Come, let us adore him.


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adoration-of-the-magiDuring the weeks of Advent we hoped for and awaited the coming of the Messiah.  On Christmas we rejoiced in the birth of our savior.  Now, on Epiphany we travel with the wise men from the East in order to “do him homage”, in order to adore Christ. 

Adoration is the proper attitude of today’s feast.  Just as the wise men reveal that the gospel message is meant to go out to all nations and peoples; it also reveals that all peoples and nations are meant to travel to Bethlehem and adore the Christ-child, and do him homage. 

But what does it mean to “adore” and how do we know that we are doing it properly?  Just as the three gifts offered by the wise men reveal truths about Christ so they also reveal truths about our adoration.

Gold is a proper gift to offer a king.  By offering gold the wise men were acknowledging the infant Jesus as the “newborn king of the Jews”.  Gold symbolizes the kingship of Christ.  Gold is our best that we offer to God in gratitude.  God loves us and God wants us to know and experience the joys and beauty of life.  In moments of joy and beauty, if we can just turn to God and say “thank you” then we are adoring, we are offering gold to God.  We ought to thank God for all the blessings, beauty and joys of life.  Gratitude is the gold we have to offer. 

Frankincense accompanies worship and sacrifice.  It is the stuff of priests.  Christ is the High Priest who offers himself as the sinless lamb for us.  The gift of frankincense given at the birth of Christ is a foreshadowing of his great sacrifice and offering of himself on the cross.  We offer frankincense when we offer prayers and a desire to live in relationship with God.  This is part of the great mystery of our faith.  God wants relationship and friendship with us, God seeks us out.  When we are willing to live in relationship with God, when we make the time to pray and just be with God then we are offering frankincense for ourselves and for our world. 

Myrrh is used to anoint bodies at burial.  Myrrh given at the birth of our Lord points toward the death Christ would suffer for us.  When we are willing to die to self for Christ, when we offer up our pains, sufferings, and even little annoyances of life we are, in essence, bringing myrrh to our Lord.  This also is adoration – to bring God our pains, sorrows, dying to self and the injustices we bear in life. 

Today, we come to adore.  Epiphany teaches us how to adore our Lord and Savior – to bring our joys and gratitudes–this is gold; to bring our prayers and desire to live in relationship with God – this is frankincense and to bring our sorrows, dying to self and the injustices we bear in life – this is myrrh. 

Today, we adore.    

An invitation from Pope Francis: a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God


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Pope Francis raises Book of Gospels as he celebrates Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica at VaticanBoth of my parents were converts.  My father grew up in the Presbyterian Church and my mother grew up as a Southern Baptist.  There is a story told in my family that once, not long after my father’s conversion, my two great aunts from Mississippi (both spinsters and staunch Presbyterians to boot) visited my grandfather.  Noticing some dust on the cover of the family bible, one great aunt is said to have remarked, “I guess if this Bible cover was not so dusty Jack would never have converted.”  I am not sure how my grandfather and grandmother replied although I would wager that a bit of a chill went through the room.

I, for one, am very grateful for my parents’ conversions and acknowledging that my views would differ from my great aunt’s in this regard (i.e. seeing my father’s conversion to Catholicism as a fulfilling of his faith journey and not a loss); I do believe her remark about the family Bible carries an intuition of truth.  There is a power and a grace to be found in Sacred Scripture.  The Bible is God’s holy word and within it we encounter our risen Lord.

In his Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera given at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis brings to summation the Holy Year and puts forward his hope that the work of mercy will continue and be ever-strengthened in the Church.

(The Holy Year) must continue to be celebrated and lived out in our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father. (MM, 1)

The Holy Father reflects on how best to continue the work of mercy and he puts forward some specific thoughts for discernment by the Church – mercy should be celebrated and at the heart of every Eucharistic celebration and every homily, every encounter involving the sacrament of anointing should be guided by mercy and certainly mercy should be found in abundance within the sacrament of reconciliation.  Here the Holy Father grants the authority for every priest to forgive the sin of a procured abortion.  This permission given even gained the attention of the secular media for at least a day or two.

