Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

To what can I liken or compare you,
O daughter Jerusalem?
What example can I show you for your comfort,
virgin daughter Zion?
For great as the sea is your downfall;
who can heal you?
Your prophets had for you
false and specious visions;
They did not lay bare your guilt,
to avert your fate;
They beheld for you in vision
false and misleading portents.






On Thursday we heard passages from 2 Kings about the siege of Jerusalem and its conquest by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army. Today we hear a lamentation that followed that horror. The song echoes the confusion, dismay and intense grief of men and women throughout history. They could only watch helplessly as their homes were destroyed; their families, murdered and their lifeworks, erased.
In Carey, Ohio we Franciscans have a minor basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation. Thousands of people visit each year seeking healing, reconciliation and comfort from the woman whose innocent son was murdered without hesitation or remorse in full view of the world. This photo describes a second image in the church. It depicts the Blessed Mother sitting in desolation after the death and burial of her son. You can't see it in the photo but beneath her is a marble image of the buried man. Above is the inscription from Lamentations, chapter I verse 12:
O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow. 

This statue of the Sorrowing Virgin reminds the pilgrims who go to Carey that Mary's authority as Consoler of the Afflicted is borne of her overwhelming grief. Unless you have accepted deep, staggering sorrow into your life, and found the Lord in your grief, you have nothing to say to those who now suffer affliction.
The story of the breach of Jerusalem's walls and subsequent razing, pillage, rape and slaughter inspires greater dedication from today's soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guards and cyberwarriors. But the Hebrew prophets offer little hope for these ambitious and expensive defense works:
Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. Psalm 127.
It is ironic that the movement to make America great again does not ask anyone to weep and mourn over our sins. Perhaps they agree that we should practice religion, though I've heard little about that since November 2016. But will they agree that we should sit in silence with the Virgin under the burden of our national guilt? Our drug addictions are destroying nations from Mexico to South America. In the name of American citizens, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) separates children from their parents at the border, with little assurance they will ever meet again. Our weapons manufacturers arm combatants on all sides of every conflict. Our marriage bonds can be dissolved within days of their consent, despite the abandoned children and mothers. We cannot even assure a child's right to live with his father and mother.

The Hebrew prophets warned continually that the Lord could not overlook the sins of Jerusalem. After the catastrophe Jeremiah and the other prophets did not say, "I told you so." Rather, they wept over the desolation that had fallen on God's people. It was to be expected; it could not be avoided.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles


Mass during the Day Lectionary: 591


I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

I met a young Veteran in the psych ward recently. Abandoned by his alcoholic, quarrelsome parents he was raised by his grandmother and sometimes attended a Catholic church with her. That was his claim to being Catholic.
Harmless and amiable when sober, he was sure demons caused most of his trouble, a superstition he had picked up from one of his wives. He was astonished when I reminded him that he had not been plagued with these imps during his occasional periods of sobriety. 
He still talks to his ex-wife; both care about their children. "You want a substantial relationship with these people." I said. I went on to explain the word substance to him. He has been in treatment for substance abuse and hopes to return to the Substance Abuse Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program, known in the VA by its acronym, SARRTP. 
substantial relationship binds people together. A husband and wife believe their marriage is more important than either one of them; they will not permit anything as cheap as alcohol, drugs or cigarettes to come between them. 
A parent offers a child that substantial relationship and the faithful child responds accordingly. Children have a holy fear of violating that bond, though they might not say so with those words. I think of the teen who declared, "I would never commit suicide. My dad would kill me if I did!" That substantial relationship should endure into adulthood as the parent must eventually rely on the child.
Catholics know the word substantial from the Nicene Creed when we say of Jesus each Sunday, "(he is) consubstantial with the Father." We also speak of transubstantiation when we try to explain the Blessed Sacrament.
The human being naturally seeks substantial relationships with other people and with God. We are never satisfied with food, drink, shelter and warmth. Education, opportunity, health care and security are also important; as are rest, recreation and leisure; but none of those satisfactions can replace the need for a substantial relationship. Without it, life has no meaning.
Tragically, many people are disappointed in love and turn to other substances. Because the substantial relationship is necessarily one of commitment, brokenhearted souls turn to obsessive-compulsive habits, cigarettes, alcohol and illicit drugs. Having stepped over that line and found a modicum of satisfaction, it is very hard to step back.
My young friend was astonished with this Catholic commonplace. He had just told his daughter on the phone, "You are my drug!" He didn't realize how close he was to the truth. He now believes he has found a way out of his addiction. 
Of course, he has much to learn and, as he sets out on the path of sobriety, he will soon realize the fragility of a simple insight. It takes more than an idea to set one's life aright. Perhaps he will explore his Grandmother's faith and discover the intoxicating joy of the Blessed Sacrament, of communion with the Wedding Guest at Cana. Perhaps he will learn to let the Holy Spirit, who is consubstantial with the Father and the Son, guide his impulses, thoughts, desires and actions. He will learn that God the Father is intoxicated with him and his wife and children, and willing to sacrifice his only begotten Son for their salvation. 
On this feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, I pray that they are bound on Earth and in Heaven, and the Gates of Hell cannot dissolve their substance. 

