Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Someone asked him,
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?"
He answered them, 
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.

The story is told that the great comedienne W.C. Fields, known for humor, heavy drinking and womanizing was discovered in a garden shortly before he died, studying the King James Version. Asked what he was doing he explained, "I am looking for loopholes." 
In the popular imagination, salvation and damnation are seen as verdicts given by the Supreme Judge upon our demise. We expect to stand before Saint Peter sitting on a judge's bench before the Pearly Gates. Given that scenario, most of us hope God's law is rife with loopholes, and that the Merciful One -- God, Peter or Mary -- will find an applicable one for my case

In today's gospel, Jesus offers a different approach. He urges us to strive to enter through the narrow gate. It might entail some effort and strength. Perhaps some will not be able to lift the gate, or climb the mountain, or swim the current. Many will not be strong enough. 
There is good evidence, even in those schools that dare to study such things, that people who practice their religion cope with disappointment, failure, grief and catastrophes better than those who don't. Despite the good intentions and high expectation of couples on their wedding day, their relationships sometimes collapse when something terrible happens. The death of a parent or child, a financial setback or health crisis is simply too much for the young hopefuls. Hurting, disappointed, and confused one or both become irritable and snappish; they are not prepared to minister to one another. Where they always expected the other to be there for me, they cannot be there for each other. 
Relationships with God falter for the same reason. Ignoring the obligation of worship day after day and Sunday after Sunday, unfamiliar with the spirit, attitudes or words of prayer, they complain that God has abandoned them. But, unfamiliar with his Presence, how do they know he is absent? 
Proverbs 17:17 advises us, "A friend is a friend at all times, and a brother is born for the time of adversity.' More recently, the wise advise us: "If you want a friend, be a friend." The adage holds with God as well.  
In today's gospel Jesus urges us to build the strength we need. Strong friendships along with strong habits of sacrifice, personal discipline and prayer -- both devotional and liturgical -- prepare us to enter through what may be a very narrow gate.  

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Jesus said, "What is the Kingdom of God like?
To what can I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush
and 'the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.'"

I have been a bird watcher in my time, though I am not an early riser, and I have hopelessly tried to watch the little sparrows, wrens and warblers in the bushes. By the time I trained my binoculars on the spot where I'd seen them, they were gone. Bushes are great hiding places for little birds. They move easily among the twigs and branches that only discourage predators. Feral cats and hawks will have to catch them somewhere else.
Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is like that  bird-hiding bush, but at the moment it's only a very small seed in the farmer's hand. Tragically, there are many vulnerable souls unprotected at the moment.
And so we cultivate our homes, churches, hospitals and schools to develop safe places for lost souls. My mother, for several years before she died, was on-call night and day for children who might need transport to a safe place. Despite the worry of her own adult children, she was up like a shot when the phone rang at two in the morning, to take a girl from a suburban convenience store or fire station into downtown Louisville. Carefully trained, she would not ask why this child needed help, where she lived or who her parents might be. She only assured the waif, "You're safe with me." as they drove through the night.
This effort might seem a small mustard seed to some, but it effects much good. Who knows but a president of the United States might be a child or grandchild of one of her rescued souls? Perhaps she will know the story of her grandmother's harrowing night and the woman who saved her.
Our first mission as Christians is to create safe places for one another. Saint Benedict commanded his monks always to offer hospitality to strangers and travelers; their monasteries were havens for refugees fleeing war, pestilence and famine. 
The married couple that Saint Paul describes in his Letter to the Ephesians feels comfortable in one another's presence; they create an emotionally and spiritually comfortable place for their children. With long experience they become skilled at working out their differences. Divorce is no solution and never an option.
Our parishes too invite people with disagreements to agree on the fundamentals of faith, we believe in God the Father almighty.... With that understanding no opinion is terribly important.
A safe place is not without disagreements, tensions and challenges. It absorbs and reconciles them with the assurances of faith. It remains always open to grace, that divine presence of God which reminds us that nothing is more important than our caring for one another.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 479

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.

