violence, like dancing cobras, have their own fascinating appeal. Karpman's triangle drama describes the tortured allemandes and do-sa-dos of victims who become tormentors who become rescuers and victims again. There's little grace in that square dance.
Jesus was never a victim. He freely chose the  frailty, vulnerability, guilt and shame of our humanity and preferred his human nature to all the splendor of heaven. His approach to Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion were intentional acts. His betrayer, accusers and tormentors also played their parts, willingly and energetically; but these were parts assigned by the Lord who scripted the entire drama. Pontius Pilate, in John's account, shows some reluctance but his hand is forced by the mob, the leaders of the people, and his fear of Caesar.
Christians cannot play the victim card; it's not dealt to us. Rather, we embrace every opportunity to announce God's mercy to friends and foes, in season and out of season. That mercy is unfailingly courteous; it recognizes and respects the anguish of enemies of the Gospel. They do not know what they are doing. Had they known the mystery they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
The Books of Maccabees recall the military struggle which enjoyed limited success; but our liturgical readings highlight the heroic struggle of the Elder Eleazar (tomorrow's reading) and the Widowed Mother (on Wednesday). These champions would not compromise to save their lives despite the pleading of their enemies!
I don't suppose we're approaching another age of Christian martyrs in the United States. The Catholic and Protestant churches are well regarded on all sides. Our challenge is to address those among us who would call themselves minorities and victims and invite them to more courageous action.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 157

Well done, my good and faithful servant. 
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities. 
Come, share your master's joy.

The collect of this 33rd Sunday recalls the "constant gladness of being devoted to you." It echoes The Joy of the Gospel when the master congratulated two faithful servants who had invested wisely. It anticipates The Joy of the Gospel which we expect when the Lord returns to set all things right. 

Pope Francis will be remembered as the happy pope. Inspired by the Lord, attentive to prayer and edified by the witness of poverty, he sees opportunity where many see only crisis. He seems to discover gladness wherever he goes.
Lifted up like Jesus on his cross, the pope can see from the towering heights of his papacy the world's disappointment. But the eyes of faith see abundant grace in this sadness. O felix culpa! the deacon sings during the Easter Vigil, as the Church contemplates the Resurrection. O happy fault that merited such a redeemer
I remarked recently in this blog about Saint Paul's persistent vision of joy. He was not bothered with the "problem of evil," sometimes called theodicy. Christ has won the victory. Paul knew it because he had been starved, neglected, betrayed, beaten, chained, imprisoned and exiled many times over but the Spirit still rejoiced within him. He could not deny his own happiness; it was nothing but privilege to suffer as the Lord had suffered.  
There is sadness of course -- we pause to feel sadness -- as much for the perpetrators of crime as for the victims. But sadness need not lead to disappointment. 
No Catholic imagines the Blessed Mother on Calvary weeping for disappointment. Grief, of course, for the son of her body who suffers dreadfully. But she does not venture into disappointment. She waits with a faithful heart for what eye has not seen and ear has not heard, for what God has prepared for those who love him. 
The philosopher would ask why but the Christian believes in God's fidelity and watches with expectation for the Vindication that will certainly come. 
Next Sunday we will celebrate Christ the King of the Universe; we will hear Saint Matthew's parable of the Last Judgment. We expect That Day with holy fear and eager longing. On That Day there will be great joy in heaven and on earth for God's justice and our faith will be vindicated in the sight of the nations. 

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 496

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night? 
Will he be slow to answer them? 

