Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Lectionary: 629

He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had a massive, high wall...

If you've been to Rome you know the word massive. Saint Peter's Basilica and many of the churches are built with enormous stones and enriched with statues of gigantic proportions. The doors of Saint John Lateran might be absurdly high but were the statues to become animated they would need very high doors to escape into the streets of Rome. 
Rome, of course, is the city of apostles and they are massively important in our Catholic tradition. 
While many Protestant churches bill themselves as apostolic, the Catholic churches claims a direct line of personal, physical contact from bishop to bishop back to the apostles Peter and Paul and Bartholomew. This apostolic succession has been maintained with each succeeding generation placing their hands on the heads of the next generation, thus ordaining them in the original spirit, words and gestures of Jesus. Despite the interference of rival popes and unworthy bishops, the chain is unbroken.  This apostolic succession also is massively important to Catholics; it represents the corporeality of the Incarnation of Jesus. His Church is not just a spiritual fellowship of friends; it is a corporation authorized to maintain his presence -- by way of the Eucharistic Presence -- until his Second Coming. 
While we appreciate the importance of spirituality, the Church is genetically suspicious of any movement which would divorce itself from the body while claiming to own the "true spirit." Dispirited bodies are dead; and disembodied spirits have never managed to persuade us they actually exist. They're probably only figments of the imaginative. But we can see, hear, touch, and smell living bodies; they are animated with life.
With all that being said, we can admit we know little of Saint Bartholomew. Even his name is uncertain and he may have been called Nathaniel. Tradition -- which is often reliable -- says he was martyred by flaying, which is particularly ghastly. His horrible image appears in Michelangelo's Last Judgement; the pallid face is said to be the artist's own, as he was weary of the project. 
He is remembered more fondly for the many hospitals and parishes that bear his name. His painful death gave him compassion for the sick and authority to heal the wounded. 
On this quiet summer day our liturgy invites us once again to thank God for the presence of our Church with all its flaws, blemishes and cancerous sins. A vessel of clay, it still contains the living Spirit of Jesus. 

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?"

In a conversation with Veterans in the VA hospital, about freedom, I often like to conclude with two statements: 1) Freedom is a jealous god, abiding no other; and 2) you cannot distill the program.
Concerning the second remark, I remind the group of our penchant for distilling good things into small, intense pleasures: wine into brandy; poppy into heroin; coca into cocaine, cocaine into crack cocaine, spectator sports into highlights, novels into CliffsNotes, marriage into one-night hookups, and so forth. Addicts often come out of rehab treatment thinking, "I'll just not drink." Or, "I'll just go to the meetings." Or, "I'll move to another state." Or, "I need a girlfriend to help me."
Invariably, they return to treatment after slipping back into addiction. Living well requires a deep conversion of the mind/heart, and a willingness to do whatever it takes. No habit, no relationship, no job, no self-image can be placed before sobriety. Or, as I prefer, freedom.
Which brings me to the first statement, Freedom is a jealous god. Or, as Jesus says in today's gospel, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."
Or, as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "Half measures availed us nothing."
Jesus' complete response to the scholar of the law demonstrates my point about distillation. Anyone who thinks that being totally consumed with God while ignoring the needs and demands of others has attempted to distill the gospel. Likewise, you cannot love your neighbor without a deep, abiding love of God. 
There is no simple formula for salvation and Jesus' reply to "Which commandment...?" -- does not satisfy the limits they imposed on him. The Truth is deep, mysterious, and complex. If we cannot always explain it in simple aphorisms, we must live within it. 

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A second time he sent other servants, saying,
'Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet,
my calves and fattened cattle are killed,
and everything is ready; come to the feast."'

