Feast of Saint Andrew


If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord 
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, 
you will be saved. 
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, 
and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 


On the last day of November, unless it falls on Sunday, we observe the feast of the Apostle Andrew. With his brother Saint Peter, he is the first of the apostles. In fact, as Saint John tells the story, Andrew met Jesus first and immediately went to get his brother and bring him to the Lord. Because of that singular event, we celebrate his feast day today; he ushers in the new Year of the Lord.
Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans describes Andrew's vocation; he confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart that, "We have found the Messiah."
Almost daily in the VA hospital I meet Catholic Veterans who were not introduced to the Lord by their ostensibly Catholic parents. Nor do the young men express any disappointment in that. They bear the name of Catholic. Some insist upon it. But they have neither attended a church nor felt any grief about their loss since they were children.
Some might remember vague ideas about "God raised him from the dead," but they might as well remember that Julius Caesar died on the Ides of March, or Alexander's horse was named Bucephalus. Ancient trivia does not guide them in the hard choices they must make.
I remarked recently, in this blog, about the ancient Christians who were not set apart from the Lord by six degrees of separation. They knew the Nazarene's still-living apostles and disciples. 
But the Sacraments still give us that immediate knowledge of the Lord. In Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance and the other four sacrament we meet Jesus face to face, just as surely as Saint Peter did when Andrew brought him to Jesus.
Failing to do this, there is hell to pay. 

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

"When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies,
know that its desolation is at hand.
Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains.
Let those within the city escape from it,
and let those in the countryside not enter the city,
for these days are the time of punishment
when all the Scriptures are fulfilled.
Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days,
for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth
and a wrathful judgment upon this people.
They will fall by the edge of the sword
and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles;
and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles
until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.


When Jesus wanted to warn his disciples about the consequences of evil, he didn't have to look very far for stories of wrath and destruction. Roman armies maintained an ominous presence throughout Galilee, Samaria and Judea, with a citadel in Jerusalem. If the children had not seen the havoc gentile soldiers could lay on cities, villages and the countryside, their elders could tell them. The Roman army was adept at repression and terror. Soldiers and commanders despised the Jewish population; they would not cultivate cooperative, friendly relations with the populace. I have read that the child Mary of Nazareth almost certainly witnessed a sweep of the occupying army through her native Nazareth, searching for insurgents. No house or room in a house was neglected as defenseless people fell by the sword or were taken as captives by the Gentiles. Where the occupiers encountered resistance the locals were left to bury the dead.
But occupying armies are not the only punishment for sin. Today's news media tell us of the savage indifference of fires and floods as the powerful ignore the consequences of climate change. Seasides and forest glades are not the safe places they used to be. Someone will surely complain, "It's not fair that helpless old people and defenseless children should be drowned or burned alive by these catastrophes. Only the wicked should be punished!" Jesus knew that when he pronounced doom on "pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days."
As island nations disappear under "the roaring of the sea and the waves" no one can say the Bible says nothing about climate change. But clearly, the island nations, impoverished and isolated in the south Pacific, did not pollute the planet with their own industrial waste and auto exhaust. The rising tides remind us we're all in this together, even people like this author, who live deep in a continent's interior.
In today's reading from Revelation we hear the Baptized praising God for his justice:
"Alleluia!
Salvation, glory, and might belong to our God,
for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great harlot
who corrupted the earth with her harlotry.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants."
The Christian worships God in season and out of season, nor do we expect a rational explanation from God for everything that happens. Our vanity has not persuaded us that we should or can understand the universe and its ways. As Saint Paul said, For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? But we might recognize God's punishing hand in the consequences of human mismanagement, even if the innocent must suffer more than the guilty.

Christians, traditionally, do not wash their hands of guilt. We do not claim exemption from the punishments that fall upon the wicked. Rather we pray, "Spare us, O Lord. Spare us, your people, lest we perish in eternity." Or, as in the ancient song, "Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo, ne in aeternum, irascaris nobis

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

"Great and wonderful are your works,
Lord God almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
O king of the nations.
Who will not fear you, Lord,
or glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All the nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed."