What did not garner as much attention though is an invitation that the Holy Father extended to the Church in his apostolic letter.  It is an invitation worthy of consideration and it is why I began this article by sharing the story of my two great aunts.  The Holy Father invites the Church to consider a Sunday, “given over entirely to the word of God”.

Why not just mandate such a thing?  Certainly the pope has the authority.  Here, I believe, Pope Francis is demonstrating a pastor’s wisdom.  Some things within the Church – especially those liturgical and devotional – are best established and encouraged from the foundation up rather than the top-down.  Pope Francis is inviting the Church into a dialogue regarding this possibility and he is giving his permission as the successor of Peter for this dialogue, this possibility, to occur and to even grow organically from within the life of the Church.  He is encouraging an idea to grow.

It is an idea already present within the full life of our faith and specifically rooted and expressed for our time in the document Dei Verbum of the Second Vatican Council.  Here are three quotes from the final chapter of that document which demonstrate this.  “It follows that all the preaching of the Church, as indeed the entire Christian religion, should be nourished and ruled by sacred Scripture.” (DV, 21)  “Access to sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful.” (DV, 22)  “Just as from constant attendance at the Eucharistic mystery the life of the Church draws increase, so a new impulse of spiritual life may be expected from increased veneration of the Word of God, which ‘stands forever’.” (DV, 26)

Below are the two paragraphs of Misericordia et Misera specifically devoted to this invitation.  The first paragraph can be viewed as a summation of Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, the second is the invitation given by the Holy Father to the Church universal.

The Bible is the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s tenderness and closeness, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’ life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach everyone. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).

It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina , so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centered on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.(MM, #7)

Could this be the beginnings of a liturgical feast for the Bible?  What would it look like?  I am not sure and I do not know if even the Holy Father knows but he is inviting the Church to the possibility and even encouraging a faith-filled creativity.  As both a Christian disciple and a pastor of a parish in the belt buckle of the Bible Belt – where there is such a strong emphasis on Scripture in the surrounding churches – I find this invitation of Pope Francis to creatively dream of such a day to be both exciting and necessary!  One of the great gifts of the Second Vatican Council was in reminding us that the Bible belongs to every member of the Church, that it should be picked up and read and that within Sacred Scripture we encounter Christ.  The Bible is much more than just proof texts for the sacraments and devotions.  A day given over entirely to the Bible would not lessen our sacramental identity as Catholics but would rather root our identity deeper in an awareness that we are a people of both Word and Sacrament!

A day devoted to the Bible would also be a strength and support for the ongoing work of mercy.  “I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood,” writes the Holy Father.  God’s word is a “font of mercy” which opens our minds in greater awareness, our imaginations in new possibilities and our hearts in greater charity.  Or, as expressed in Dei Verbum, “This nourishment (of Scripture) enlightens the mind, strengthens the will and fires the hearts of men with the love of God.” (DV, 23) 

Pope Francis, through his life as a Jesuit and priest is someone steeped in the Ignatian spiritual tradition of entering Scripture.  The Holy Father speaks from experience when he refers to Scripture as a “font of mercy” and he is here inviting the whole church to continually turn to this font.

It is a simple and beautiful invitation that the Holy Father puts forward in his letter – a day given over entirely to the Word of God – and within this invitation is found the possibility of innumerable graces and blessings.  I am praying how the parish I serve might answer this invitation of our Holy Father.  I would encourage all members of the Church to take to heart this simple and beautiful invitation of our Holy Father.

Christmas, 2016


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birth-of-jesusCaesar demanded a census and the whole world was in motion and turmoil.  People and families around the empire travelling to their own town.  The emperor had spoken and therefore it had to be! 

Joseph and Mary – humble, poor, obedient to authority – travel to Bethlehem, even with Mary near child-birth.  They register for the census but the gospel does not specify one thing; did they register before the birth of Christ or after?  Did their census notation say, “one Jewish couple expecting a child” or “one Jewish couple with newborn male”?  I tend to believe that Joseph and Mary registered with the census before the birth of Jesus because it would be consistent with God’s way of working throughout scripture.

