Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Optional Memorial of Saint Maria Goretti, virgin and martyr

Lectionary: 385

“Sow for yourselves justice,
reap the fruit of piety;
break up for yourselves a new field,
for it is time to seek the LORD,
till he come and rain down justice upon you.”

Although the Lord is certainly not replacing the Jewish covenant with a gentile religion, he is breaking up a new field as he names twelve apostles. The number recalls the twelve tribes of Israel's (Jacob's) sons. Their descendants will be born of Baptism and the Holy Spirit rather than of lineal descent. 

Repentance is necessarily a new beginning, a complete starting over. It is conceived as the Lord was conceived in the womb of the Virgin, from the seed which God implants. It is not an adjustment, a rearranging of old furniture, nor even a return to old ways. 

By Baptism we experience a new birth in the Spirit unlike the old birth of the flesh. Theologically it is described as ontological; that is, one's being is transformed. We become supernaturally children of God, and are no longer children of simple human descent. Our parents are godparents, that is those who foster our faith. They may be the same biological parents, but in many cases that is not so. 

On this feast of Saint Maria Goretti, we can compare the natural life and the supernatural life in sexual terms. The Italian girl died in 1902, a first martyr of an extraordinarily violent century. Refusing to indulge the sexual appetite of an older boy, she was raped and murdered even as she begged God and her assailant for mercy. He wanted what appears to many as natural while she clung to her supernatural relationship with God. 

Of course, we recognize her assailant's desire as unnatural because it was not inspired by the love of God. Human life without the theological gifts of faith, hope, and love is empty and meaningless. It may become savagely bestial, especially when subjected to the enslavement of a consumer economy that celebrates its animal desire and denigrates its aspiration to divinity. Because it does not hear or heed the Gospel, it is a futile way of life; it's only hope is that there is no eternal life where it might suffer an unendurable existence. 

By Baptism we learn of our supernatural calling and by Communion (Eucharist) in the Church we are guided to that Satisfaction that longs for more as it follows the Way of the Spirit. We have an infinite capacity for the infinite grace of God and are satisfied only with the promise of more and deeper communion. This is a pleasure our animal desire cannot imagine or conceive. It can only eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. 

Saint Maria Goretti, though only a child, demonstrated the wisdom of an ancient church. She chose the better part as she waited for God's mercy. We pray that God will inspire us with her courage, especially as we can see that a consumer economy has become only more demanding, irrational, and violent since she died. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 Lectionary: 384

When Ephraim made many altars to expiate sin, his altars became occasions of sin.
Though I write for him my many ordinances,
they are considered as a stranger’s.
Though they offer sacrifice, immolate flesh and eat it, the LORD is not pleased with them.
He shall still remember their guilt and punish their sins; they shall return to Egypt.

Amos and Hosea are the oldest of the writing, Hebrew prophets; both lived in the northern kingdom of Israel, which had split from Judah and its king in Jerusalem. Israelite kings erected altars and shrines to discourage people from travelling to Jerusalem, despite the prophets' objections. They claimed to worship the same God, but in a different manner. 

Hosea saw a nation both separated from its source in the Holy City and wandering away from the covenant with God. Their "altars became occasions of sin" as the people worshiped according to their own fancies, rather than following the rites and customs of Jerusalem. They went so far as to use gold statues of cows to represent the Lord who had delivered them from Egypt. These images were an abomination to iconoclastic Jews; they remembered the commandment, "You shall have no strange god before me." 

Consequently, the Lord "shall still remember their guilt and punish their sins." Further, "they shall return to Egypt;" that is, to enslavement to foreign nations. Although Israel survived several hundred years it was finally destroyed by neighboring Assyria. Unfortunately, Jerusalem also collapsed before the Babylonian army.  

Our relationship with God begins in obedience and follows with penance. We hear the Lord's invitation to come follow me, and we turn away from sin. If choosing to follow the Lord seems a quick and relatively simple decision, one which was effected on a single memorable occasion, turning away from sin can take a lifetime. 

Most of us remember the day when we realized my way isn't working, and decided to listen to the Lord. But, if it's true that we learned everything we needed to know before kindergarten, there is a lot of deep learning we have to forget. Many attitudes, habits, and expectations that made sense under the old dispensation do not belong in God's world. 