Today's memorial feastday, honoring the Queenship of Mary -- her "coronation" -- falls on the octave of the solemn feast of the Assumption. It completes the week of celebration which we can imagine occurs in Heaven. It is well beyond mortal sight but within our vision of faith. As Mary's devotees not yet raised from the dead, we are on the farthest edges of the vast crowd that mill around the coronation altar. If we hear anything it's our songs of praise in this distant land; it's not angelic or saintly shouts of exultation. We can see only the tinsel tiaras and awkward crowns we place upon our statues of the Virgin. But we believe that the Virgin has been crowned in the very presence of Almighty God. There is the thrill of being there, communicated by faith.
We also celebrate Mary's coronation with the fifth of the Glorious Mysteries of the rosary. Franciscans call our seven-decade chaplet not a rosary but a "Crown," for the final mystery of that series honors both her Assumption and Coronation.
This weekday Mass will be, in most Catholic churches, a quiet event. Perhaps those parishes which are named "The Queenship of Mary" might make a bigger event of it. (A google search finds three in the United States.)
Finally, this octave event fits handily with the beginnings of today's gospel. The announcement of a wedding comes in the form of an invitation, "Come to the feast!"
Mary's coronation, as the final mystery of the rosary, invites us to contemplate what  must happen next -- the Judgement, and the Bliss. Our faith promises a Day of Reckoning and we must  shudder at the thought. But it also promises Communion with the Saints and we rejoice in the thought. In that day we will join in the gladness of eternity, grateful that what we have heard and expected has come to pass.
Where she has gone, we hope to follow.

Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

Going out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and he said to them, 'You too go into my vineyard, and I will give you what is just.'

I find this story of the vineyard owner and his day workers endlessly fascinating. If it's not a story about capitalism and labor-management relations, it certainly reminds us of the disparities of power in human affairs. Regardless of political structures and economic systems with their philosophical foundations, those inequities will always persist. They fall under the general heading of Original Sin.
In today's story the landowner promises, "I will give you what is just." By the end of the day the workers seriously doubt his word. I don't believe this is a story about a just employer, nor do I think Jesus recommends this fellow as an icon of God the Father.
But it does remind us of God's sovereign authority; and of our inevitable, even necessary, challenge of that authority. Created in God's image, with a divine appetite for power and autonomy, we chafe under the saddle of obedience. Which of us has not secretly agreed with Milton's Satan, "It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven?"
This landowner is not at all phased by his workers' challenge. He couldn't care less. Although he says to one man, " I am not cheating you." that is only Saint Matthew's literary device to give voice to the owner's private thought. He owes no explanation to the rioters and he gives none. Nor does he have a spokesman who might be privy to his thoughts. There is no middleman who might put a different spin on the appearance of unfairness.
This parable is about God's supreme authority and our limited vision. We can no more comprehend God's justice and mercy than the first day laborers can be satisfied with their pay.
No doubt every ruler who ever appeared -- institutional or charismatic -- promised both justice and mercy to his subjects. They would punish the wicked, regardless of their social standing and wealth. They would show mercy to the deserving, even the least among them. Every government, regardless of its structure or philosophy, gained some legitimacy by its promises of justice and mercy. Invariably the mass of people waited -- and were disappointed. We are not capable of both.
Humans govern with hard justice or soft mercy but cannot manage both.
Only God can do both in the same action. If it sometimes happens in human affairs, it is certainly a moment of Grace, a moment when the Holy Spirit (who is the very Presence of God) guided the process and final decision, however briefly. It is nothing we can sustain.

"...we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." Saint Peter reminds us. We are duty bound as human beings and as Christians to keep trying to build such a system, with the confident hope that, on the last day, God's justice and mercy -- that incomparable blend -- will be revealed.

Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

The angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth in Ophrah
that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite.
While his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press
to save it from the Midianites,
the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said,
"The LORD is with you, O champion!"

Leadership appears from two quite different sources. Every institution has its own way of selecting and empowering its leaders; and their first duty is to protect and promote the institution. But leaders may also appear from unexpected sources; they arise charismatically, empowered by their own personal traits of energy, intelligence, charm, and vision.