Let the powers of the world flex their muscle and show all their strength.  Peoples need to travel, life needs to be interrupted, Caesar Augustus wants a census!  God laughs.  God comes silently and humbly amidst all the turmoil of the time.  God even uses the great emperor’s project to accomplish His plan.  Who today remembers the census that Caesar ordered?  Yet all time and history celebrates the birth of the son of Mary.  Christ coming after the census is fulfilled demonstrates who is really the Lord of history.

Caesar in the exercise of his power and might through the census was trying to grasp and claim the entire empire.  “These … all these lands and peoples … are mine!” is what Caesar was saying through his census.  Christ being born after the census shows that he does not belong to the power of Caesar nor to any worldly-power yesterday or today.  Jesus will not go down in history as a small notation in a Roman emperor’s census, rather he will be revealed as the very one who ushers in God’s Kingdom to which all the kingdoms and powers of the world must submit. 

The Word of God enters the world unexpectedly.  Information is power.  A census – a measurement of peoples – gives information and therefore it gives the emperor great power and control.  Yet right beyond the boundary of Caesar’s knowledge occurs the greatest event in all of human history and Caesar misses it.  Caesar has no knowledge of it.  The first ones who do come to know of it?  Not Caesar but rather the lowly shepherds – the poor and the insignificant ones in the eyes of the world.  It is to them that the angel appears and tells of this new thing that God has done!  “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people … a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”  (Lk. 2:10-11)  It is not abstract and isolated ideologies and theologies cut off from everyday reality that grasp the ever-new work of God, rather it is simple people of faith – the poor and the humble.

The lessons of Christmas are so profound and so necessary.  Despite the turmoil of any age and the raw exercising of power, God is at work accomplishing his plan.  This babe born in Bethlehem is the one to whom all knees must bend and all hearts must bow and when we can do that, then peace and joy will be found!  In Christ, knowledge comes humbly – knowledge for the pains of our world and the pains of our hearts.  Abstract and isolated ideologies quickly become cold, hard and dictatorial.  This is not God’s way.  God reveals himself to the poor and the humble and God chooses to abide with them. 

Lord Jesus, we welcome you.  Heal our world.  Soften our hearts.  Help us to know the newness of your peace.  You are Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever and Prince of Peace.  Lord Jesus, you choose to be born in your time and in your way.  May we be humble and poor enough to recognize you when you come to us.

Thank you Jesus for loving us.           

St. Joseph and Corporal Desmond Doss


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doss-300x236The movie “Hacksaw Ridge” is a powerful and true story about a man holding firm to his convictions in the face of strong opposition.  Desmond Doss was a conscientious objector in World War II.  Guided by his Christian faith and a personal vow he made to God, Doss would not pick up a gun but he wanted to help his country in the war effort as a medic.  The first half of the film is about the opposition he faced in the army itself.  He was viewed as a coward and his superiors and even fellow soldiers tried to force him out.  The second half of the film is about how Doss proved his courage in the face of battle.  When his unit was forced to retreat due to an overwhelming onslaught of Japanese soldiers, Doss remained and under the cover of night and early morning rescued seventy-five wounded soldiers.  His prayer throughout that heroic effort, each time he went back onto the combat field was, “Dear God, let me get just one more man.”  Corporal Desmond Doss was the first and only conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic bravery above and beyond the call of duty.

I recently read in a commentary that in Christ, “God works his plan not in the extra-ordinariness of miracles or in the mystery of esoteric magic, but in the ordinariness of mercy and in the mystery of compassion.”  In today’s gospel (Mt. 1:18-24) we are told how the birth of Jesus Christ comes about.  Mary is found with child.  Joseph, a righteous and merciful man, decides to divorce her quietly.  But, in a dream, an angel comes to Joseph and tells him to have no fear; that the child is conceived through the Holy Spirit and the child will reveal that God is with us.  Joseph took Mary into his home.