The willingness to adapt may come easily at first. A young married couple might learn to pay attention and notice their differences early in their marriage, and readily change. It gets more complicated, however, as their love and trust grows; each drops the unconscious pretenses that charmed the other, and reverts to their usual manners, attitudes and habits. Biological sounds are not muffled anymore, and unpleasant smells might not be countered by immediate adjustments to the air circulation. Living together often requires unexpected, sacrificial adjustments. They're not even remarked upon until an argument breaks out.  

Likewise, as we come to the Lord in the Church, we again discover some manners, attitudes, and habits that just don't belong. There are conservatives and liberals in this group, as well as migrants from other nations. The group's decisions might not feel right; their inspiration doesn't seem to lead the right direction. 

Many at that point decide they can love the Lord without belonging to God's people. But that's like looking at a picture of someone and thinking you know them. It may be reassuring and comfortable but there is neither challenge nor sacrifice. Real people and our real God always demand sacrifice. That's the cost of being with them. 

And if I don't seem to be making a sacrifice, I can be sure they're making one for me. I am simply too obtuse to notice. 

Consumers -- that is, those with the money -- are continually reassured that they need make no sacrifice. They follow wicked shepherds and prefer the wide path of perdition. We do penance and atone for our sins, and we thank the prophetic spirit of Amos and Hosea who points out our sins to us and remains always to challenge us. 

Monday, July 4, 2022

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 Lectionary: 383

...he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they ridiculed him. When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand, and the little girl arose. And news of this spread throughout all that land.

In today's gospel we hear of Jesus's gift of freedom to an elderly woman and a girl on the brink of adolescence. He seems on a tear as he  liberates the sick, revives the dead, and brings good news to despised, unwelcome, and impoverished people. His enemies can neither contain nor constrain him. 

Crowds of admiring citizens greet and follow him wherever he goes. Most hope to see the Messiah's displays of power; many desire his personal attention and healing authority; some would emulate his uninhibited freedom; none will follow him to Calvary. 

As the Gospel saturates our mind and purifies our thinking, we realize that the Lord's freedom is that which he gives away. If some are enslaved by disability or illness, he sets them free. If they are constrained by ignorance, he teaches wisdom. If they are burdened with sin, he takes their guilt upon himself and suffers its just punishment. 

America teaches a different gospel. That freedom entails ownership and money; and is constrained by the lack of either. It may be purchased but should not be liberally given to others. I might be willing to give someone a ride, but not my car. I might invite them to my home but I don't want them to move in. 

Americans tell their children that freedom is guaranteed by laws but teenagers soon learn there are neighborhoods they dare not enter and liberties they cannot afford. Woody Guthrie knew what Americans mean by freedom

California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see
But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot
If you ain't got the do re mi

 So long as they have the dough they think they're free. When they don't they blame the politicians. 

Francis of Assisi discovered freedom by following the poor and crucified Christ. In poverty he knew communion with Jesus, and in that communion he found fellowship with all creation. He lived like the birds of the air who neither sow nor reap, and gather nothing into barns; and he was fed in the same manner. Their heavenly Father fed him

When he renounced his family's wealth and took to the road, Francis met mockery and contempt from many of his former friends. That passed, however, as his unfailing joy won their approval, but he continued to court the contempt of the world. Because Jesus was ridiculed by the mourners in the official's home, Francis also invited opprobrium. His head was not turned by the world's admiration or the demon Success. He remembered the hypocritical crowd who welcomed Jesus on Palm Sunday and cursed him on Good Friday. 

Owning nothing he guarded nothing. He would not be possessed by possessions. Finally, the story is told, as he lay dying, Francis surrendered his dearest treasure, his poverty. He wanted to die naked on the bare ground, but there were women present. His superior, Brother Elias, insisted that he wear some kind of clothing. When Francis still asked to die without his clothes, Elias compromised. He dressed the dying man in his own habit and not Francis's. Obedience trumped Poverty and the Saint surrendered his poverty and his will to Elias. 

If you and I are not called to imitate Francis's lifestyle we should nevertheless ask for his spirit and study his freedom, for he knew the Meaning of the Word. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 Lectionary: 102

Thus says the LORD:
 Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,  all you who love her;
 exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her!
 Oh, that you may suck fully
 of the milk of her comfort,
 that you may nurse with delight
 at her abundant breasts!

I first encountered this passage from Isaiah as a deacon preparing for  mass. The priest who presided at the Mass altered the reading before the lector read it, "because it's too much for the folks in this town." Not many years younger than him, I suspected the anxiety was his, not theirs. 