It's probably safe to say most Christians have mixed feelings about the Judgement Day. It's even safer to say we'd rather not think about it at all. Can anything good come of this cataclysmic event?
But we didn't learn that attitude from the authors of New Testament writings. "Maranatha!" Saint Paul wrote as he finished his First Letter to the Corinthians, "Come, Lord Jesus!" The Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) also ends with that cheerful invitation.
Paul's Letters to the Thessalonians indicate an excited, eager expectation of the Day of the Lord. During those heady days before the Gospel was a document; or the New Testament, a book, when Christians met in public squares or underground catacombs, the story of Jesus' astonishing conquest of death could mean only one thing: the End is Near! His resurrection was not ancient history, it had been witnessed by that very man who spoke to the crowd; or by someone he knew. There were no six degrees of separation between Jesus and the Corinthians.
Besides, there seemed no better time than the present for that mighty work to be accomplished.
This enthusiasm waxes and wanes in our historic march through the centuries. At times -- the 19th century, for instance -- the Gospel with its church seems like a good program for living. If everybody would just keep the Ten Commandments and observe the moral law, which has been revealed to everyone by the Natural Law, we could all get along just fine.
At other times -- the 20th century, for instance, when the world suffered total war and indiscriminate killing -- Christians hoped and expected the Lord must surely appear now!
In this 21st century, as we watch the creeping effects of human intervention on the Earth's climate, we fear another kind of Judgement Day may ensue as beautiful walls fail to stem the tide of human migration. We might be forgiven for again praying, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
If there is a Wonderful Work greater than the Resurrection of Jesus, it must be the coming Day of the Lord, when justice and mercy meet, and every wicked deed is reconciled with God's goodness.
We've all experienced small examples of that: disappointments that led to great opportunity; failures that proved to be successful; curses that proved to be blessings. Many disabled persons would not surrender their disabilities for the world; they are their identities and missions. Great friendships have appeared across national, religious and racial lines, reconciling warring parties. These are so unusual the news media will pick them up as the feel good story to close the program.
Might these little miracles of grace herald the Wonderful Work that God has promised to those who love him?
If only it were so! Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time


Jesus said, "All that you see here–
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down."

In his poem, Mending Wall, Robert Frost refers to this apocalyptic verse as he describes hunters' furious pursuit of a rabbit.
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs.
The poet's ironic observation reintroduces a complacent reader to the violent threats of scripture; we feel the terror of the quivering rabbit as we realize our own stone churches and brick homes might be destroyed by men like yelping dogs.
But he moves on to wonder if the "gaps I mean" were made by geologic forces like the swell of rain-sodden earth or continental drift. "No one has seen them made or heard them made." They're just there, like the inevitability of death and disintegration.
We can imagine the astonishment of the Galilean disciples as they toured the ancient, holy city of Jerusalem. These fishermen and local boys had never expected to travel far; now here they were gawking at the costly stones and votive offerings of the world-famous temple. There was more wealth there than they had ever imagined. This feat of human engineering amazed them; the complex organization of human skill, dedication and work seemed beyond comprehension. "What hath God wrought!" they might have cried, echoing the Book of Numbers. (It was a shout of amazement that also signaled the first Morse code message transmitted in the U.S.) Periodically, whether we're looking at the Tower of Babel or the recently dedicated statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel., we're amazed by human achievements. No one can imagine what astonishing works lie in the future!
But the poet Shelley​, like Jesus, foresees an end of such accomplishments:
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Neither the poet nor the Lord will let us forget vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
There is good news of a sort: the inevitable catastrophe comes with judgement! The Gospel challenges Qoheleth's profound pessimism. (As Miguel de Unamuno pointed out, true pessimism is silent. There's no point in saying anything.)
It does not mean that all human history and accomplishment are without meaning or purpose. Rather, the Lord will judge; the worth of every human act and human actor will be assessed. Today's gospel sounds as a warning but the Christian accepts it as an invitation. Life is an opportunity. We find our purpose in his company, our peace in his will.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth week of Ordinary Time


I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne, before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth.