Ancient institutions often relied on the sons of their rulers to provide the next generation of leadership. If these men demonstrated the capacity to take charge of their father’s followers, and could ward off challengers, the people were content to obey a man with a familiar name and similar features. In many cases, even if the present king was not quite up to the challenge, the institution seemed to sustain itself with everyone’s compliance despite the ruler’s incompetence. Any ruler is better than the chaos and violence of no ruler.
More recent institutions have developed democratic ways to select their leaders from a broader pool of talent, but the old ruling families still have cachet.

But always there are charismatic individuals who appear with neither lineage nor credentials to challenge the institutions and their leaders. When the old ways no longer serve the new times, old institutions, fixed on their hoary traditions, collapse for lack of interest. A new generation of leaders, energetic, bold, visionary and talented, compete in a power vacuum until they have established their own institutions with new laws, hierarchical structures, and customs.
Gideon was a charismatic leader. A ferocious warrior, capable ruler, attractive personality, the oppressed Hebrews rallied to his call and fought with him against the Midian overlords. (Unfortunately, he had far too many sons by too many wives and none could succeed him; especially after the meanest, most unscrupulous of them murdered all of his siblings.) 
In today’s first reading we hear the story of Gideon’s ascendance. One of the least of his brothers in a family of no consequence, he could not be handed leadership by the old traditions. But the moment was right, and the Lord inspired the people to follow him into battle and conquest.
The lesson for us? We sometimes detect charismatic leadership among our bishops and popes, but we should not expect to find it there. Their job is to preserve the old ways against innovation. If they succeed, they will have allowed the new to find its roots in the ancient traditions, while the old regains some of its spirit under a not unfamiliar form.
I think of Pope Saint John Paul II and his willingness to promote (and canonize) Saint Faustina with her updated image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Just when the Vatican II generation thought the Sacred Heart had faded away, it reappeared brilliantly under the patriotic colors of red, white and blue. Faustina had the inspired vision, John Paul had the authority to place the new icon before the entire Catholic Church.
A second lesson: Don’t be surprised or scandalized by religious turbulence. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to purify and renew the Church, despite the best efforts of her priests. 

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

The children of Israel offended the LORD by serving the Baals. Abandoning the LORD, the God of their fathers, who led them out of the land of Egypt, they followed the other gods of the various nations around them, and by their worship of these gods provoked the LORD.

In his book, God in Search of Man, the great Jewish rabbi and philosopher, Joseph Abraham Heschel wrote,
"It is strange that modern students of religion fail to realize the constant necessity for the protest against polytheism. The idea of unity is not only one upon which the ultimate justification of philosophical, ethical and religious universalism depends, but also one which is still beyond the grasp of most people.

Catholicism is a universalist religion; we claim to have a message for all people regardless of caste, culture, race, gender or sexual preference. Our belief in the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist would appeal equally to Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, if we were to show its beauty to them.
But monotheism is very demanding and polytheism -- though self-contradictory and illogical -- is more appealing. If we claim to love the One and Only God we still give the devil his due.
Recently I was reminded that certain workers are paid exorbitant amounts of money, luxurious perks, extended vacations and golden parachutes because the system works that way. If one corporation refuses to pay that CEO too much, another corporation will hire them. "The System," sometimes called, "The Economy," requires it. Justice, Mercy, Equality and Fraternity may argue against it but Economy, like the Greek Zeus or the Roman Jupiter, overrules a pantheon of other gods. Not to mention Jesus Christ, the crucified carpenter's son.
Today's gospel about the young man who sought Jesus' advice ends with understated tragedy, "When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,for he had many possessions." Economy cancelled any thought of following the Lord. He could not worship God and Mammon.
In this predicament, Jesus allowed us to "render to Caesar what is Caesar's," so long as we live in this world. But Caesar will amass all his treasures, clutching them tightly as he falls into the abyss. The saved are those who surrender their wealth to follow the Lord.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?