Monday is as good a day as any to resolve again to clean up our act.
In New York City, several years ago, the leaders decided to take a new tack with crime. They would tolerate nothing. Jaywalkers, litterbugs and vandals were immediately confronted and charged. Where they did not catch the spray painters who trashed the subway cars, they pulled the vehicles out of service and repainted them with the uniform colors. The "artists" were discouraged by this action and graffiti declined.
There were problems with the effort, as we now know, since "white" violators were less likely to be charged. But there was less crime, life in the Big Apple improved and New Yorkers regained some pride in their city.
Saint Paul sets a similar standard for the citizens of his heavenly kingdom. "Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you." Sexist, racist, scatological or ethnic jokes must not even be mentioned among you!
With the Me Too movement we're beginning to understand how often and how subtly we vandalize our civil society. These remarks were never appropriate but they seemed innocuous. "What harm do they do?" the cynic might ask. "Can you prove in scientific fashion 
that there is harm or violence in this kind of talk Can you point to the data?"
Yes, we can. There is scientific research that shows the criminal impact of racist, sexist, and homophobic language. African-Americans are impacted by racist remarks even when they are not in the room. Cruel jokes about persons with disabilities create a hostile environment which they readily detect.
Since February 2002, the Church has been repeatedly humiliated by the discovery of priest pedophilia. Where did that come from? A culture that tolerated uncivilized, unchristian remarks among men, among priests. And, in some cases, in our parish centers and diocesan offices.
Now that we know that, Monday is as good a day as any to resolve again to clean up our act. 

Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.

This is a shocking thing, that "many rebuked (the noisy beggar,) telling him to be silent." But it happens all the time.
Here's a fellow who clearly has a serious need for healing. Here's another fellow who has the authority and willingness to heal. They are within a few feet of each other. However, the healer doesn't know of the blind man's presence or his plight. He will only discover it if the blind man makes a lot of noise.
But when he does so, the crowd of disciples and would-be disciples tell him to pipe down.
It's not difficult to imagine why they are so rude. They are straining to hear the Master as he passes through their neighborhood. They hope to gain something from his teaching, and perhaps something from association with him. There is blessing in the practice of religion, as Saint Paul said. They don't need distractions.
But Bartimaeus' need is more urgent; his longing for sight is intense; and Jesus will teach more by doing than by talking as he asks the beggar that critical question, "What do you want me to do for you?"
Not long after I was ordained, in the late 1970's, judges and juries began to pay attention to victims of crime. I'm sure there is a complex history there and I know little of it; but I understand it was quite revolutionary. Until then, certain standards governed how a criminal was punished, regardless of the actual harm or damage they had done. Here's the type of crime; here's the usual punishment. Until that time, victims had no voice in the proceedings, and little standing in court. Their personal distress and trauma following the incident; their depression, anxiety, nightmares,  and so forth; not to mention the costs incurred: these meant nothing in the court of law. 
But even yet, when people are sexually harassed, exploited or abused there are powerful social forces that rebuke them, telling them to be silent. Very often the perpetrators suffer no penalty while the victims agonize. The criminal may have standing in the community; a powerful employer, politician or minister of religion. "Don't rock the boat! It's too unstable already!"
Even when the victims speak of it, they're encouraged to get over it. We'll listen once, and twice, "...but, really, it's time you let it go!"
In this gospel Jesus' asking Bartimaeus what he wants, his listening and his healing action -- which, by the way, will only add to the dossier amassed by his enemies -- pointedly rebuked the crowd around him. Religion is more than listening to the teacher; it is effectively caring for the needy, wherever and whenever you find them.
Saint Paul liked to remind his people the Spirit of God is no idle spirit: message and my proclamation were not with persuasive (words of) wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
and again:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
We must certainly talk the talk, we must also walk the walk and do as Bartimaeus...  
Immediately (the blind man) received his sight
and followed him on the way.

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.