My mother and dad loved to sing and they taught their ten children to sing. We sang in the car, especially, and sometimes to finish the dishes without further quarreling. I especially remember my Dad's beautiful voice, a trait several of us inherited. Of Mom's singing, I remember she had a dreadful stroke four years before she died. She couldn't track the day of the week or the time of year. But when the cantor in church said, "We're going to learn a new song today." she picked it up and sang with the rest of us.
I feel sad when I see the number of Catholics who are not free to sing. I can only suppose they were deprived of that freedom at some point, a privilege they should enjoy. Not everyone has a wonderful voice but anyone with a voice can sing with the congregation. There  is irony in people who insist they are free but do not enjoy the liberty of singing.
Singing is what humans do, especially while they work, travel and relax. It eases the burden of labor, shortens the walk, and comforts the soul. Unfortunately, with the Industrial Revolution, the overseers punished their workers for singing. It didn't seem productive; the energy and attention, they believed, should be focused on production. They didn't care about the workers; they only wanted the work. And the thunderous roar of machinery overwhelmed their song and silenced their ears. After several centuries, many people regard singing as alien, something for specialists who dwell somewhere far away. They might never encounter singing if they don't attend church. Often, when I conduct a funeral, I notice the only singers are the one's who also know the Mass responses. They enjoy a freedom not given to their fellow mourners. 
In today's reading from Revelation the Seer doesn't know at first what he is hearing. It sounds like rushing water or a loud peal of thunder. He is unfamiliar with what free people do. But as the sound nears he recognizes "They were singing what seemed to be a new hymn before the throne...."
"No one could learn this hymn except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been ransomed from the earth." Their song marked the freedom of the children of God, a privilege which is not shared by everyone.
Let us sing....



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


His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed.


"I don't believe that God made the world in seven days!" the eighth grader boldly declared to his pastor from his seat in the classroom. 
How do you explain "the interpretation of scripture" to middle schoolers, a concept hotly debated and studied intensely? Should I introduce them to Divino Afflante Spiritu the encyclical by Pope Pius XII, issued in 1943? Or "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church" (Presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul II on April 23, 1993.) Two excellent resources but not gauged for middle school. 
But this predicament in which a classroom of Catholic students and I found ourselves represents precisely the problem of faith in our time. 
The boy has already been taught to believe that facts are true and reliable. Truth, to answer Pontius Pilate's question, is all the facts compiled, integrated into systems and working theories, comprehended by the cognoscenti, available to the masses, and technologically applicable. "Scientists" have cornered the market on what is known and scoff at any knowledge that cannot be defined, enumerated, contained and utilized.
That the Universe with its majestic complexity appeared out of the Big Bang is a useful fact with innumerable applications. That God made it in seven days is a story for children and people who don't pester the priest with hard questions. 
How do I explain to the class that facts are not all they're made out to be. "There are facts and there are facts." The facts that the tobacco industry tells us are not the same as the NIH (National Institutes of Health). Both have their own ax to grind, a particular slant on knowledge which they would have us believe. Neither are apt to explain in any detail where their facts were forged but they want us to accept their teachings on faith. 
Perhaps, as the boy continues to ask hard questions, he will become more skeptical of all human institutions, from the Church to the government to the entertainment industry to the counter-culture, and set out in pursuit of Truth. 
Jesus did not answer Pilate's question, but he did declare to the Apostle Thomas, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." 
The Truth is that which binds us together, giving our marriages, families, churches, and friendships substance, as in consubstantial and transubstantiation. It is not a fact, nor a set of facts. 
Some people say they believe in God, but their statement is no more than a polite way of avoiding the real question, "Do you trust God?" They "believe" in the sun, the moon and stars, too; and that there is a nation called China though they've never been there.
The truth can be hard to reveal. When a six year old child asks her mother why she is staying at the VA hospital, can the woman explain her addiction to methamphetamine and heroin? She must tell her the truth; the child deserves that; but it won't come in the same words she tells her brother or mother. Nor does it help to say, "You'll understand someday." The child needs to know the truth, the fundamental truth, that her mother loves her very much and is also aching to be with her. 
Pontius Pilate did not deserve to know the Truth about Jesus. His truth was power, naked aggression, enforced with violence and dressed in legalese. When his truth evaporated, he would vanish. 
As we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we pray that we might know, love and serve the Truth with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength. I just hope my sixth-grade friend meets that Truth before he starts smoking.

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


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.”