"If you want peace, work for justice." Pope Paul VI urged the United Nations. Since that New Years Day in 1972, the imbalance of wealth and poverty has only worsened throughout the world. If nations are not presently making war against one another, they cannot suppress the restive populations who suffer the violence of poverty. Mindless, irrational, futile terrorism spreads from slum to slum through megacities even as the powerful, paralyzed by satisfaction, wring their worried hands. Their peace is prosperity for a few and scarcity for the majority.
"Peace! Peace! There is no peace!" the prophet Jeremiah cried as Jerusalem suffered yet another siege. In today's first reading we hear a common complaint about the Lord's prophet,
"...he is demoralizing the soldiers who are left in this city, and all the people, by speaking such things to them."
The king and his counselors want control of every authoritative voice in city. Religious authorities should support the government and the war effort. Criticism is unpatriotic, even when it speaks an uncomfortable truth.They cannot comprehend why the Lord has abandoned them. They cannot suppose the Gospel might oppose their rule. 

We might feel that "the angry god of the Old Testament" has been superannuated. We might dismiss their jeremiads until we realize why the prophets railed against the city. Jerusalem was supposed to be a holy city. There should be no homeless orphans, abandoned widows, or unwelcome aliens. Given the superabundant providence of God, his people would share and share alike as they had shared manna in the desert. No one would go hungry; no one would have too much; all would have enough. If they competed it was in generosity, not in accumulating stuff.
But Jerusalem had proven to be like any other city; and Judah and Israel were nations like any other. Their religion had no visible effect on their economy or their social life. The wealthy dismissed the majority as unworthy of their attention, while the poor ate the crumbs that fell from aristocratic tables. Their piety went no farther than halfhearted displays of ostentation. Why would they not suffer the fate of other cities and nations, disappearing under the wash of history?
Many centuries later, Jesus' criticism of that religious tradition which supported corrupt government authorities was scathing.
You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood. Thus, you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets;
In the twenty-first century it is easy to suppose we are different from our ancestors. Surely we are not the children of those who murdered the prophets. If geography and time have not set us apart from them, technological advances, economic developments, and cultural evolution have created an impassable barrier between us and our ancestors. Recently, during the revolution (whichever you prefer) we were created out of nothing and the past lost its relevanceOur universe is discontinuous with that of nineteenth century slave owners and twentieth century cold warriors. Can ethical decisions of the post-atomic, computer/social media/twitter age compare with those of our ancestors? Are we not entirely unrelated to the past?
But we still build tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous. We still celebrate the virtue of our heroic ancestors and dismiss their injustices. The same immigrants are still unwelcome as undocumented aliens, orphans are aborted and divorce has created a whole new class of "widows." We are only a nation like other nations with no particular claim on God.
We still need salvation which comes only from the One who warns us,
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!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three....

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 418

Joshua in turn said to the people, "You may not be able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God; he is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If, after the good he has done for you, you forsake the LORD and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you."

"Consider yourself warned!" Joshua might have said to his people at Shechem as they were about to enter the Holy Land. The core of the group were Hebrews, escaping Egyptian slavery. But others had joined them and the time had come to renew their allegiance to the Lord, his prophet Joshua and the traditions they had established -- or disperse. 
Joshua, like Moses before him, knew his people. They had complained, carped, grumbled, and mumbled their way through the Sinai desert for the past forty years. They had no instinct for faith. Bitter experience of slavery had taught them distrust of leadership, suspicion of one another, and a preference for the predictable, expected, and normal. 
The Lord promised freedom if they would let go of the past; not only as it had been in Egypt and Sinai, but as it would unfold in the future. For the present instantly becomes past and the one thing we should expect of the future is, "This too shall pass." No sooner have we adjusted to a new normal than it disappears under new pressures and demands.
The way forward will not be easy and you will be continually tempted to just quit. "Who needs this?' you'll ask. 
The current expression is "existential crisis." We are challenged as to our very existence. Whether we speak of global warming, nuclear war, white supremacy, abortion, gun violence, or the opioid plague going forward is daunting. The only thing we can predict with certainty is the "End of the World as We Know It." 
Amid these fears we hear Joshua urging us to, "Fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely." 
It's time to stop apologizing for that expression, fear the Lord. The one who fears the Lord fears no one else. We need at least that much courage today. 