From early childhood I learned the Apostles Creed and that astonishing expression, "...he descended into hell." People sometimes ask with a certain note of suspicion, "Where is that in the Bible?"
There it is in Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. The lower regions of the earth can only be Hell. 
But our mythic geography has changed a lot since the Apostles Creed first appeared. Not very long ago it wasn't hard to imagine heaven as a happy place up there, and hell as a dismal place down under. But down under is Australia, and up there is only the upper atmosphere, above the treeline where nothing lives. 
When Jesus descended to the lower regions of earth, he came to rest briefly in a manger in Bethlehem. From there, a house in Egypt; then a home in Nazareth; and finally a grave outside of Jerusalem. His lower regions were poverty, infamy, shame and exile where he was despised, hounded, tortured and killed. 
It was necessary that our Savior should experience the worst "places" of human life so that they might be blessed by his presence. Their occupants must know that no place is beyond his reach. 
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;
if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.
If I take the wings of dawn
and dwell beyond the sea,
Even there your hand guides me,
your right hand holds me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,
and night shall be my light”—
Darkness is not dark for you,
and night shines as the day.
Darkness and light are but one. Psalm 139

There are millions of people living in exile today but not all are far from their homelands. Certainly, millions of Africans, South Americans, and Asians are fleeing their native lands, driven out by famine, drought and war. Climatologists tell us these migrations, which began in prehistoric times, will grow exponentially as the tropics become uninhabitable. 
But there are millions also in America, who are alienated from their families, friends and churches. Lost and hopeless like James Matthew Barrie's "lost boys," they find no welcome within what should be a familiar world. Estranged from their own bodies by alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and the pursuit of any kind of relief, they turn to violence against "aliens" because they don't recognize the alienation in their own souls. They would defend a homeland in which they have never felt welcome, and traditions with neither grace nor culture.  
They do not know that Jesus is with them in their lower regions of anguish and fear. But he has gone to gather them. 
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.
It is never too late to announce the Good News. It may be too late to reverse climate change; it may politically impossible, given the forces that both deny and cause it. But it is not too late to go with Jesus into the lower regions of earth, to experience his desolation and to rise with him to communion with lost, alienated souls.

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace;

Saint Paul, urging his Ephesian disciples to work out their differences and live peacefully, described himself as "a prisoner for the Lord." He is adept at claiming identities most of us would avoid. His other favorite title is "slave."
We can suppose he was, in fact, writing from a prison somewhere in the Roman Empire. He often cooled his heels in captivity though his ardor for the Lord never cooled. So his self-description, "a prisoner for the Lord," is obvious; perhaps he implies some ironic humor. But the Apostle's words always intimate a deeper truth. Whether he is in prison or free, at sea or on land, travelling or settled in a Christian home, he is always a prisoner of the Lord, free to do God's will but not his own. This is nothing less than an extraordinary privilege, desired by few and granted to fewer.

This teacher's self-description carries an implied message for us. If I would "live in a manner worthy of the call," practicing humility, gentleness and patience, I should also be a prisoner of the Lord.
I visited the city and parish jails in Jennings, Louisiana as a pastor there, but I was never a prisoner. I can tell you they're not pleasant places, not even to visit. It takes a deal of courage to step through the door and hear the gate slam behind you; and then to hear a series of clanging gates as you enter more deeply. It helps to have a mission.
Confinement means few options. The schedule is determined, as is the menu. Activities are limited. Many jails have no library and little reading material. Nor can you bring your own entertainment system, not even a magazine. The cement floors and walls and steel bars intensify the noise, which is continuous. Thinking is a deliberate exercise amid constant distractions and occasional threats. If you don't enjoy people and their endless need for attention, stay out of jail. If you want attention, forget it.
Because living in this world kept him far from his desire, Saint Paul could regard all the world as a prison. "I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better." he wrote in his letter to the Philippians. Freedom to travel, to work or to eat what he liked: these privileges meant nothing compared to the surpassing treasure of belonging to Jesus as his prisoner and slave.
Wherever Saint Paul found himself, he knew he was sent there. The Holy Spirit was his booking agent and if his presidential chair was a prison bench and his congregation, fellow prisoners, that's where he enjoyed perfect freedom. 
American Christians do well to study Saint Paul's freedom when we consider the privilege of living in a "free country." We're only as free as prisoners for the Lord.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Jesus said to his disciples:
"I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!