Miguel de Unamuno, a Catholic philosopher of early 20th century Spain, taught that consciousness wants to remain conscious. It does not surrender easily to annihilation. If I sleep it's only with the reassurance I shall awaken. Rationality may point to the corpse and insist the person is dead, but the living replies, "...and yet I am alive."
Death is a threat with its own relentlessly cruel logic, and so we turn to faith for reassurances. "...to him all are alive." Jesus says.
Our assurance began with the Jewish martyrs during the time of the Maccabees. When the nation was invaded by gentiles who insisted they should abandon their defeated god and turn to the victorious gentile gods, Jews refused to surrender their old, "conservative" ways. They would not eat pork, they would speak Hebrew, study their scriptures, circumcise their infant boys -- and many would die rather than offer sacrifices to a statue.
In the face of such cruelty, despite the apparent silence and impotence of God, the Jews believed their ever-faithful God would raise up his faithful martyrs. They could not surrender to Reason, the relentless logic of their tormentors. We're hearing reports of Central Asian religious minorities – including Uighur and Kasakh Muslims -- suffering similar barbarities today at the hands of the Communist party. Whether we regarded the spirit as human or divine, we must admit it does not die readily.
Our belief in the resurrection is an assurance grounded in our own experience of faith. When we might have given up on God, God would not give up on us. We came back time and time again, drawn by a Holy Spirit that comforted, healed, reassured and delighted in a manner beyond all earthly pleasure. 
Just before they succumb to death our martyrs tell us God is with them even in their final moments. They are our beloved while those who deny such hope are clearly our enemies. We can no more surrender our hope in God's eternal mercy than we can forget our dearly departed. They will not have died in vain so long as we believe as they believed.
We announced to those who celebrate individuality the core truth of human nature, Love, that substantial bond, survives the life of the individual and is worth far more. It deserves even the sacrifice of individual existence.
...for to him all are alive. The Father of Jesus does not lose us, the gift our savior has given to him, Nor will Jesus lose the gift the Father gave to him, you and me. Our eternal salvation is assured by their love for one another, a love we witnessed with astonishment on Calvary. This is not a philosophical assurance; it is confident faith. 

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time


Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”


As we approach the end of the liturgical year we hear from the Book of Revelation and gospel accounts of Jesus' prophetic witness in Jerusalem leading up to his arrest and crucifixion. Two different stories converge: first, the Judgement Day witnessed by the entire universe; and then, an otherwise unnoticed incident in Jerusalem. 
The apocalypse is coming but it will be revealed in a most unexpected form. Rather than a final gathering of all the nations, delivering the wicked into everlasting punishment, terrible judgement falls upon a single man: Jesus. Jewish and Gentile nations condemn him to death. And then, rather than the Faithful People delivered into everlasting bliss, the slain man rises from the dead and is revealed as God. 
We ponder the meaning of this unexpected end.
The synoptic gospels suggest that his one-man-riot in the temple triggered the event, but his enemies had been amassing a dossier against him for a very long time. If his purifying the temple wasn't a capital offense, it was the thunderclap that triggered a long-pending avalanche of furious, unbridled resentment.
Several years later, in the light of his resurrection, the evangelists saw and understood. Jesus' assault on the temple should have alarmed everyone who awaited the redemption of Jerusalem,​ all those devout people who heard the story told by Simeon and Anna when the Baby was presented in the temple. That prophecy had been silent for many years should have felt like punishment, but this incident must be terrifying, like a hurricane that signals global climate change and a threat to the human race. Ignore it at your peril.
...when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
The Christian understands the crucifixion of Jesus. If anything, the killing of God by this world's legitimate authorities is more painful, stunning and terrifying than the final collapse of life on Earth. The mob that called for his killing, the officials who plotted it and the soldiers who executed it represent the decision of the entire human race. But only the quaking earth and darkened sun fully appreciate what it means. His disciples might have known what it meant but they had fled into hiding, in fear for their lives. They were trembling so hard they might not have felt the tremor that shocked the Earth!
Faith allows us to see, hear and experience what others cannot imagine. If they've heard the story they cannot fathom its importance. We tremble as we hear that Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things. Now it begins. We pray that we are among those who are not deceived but survive till the end.

Thanksgiving Day 2018


from the Responsorial Psalm:

Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom and speak of your might.

November 22 inevitably recalls a sad, painful memory for many people in the United States and around the world, when President Kennedy was shot in 1963. I was fifteen years old, a sophomore at Mount Saint Francis Seminary. I remember dread, a sense that the world was falling apart. My anguish intensified when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered on television as the nation watched. Fifty-five years later, I realize we work out our salvation with fear and trembling in this dreadful place.