I love the woman in this story, though I'd rather admire her from afar. Here is one of those women who knows what she wants and knows she should have it, a perfect terror to men.
I picked up Tolstoy's War and Peace a few months ago. I've read it twice already but I could hardly put the book down for my delight in meeting again the dreadful "Anna Pavlovna Sherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Federovna." She's a woman who, if you saw her coming in the street, you'd duck down an alley to avoid. But because she is indomitable the entire novel depends upon her two interventions. (If you've not yet read War and Peace, you must!
Jesus' widow should be called "Anna Pavlovna." She knows the judge can answer her prayer. He can, must and will! He is, after all, only a man. As "Maria Portokalos" says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding said, "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."
In 1215 the lords of England forced King John to sign the Magna Carta and acknowledge that the king is also subject to the law. He hated the idea but had no choice. That principle still governs our presidents and governors more than 800 years later. We regard it with such reverence we might suppose that God too is subject to the law.
There is no automatic principle, mechanism or impersonal device higher than the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God's decisions are just; they make justice.
Does the woman in Jesus' parable have a just claim in a human court of law? It doesn't matter. She will have her settlement in her own way because the judge, fearing for his life, will decide in her favor. Like the decision of the baseball umpire or basketball referee, it's final, settled and done. 
This is not to say God governs arbitrarily, by divine whims or moods. That's not the point. 
We have the scriptures and our long memory of God's constant mercy to assure us of God's constancy. But his dependability does not render him as a mindless power, energy or machine. Rather, he is the Lord who hears prayers.
The widow in Jesus' story knows this, as do Anna Pavlovna and Maria Portokalos. And Jesus knows it better than anyone! He is so sure of it he calls the Lord, "Abba!" -- whom we dare to call "Our Father." 

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Franciscan Religious

Lectionary: 495

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; but either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.

Here is a curious contrast: in November, as we ponder the Last Thing -- Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell -- and approach the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church offers readings from Wisdom literature. 

These "Sapiential Writings" of the Bible are not nearly so wrought with apocalyptic expectation. They are collections of sayings gathered by old men and offered to children, who will in their turn become old men. No one supposed the end of the world might happen soon. 
Today's reading begins with the simple observation, "All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God...." 
The psalms and wisdom literature reflect an enormous gratitude to God for the gift of the Law and its inherent wisdom, which save us from that foolishness. In the Book of Deuteronomy today (4:6-8), Moses predicted, 
Observe (the statutes and ordinances as the Lord) carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and ordinances that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you?
Recently the news media is choking with delight over the fall of men who were regarded as wise. These wise Hollywood moguls knew the entertainment industry; they were adept at promoting themselves and their interests. Catch hold of their ascending stars and you too can rise to fame and fortune. 
But wait! Now they're fallen fools and the same media wonders how they thought they could get away with their grotesque bullying and exploitation of vulnerable women. 
Psalm 37 would observe of such clever people, 
"I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again. They were gone; they were nowhere to be found." 
Christians should be especially suspicious of those clever prophets who expect the End of the World very soon. As Deep Throat suggested, "Follow the money." No one gets rich off their Christian faith, regardless of their expertise. 
Today the Church celebrates the wise young woman, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who followed Jesus into poverty and received the Kingdom of God. She was not successful in worldly terms. Many would call her foolish or mad for giving away her wealth; but everyone will finally celebrate her victory. 

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 494

Then he said to his disciples, "The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. There will be those who will say to you, 'Look, there he is,' or 'Look, here he is.' Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.

First generation Christians enjoyed high expectations and suffered great anxiety. Hearing the apocalyptic expressions of Jesus repeated by his immediate disciples many awaited the "second coming" at any time. He had died, had been raised from the dead, had ascended into heaven, why would he not return shortly to establish the Kingdom of God once and for all?
Twenty centuries later we cannot answer that question, despite many attempts to read the mind of God and decipher his ways. Some people, after a period of near hysterical anticipation, simply get tired and quit. The United States in particular experienced the ecstasy of several "great awakenings" and their inevitable collapse.
Some theologians attempted to solve the problem by stripping our religion of its apocalyptic expectations. Bishop Barclay, writer of a marvelous set of commentaries on the Bible, once observed that there are two kinds of churches, those who ignore the Book of Revelation altogether, and those who read only the Book of Revelation.
The "liberals" were the former; "conservatives", the latter. Liberal Christians favored stability which should lead to prosperity, big business, big government and "an end of history." They don't need all that religious uneasiness.
Conservative Christians stir the pot, appeal to the poor and disenfranchised, and look for the Lord to overthrow Big Business, Big Government and Big Church (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church.) The sooner, the better.
Disappointed liberals become ambitious for worldly things and sometimes become fabulously rich. Disappointed conservatives drop out of church; some become anarchists or terrorists. Both groups declare no faith in "organized religion," as if there can be any other kind.
Where is the Roman Catholic Church in all this? Certainly some members are liberal and others, conservative; but the official teaching and the formal liturgy simply acknowledge the prophetic disturbance without lending formal recognition or credence.
Many of the symbols of our faith -- candles, sheep, lambs, incense, angels, fire, virgins, saints, stoles, altars, ashes on foreheads, etc. -- appear in apocalyptic literature. Playing the conservative, I once restored the crucifix and several statues to a Catholic church, to the everlasting gratitude of my parishioners.
In a Roman Catholic reading of apocalyptic passages of scripture, especially of Revelation and the Gospels, we find reassurance during times of upheaval; these texts are not invitations to revolution. They are not threats to the wicked (who don't read them anyway) but consolation to the oppressed. 
They are certainly not guarantees to the satisfied that you can enjoy prosperity in this world and happiness in the next. During the seventies and eighties some American Christians hoped for a global, thermonuclear war to bring about the Second Coming; they were that assured of their personal salvation! That reading is a bastard combination of liberal contentment with conservative upheaval. "Let's stop the game while we're winning!" 
Nor do we support Steve Bannon's pessimistic theory of historical cycles. People are not vegetation; their decisions make history but cannot be predicted like the four seasons. 
In today's gospel, the Church recalls Jesus' reassurance, to the effect, "Do not run about hysterically thinking the world might have come to an end; you'll know it when it happens!" We do not accept any theory of history which would expect certain developments to mature into universal peace and justice. Nor do we watch for signs that prefigure the End. 
An old hermit was asked, "What would you do if you were told the world will end tomorrow?" He replied, "I would do the same as I did today: wake up and say my prayers, take my breakfast, and go to work in the garden."