It is important to remember that both the annunciation and Joseph’s dream were private.  Only Mary saw the angel Gabriel.  Only Joseph had the dream.  We know the rest of the story but then, at that moment and in those confusing days, it was not known.  There must have been gossip.  The scandal of a pregnancy outside of marriage and the foolishness of Joseph taking Mary into his home when a truly righteous man and observant Jew would have done no such thing!  The stigma probably did not end with the birth of the child either.  It probably always hung around the Holy Family, it probably followed Joseph to his death bed and it was probably whispered about Christ his whole life.

In the gospels Joseph speaks no words but his actions and willingness to live by his convictions whether understood by other people or not say volumes about the foster-father of our Lord.  Both Mary and Joseph, in their own way, said “yes” to God and they entered into that mystery of mercy and compassion where God’s will is known and made manifest.  Yes, there were some signs that we will hear of in the next few weeks – a shining star, a vision of angels, wise men from the East – but for the vast majority of the world all was ordinary but in that “ordinary” the most extra-ordinary was occurring.  God was coming to be with us.

There is a scene in “Hacksaw Ridge” when the troop is retreating and Corporal Doss is at the top of the ridge.  He cries out, “God I cannot hear you!  What do you want me to do?”  There is a silence for a moment as the medic sits in the violent ordinariness of war and then he says for the first time of seventy-five times, “Dear God, let me get just one man.”  Corporal Doss then runs back into the battlefield.  It was not esoteric or other-worldly it was just the mystery of mercy and compassion being lived in the moment. 

We should neither disdain the ordinary nor the choice to live our convictions of faith in the ordinary.  Mary, Joseph and a host of witnesses like Corporal Doss show how God is found and his will is made known in the ordinary – whether understood by other people at the time or not. 

St. Joseph, foster-father of our Lord, pray for us. 

St. Joseph, help us to learn your humility, your conviction and your wisdom.             

The danger of narrowcasting in the Church, shared again.


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studio-broadcasting-camps-2(In light of the recent news events demonstrating the danger of false stories, I am reposting this article originally written in 2014.  We need to be discerning and prudent in all things media-related.)

There has been a trend developing in our national news media and you have probably noticed it. It is the move from “broad-casting” to “narrow-casting”. Charles Seife, in his book, Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You So, How Do You Know It’s True?, lays it out quite clearly.

“Back when the Big Three ruled the airwaves, the nightly news had to perform a delicate balancing act. A news program had to try to appeal to the entire television audience – it had to be, quite literally, a broad cast – if it was to compete with the other two networks that were taking the same strategy. This meant that the networks couldn’t become too partisan or take an extreme position on anything, for fear of alienating its potential audience…

Then cable and the internet increased our choices. The Big Three kept trying to capture as big a slice of America as possible by staying centrist, but a couple of upstarts – particularly Fox News and MSNBC – realized that there was another possible strategy. Instead of trying to go after the entire American population with a broadly targeted program that appealed to everyone, you could go with a narrowly targeted program that appealed to only a subgroup of the population. Throw in your lot with, say, die-hard Republicans and give them coverage that makes them happy; you alienate Democrats and won’t get them as viewers, but you can more than make up for that loss by gaining a devoted Republican fan base … MSNBC did exactly the reverse …”

“So, what’s the big deal?” one might wonder. Let the conservatives have their Fox News and the liberals their MSNBC then everyone gets what they want. As Charles Seife argues in his book though we need challenges to our assumptions in order for our ideas and understanding to grow and evolve. True information can only be gained through this sometimes difficult but essential process. If all we get when we switch on the news is a presentation that is catered to our particular slant on the world then we get stuck in our own assumptions and we even become more radicalized. We do not get true information. Another quote from Seife’s book,

“With news and data that is tailored to our prejudices, we deprive ourselves of true information. We wind up wallowing in our own false ideas, reflected back to us by the media. The news is ceasing to be a window unto the world; it is becoming a mirror that allows us to gaze only upon our own beliefs.