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr


Then Jehoiachin, king of Judah, together with his mother, his ministers, officers, and functionaries, surrendered to the king of Babylon, who, in the eighth year of his reign, took him captive. And he carried off all the treasures of the temple of the LORD and those of the palace, and broke up all the gold utensils that Solomon, king of Israel, had provided in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had foretold. He deported all Jerusalem:

In my reading of Catholic and Christian sources I have found few references to the sack of Jerusalem. And yet it is the most dreadful event of the Old Testament. We rightfully celebrate the wonderful events: the exodus from Egypt, the conquest of Canaan, David's united kingdom, Solomon's temple, and so forth. But we overlook that extremely important "crucifixion event."
By the time Jesus was born the diaspora of Jewish people throughout the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe was a fact of life. When Joseph and Mary fled with the Baby into Egypt, they followed in the footsteps of Jeremiah. Jews had first survived the catastrophe and then flourished in Egypt, India and Rome. The Magi were descendants of the Jews who were taken to Babylon where the Pentateuch was redacted and published. Jewish religion was esteemed for its moral integrity. Their learning was honored and their business connections, respected. 
The Jewish people do not forget their history. To forget one's personal history is to suffer amnesia; to forget one's cultural, religious history is infidelity. Catholics must retain and teach our history to each generation for our Mass, sacraments, scriptures and saints mean nothing to those who do not love their heritage. 
I sometimes cite events in the lives of the saints in conversations at the VA hospital and they ask, "Where is that in the Bible?" The question reveals a profound disorientation. They may have some knowledge of the scriptures but no awareness of the nineteen centuries that have passed since the last New Testament letter was written. They suppose the Bible has floated down from the sky, disconnected to any earthly reality; its stories as fantastic as X-men, Marvel Comics, the Koran or the Book of Mormon. 
If the news media with its ability to bring us live images of ongoing events from anywhere on the planet gives us any advantage over our ancestors it should be the ability to care for and respond to natural catastrophes and tragedies of war. We watch people being driven from their homes as their cities are destroyed. We see soldiers pillaging in Asia and Africa in the same ways they looted Jerusalem many centuries ago. We can read Jeremiah's Lamentations and the Psalms of Lament with deeper compassion as we hear the stories and see parents trying to protect their children. 
Our memories of the rape of Jerusalem should arouse an eager willingness to welcome refugees into our churches and neighborhoods. We know how they feel for our ancestors felt that way only twenty-five centuries ago. But they also felt that way as they fled the incessant wars of Europe, seeking a new beginning in North America. The Bible insists upon compassion for "aliens" for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.
When King Josiah realized how Jerusalem had neglected its historic religion he used all his royal authority over the magistrates and priests to set their religious and ethical practices back on track. He dared not waste the opportunity. Unfortunately he died young and his reforms fell short. He did, however, succeed in reminding his people how important our scriptures are. When Jerusalem was sacked by invading armies the rabbis grabbed every scrap of sacred paper they could find and took them into exile. They knew God was with them so long as they remembered their stories, laws, songs and customs. 

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time


Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing,
but underneath are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them.