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 493

Hear, O kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earth's expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels.

The Book of Wisdom was written within the century before Jesus was born. It's authors enjoyed enough social and political stability that they could research and collect sayings and proverbs into a book. Their collaborators published the book and distributed it to prospective readers, probably students in the school at Jerusalem.
The Roman Empire, despite its shortcomings and excesses, offered stability; and many nations and people didn't mind its rule. Merchants could travel, contractors could build, artisans could create, bankers could lend at interest, schools could teach and research, new ideas could be generated: people could be reasonably content and hopeful in a predictable world.
The Divine Authors of Wisdom had neither the ear of the Emperor nor the attention of kings but they could hope their considered exhortation would be taken seriously by their aristocrat pupils. They could remind the powerful that, "You would have no power were it not given you from above!" as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate.
Regardless of the political system -- democracy, aristocracy, plutocracy, or dictatorship -- authority comes from God. If it fails to govern wisely and justly its authority is revoked.
The American bishops have reminded we-the-people that the economic/political system that fails to care for the needs of the least among us is doomed to failure.
All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable. From the Scriptures and church teaching we learn that the justice of a society is tested by the treatment of the poor. The justice that was the sign of God's covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected—the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—were treated.

If you have ever been subject to advertising -- which is to say, "everyone" -- you know marketers are not concerned about the least among us. They appeal to those who have access to cash. Our entire economy is built around the demands of consumers; not the needs of the neediest. Upside down: it cares for the haves rather than the have-nots.
As a chaplain in a hospital, I see the cost of our way of life daily. Most patients are here due to their unfortunate decisions. They have responded to a loud, demanding market economy that cares not a whit for their real needs. They are sold a bill of goods that is not good; they're assured their decisions will please them -- until they collapse and are taken to stressed hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes.
That's no surprise, of course. Today's excesses are just the current manifestations of Original Sin. It is always with us, regardless of who is in charge or which ideology of freedom they espouse. 
The Gospel teaches us to recognize our guilt, turn away from sin, and atone by offering shelter to the homeless, care to the sick, and mercy to the needy. 

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.

I find a salutary contrast between today's Old Testament reading from Wisdom and the selection from the New Testament Gospel. Wisdom speaks reassuring words of peace and comfort for the souls of the just, "They are in peace." But Saint Luke teaches us to say, "'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"
The contrast reminds us that the mercy of God is pure gift. We dare not take it for granted; it is not mechanical like gravity, or required by some law which even God must obey. But we can be assured of it.
We should never forget that we have no claim on God. The indifferent cycles of the Earth, with their rise and fall, ebb and flow, life and death remind us continually of our mortality. By nature's scale a human lifespan is not much longer than a mayfly's and seems to have little more import.
Hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, tornadoes, droughts, fires, earthquakes and eruptions laugh at our pretensions of mastery. Scientific research, discovering billions and billions of galaxies, and seemingly infinite varieties of life evolving through millions of years, dismisses human claims of significance. What is the human creature against the panoply of stars?