Jesus' disciples can hardly imagine the "baptism" he anticipates with such eager longing. His sacrificial life and death challenge our ability and even our willingness to understand him, and yet they beckon us to go with him. His destiny shines like the morning star, very distant and often obscured by clouds and the haze of industry, but fascinating, beautiful and desirable.
As a non-Veteran chaplain in a Veteran's Hospital I have often heard warriors' stories. Some have killed men and would do it again if called upon. They were trained and commissioned to act in our name. They were good at it and they took pride in their work.
But I also know surgeons who approach the human body with scalpels and saws. I cringe just to look at these instruments.
I know a former cop who shot and killed people in the line of duty. It had to be done.
I grew up far from warfare, crime and hospitals. I have sometimes believed violence is unnecessary. I surely had no use for it. Nor did I see any point to martyrdom. "Can't we all just get along?" I wondered with Rodney King.
Jesus knew that life is never so sanguine. If most of us live far from the conflict zone between civility and chaos, it is still there and the threat is very real. Denying trouble invites it. 
Jesus knows what he is about and he suffers anguish until his baptism is accomplished. He has come to set the earth on fire; he wishes it were already ablaze. Like the surgeon, the cop and the warrior Jesus eagerly approaches his violent work and he calls us to go with him.
But, unlike the warrior's or surgeon's violence, his violence will be self-sacrifice. He will hand himself over to a brutal enemy who will torment, torture and kill him. He will suffer physical, emotional and spiritual abuse. And through it all he will watch for the love of his Father. Overwhelmed by an impenetrable darkness, even as his eyesight fades into fatal blindness, he will still wait for the light. Only on the third day, as his grief-stricken disciples and the world move on without him, as his body plunges toward corruption, will he know God's fidelity. Before that comes his defeat and humiliation must be complete, finished, consummated.
In today's gospel Jesus first tells us of his eagerness, and then invites us to practice that same, self-sacrificing violence:
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son...
We may be disappointed and grief-stricken if our families, churches and communities are sorely divided, but we should not be surprised.
Community life was never supposed to be easy; human creatures are far too complex and intelligent to live together without ferocious disagreements. Threats are everywhere, peril is continuous and life-saving alternatives are endless. Of course we disagree, and our stubbornness is driven by fear! We're often so frightened we cannot look at the danger!
Jesus is most certainly our prince of peace but he is also a warrior; his weapon is the cross. His disciples also take up our crosses, especially those which teach us humility, patience, kindness and generosity. The enemy is neither Democrat nor Republican, atheist or Muslim, liberal, libertine nor conservative; the enemy is that self which will not submit to His cross. 

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

How often do you hear a story of a cheating business person, lawyer, athlete, minister or politician -- and wonder, "How did he think he could get away with it?" We hear stories of embezzlement and fraud almost daily and wonder how is it possible. 
Wisdom has often warned us not to live in a world of our own making. Spiritual masters of the west and gurus of the east urge us to see things as they are, and not as we want them. But true cons believe what they say and they say it with assured conviction, without a shred of hesitation or doubt, and often with such urgency that people just go along with it. 
The Kentucky Shakespeare Company last summer put on Othello and I shuddered as I watched it. The Moor and his beautiful wife began their marriage with a deception; and then tried to make it right in the eyes of family and state. They seemed to succeed in that but the past could not be erased and a diabolical Iago could exploit it. Dealing at the time with a chronic liar, I felt Othello's anguish and Desdemona's distress. They could not understand what was happening around them. It was as if the ceiling is not a ceiling; the floor, a floor; and the walls, walls. They were fatally ensnared in an elastic web that gives but will not let go. 
Such is the world the liar creates. He may be as clever as "honest Iago" or incredibly stupid, but in either case he creates a world of confusion among people who cannot possibly detect and navigate around every deception. "You can tell he's lying because his lips are moving!" people say of him, but still, because he lives in our world his presence generates chaos. 
The servant in Jesus' parable has created such a world. The absentee master has delegated authority to him and because the other servants cannot organize and mutiny, he exploits his power with violence and treachery.
VA chaplains have been discussing "moral injury" over the past few years. The injured person suffers a deep confusion and loss of faith in basic goodness. There may be shades of grey but there is neither black nor white.  
Jesus assures us, the day will come. There will be judgement. If you were distressed by the apparent victory of evil on Good Friday, wait. Easter will surprise you but it will destroy the liar. 