St Augustine, Florida

After hearing the threatening readings from the Prophet Amos of this past week, I am glad to hear Isaiah's words of comfort this morning. And who could be more comfortable than a baby nursing with delight at a mother's breast? 

"Our Lady of La Leche holds a special place in the heart of the Diocese of St. Augustine in North Florida, where the first Mass was celebrated in what is now the United States (probably by Spanish Franciscans.) She still nurtures us as our Patroness.

The most common image of Jesus in the Catholic Church is the crucifixion; it appears upon or above every altar in every sanctuary in the world. We find comfort in the sight but it is surely not a comfortable depiction of the Lord. It is good to remember that his Mother stood by him on that Good Friday, and he found comfort in her presence.

I believe that Jesus, the Son of God, in his infinite capacity to receive as well as give comfort, must have found a deeply satisfying pleasure in her being there even as she -- conceived without sin and advancing from grace to grace throughout her life -- offered her maternal presence. She could be nowhere else. By her perfect obedience to the Holy Spirit, she has that infinite capacity for giving comfort. In his flesh he remembered the nipple and milk that filled his mouth. It was good.

She stood for you and me also, as the Mother of the Church, as we would also stay on Calvary to comfort him. As we must sometimes stay within our personal discomfort when we're afflicted with disappointment, anguish, or grief. As neither Mary nor Jesus refused what had to happen; as they confidently obeyed the Spirit which led them to Jerusalem on many occasions; so do we accept the sorrows that find us wherever we are. 

The saints encourage us to remember the desolation when we experience consolation, and remember the consolation when desolations come upon us. During this season of discontent, Mary offers reassurance, consolation, and comfort.  

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

  Lectionary: 382

Thus says the LORD:
On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old...

Two weeks ago I attended a sad occasion, the closing of our friary at Saint Anthony Church in Angola, Indiana. We Franciscan friars had served at the church since 1931, which was the 700th Anniversary of the Paduan's death. 

One lady asked me why we could not stay. I explained we had no more priests to supply the parish, and reminded her of the shortage of priests in the United States. The reasons are complex but not least among them is the shortage of children among Catholics in the United States. Few women, having only one or two children, want them to embrace celibacy. They're more concerned about having grandchildren; and, given the apparent instability of the federal Social Security system, they'll need all their children and grandchildren to support them in their old age. 

And, frankly, the Catholic Church has seen worse times. Many American and European nations have tracked down priests to hang, guillotine, or burn them alive. 

After listening to the threatening harangues of the Prophet Amos the last few days, it is good to hear his promises for the future of Israel in the ninth century before Christ. The Lord will rebuild "the fallen hut of David" and wall up its breached walls.  

We can interpret this ever ancient, ever new Word of God as a promise that the Church will one day enjoy a rebirth of wonder. The Spirit will raise up a generation of devout young people who will eagerly announce the Gospel to all nations by whatever marvelous media are available in that unimaginable future. Some will embrace celibacy, we can suppose, because it has always been a response to the Good News. As Jesus said, some are made eunuchs for the Kingdom of God. And added, "Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

But the resilience of the Church is in those who embrace the Sacrament of Marriage and keep its vows through the endless cycles of dark and light ages. They welcome as many children as God gives them, and model for them the fundamental virtues that make human life enjoyable: fidelity, courage, humor, the love of wisdom, respect for tradition, enjoyment in work, gratitude for challenges, and so forth. They honor their children even as they honor their parents. 

I meet that kind of people frequently but there aren't enough right now to maintain all the churches our ancestors built for us. 

Never mind. The Lord will raise up the ruins of the Church just as France is restoring the destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral, and rebuild it as in the days of old. I have ministered to aging congregations all my life. I have never seen a church with more children than seniors, although I understand some flourish in Africa and South America. If I cannot imagine such a parish, neither can I imagine that God's Word will not be heard, and God's Spirit will not sweep the through the megacities of the future, as it did through the Roman Empire. Indeed...

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8: 18-21) 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 Lectionary: 381

Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send famine upon the land:
Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD.
Then shall they wander from sea to sea and rove from the north to the east in search of the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.

When I hear of people who are hungry for spiritual food and are not being fed in their churches, I think of Amos's prophecy in the above verses. Hunger is a cultural analogy adapted from the world of economics. Consumers often have very specific and rather refined tastes. They may be hungry but they're picky. They don't like a great many foods. 

I broke a rule one morning while I was a chaplain in the VA, and decided to feed a penniless Veteran. I went with her to the cafeteria around 7am, as they were serving breakfast. But instead of the healthy eggs, sausage, orange juice, and toast they offered, she picked up several packages of Twinkies. I was embarrassed to pay for it. 