Couple this dynamic with the microsociety-building power of the hyper-interconnected internet and you’ve got two major forces that are radicalizing us. Not only does the media fail to challenge our preconceptions – instead reinforcing them as media outlets try to cater to smaller audiences – but we all are able to find small groups of people who share and fortify the beliefs we have, no matter how quirky or outright wrong they might be. Ironically, all this interconnection is isolating us…”

Lack of true information, radicalization and isolation – this is a disturbing and dangerous mix that, I would argue, we are witnessing the affects of throughout our world today. That is a larger discussion but my purpose for this reflection is to wonder how much this trend of “narrow-casting” has moved into the life of the Church. I would point to the wide-ranging reactions to the recent preparatory meeting of the upcoming Synod on the Family in Rome as a prime example. The way I read them, reactions posted in journals, on the internet and the blogosphere were often extreme and catered to a particular slant. There was a lot (and continues to be a lot) of noise regarding the preparatory meeting in these pieces but not much true information … at least from my reading.

Call me crazy but I have a hunch that Pope Francis knows what he is doing and that the Holy Spirit is in the midst of the Church. Maybe our United States “American” (I say this because this is the only cultural context I can speak to) tendency to interpret an event (i.e. the Synod on the Family) only by catering to a particular viewpoint is more of a reflection of a deficiency in our culture than a reflection of what actually transpired in Rome? Maybe we have become more conditioned by narrow-casting than we realize?

Pope Francis is not a product of United States “American” culture. I do not think that he has been conditioned by narrow-casting. I think he asked the participants at the meeting in Rome to speak boldly from their hearts because he knows what Charles Seife knows. True information is only gained through the difficult process of having assumptions challenged – if the assumptions are true then they will only grow stronger through this process, if not then they will fall by the wayside. Pope Francis values true discussion because he values true information. Isn’t true information what we want any leader (particular the Pope) to have?

Catholic means “universal”. I do not believe that there is space for narrow-casting in the Church. In fact, I wonder if it might even be a sin against the unity of the Church. Seife lays out the fruits of narrow-casting: lack of true information, radicalization and isolation. All of these harm the Body of Christ.

Come, Holy Spirit and enkindle within us the fire of your love and strengthen your Church that she might be a humble and authentic witness of the gospel!

“Arrival” and catching the language of God.


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arrivalThis last week I saw the movie “Arrival”.  I found the movie to be very thought-provoking.  I do not want to ruin the movie for anyone so I will not delve too deeply into the story but the heart of the movie is about language, thought and even time.  The movie asks a simple question; “If aliens arrived on earth how would we communicate?”  Especially if the aliens were so different physiologically from us and did not communicate by sound as we do.  The movie centers on a  translator and her work to overcome this barrier.  At one point in the movie there is a discussion about how learning another language might actually effect and even change a person’s way of thinking.  Learning a new language helps us to think differently and to see the world differently.  

In biblical thought, a prophet is not a fortune-teller or someone who can somehow magically tell what is going to happen in the future.  Rather, a biblical prophet is someone who lives a deep relationship with God and who is able to read the signs of the times from that perspective.  To make use of the discussion in the movie – a prophet is someone who has caught a bit of the language of God and is able therefore to think differently and to see the world differently.  A prophet is someone who begins to see as God sees and to dream as God dreams.  

In today’s gospel (Mt. 3:1-12) we are given the figure of John the Baptist.  The man whom Christ himself called the greatest of prophets.  John is this uniquely charismatic figure drawing huge crowds from all over Jerusalem, Judea and the whole region around the Jordan.  He proclaims the coming Kingdom of God and he calls his listeners to repentance.  Almost as if to provide a contrast, the gospel brings the Pharisees and Sadducees into the picture.  They approach the baptism of John not as a true spirit of repentance but because it looks good before the crowd who they knew held John in high regard.  John’s eyes were on the promise of eternity and the mercy of God because he had caught the language of God while the eyes of these religious authorities were only on what looked good in the moment and what would seem pleasing to others.  John’s eyes were on the ever new possibility of the Kingdom of God precisely because he had caught the language of God. 