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

He came and preached peace to you who were far off
and peace to those who were near,
for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

As mid-term election day approaches, we should remember the reason we have elections -- so that we can avoid violence. Dictatorships often arise in unstable, troubled times but they lead only to further instability and inevitable revolution. Elections invite everyone to participate, acting with ordinary courage, as opposed to extraordinary heroism. 
Courage, in its turn, invites everyone to accept the results of group consensus, graciously accepting both victory and defeat. In a democratic nation no one should get everything she wants, nor be completely denied a voice. 
Bertrand Russell, in his History of Philosophy, published during World War Two, showed how failing democracies elect to give one man total, absolute freedom. Though every citizen feels the pinch of oppression they take comfort in knowing their one trusted friend -- "Big Brother" -- is free to do whatever he thinks best. Their freedom is enjoyed vicariously​​ in the actions and antics of their ruler. If he is clever he can remain in office for life; but his legacy will be catastrophe. As we're seeing in Venezuela today, and Russia soon enough. 
Democracy is inspired by the Christian confidence that every person has a right to contribute his opinions, ideas, hopes and dreams to the common good, and to receive respect from every other citizen. Democracy believes there is wisdom in the entire population which is not available to one man or one party. Sectarianism, racism, regionalism, populism, ideology -- these forces can only split and divide and threaten the common good. Any refusal to listen to another party slams the door on some vital facet of truth. 
In today's reading from Ephesians Saint Paul recalled how Jesus, in his own crucified body, has broken down the dividing wall between Jews and gentiles. 
For he is our peace, he made both one
and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh...
Let us pray that the midterm elections will be guided by the courageous spirit of our Crucified Lord, which enables everyone to speak, be heard and listen. 

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 473

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus...

Today the Catholic Church celebrates Pope Saint John Paul II for the fifth time since his canonization in 2014. Rather than the day of his death, this is the fortieth anniversary of his installation as pope in 1978. He is remembered and honored by many as "the great" for his enormous influence on the Church and the world during his long reign, the second longest in history. 
In today's reading from Ephesians we hear that favorite expression of the saint, God is "rich in mercy." He used the expression as the title and first words of his second encyclical. Whenever we think of God, that should be our first impression and first experience. If God is our judge, he is a merciful judge. If he is our disciplinarian, his aim is only goodness. If he is our creator and healer, we are created and healed by mercy. Our very existence is proof of God's superabundant generosity.
Dives in Misericordia  begins with: 
It is "God, who is rich in mercy" 1 whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in Himself, has manifested Him and made Him known to us.2 Memorable in this regard is the moment when Philip, one of the twelve Apostles, turned to Christ and said: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied"; and Jesus replied: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me...? He who has seen me has seen the Father."3 These words were spoken during the farewell discourse at the end of the paschal supper, which was followed by the events of those holy days during which confirmation was to be given once and for all of the fact that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ."4
If the Church has lost standing in the world it is largely because we continue to represent that mercy which is unyielding. 
I was chaplain in the University of Minnesota Hospital when I visited a teen aged, single mother and her infant. The toddler had been playing with a tube of liquid Tylenol and drank an excessive amount. She lived but would suffer a severely damaged liver for the rest of her life. I asked the child mother, "Why didn't you take the Tylenol away from her?" 
"She might cry." she said. 
Mercy would have snatched the poison and let the baby cry. 