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

His disciples said to him,
"If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry."
He answered, "Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.

I met a woman -- a church-going Christian woman -- several years ago who had been married five times. Her second and fifth husbands were the same man. She was about to marry again, to her third husband because he said he would kill himself if they didn't marry. 
I asked her, "Did it ever occur to you that you were not meant for marriage in the first place?" 
She had never thought of that. 
Her Christian denomination does not offer celibacy as an optional way of life. If there is no explicit imperative to get married, it is nonetheless expected and demanded of everyone. If you cannot marry someone of the opposite sex, marry someone of your own. Taking it to another oxymoronic extreme, some individuals have invited all their friends to attend their wedding to themselves. It's called sologomy.
I'm not kidding! Look it up!
As the psalmist wrote, "If foundations are destroyed, what can the just one do?”
In this case, the foundation is not only God's law; it's common sense. 
In today's gospel, our dimwitted disciples are astounded by Jesus' teaching about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. "It's better not to marry!" they declare.
Many people agree with them. Which leads to more abandoned women, children, and men. Not to mention brokenhearted grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. A nation of individuals will not emerge from the chaos; it will be only a mob, unsettled and dangerous. 
But Jesus and his Church cannot back down. Marriage means for life, not so long as friendship lasts. Indeed a marriage founded on friendship is built on sand. 
Our marriages are built on the Word of God. The gates of hell cannot prevail against them. If the Lord is not the First Party to the marriage, there is no Christian marriage, despite anything supreme courts and civil governments might say. 

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Lectionary: 622

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed....

There are moments when anxieties and worries and real threats feel so overwhelming, we think rejoicing might be come kind of sin. It just doesn't belong right now.

It is good to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is good to remember the graces God gave to this young woman, graces which she kept and nurtured, in which she grew "from grace to grace" until the day she died. In which, she still grows!
On this solemn feast of Mary's assumption we remember her joy. (The word Assumption means God "assumed" her into heaven. She rose in a manner like that of Jesus' ascension.) 
Recalling now the end of her life we hear in today's gospel of an earlier moment when the woman-child arrived in Jerusalem to share astonishing news with her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. They were dancing for joy even as the sixth-month John danced in Elizabeth's womb. 
If King David could not suppress his dancing when the Ark of the Covenant arrived in Jerusalem, despite his wife's sneering contempt, we cannot deny the rightness and propriety of their songs of joy and ecstatic dance.
Both women, Elizabeth and Mary, rejoice because "he has looked with favor on his lowly servant."
These women were nobodies in their day; politically, socially, economically they did not count. Powerful men around them might consider their vulnerability but they never feared their strength. The authorities in Jerusalem and Rome couldn't be bothered with the comings and goings of poor women. Nor, for that matter, will they glance over Mary's manifesto: He shows the strength of his arm and scatters the proud in their conceit? He casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly? He fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich empty? You can almost hear their sneering, "Give me a break."
These mothers-to-be celebrate an event of cosmic significance. It is hidden for the present but future generations will call them blessed. In the interim, since that day in Jerusalem, we  have seen nations and empires, religions and corporations raised up and fallen down. And still we celebrate their joy. 
If this is a dark moment in our history we have seen worse; if this a bright moment, we have seen better. And still we confidently expect the fulfillment of "the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever."