The student of Saint Luke's Acts of the Apostles must be deeply impressed by our reliance on the Holy Spirit. Where Jesus taught and led his disciples through Luke's Gospel, the Holy Spirit leads the Church day by day, from city to city in The Acts.
This reliance is a trusting, confident, daily decision which remembers first of all that God is leading us, and then what has happened. The disciples will not say to someone's suggestion, "We've tried that already;" but rather, "Where is the Holy Spirit leading us now?" We learn from experience but are not confined by it. In this way our message and our methods are always "ever ancient, ever new."
In today's first reading we hear the story of King Josiah. The ancient temple was apparently like the Parisian opera house, the setting of the Phantom of the Opera. It had been built, rebuilt, redesigned, repurposed and overhauled so many times that entire rooms had  been closed off and forgotten. In one of those mysterious rooms was found the long-forgotten Law of Moses. The young Josiah was horrified to realize that God's very specific instructions about life and worship had been so long neglected. He immediately called for a restoration of the original religious practices, and a closer observance of its ethical code.
Of course it was impossible to duplicate exactly that old way of life. Even if there were no overwhelming technological changes since the former time, there were irrevocable political, social and economic changes. If they would be true to the Spirit of the Law, they would need God's Spirit to show them what reforms to make.
The newly-formed Church of the first century also needed God's spirit to help them bring the Gospel to the innumerable peoples and languages of the ancient world. They needed prophets, those men and women who have the charism to discern God's will. Those prophets must be talented and trained, and should have a deep, humble integrity.
But the Church has always been plagued with false prophets. They're not just well intentioned people with wrong opinions; they have a hidden agenda behind their apparent piety. Very often they cannot recognize that agenda due to their overtly good intentions. Agenda items may include the superiority of their culture, nationality, race, class, language or gender. They see themselves as innately better than they people they address.
Or, they may believe the Gospel of Prosperity, that "Doing good means doing well." Hopefully their ministry will be no worse than barren; but they will probably bear rotten fruit.
Many self-described Christians today divorce themselves from any congregation, despising the very humanness of the Church. They think they can be faithful Christians by not meeting any. Go figure that one out!
I know little of warfare or combat but I suppose a soldier who moves ahead of his unit into hostile territory will soon lose any sense of where his people are going and how they plan to get there. If he were sent ahead he might have a better sense of his mission for a short while; but if he ventured out on his own he would be suspected of treason. Likewise the solitary Christian, moving "ahead" of the Church, might think he is prophetically challenging the World and the Church by his ethical standards, but he represents only himself. When people learn that this opinionated, self-righteous person is a "Christian" they will suppose all Christians are similarly hypocritical.
Sinful creatures that we are, the disciple of Jesus must continually turn back to the Lord for guidance and to the community for discipline. Our fans may love us but our fellowship will know the whole truth about us. I joined the Church to be saved, not to tell them how to be saved.
At every step of the way the Spirit of the Church infallibly guides us. We have that assurance as we live the Gospel in hostile territory.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time



Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.
And those who find it are few."