Many spiritually hungry consumers are devouring spiritual Twinkies. Some turn to sports, watching endless replays of touchdowns, home runs, and goals. Racing fans say they hate automobile pileups, especially the fatalities, but they watch them. More people turn to politics for their religion as they consume the same stories day after day. Yesterday's news is today's leftovers, but the newscasters keep serving them up.  

Have you noticed that interviewers invariably ask researchers, "What was the most interesting thing about your discovery?" Or they ask foreign journalists about catastrophes in faraway places. They want the most heart wrenching story, the most tragic loss of the most bereft family. They devour the grief of the stricken to hurl it at hungry consumers in safely removed place. They don't want to hear what the knowledgeable experts think. Learning is work and their public is not interested in the effort and sacrifice that new knowledge demands. They want stimulation. "Turn me on! Excite me! Make me feel alive!"  

That unquenchable thirst for arousal begins with our unwillingness to drink the life giving water, such as the Lord gave the Samaritan Woman. That insatiable vixen, having disposed of five husbands, and presently devouring a sixth, seeing a seventh candidate -- a stranger at Jacob's Well -- had to check him out. Perhaps he might give her what no other man ever had! 

Jacob's Well was actually a cistern, and its water was stale runoff, not fresh, spring water. Following her brief encounter with Jesus, she was no longer thirsty. She drank the life-giving spring of his Sacred Heart. And truly satisfied for the first time in her life, she left her jug at the well  to announce the Messiah's arrival. 

The Church offers that water -- so useful, lowly, precious, and pure -- to anyone who will drink. They have only to open their hearts to the faith that satisfies with neither artifice nor insult. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Memorial of the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church

 Lectionary: 380

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent word to Jeroboam,
king of Israel:
“Amos has conspired against you here within Israel; the country cannot endure all his words.For this is what Amos says: Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land.”

The prophetic spirit, as described in the Bible, gives us the ability to receive the truth, and even to welcome it. The Jews recalled that willingness even in the gentile prophet Balaam who was hired to lay a curse on the Egyptian escapees but could not do it because he could say only,

"The oracle of one who hears what God says, and knows what the Most High knows, Of one who sees what the Almighty sees, in rapture and with eyes unveiled..."

Amos, unlike Balaam, was not a professional prophet. He was "a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores." Nor was he from Israel, and that made him doubly unwelcome. He came from Judah to warn the Israelites of doom if they failed to keep to the covenant with the Lord. 

Because all Christians are anointed with the prophetic spirit of Jesus, we are sent to the nations to announce the Gospel. Our announcement must include both the invitation to know the Lord and warnings about the sins we encounter. We despise the idolatry of pagan nations, the violence of warlike nations, the racism of segregated societies, and the vanity of excessive wealth

Because our values are shaped by the gospel and our perception of what is truly valuable, we can be obnoxious to the societies that receive us. We just don't get some things. We might enjoy the food, the music, the dance, and the arts; but we're not amused by greed, lust, and avarice. Nor do we fear what our neighbors fear. In fact, given to trusting God, we don't fear much. And we are often willing to trust and admire pariahs despised by our host societies. 

When we engage in politics, as we must, we're liable to hear an echo of "Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!" In the 1960's, the rebuke was to keep religion out of politics and politics out of religion. And the Church out of the bedroom! Today it's "spiritual but not religious." and "I'm not a religious person." 

No human society conforms completely to the Gospel, neither the United States, nor Italy, nor a monastery of Catholic monks. The best efforts of Utopian societies fall short. No political party can pretend to follow the Gospel since it must win the support of a significant minority to be effective. Always the Gospel challenges our sinful tendencies and invites us to “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough."

When we meet opposition we're especially likely to cease striving. It doesn't feel like the right way. Apparently good and reasonable people argue against the truth that we must live. We become confused and uncertain and wish to fall back into pleasant, anonymous conformity with folks around us. Very often, we realize they're right about some things. (How long has it taken the Church to recognize the changing climate and the human causes of that change? And why did it take so long?) 

So we learn to listen both as God speaks to us in the Scriptures, Tradition, the Magisterium, and personal prayer; and to wiser heads around us in the world. Taught by the Holy Spirit, we develop a taste for the truth. We know when it feels right. Prophets like Amos, Elijah, Jesus, Mary, and Saint Paul inspire us to hear the truth that sets us free.