We could say that John already saw and set his life by the vision offered by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading (Is. 11:1-10).  John saw that day when the one would come on whom the spirit of the Lord would rest and who would judge rightly and who would strike the ruthless and bring forth justice and through whom the wolf and the lamb would be guest of one another.  In the Jordan River, John would baptize the one who is himself the incarnate Word of the Father. 

In Christ, the language of God is fully revealed and spoken and it overcomes all the sad divisions of our world.  Isaiah’s poetic use of imagery is all about the divisions and fears and animosities of life being overcome – “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors … the baby shall play by the cobras den …” – all this shall occur through Christ. 

And it continues through his body, the Church.  In Christ the role of the prophet is not ended, it is multiplied infinitely!  Through our baptisms we are all called to be prophets!  In the Eucharistic Prayer entitled, “Jesus, the Way to the Father” we find these words, “Grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel.” 

To be a prophet is not to somehow magically see into the future but to live in deep relationship with God and to read the signs of the times from that perspective.  The prophet learns the language of God fully revealed in Christ.  The prophet allows that language to change his or her own pattern of thought and the prophet lives by the ever new possibility of God’s Kingdom which says that all the sad divisions of our world and our individual lives can be healed and can be overcome.  

To learn a language changes the way we think.  The prophets caught the language of God, John learned it and even baptized the Word incarnate and, now, the Word is given and spoken to us. 

We can live differently.  We can live through the very Word given to us as God intends.

Christ the King and we, His people.


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christ-the-kingThis past week I was able to visit with a parishioner who, as a hobby, makes wine.  At one point during the visit he showed me the room with all his wine making equipment.  He took me to a table on which sat two large buckets.  He pulled off a cloth cover on each bucket and in one was a batch of blueberries fermenting and in the other were blackberries fermenting.  What I found interesting was that you could actually hear the fermenting process occurring as the juice was in the process of being changed into wine.  

In today’s second reading taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (Col. 1:12-20) we find Paul writing that, “(God the Father) delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  Paul then goes on to share a beautiful hymn which states that Christ is the “firstborn of all creation” and that now all things are held together in him!  We are part of the body of Christ and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God where Christ is our King!  Just as we have been transferred into the kingdom of the beloved Son, so are we meant to help transform our world and the times in which we find ourselves.  

If there is a king then there must be a kingdom and there must be subjects loyal to the king and the kingdom.  

As disciples of Christ in the world we live by a different norm, a different understanding than that which is often proclaimed in the world.  After all, our king hung on the cross, mocked by everyone and viewed as a total failure.  But Christ was obedient not to the world and it’s message of seeking self and power but to the will of the Father who says life is found in letting go of self and seeking to serve.  By following our king we are meant to be a leaven that transforms the world just as we, ourselves, are transformed.

Like many people I believe, I also have been disheartened by this recent election cycle.  I do not want to get into the two candidates.  The election is over and that is done.  What has disheartened me most is the vitriol, the divisiveness, the half-truths and even lies paraded as fact (by all sides) displayed during this election cycle.  This election has demonstrated to the whole world the division within our society.  The division is there and it is deep. 

What do we do as Church?  We seek to be what we have always been called to be – citizens of the Kingdom of Christ and by so doing be a leaven of unity within a divided and fractured world.  This is in our DNA as Catholics.  “Catholic” means universal – a universal where both uniqueness and communion is upheld.  It is possible to be pro-life and pro-woman.  It is possible to uphold the dignity of immigrants and refugees while also seeking the security of a nation.  It is possible to uphold the dignity of the poor and all races and seek to be good stewards of the creation God has given us while not demonizing other people.  Is this easy?  No, but it is possible.  It is not possible if we parade lies and half-truths as truth.  It is possible if we follow Christ our king and live as members of his kingdom in our world.

To the Hispanic and all immigrant members of our church – a special word.  I understand that there is fear and worry.  I do not know exactly what will happen.  What I do know are a couple of things.  The Church upholds the dignity of all persons and will always do so.  Second, no matter who sits in the White House or who controls the levers of power in Washington, D.C.; Christ is King and to him, first and foremost, is our allegiance due and it is through him that all men and women are delivered from darkness.