After the death of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the news media is suddenly fascinated with the epidemic of suicide. They notice that this "nuclear option" has become increasingly popular and even socially acceptable among some young people. They discover suicide is more common among men than women; more frequent in American states with less gun control. Copycat suicides, like high school shootings, often take their cues from the news media.
Because the news media habitually overlooks the past, they fail to notice that human beings have always had the ability to kill themselves and have often used it. There are eight suicides in the Bible. But the media cannot address why this peculiarly unnatural act has reached epidemic proportions, more common than fatal automobile accidents, second only to alcohol and heroin overdoses.
A better understanding of this ongoing tragedy might begin with contemplation of Matthew 7:12-14 -- "Enter through the narrow gate...." The gate to life is narrow and the road constricted, as Jesus observes, and most people fail to take it. The more appealing gate is wide and the road is broad, scenic, preferred and recommended.
Six centuries before Jesus the Buddha taught that life is suffering. As obvious as that seems, the Buddhist frank acceptance of inevitable suffering signaled a new maturity for the human species.
Jesus took that insight several steps forward when he said, "Unless you take up your cross and follow daily in my steps, you cannot be my disciple."
The Wheel of Fortune is not actually a television show; it is a medieval parable about life. On that ever-turning wheel the wealthy predictably descend and the poor hopefully ascend. Families of medieval peasants, staying in one place for generations, had long memories. They kept score of aristocratic families as latter day fans track their football heroes; they remembered this poor man whose grandfather was a duke; they noticed this wealthy merchant whose ancestors were highwaymen.Medieval Europeans, deeply influenced by Christian doctrine, knew that life is often painful and disappointing and inevitably ends in death. Holy days broke up the monotony of hardscrabble farming but no one supposed their descendants should have an easier life. The "wheel of fortune,"  not hard work, determined who rose and who fell.
Skeptics today raise the same doubt about upward mobility. Do some penniless immigrants to the United States rise rapidly through various economic and social strata because they work hard? Or because they are white with academic credentials and desirable skills? Some Wall Street brokers enjoy dazzling success because they are smarter than other brokers, or just luckier? The rules dictate some will win and others will lose; perhaps the winners were chosen by random, impersonal fate. They might claim their instincts are better and their insight more perceptive but they have no more proof for that than we can prove the existence of God. Americans tell themselves many stories, especially about hard work and virtue but, as Sportin Life sang in Porgy and Bess, "It ain't necessarily so."
Without blaming anyone, I believe suicide is a symptom of a culture which refuses to accept that life is suffering. "Consumers" do not accept Jesus' invitation to "take up your cross daily." Culturally we cling to the notion that life should not be difficult, frustrating or painful. A blessed people should not have to suffer! This belief born of self-deception is more fantasy than real, and proves itself to be toxic. Because suicide thrives in the broken promises of America, anyone who promotes this false ideal is responsible for the epidemic.
Jesus invites his people to take up the cross. His invitation is made in love and with great joy because, through the cross, we know communion with our God and others. The faithful accept the limited freedom of ordinary life and the privilege of belonging to communities we have not chosen. We take full responsibility for our disabilities, illnesses and frailty. We welcome, honor and try to understand others, even those who are hostile to us. In the footsteps of Jesus we find contentment and the promise of satisfaction.
The Christian does not passively accept that life is suffering like the Buddhist; rather, we embrace the privilege of sharing in the cross of Christ. 

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time


Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

Jesus' injunction against judging other people flows from his more basic command, "Do not be afraid." When threatened, we feel afraid and make judgments. They might be called assessments or evaluations or critiques but they boil down to serious opinions which govern how we treat one another. Frail and vulnerable as we are, each with a personal history of disappointments, misunderstandings and betrayals, we approach one another warily. Judgments, hardened into opinions and attitudes and often validated by those around us, serve as excuses for shunning, distancing and mistreating other people
But, acting under the impulse of the Holy Spirit and assured of faith, God's people can move confidently in this world. We are under his protection and have less need of suspicious hostility toward others. 
It's a long process, of course, and some people are more gifted than others. With grace, time and maturity, we stop judging as we learn to set fear aside and receive others openly and with trust. In the very act of allowing a benevolent, friendly, confident curiosity about others to govern our behavior, we don't even suppose they might be judging us. When we stop judging we are not judged.
But if we approach others without confidence, with fear of harm, we convey that fear to them and they, in turn, respond with their own judgement. And thus the prophecy is fulfilled; the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.
The Christian invitation is to rest assured of God's protection, and then to approach others with confidence. In fact we are sent as gifts to "make disciples of all nations." Our gift is not our wealth or power, not our technological prowess, nor our democratic philosophy but our willingness to receive, honor, admire, listen to and appreciate others. Evangelization begins with the high esteem we show to others; we see the image of God in strangers.
I knew a talented singer several years ago who suffered with alcoholism. He joined an AA group and they were happy to receive him. But they didn't want to hear him sing. He had a hard time with that. He was was afraid of how they might judge him, but confident they should love his voice. He "got the Program" when he learned to trust the group, and to entrust himself to membership. In the meanwhile he learned to listen to and honor them. 
This dying to self is not terribly difficult. It has to do with forgetting oneself and supporting one's family, company, church, support group, volunteer organization, town, county, state and nation. It is a willingness to participate with the confidence of one who was sent by the Lord to take part. Being sent doesn't mean my ideas are always the right ideas, or that my ideals are the only ones that count. The Christian participates with others like yeast in dough or salt in food. No one can eat yeast or salt alone. Sometimes, if the diners can taste the salt, there was too much in the food. But yeast and salt make a world of difference to good food.  
Full participation also means the willingness to receive the care and concern of others. We bring our brokenness and frailty. We're dependent and dependable. Hyperactive leaders who treat their teammates like assistants and then complain because they get so little help not only break down under the pressure; they fail to build the kingdom of disciples that Jesus described. They are kingdoms of one. You can tell them by their judgments. 
I often recite to the VA patients Jesus' words, 
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

His life without judgments is so much easier. 