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Lectionary: 415

Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

This promise of Jesus about prayer follows his stern teaching about church discipline. By the time of Saint Matthew's gospel, the Church had suffered many disturbing troubles in the congregation. Those who once thought a simple belief in Jesus would effect an immediate and irreversible transformation of a pagan hedonist into a god-fearing saint had been disabused of that naivete long ago. 
Many devoutly believed they knew the Lord; they were absolutely convinced their hearts had been transformed from stone to flesh. But these very saints left a trail of tears behind them as they harassed, exploited and abused their fellow Christians. 
How do we deal with these insufferable members? How do we repair the damage they inflict upon the vulnerable? The Gospel offers a method which requires enormous courage from individual Christians and the Church as a whole. One person may see the problem clearly; the scales have fallen from their eyes; but how do they persuade others to address the problem without stepping into the slime of gossip, backbiting, and treachery?
The troublesome members will use every subterfuge to avoid the judgement of the church. They will accuse their enemies of hypocrisy, reminding them of past sins, recalling past favors, and recruiting witless allies for their cause. Most of the church will only want to avoid trouble; they will deny the problem, minimize it, and counsel greater patience. If they ever see the full dimensions of the horror, that realization will come only in retrospect, long afterward. When the damage is, to all appearances, irreversible.
Novelist John Boyle tells a harrowing story of the priest pedophilia scandal in his book, A History of Loneliness. Though its setting is Ireland, the story is universal. The sin is willful ignorance. 
Jesus' admonition to ask for anything on earth follows his teaching about church correction. When the community has effectively dealt with its own corruption, it will enjoy an unimaginable presence of the Holy Spirit. Like the Blessed Mother who responded, I am the handmaid of the Lord, that Church will be in complete conformity with the Mind of God. Whatever they ask will be granted to them by my heavenly Father. 

Memorial of Saints Pontian and Hippolytus

"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

I suppose the Christian must  spend a lifetime pondering Jesus' words. What does it mean to become humble like a child? When Nicodemus heard a similar teaching he asked -- perhaps with a touch of sarcasm.
"How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
If anything, growing old, we fear we might become childlike with feebleness or dementia.
In today's gospel the simile is followed by an endearing parable about the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine untended while he searches for the lost one. A sheep owner might raise hell about such behavior but we are comforted by the thought. And, growing old, we realize how ovine we are. How many foolish decisions do I now regret, especially as I realize I listened to bad advice and followed an unworthy shepherd?
Perhaps the children Jesus admires and offers for imitation are those docile children who realize there are large forces in the world -- parents -- who make important decisions about us and there is little they can do about that. They confidently, hopefully  "...accept the things they cannot change." Not all children are like that but we can allow Jesus to make his point with the example of docile children.
A teaching about childlike docility fits the biblical stories of powerless people and nations who must rely on God's mercy. Whether we speak of the elderly Simeon and Anna, or the young Mary and Joseph, we know the anawim will never enjoy earthly power. Always there will be powerful people who live in mortal dread of weakness, and they will use every tactic and stratagem they can muster to elevate their positions in the world. Some will have broken out of poverty, most will have inherited more wealth than anyone should have. All will agree that the status quo must remain unchallenged. "I've got mine" is their rallying cry. 
If they must trample the rights of unborn children to be born and born children to parental care, they will do so without hesitation or moral qualm. Unwilling to become like children, they cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Jesus' parable about the Good Shepherd assures us that he will never forget, lose, or overlook us. "You are my people, and I am your God." We would not surrender that promise if we could. 

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens,
belong to the LORD, your God,
as well as the earth and everything on it.
Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them
as to choose you, their descendants,
in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done.
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked.

Despite its precise descriptions of ancient Jewish religious ceremonies, which most people skip over, Deuteronomy is a comfortable home and an open book to Christian readers. In this text we recognize "God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth" who has brought his Chosen People out of Egypt and blessed them with possession of the Holy Land. His demands are stern but not unreasonable, provided you remember that your present good fortune was neither earned nor deserved nor the luck of the draw. It was freely given to your ancestors and to you. These blessings come with an expectation of gratitude, and a humility which cannot gloat over the misfortunes of others.
God's expectations of obedience and righteousness are reasonable as the text challenges us to "Think!" For the Lord of Freedom is a jealous God. Those who squander the gift of freedom can expect more than a fall from grace; they will be punished. They, their children, and their children's children. That should be obvious; if your father wasted your grandfather's inheritance there will be nothing for you or your children.
But there is also an assurance that your heritage can be reclaimed despite your parents' sins and your own, because you are a child of Abraham, God's friend "to the thousandth generation."
Nor is it difficult to live within God's laws. At least it is no more difficult than living as the godless live with their suspicions, resentments and persistent violence. The Lord's yoke of obedience is easy; its burden is light.
Deuteronomy spelled out God's expectations of us long before the birth of Jesus, "So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt." To deny the alien their right of welcome is to savagely assail the core of one's own existence. If we are here it is because God has favored us. Not to do so amounts to spiritual suicide.
If we are afraid of welcoming the alien because they are alien, we have only to remember we too were once strangers in a strange land.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 117