In the light of such cosmic indifference it's not hard to say, "'We are unprofitable servants....'"
But the Spirit attests to the esteem and affection in which God holds us. We would know nothing of God if he did not continually save us, heal us, gather us, reassemble our society, and restore our original beauty. Despite our insignificance in the sight of the stars, the Father has sent the Son to save us and the Spirit to move us. God does not abandon us.
Even the scientific skeptic has to admit our scientific curiosity asserts our significance. 'Here we are!" the human says before the abyss. 
The Elect say before God. Although we are unprofitable servants, we praise your Name!

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the Lord in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; Because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.

I once believed very foolishly that monks and nuns who spend their cloistered lives in prayer must be wise not only in the ways of God but also in the ways of foolish humanity. They have seen the dark side, I supposed, and are not alarmed or surprised by street talk or crude language. 
I fear that I never apologized for my stupidity but I have reason to believe the patient sisters forgave me. Unlike the clever of this world they do not nurture resentments. 
I often hear admiring stories in the VA hospital of the tough Louisville priests who drank and smoked and swore like sailors; but, fifty years later, these stories are not told by practicing Catholics. I fear they have never recovered from observing such low-grade scandalous behavior among the clergy 
Devout people who practice their faith daily -- it doesn't matter if they're Catholic or Protestant -- "love justice" and "think of the Lord's goodness...." They do not seek entertainment on the dark side; they live in the light and find more than enough amusement in beauty to satisfy their need for occasional recreation.
The Book of Wisdom, written not long before Jesus was born, urges the devout to live simple lives in a complex, confusing and often dangerous world. No one should expect to be a master of political and social intrigue and a saint also. God's flock will be, as Jesus said, like sheep among wolves, relying on the Lord for both protection and vindication. 
...because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was clothed in innocence as she "loved justice" among the Italian immigrants in Chicago. She didn't need to get down with the homeless, orphaned adolescents; rather, she maintained her dignity and let them draw close to her. In fact, they flocked to her. 
With a prayerful heart and confidence in the power of faith to uproot a mulberry tree and cast it into the sea, she persuaded tough Chicago businessmen to build orphanages and schools while she collected young women to work as matrons and teachers to staff them. 
As we witness American culture descending again into the violence typical of her time, we pray that God will inspire others to take up her way of social action and simple innocence. 

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.

Langdon Gilkey, a Protestant American theologian of the mid-20th century, described the quest for wisdom as a kind of eroticism. Just as the human body craves certain pleasures, the mind craves knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Just as the body finds delight in carnal satisfaction, so does the mind delight in discovery and deeper insight.
Neglect of that erotic passion can only be foolishness. Willful ignorance, the decision to act without adequate knowledge or understanding, must be sinful.
The Divine Authors of the Old Testament were well aware of foolishness; they equated it with sin. The wise appreciate what they do not know, seek knowledge and cultivate habits and manners that conform to Wisdom. They worship the God who gives wisdom to his beloved.
In the New Testament we discover Jesus is "the word made flesh;" that is, Wisdom Incarnate. Today's gospel describes a severe penalty for the foolish; they are shut out of the Heavenly Wedding Banquet.
During the latter half of the first millennium, after the Roman Empire had collapsed and before the rise of medieval Christendom, young people from all over Europe travelled to Ireland to study. Christian missionaries had established the religion there; it took root in monasteries of men and women. They copied the ancient texts, secular and religious, philosophical, literary and scientific; and knew what they were reading. Fleeing the continual violence of barbarian Europe, young people worked and studied with the monks and nuns, and began the labor of restoring civilization.
Americans too have a passion for knowledge; we see it in our universities and research institutions. They are sponsored by government, business and church.
We have to wonder what kind of evil spirit suppresses that erotic impulse. Why would intelligent human beings disavow learning? Why would anyone spend two hours a day -- that is, one month a year -- watching television? Isn't that how we punish criminals in jail cells and prisons?
Desperate to maintain American dominance, the government demands that our children learn STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Those are fine things but we must also teach them history, art, literature, philosophy and religion -- beginning at home. We must cultivate an erotic passion for that most desirable and beautiful Lady Wisdom,

For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.