Just Six Months till Christmas!

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist


Hear me, O coastlands, 
listen, O distant peoples. 
The LORD called me from birth, from my mother's womb he gave me my name.
He made of me a sharp-edged sword
and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.



Today's first reading is the second of four "servant songs" found in the Book of Isaiah the Prophet. They figure prominently during our Holy Week services as they are read on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Jesus found his calling in these psalms and the Church has always regarded them as templates for his mission. If you would know the Lord, study these four songs of Isaiah.
On this midsummer solemn feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist, the Church recasts this second servant song as a prophecy about Elizabeth's son. He too was called from before his birth. In fact he danced in his mother's womb at the coming of Mary, "the Ark of the Covenant", as King David danced when his soldiers brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.
The infant was named John at his mother's insistence when his father Zechariah could not speak, thus fulfilling the prophecy "from my mother's womb he gave my my name."
He was a sharp-edge sword as he called out the wickedness in Jerusalem and Herod's court. The prophets never hesitate to engage in politics; and like John they pay dearly for it.
Finally, the Baptist suffered the indignity of being hidden in Herod's dungeon and executed there. We can only imagine the terror of a man waiting in total darkness for days and weeks, suddenly confronted with blinding torches, thrown to the ground, and decapitated with neither explanation nor apology.
The second Servant Song had described the prophet's feeling of futility in that prison. Though he was a sharp-edged sword and a polished arrow, he was trapped in helpless idleness, hoping for a reprieve, praying for deliverance, until he was casually murdered by the whim of a dancing girl.
His only consolation was a promise he would not live to see fulfilled:
You are my servant, he said to me, Israel, through whom I show my glory.
have often reflected​ on futility during my seventh decade of life and fifth decade of priesthood. I should have no more complaints than any priest who is not a bishop, cardinal or pope; but I suspect that same unease hounds Christians in every office high or low. In fact, it's probably more intense for prelates. We prayed, studied, trained, prepared -- for this?
Futility is another word for the doubt that accompanies faith, but it is more painful. Doubt is an intellectual problem. I might doubt that God is good or that Jesus saves, but I still hope my life, experience and suffering have meaning and purpose. "I am somebody!" I tell myself.
But futility is an existential problem that confronts us whether we believe in God or not. Presently America is afflicted with an epidemic of futility that arouses senseless violence, innumerable addictions and suicide. People are dying in vain and we don't know why.
The scriptures are well aware of this existential problem as they ask, "Whose life has meaning, the wicked or the virtuous?" During yesterday's Evening Prayer we read the 145th psalm and the words:
     Do not trust in princes to save you,
   they are only sons of men.
     One day their breath will leave them, they will return to the ground;
    on that day all their plans perish.
Happy the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
  whose hope is in the Lord his God,
     who made heaven and earth and all that is in them,
  who keeps faith for ever,
  who gives justice to the oppressed,
  who gives food to the hungry.

Saint John the Baptist, from his dungeon teaches us to recognize and finally embrace the sense of futility that accompanies Christian freedom. In the darkness he must have recalled the words of the Prophet Isaiah:
Though I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the LORD,
my recompense is with my God.

We hope not in our accomplishments but in the Victory the Lord has won for for us. The Lord would not let Adam, Cain, Herod, Judas or Adolf Hitler have the last word. As Saint Paul says,
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; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time


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?
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.