Every few years the Church elects another pope and millions of people eagerly await his reversal of the Church's sexual teachings about divorce, abortion, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, and birth control. "Surely," they think, "he will understand that changing times and  circumstances demand new teachings." With every new pope they are disappointed. 
This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Saint Paul VI's encyclical, Humanae Vitae. Many Catholic periodicals have celebrated the event, recalled the controversy and noticed that his predictions were right. Women have not been spared from violence by their use of birth control. Quite the contrary, they are blamed for irresponsibly getting pregnant by their male lovers. With the universal acceptance of birth control, sexual activity and childbearing are disconnected, as if they are entirely separate decisions.  
If the axial age (600 bc to 400 ad) began with the realization that men "beget" children of women, this new age has lost that insight and women, once again, are solely responsible for child bearing and raising. We have returned to primitive, pre-civilized forms of human life. 
But God is rich in mercy; he still teaches us that we are responsible for our behavior; we are neither driven by savage instincts, nor controlled by an impersonal, uncaring destiny. Made in God's own image, male and female, we may choose not to drink the poisonous medicines that are hawked to consumers by desperate merchants. Saint John Paul II reminded the world in another encyclical that neither as consumers nor as workers are we commodities to be bought, sold, transported, devoured or wasted in the open market. 
Rather we are persons of enormous dignity, saved by the Blood of Christ, participants in his divine life and saving work. These truths do not change. 

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 146

The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity. 
If he gives his life as an offering for sin, 
he shall see his descendants in a long life, 
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished  through him. 
Because of his affliction he shall see the light in  fullness of days; 
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear.

As they are presented in all four gospels, Jesus' disciples are consistently clueless about his mission. Peter speaks for them when he declares, "You are the Messiah." They understand that much. But where this is going, they cannot fathom. The exception might be Thomas's statement to his mates, "Let us also go to die with him." but that is only a partial insight. Thomas apparently sees his champion dying in Jerusalem, like many warriors he is willing to live and die with his captain, but he cannot imagine the epilogue we are so familiar with. 
That said for the group, none are as oblivious as the sons of Zebedee, James and John. They want to sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his glory! Jesus replies that he cannot award them these places; those seats have been assigned already. 
...but is for those for whom it has been prepared. 
But we should not regard the obtuseness of the disciples as something comical, as if the stories are told for our entertainment. Nor is this a morality story, reminding us to avoid pretensions. 
The disciples cannot imagine the future. But that goes without saying. No one can! They cannot imagine what you and I have seen! -- and cannot imagine! 
They have no idea that two "revolutionaries" will sit on his right and left when he comes into his glory. How would that make sense to them? 
Calvary will reveal the glory of God. The centurion will frankly declare it. 
Calvary will reveal Jesus' mission: 
For the Son of Man did not come to be servedbut to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Calvary will reveal what it means to serve Jesus, as he explains in today's gospel, 
...whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  
Finally, the Cenacle, Calvary and Easter will reveal the place of the disciples, where we sit. Not on his right and left but within him, for we are the Body of Christ, sent to the world just as certainly as he was, with the same mission of service.
It is a service, described as a form of slavery, characterized by suffering. Anyone expecting a life of privilege, comfort or luxury need not apply. Anyone expecting the world's recognition and respect should turn back.
The Lord will care for his servants; they will enjoy unexpected, undeserved, unearned pleasure at his right hand. They will know the privilege of the Holy Spirit, that same guiding force that drove the Lord throughout his life. But they will never be their own masters. That is reserved for others. 

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 472

Hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and of your love for all the holy ones, I do not cease giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.

A rationalistic world sees little use for prayer, especially the prayer of intercession. They ask, "How can the prayers I mutter in private -- or, for that matter, your "general intercessions" during the Mass -- make any difference in the real world? 