The expectation of your people was the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of their foes.

With today's gospel the Lord teaches an ethic of patient waiting. It is a life style; a confident, continual awareness that the Lord, in whom we trust and believe, will remember his promises and keep them. 
"For," as Saint Paul says of Abraham, " he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy."
I read the phrase above, from the Book of Wisdom, in two ways: 
  1. we expect the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of their foes; and 
  2. the expectation is itself a kind of salvation of God's holy ones. 

That expectation, which we keep always before us -- as a fiance keeps the promise of marriage; or an heir, the promise of future wealth -- sustains us through the many challenges of our life. Without it we could not make the necessary sacrifices. We might cash in our chips too soon; withdraw an IRA prematurely; or, like Esau, sell our birthright for a bowl of pottage. This promise comes to us and animates us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul three times speaks of the Holy Spirit as the down payment, or "first installment," of God's promise: 
  1. he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.
  2. Now the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a first installment.
  3. 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.

A fourth time, the Apostle says, "...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."

The Holy Spirit sets the Christian apart from others. This is not simply a Pollyanna expectation that everything will come out roses. It certainly does not deny or ignore the very real challenges, setbacks, and disappointments of ordinary life. Nor does it ignore the innumerable scandals which afflict the Church from every direction. This is not a grim determination to white-knuckle one's way through. It is never my-way-or-the-highway. Nor is it afraid to grieve when sadness is upon us. 
Life in the Holy Spirit is not about me. It is an ability to rise like the phoenix out of the ashes of disappointment and resume the life of prayer, generosity, and hope. 
Without the Holy Spirit, we expect nothing; life has no meaning; and suicide is not merely an option. It is the only choice. Which is where we find many of our contemporaries. 
Psalm 91 describes our life in the Spirit, 
Though a thousand fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
near you it shall not come....
Because you have the LORD for your refuge
and have made the Most High your stronghold

Saint Lawrence, Roman deacon and martyr

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.

As we celebrate the feast of the martyr Saint Lawrence, we hear the invitation of Saint Paul  to give generously and cheerfully, "for God loves a cheerful giver." In this passage from 2 Corinthians the apostle is specifically asking for money. A famine has struck Jerusalem and its environs and Christians are suffering. Christians in Macedonia and Corinth must respond.
But giving is not all about money. Giving is an attitude of ready willingness, a posture that is alert and responsive to the needs of others. As Saint Paul describes the life and manners of a Christian, it is an imitation of God. We are made in the image and likeness of God; and our willing generosity, flavored by an eager curiosity as to how we might do more, is the most obvious resemblance. When they see our charity they recognize a God who is worthy of worship.
If our generosity is cautious it is more about the sensibilities, desires, and needs of others than self-protection. Our gift should not offend anyone's dignity. It wants to foster mutual relationships, not end them. We cannot buy off the needy with cheap charity.
I speak idealistically, of course. But an ideal is quite real in the Spirit of God; we have seen its attainment in Saint Lawrence, in the lives of the saints and martyrs, and in Jesus Christ.

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Moses said to the people:
"Ask now of the days of old, before your time,
ever since God created man upon the earth;
ask from one end of the sky to the other:
Did anything so great ever happen before?
Was it ever heard of?