Today's Mass offers some of our favorite, most lyrical and least observed scripture passages, beginning with "...do not worry." 
An advice columnist recently ran a reader's paean in praise of her dog. The animal had demonstrated an admirable ability to relax in hard times, to play with nothing to play with, to trust and forgive those who had only recently disappointed. Jesus pointed to the birds in the sky and made a similar pronouncement.
Humans don't easily forget the past, and we remember the future very well. We may not know what will happen but we're often sure we won't like it. These advantages over our animal kin give us enormous responsibility for the earth and its denizens but when we fail to trust in our God as our animals trust in us, these assets become enormous liabilities. Perhaps that is why some animal rights advocates insist that human beings should have no privilege over inferior forms of life. We don't deserve them, they say, and our being here on the Animal Planet only makes matters worse.
Knowledge of the future and its possibilities for weal or woe is integral to our freedom. We must make choices and they always have consequences. In that respect we are, unlike the animals, co-creators of the earth. They, no doubt, shape their environment; many seem quite intentional as they store away food and build nests and bowers. But they do these things instinctively.
The human being has no instincts; only habits which must be chosen, practiced, maintained, adapted, taught to children, and sometimes unlearned. We are as responsible for our habits as the birds are not responsible for their nests.
We're especially dumbstruck with the burden of our freedom when we realize our habits, customs and traditions -- practices which work very well for some of us -- are making matters worse for others. In fact, they may be creating a future which will be palpably worse than the present. Who could imagine, in 1885, that Karl Benz's invention might poison the Earth's abundant atmosphere? What consumer, discarding a shopping bag on a sidewalk in Louisville, might suppose it will join the eight million metric tons of plastic garbage entering the oceans every year, or that it might kill a pilot whale off the coast of Thailand?
When Jesus encouraged his disciples not to worry overmuch was he suggesting that we give no thought to the consequences of our waste, indolence or greed?
Today's gospel teaches us more than not to worry; we should also "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness...."
Few us can consider every single decision in the light of God's kingdom. We are, after all, making tens of thousands of decisions every day if we count the things we decide not to do. At any moment there may be ten choices before me; choosing only one I leave the rest to float off into that "alternate universe" that some fantasists imagine.
But if we cannot ask Jesus at every moment, "What would you do?" and wait for the answer, we can begin each day in prayer, asking for God's guidance. The Lord who sees the endless consequences of every decision can guide our thoughts, desires, intentions and decisions with infinitely more wisdom than we can muster. With that assurance we look at the birds in the sky and learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

Friday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.


What is it about stuff that so fascinates us? The wisdom literature of every nation ancient and modern warns us not to invest deeply in possessions. Philosophers and sages tell us that family and friends and neighbors are worth far more than any material good. Nor should offices in business, politics, the military or church supplant those who are close to our hearts. The world must go on its way -- and it will -- but it doesn't need me to surrender my heart to its idolatry.
Jesus' teaching, "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be!" is not a gentle warning. These hideous rental units that have sprung up like mushrooms from coast to coast, with all the eye appeal of a boxcar, contain millions of disappointed hearts.
We're possessed by possessions. Sometimes too, we're owned by other people's stuff; the furniture, clothes, toys and paraphernalia they could not take with them. What are we supposed to do with them? Pets fall into that unhappy limbo too, as their owners die and they are passed into the unwilling hands of the heirs.
"For freedom, Christ set you free!" Saint Paul declared to his Galatian friends.
The human body provides a metaphor for our unhappy state. When a body takes in more than it gives out it must become obese. Health demands a careful balance of intake and outgo. Beyond a certain point, when I buy something or accept something as a gift, I have to shed something else. My drawers and closets are maxed out; my book shelves are full; the garage has no room for a car; something's got to go. Renting extra space only forestalls the inevitable reckoning when I, or my heirs, have to dump stuff in the dumpster.
And yet, surrendering ownership is so difficult. My stuff is valuable! I've invested $$$ in it! Someone should prize this clothing, book, camera, jewelry, computer; and that moral obligation has fallen on me. Will they have to prise it out of my dead fingers?
Franciscans tell the story of Bernard of Quintavalle, the Assisian's first disciple. Both young men were fabulously rich. Francis went through a long painful ordeal of shedding his bondage to family, friends and property before he found his freedom. Bernard of Quintavalle watched the younger Francis from a distance and finally invited him to his ancestral palace to dine with him. They spoke of the joys and privileges of poverty deep into the night. Bernard was deeply touched by Francis' manifest joy.
Soon after that he surrendered to the will of God and announced his readiness to abandon his estate. His parents were dead; he was pursued by no creditors. So he opened his house to his neighbors. Within a few hours the place was stripped! Every stick of furniture, every article of clothing, every weapon, kitchen utensil, picture, and statue vanished as the mob tore through the estate. Francis and Bernard watched with amusement then abandoned the city for the freedom of the open road and the Providence of God.
Not everyone is called to such abandonment, of course, but everyone is challenged by the Lord's warning, "Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be!"

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious

"If you forgive others their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive others,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."