But this particular November 22 is Thanksgiving, a day of remembrance established by President Lincoln as the Civil War was coming to an end. Unfortunately, like President Kennedy, he was shot; he did not live to observe that grateful Day of Prayer in 1865.
To pull out of my funk, I recall the words of the Prodigal Son's father, "We have to celebrate!"
Anyone can be cynical. It's easy to remember how many people will not be thankful today; how many people are hungry, homeless, imprisoned unjustly by a mindless penal system, or treated shabbily by a mindless Economy. How many families are remembering a loved one who was gunned down since this national holiday last year? 
Thanksgiving, the critic says, is celebrated not with prayers but football games, overeating, intoxication, political arguments and Black Friday. 

But cynicism takes no particular courage, energy or creativity; it is not a sign of honesty or integrity. We have to celebrate gratitude. If we do not celebrate we will certainly not feel it. Nor can we claim to be grateful if we let this opportunity pass in a sultry funk.
I am grateful for gratitude, for that divine spirit that, despite myself, rises above the moment and praises God for all good things. I am grateful that the Lord knew this same temptation and overcame it daily as he approached Jerusalem. 
Even in today's gospel, when he might be sidelined with resentment toward "the other nine," he graciously accepts the gratitude of the healed Samaritan. I am grateful for the darkness that wants me to be cynical and attempts to overwhelm me, for in the darkness I see the light of Christ shining more brilliantly.

President Lincoln and the American Civil Religion which he inspired call us to go beyond ourselves. We set aside our worries about food, clothing, security and success; we acknowledge the God who gives us more than we have earned or deserved.

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 499

I, John, had a vision of an open door to heaven, and I heard the trumpetlike voice
that had spoken to me before, saying,
"Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards."



Psalm 73 describes a moment of insight as the singer/songwriter ponders a very deep mystery, a conundrum we know as theodicy, the problem of evil: Why do good people suffer bad things? Why does an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise God tolerate evil? 
The psalmist has been listing his complaints: 
I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they suffer no pain; their bodies are healthy and sleek.They are free of the burdens of life; they are not afflicted like others. Thus pride adorns them as a necklace; violence clothes them as a robe. Out of such blindness comes sin; evil thoughts flood their hearts. They scoff and spout their malice; from on high they utter threats. They set their mouths against the heavens,their tongues roam the earth. 
So my people turn to them and drink deeply of their words.They say, “Does God really know?” “Does the Most High have any knowledge?” Such, then, are the wicked, always carefree, increasing their wealth.
Which of us hasn't asked the same questions, especially as we see wealth disproportionately handed to one percent of the American people; and, among them, a controlling amount redistributed to one-tenth of that one percent? And they're admired by many people as they hire contractors to manipulate the media, the electorate, lobbyists and Congress! If money can't buy love it can buy admiration, respect and power. The psalmist worried over these things until,
I entered the sanctuary of God and came to understand their end. You set them, indeed, on a slippery road; you hurl them down to ruin. How suddenly they are devastated; utterly undone by disaster! They are like a dream after waking, Lord,dismissed like shadows when you arise.
In today's first reading the Seer of Patmos was invited to, "Come up here and I will show you what must happen afterwards.
While it's true that no one knows the future, we have been given a glimpse of God's plans. Everybody makes plans. Unlike other earthly creatures, humans have this amazing ability to surmise what might happen and to plan accordingly. Aware of the past, even of events that occurred long before we were born, we sketch out what might happen and how we can succeed through it all. 
But the Lord has a deeper command of all history, human and divine, and a clearer vision of what must occur. God "sees" the future and permits his beloved to glimpse what must occur -- especially the end of wealth. 
I have visited historical sites around the United States: stately homes, manors, mansions and palaces of nineteenth century plutocrats. Inevitably someone in the room will ask the tour guide, "Where is the family today?" 
They're scattered about and not particularly wealthy. Undone by disaster, dismissed like shadows.
The Psalmist, seeing the future, is reassured:
Yet I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand. With your counsel you guide me, and at the end receive me with honor. Whom else have I in the heavens? None beside you delights me on earth. Though my flesh and my heart fail, God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.
Our destiny is communion with one another and the Lord, a wealth beyond human comprehension, and far beyond the grasp of the arrogant. 