Certainly there can be no scientific explanation of cause and effect unless one includes the science of theology, which our skeptics dismissed a long time ago. 
Nor would I venture a pseudo-scientific explanation with spiritual energies, vibrations and auras. Any true scientist will admit the limits of his science and not hector religious faith with demands for a "scientific explanation." The imagination which limits itself to the scientifically explainable suffers severe disability in the real world where most people live. 
The religious person readily offers prayers for her family, friends, enemies and church because her heart is moved to prayer, not because she expects to see results. 
In today's reading Saint Paul assures his Ephesian disciples that he prays for them continually. Although he is physically far from them he remains very close to them in his heart. There is no distance there. Nor is he far from them; especially because they had heard he was incarcerated they prayed with great intensity for him.
The faithful friend has no need to explain or apologize for her concern. She carries the loved one in her heart and both abide confidently in the heart of God. If they are far apart, when they meet again they will know they were never actually removed from each other. There is no distance in the heart of God. 
In his letter to the Ephesians Saint Paul prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, resulting in knowledge of him. 
Again, that knowledge is not an accumulation of facts about God. Facts are only man-made objects, (from the Latin word facere, as in manufacture). There are no facts about God, but there is a very intense, penetrating knowledge of God which is granted to the disciple of Jesus. This knowledge is the Holy Spirit which inspires, motivates and animates our lives. That Spirit is described in Jewish theology with Shekina, the glory of the divine presence. 
Facts are cold objects, handled, manipulated, created, amassed, hurled as weapons, ignored, proven, disproven, and ultimately forgotten. They bear no resemblance to the Knowledge of God who is the Spirit of Jesus abiding and stirring always within our communion and our individual hearts. The Spirit prompts us to pray for one another, to carry one another in our hearts, day and night without ceasing. 

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

Lectionary: 471

In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise  of his glory.

This opening song from Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians describes with amazing clarity the Church as it appears in Saint Luke's Acts of the Apostles. We have the word of truth and the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance.
Reading the Acts, we catch that contagious spirit, which is so confident and free and inexhaustibly joyous. There are conflicts, of course, but they're resolved as the disciples heed the Holy Spirit. They listen as attentively to the Spirit as they listened to Jesus before his death and resurrection. There is a nearly seamless passage from that earlier stage to this one. The only difference is that the formerly confused and perplexed disciples are now confident, energized and moving out.
The French priests who came to North America and were martyred demonstrated that enthusiasm. They knew there was mortal danger. The Iroquois were a warlike tribe and when the French missionaries approached them they entered a world far beyond the protections of European legal systems. The natives suffered terribly with the recently-imported European diseases. Though neither race knew why they were so vulnerable, the Indians suspected treachery and blamed the missionaries. 
But the Jesuits were equally warlike in their readiness to suffer torture and death; they had every confidence in the Lord who had sent them. They trusted in the Saint Peter's teaching, 
The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. (I Peter 5:10)
So long as there are martyrs among us, willing even to surrender their lives for the sake of the Gospel, we are assured that the Spirit of our Crucified Lord abides among us. If you or I cannot imagine making such a sacrifice, it's only because we're not presently called to it in this particular social, political environment. But we live by the Spirit and always heed Saint Peter's advice: 
Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. (I Peter 5:8-9)

Feast of Saint Luke, Evangelist

But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the  proclamation might be completed and all the Gentiles might hear it.

I visited a Cherokee museum in North Carolina several years ago. I read about their creation stories of how the Smoky Mountains came to be. They were very colorful, and rather memorable. But I don't live in the mountains. I don't hunt with a blow gun, nor make baskets out of thin wooden ribbons. I know not a word of the Cherokee language. The stories meant nothing to me. I can't imagine how they might. They are not my stories; I only read about them in a museum.
In the last few years we have become aware of stories, especially of "competing narratives." No story is ever complete. There are always differing accounts and different interpretations of the same accounts. But we make decisions by the stories we accept.
Recently we were bombarded with different accounts of what happened between two high school students in the 1980's. One said she was sexually assaulted; the other said it never happened. The accounts were irreconcilable but the nation was forced to make sense of two credible testimonies. Most people made a choice, deciding which story to believe. Neither story will disappear. They have formed different camps. Both will persist for many years to come with enormous consequence for the nation as a whole.