Our Mass readings today offer an opening passage from the Book of Deuteronomy, and Moses' command that we should read, study, and contemplate the signs and wonders which God has performed on our behalf. At this point in our story, the history might have felt rather new. These men and women remembered very well their slavery, their flight from Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the world's most powerful army. They should have remembered also -- though they might prefer to forget -- their fearful reaction to the reports of their spies and their reluctant obedience which led to defeat. That humiliation and their true repentance was followed by a string of miraculous victories against Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan. They had witnessed God's indomitable protection within their own lifetimes.
Perhaps they had also recovered their ancient past: the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his twelve sons. During their worst moments, ignorant of their history and identity, some had betrayed their own people, siding with the powerful rather than the faithful. The pharaoh attempted to use their own Hebrew midwives against them and they had resisted. However, when Moses defended a Hebrew against an Egyptian overseer, he was threatened with betrayal by a fellow Hebrew.
So today we hear Moses' command to ponder our past and the history of God's mercy. If you forget your past you lose your identity. The story must include both the wonderful works and the facts of our infidelity. We dare not whitewash the tombs of our ancestors, nor forget our particular betrayals. Any glossing of the truth is unacceptable and frankly dangerous.
With that deep awareness of history we are ready to hear the next command:
This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart,
that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below,
and that there is no other.
You must keep his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you today,
that you and your children after you may prosper,
and that you may have long life on the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.

The wonders God has wrought mean little to the so-called righteous. Needing neither forgiveness nor salvation, they take their advantages for granted. If they count anything it's not their blessings but their complaints.
The Church of recent memory has been sharply reminded that we are not only the Church Triumphant, Church Militant, and Church Suffering, we are also the Church Piccant. That is, sinful. Without that realization we cannot appreciate God's mercy and Moses' rhetorical challenge -- "Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?" -- falls on deaf ears. 
The secular world, with its inquisitive and ever-suspicious news media, has challenged all religious institutions to acknowledge and admit our sins. If the Protestant Reformation failed it was due to the Roman Catholic Church's unwillingness to institutionalize a corporate practice of penance. She offered the sacrament of penance ("Confession") to individuals but could not admit or atone for the sinful practices of parishes, dioceses and the entire Church. Segregated churches maintained their practices of white supremacy. Warring congregations prayed for the annihilation of their Christian enemies. Charitable donations were collected but only as a sop for unacknowledged guilt. Nothing of our systemic sinfulness was said during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. 
Without the context of guilt, God's mighty deeds mean nothing. But when we own our guilt as Church, freely acknowledging our unworthiness, we experience God's splendid graciousness. The Lord owes the Church nothing and yet gives her everything, even his only begotten Son unto death, death on a cross. The Gospel of Salvation begins with our pathetic helplessness before Original Sin and our willingness to be saved.

Memorial of Saint Dominic

Take your staff and assemble the community,
you and your brother Aaron, and in their presence order the rock to yield its waters. From the rock you shall bring forth water for the congregation and their livestock to drink."

There are many stories of devout people, planning a religious event or designing a religious structure, forgetting to include the facilities that human bodies need. They have such a lovely chapel, and the location will offer such delightful vistas but they fail to include rest breaks during the pilgrimage or toilets for the sister novices. Moses and Aaron, rushing their people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and into the Sinai desert, apparently neglected to plan for the enormous thirst of a hot, dry climate. 
We sometimes forget how human we are, and how dependent we are upon the most obvious and basic necessities. Human beings are mostly water, like slugs but with skeletons. 
On a global scale, as nations prepare for war and businesses anticipate dog-eat-dog competition, they forget that life on this planet must suffer the consequences of hasty, short-sighted planning. There are still many sunken warships in the world's oceans, leaking oil and gas. Millions of unexploded mines wait for farmers to plow them or children to play with them.  
Very often, we paint ourselves into a corner and wonder why do we do this. 
In today's first reading, the Lord provides for his thirsty people in the desert. God hears the cry of his people. 
If we should not presume God will rescue us from ourselves, we can listen to the Spirit when we find ourselves in familiar predicaments that were entirely predictable
In the end those who listen to the Lord's direction will pick up the pieces for the rest of us, and guide us into the future.