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time



...but he could not see him because of the crowd,
for he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus, we might say, suffered a disability. He was short in stature and could not see over the crowd. Ordinarily, we don't rank being short or small as a disability. If small athletes don't do well in basketball they may excel in soccer, cross-country or horse racing. Zacchaeus readily overcomes his disability by climbing a sycamore tree; doing so, he has the best of view of anyone in the crowd.
But, if we consider the spiritual dimensions of this story, a lot of people cannot see Jesus because of the crowd. they suffer another kind of disability, which is far more crippling. They hear about Jesus from other people. Everything they know of him passes through the filter of others' experience. To white people he appears white; what could such a man say to people of African or Asian descent? To church-going citizens he is a defender and upholder of the law, with little use for criminals and neer-do-wells. To the pious he is prayerful, unappealing to those with little patience for silent hours in a church or chapel. To people who live on the margins with little hope of upward mobility or escape from poverty, Jesus is their Lord and Savior, and says nothing to the confident middle class. Perhaps everyone suffers this shortness of stature, being unable to see his face for the crowd around them.
Zacchaeus climbed a tree. He risked the laughter of the crowd around him. Small boys climb trees; not adult men, especially prominent men concerned about their social standing.
Saint Luke doesn't tell us whether Zacchaeus considered his social standing but his action seems more impetuous and spontaneous. Overcome by curiosity he would not miss this opportunity to see the Lord. If he cannot elbow his way through the crowd, if he cannot hire a sturdy giant to hold him on his shoulders, then why not climb this tree?
To everyone's surprise he enjoyed an unexpected, undeserved reward that kept on giving. The Lord led him from vision to repentance, and then from repentance to communion with the saints. Because we know his name we suppose Zacchaeus remained a prominent member of the Church many years after Jesus' passion, death and resurrection.
When Jesus called him down, he didn't lead Zacchaeus away from his disciples. In fact he apparently invited the crowd into the rich man's house! This is a story of Jesus and me and the Church. Zacchaeus escaped the inhibitions and prohibitions of wealth to meet his neighbors in Jericho -- face to face. He would even serve them as the host and master of his house. He would divest himself of ill-gotten wealth as they trampled his carpets and helped themselves to his table. They probably left mudprints in his bathroom and handprints on his curtains. A few things might have turned up missing! Life got pretty chaotic and far less predictable as Zacchaeus opened his house to Jesus. But what did it matter? He knew the Lord!
So what crowd prevents me from meeting the Lord face to face? Am I willing to let them tell me who he is, what he does and what he represents rather than seeing for myself? Am I unwilling to make a fool of myself at his near approach? Finally, am I willing to let God's people be my people? Will I come down from my high perch above the crowd and confess that I too have cheated, lied and swindled?
Being short in stature is not a disability, but it is a challenge to rise above the crowd, see God's face, and come down again to join the mob which loves the Lord.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 497

Jesus told him, "Have sight; your faith has saved you."
He immediately received his sight
and followed him, giving glory to God.
When they saw this, all the people gave praise to God.


Saint Luke tells us this story about sight as Jesus approaches Jerusalem and the "baptism" he must endure. Not only did the blind man begin to see, so did the crowd with him. 
Faith is a way of seeing things; and very often, a way of seeing what others cannot see. 
Parents know about the blindness of their children; they cannot see that their actions and inaction have consequences. People who study these things say that the awareness of consequences comes rather late to the young adult, sometimes after they have learned to drive, drink and handle firearms. They simply don't think things through.
On September 12, 2001 I spoke to a very small congregation of women in Minnesota, saying that we must not go to war over this crime. Let justice be sought through international courts, rather than through the blunt force of the military. Of course, Al-Qaeda knew what they were doing, and that the United States would blindly rush into war, not sure at that time who the enemy was or where to find him. That was seventeen years ago and we're still invested in Afghanistan, unable to divorce ourselves from that unhappy marriage.  
Faith knows every action has consequences. They are difficult to predict. How far will they penetrate into a changed reality; how long will they reverberate through the coming days and years; how many lives will be changed; what will they cost? Faith ponders these questions before acting.
Faith recalls the past and is faithful in its memory of blessings, achievements and regrets. It sees more clearly the consequences of decisions that were made with only partial vision. 
Faith trusts that God is still in charge and that the redeemed will find their place in Salvation History. We cannot imagine that final scenario of peace, mercy and justice. We cannot see how the Lord uses even our most regrettable sins for his greater honor and glory, through the transformation of the cross. But we believe it will come.