St. Paul reminds us and it rings through the ages, “(God the Father) delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  

“The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom!”  (Hymn from the Taize community)  Lord Jesus, you are our king!  May we be your loyal subjects and may we be a leaven of unity, justice, peace and joy in our world! 



That which endures


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church-destroyed-by-earthquakeScholars suggest that by the time Luke composed his gospel the temple had already been destroyed.  This grand edifice, seemingly unmovable, adorned with costly stones that people were admiring in this passage was, by the time of Luke setting quill to parchment, just a heap of ruins.  It demonstrates how quickly things can change and also how little we really know about what will happen tomorrow.  We like to think we are in charge … but we are not.

Using the temple’s destruction and our Lord’s prophesying of that even as a springboard; today’s gospel (Lk. 21:5-19) invites us to go deep in the spiritual life.

There are levels to the spiritual life.  Saints and mystics throughout the Church’s history testify to this.  The first level and most basic is a level often caught up with outer things.  The grandeur of a temple, the use of precious stones, only a certain style of music or liturgy in worship, only this type of devotional practice or prayer.  Is there a value to the beauty of a church or worship or prayer?  Certainly, that is not being denied but all of these exist in order to usher one into an encounter with the Divine.  If they themselves become the focus then something is off-kilter.  As a friend of mine once said, there is always the temptation to major in the minors.

We have all heard of the recent earthquakes that have hit Italy.  In one of these earthquakes a beautiful church connected to St. Benedict completed collapsed.  A picture I saw just had the front façade standing with all else behind it flattened out.  Miraculously no person was killed when this happened.  What I found inspiring was that as soon as the monks and nuns of the community whose church has been destroyed determined that everyone in their community was accounted for they went out into the larger area and began to minister to others in need – helping physically to dig people out of the rubble and also bringing the sacraments to people.  They did this because they were rooted in something deeper than a building (an external).

The deeper reality our Lord is inviting each of us to in the journey of faith is relationship with him.  There will be false predictions that the end is upon us, nation will rise against nation, and there will be earthquakes, famines, plagues and signs in the sky.  These are all shifts in the greater turning of human history but there will also be personal shifts and turmoil.  People will be led before kings, governors and all the different powers of the world and our lives.  Families will be split and there will not be understanding.  Christians will be hated.  Yet in the midst of all this foretold turmoil of the history of our world and our own personal histories, our Lord – the one who foretold the destruction of the temple – says this, “Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”  

“…for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking…”  The truth implied here in the midst of all the turmoils that this life brings is a living relationship with Christ.  Remaining on the level of the external spiritually – while not really knowing the Lord or allowing him to know us – will not cut it when life gets tumultuous.  In all seasons of life the Christian must root him or herself in relationship with Christ.  Only in this relationship can be found the wisdom and perseverance that we need in life.

Our Lord listened as people who had no idea of what tomorrow would bring spoke admiringly of the temple.  He asked them to move beyond the external to that which truly lasts.  He asks us to do the same – to trust in him and to find life.

Knowing who we are and knowing who God is.


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pharisee-tax-collector-blogThere are two things that the Pharisee in today’s gospel (Lk. 18:9-14) did not know – two things that kept him from entering into true relationship with God.  This man, who prided himself on his religious observance and his fulfillment of his commitments in life, neither knew himself nor did he really know God.  The tax collector, on the other hand,  knew both and he went home justified.

There are two little short stories to share that can draw this out.  The first story is about an elderly, retired priest who was absolutely venerated in his small town for his kindness and holiness.  The priest was a member of the local Rotary club and he never missed a meeting.  Well, one day he did not show for the monthly meeting and he even seemed to disappear for a while.  No one knew where he was.  The next month there he was at the meeting again.  “Father, where have you been?” people asked.  “Well,” the priest responded in an embarrassed way, “I just finished serving a thirty day prison sentence.”  “What?  You wouldn’t hurt a fly!  What happened?”  “The story is complicated but to sum it up; I had bought a train ticket into the city.  I was standing on the platform when this stunningly beautiful woman appeared on the arm of a cop.  The woman looked at me and then turned to the cop and said, “He did it!  I’m certain he is the one who did it!”  Well, to tell the truth, I was so mesmerized and flattered, I pleaded guilty.”