If the "Lord's Prayer" can be described as a summary of every Christian prayer, we should be deeply impressed that Jesus immediately glosses this prayer with a remark about the fifth petition. He underlines that phrase with positive and negative expressions: "your Father will forgive..." and "neither will your Father forgive..." 
He might be saying, "Let me be crystal clear..." or "Make no mistake about it."
Refusing to forgive is not even a zero-sum game, in which one's gains are balanced by another's losses. Nobody wins; everybody is worse for failing to forgive.
And everyone wins when we do forgive because the Father "makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."
Saint Francis of Assisi, imitating the Lord, taught the world the virtue of dispossession. He wanted to disown every claim on material or spiritual goods; he would rely solely on the gracious mercy of God. If we can't trust God to provide for us, he reasoned, there is no reason to live.
He first discovered the virtue of disowning material possessions, and then he discovered the amazing freedom of disowning resentments.
We can get an estimate of how this trash is treasured by listing the synonyms for grudge: grievance, resentment, bitterness, rancor, pique, umbrage, dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, bad feelings, hard feelings, ill feelings, ill will, animosity, antipathy, antagonism, enmity, animus, and a chip on one's shoulder.
Asked to surrender a resentment, I realize I am letting go of some precious possession. "It's mine!" I say. "I might exchange it for an apology or some recompense. But I'll be damned if I just let it go!"
I'll be damned if I don't let it go.
Francis saw this renunciation as the easiest, simplest, clearest and most accessible route to salvation. Why would anyone not take it?
I'm sure there are many reasons, but they are all anchored in the darkness of disbelief. Why does a sick man not take his medicine? Why does a weak person refuse physical rehabilitation? An ignorant person, refuse instruction? A disappointed person, ignore opportunity? Reasons are abundant; all of them, nonsense.
Reminded and challenged daily by the Lord's Prayer we decide to trust God again. He is the mother who, finding her infant playing with a sharp knife, persistently, insistently says, "Give it to Momma! Thank you! Give it to Momma!" until she receives the plaything from his trusting, innocent hands. Our Father buries every resentment beneath Mount Calvary where it molders in the blood of Jesus. It will reappear again on the Judgement Day as a flower, a blossom of mercy and grace.

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here;
the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.”
“As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live,
I will not leave you,” Elisha replied.
And so the two went on together.


Elisha's reply, "I will not leave you!" reminds me of the conversation of Naomi and Ruth, from the Book of Ruth:
See now,” (Naomi) said, “your sister-in-law (Oprah) has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!”
But Ruth said, “Do not press me to go back and abandon you! Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God. Where you die I will die, and there be buried. May the LORD do thus to me, and more, if even death separates me from you!” Naomi then ceased to urge her, for she saw she was determined to go with her.

Ruth, King Davids' grandmother, was not a Jew; she didn't acquire her intense loyalty to her mother-in-law by her practice of Jewish religion. It was rather that Spirit of Affection that God bestows on all people wherever they might live, whatever religion they practice. God's Spirit in us imitates the Christ who loves the Father as the Father loves the Son. Recognizing the image of an adorable God in other people, we are drawn to admire, love and bind ourselves to our fellow human beings. 

Returning to our first reading, we see the Holy Spirit of Prophecy binding the prophets Elijah and Elisha in such a manner that, when the elder disappears the younger takes up his mantle and continues the mission. Elisha is as zealous as Elijah and invested with all of his authority; the band of lesser prophets who have watched them from a distance know that instantly. 

In the Spirit of Elijah/Elisha, the Church enters this third millennium since the life and death of Jesus. We have a lot of history behind us; we renounce none of it for we see the Holy Spirit has remained with us in every age and place. Even now we see the prophetic spirit of Elijah and Elisha; the guiding spirit of Moses; the comforting spirit of Naomi and Ruth; the healing spirit of Tobiah and Raphael; and the reforming spirit of Josiah and Ezra. No sooner has Jesus lavished his spirit upon us at Pentecost than martyrs like Stephen and the Apostle James are martyred for our faith. Martyrs of every assure us that God is with us for only God could inspire unarmed men and women to defy the powerful with nothing more than the Word of Truth. 

Elijah's mantle barely touched the ground before Elisha snatched it up and wrapped it around his own shoulders. That prophetic authority remains within the Church today, especially as we remain devoted to one another like Ruth to Naomi and Elisha to Elijah.