Unlike the Cherokee stories, gospel stories speak to me because I belong to the believing Church. Not only was I born into it, I was initiated into it. (Many people are born into the church but never initiated. Others despise their initiation, preferring more popular stories that fit their preferred, cultural experience. The gospels mean nothing to them though they might retain some shreds of this or that parable.)

Today we celebrate the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, approximately one third of the New Testament. Whenever we celebrate any of the Evangelists we should remark upon the astonishing similarity of their narratives. They tell many of the same stories; each of them has his own extra material, differing from the others; but all agree about Jesus of Nazareth, his identity and mission. He is Messiah, Lord and Savior. He was certainly a human being, born of a virgin; not an apparition or disembodied spirit. He was barbarously executed by crucifixion and his suffering was as real as any human has ever suffered. He was raised up again on the third day and revealed to his disciples as the Son of God.
Despite a very short career this Man inspired his disciples to organize and found a Church which has maintained its essential identity and mission despite much opposition, through innumerable historical epochs and in many radically different cultures. Confident that its mission remains intact, the  Church calls itself apostolic and evangelical. That feat could not be accomplished without the work of the Evangelists. Virtually all Christians agree these narratives were written under the inspiration of the One, Eternal God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Unlike other stories, we believe these Gospel stories connect us affectively and effectively to the Truth. Although we have chosen to believe these stories they are not simply "a matter of opinion." Where others disagree with the Gospel, they are unfortunately, tragically wrong. The consequences of disbelief can be devastating; they might destroy individuals, families, societies and life on earth. There are ample warnings in the writings of the Hebrew prophets of ecological catastrophe
But if there is a privilege in being Christian it comes with the realization, we are more chosen by the Gospel, than choosing it. If anything, it's my disbelief, sinister and seductive, that sabotages my membership in the Church and my effective witness. 

And so we return to the Gospels day after day, praying for understanding and guidance, for the humility of Saint Luke's virgin who could say with such confidence, "I am the servant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word." 

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Against such there is no law.
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh
with its passions and desires.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.

Early Franciscans urged us to study the life of Jesus, the sacred scriptures, the lives of the saints -- especially Saints Francis and Clare -- and by these studies, to gaze into the "mirror of perfection." Where a vain person continually looks critically at a mirror for defects or endowments, the spiritual person gazes into the mirror of perfection and is improved by looking at it. That mirror reflects many facets of the spiritual life, including the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
At first devout Christians might approach the mirror with a self-conscious reluctance. Seeing the beauty and goodness of the saints, they say, "I am not that person; and shame on me for not being that person." They might pursue this trail to its dead end, "I will never have the courage, generosity or discipline to be a saint. There's no point in my trying."
But in that case the Christian is not really looking at the mirror. He's only looking at himself through the mirror. To see the mirror we look passed ourselves and delight in God's transcendent, resplendent goodness.
  • Walking with the Lord through the Stations of the Cross, we admire the courage and gentleness of the silent, uncomplaining lamb as he is led to slaughter.
  • Praying, the rosary we consider the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries. Each has been represented by innumerable icons. We can call those images to mind as we recite the Hail Marys and Our Fathers; they are beautiful on many levels and we let them edify us.
  • Attending Mass we hear the readings and prayers and embrace them with Thanks be to GodAnd with your spirit, and Amen. 
  • Singing hymns and receiving the Eucharist we peer into the miraculous mirror of perfection.
The mirror of perfection doesn't show us ideas of what we should do, nor does it encourage us to fashion these ideas into tools for self-improvement. Rather, it works beneath our conscious, controlling mind, where healing and growth occur unnoticed, opening channels of grace to recognize opportunities where none appeared before. It may, for example, show us how to apologize to an enemy when we thought it impossible and unnecessary.
Just as a glass mirror leaves us feeling defeated since it only records irreversible deterioration, the Mirror of Perfection edifies us. Gazing upon the Lord, we become mirrors of God's goodness.