There is a touch of vanity in the holiest men and women and they see no reason to deny it.  When we are honest we must admit that we are indeed a bundle of paradoxes: we believe and we doubt, we hope and are discouraged, we love and we hate, we are honest and we play games.  Honesty requires that we admit the dark as well as the light within ourselves (and the saints teach us how to laugh about what we find).  The Pharisee lacked this depth of honesty.  The tax collector, on the other hand, truly knew who he was – a man who had nothing to fall back on other than God’s mercy.

The second story witnesses to God and our ability to trust.  A two-story home catches on fire.  The father, mother and several children are rushing out when the smallest child becomes separated, gets frightened and rushes back upstairs.  The small child appears in a smoke-filled window crying.  The father shouts, “Jump son!  Jump!  I will catch you!”  The boy responds, “But I cannot see you!”  To which the father answers, “I know.  I know, but I can see you!”  The Pharisee, so focused on his own righteousness could not bring himself to jump.  He returns home not justified.  The tax collector, with head bowed, beating his breast, knowing himself a sinner and trusting in the goodness of God was able to jump into the mercy of God.  The tax collector returns home justified.

Thomas Merton once remarked that a saint is not someone who is good but someone who experiences the goodness of God.  Someone who knows who he or she is and who also knows who God is.

A God and a community who seek out


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good-shepherdOne of the truths revealed in today’s gospel (Lk. 15:1-10) is that our God is not a God content to let people remain anonymous.  The shepherd goes out in search of the lost sheep because that one sheep truly matters to him.  The woman turns the house over searching for the lost coin because that coin is of real concern to her.  We are of concern to God.  We are not alone in a vast universe governed by random chance.  We do not have a God who does not care.  God is willing to seek each one of us out, willing to even enter the darkness of sin and death, to find us and then rejoice in the finding!

But this truth also applies to us who are called to be God’s people in our world.  The Christian community is not meant to be an anonymous collection of individuals made up of people without names and without love – separate and alone.  Because we have been loved by God and sought out by God we must, in turn, strive to love as God loves and seek out as God seeks out.  The community Jesus calls us to is not one of anonymous and separate persons but of brothers and sisters who know each other by name.  Friendship and care must be at the heart of the Christian community but it needs to be noted that this friendship is not of our own doing or crafting.  The friendship of the Christian community flows out of Jesus’ own call to his disciples and obedience to his Word.  The origin of friendship in the Christian community is in God himself.  This is a great mystery and it is a mystery we are called to live and it is a mystery we proclaim in front of a world that seems so intent on reducing the full dignity of the human person to just a caricature of the anonymous individual.

Every person has a name.  Every person has a worth.  Every person is valued and sought out by God.  No one is left behind.  We need to live this friendship of Christ as Church and, by so doing, witness to our world.  For a Christian community to have the most beautiful sanctuary or the most active list of ministries without this friendship that seeks out is (to paraphrase St. Paul and our Lord himself) to be just a noisy gong, a clashing cymbal and even a whitewashed tomb.  No life is ultimately produced.

The identity of the Church is not found by remaining within but is realized in mission.  It has been this way from the very beginning with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the call to proclaim the good news to the ends of the world!  We each have a name given by God and a task given by God, we only become who we are meant to be as we live the task we have been given.  The Christian community only becomes who she is meant to be when she lives the friendship she has been given by Christ.

This friendship begins within the Christian community herself and then it goes out into the world.  We must seek out one another.  We must be of concern to one another.  In order to be true to the gift that we were given (meaning being sought out by God himself), we cannot remain content in just being a collection of anonymous individuals.  When we meet one another in the friendship of Christ we learn we can even look out on the multitudes of our world and see not just anonymous individuals who threaten my space and my freedom but brothers and sisters and the multitudes of people who are alone and suffering learn that they are in fact not alone and that there is a God and a people who seek to care and who seek to know their name.