Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Saint Michael's Lent. Who is with me?

August 16, 2017

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 415

DT 34:1-12

PS 66:1-3A, 5 AND 8, 16-17

MT 18:15-20

It often seems like we are getting nowhere in this world, especially when it comes to making it a better place.  Our society has become rampant with hedonism and sinfulness.   Many Christians cannot be distinguished from those who live around them by word or deed.  As a vegan and environmentalist, I find it even more discouraging to see how we treat this beautiful creation that we have been given stewardship over.  When I see someone who lives a life filled with all those things which God has said we should give up, and they seem to be thriving?  Their health is seemingly intact, though one cannot know what is going on under the hood.  They seem to have comfort, friends, and enjoyment.  Sometimes it makes me think, why bother?  Why should I do all of this?  

Imagine how Moses felt standing on that mountain looking into the promised land.  Here is a man who had worked so hard to bring about the plan.   He went out of his comfort zone into the realm of the enemy, performing miracles and leading his people.  Overwhelmed with all of the work he had he often wondered why God had put such a burden on his shoulders.  Then he would only get to look at the promise but never set foot on the land given to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  That’s hard, isn’t it?   Abraham himself died only owning a small parcel of land unable to see the fulfillment of his promise.  The one thing both had, was trust in God and I believe a glimpse of what is to come.

That is what keeps me going.  A glimpse here or there.  Last night as we gathered around the altar to Worship God at Saint Catherine’s Church, I saw another glimpse of that future.  Here were men and women of every heritage.   A polish priest, a Hispanic sacristan, an Irish extraordinary minister, a man with a strong native American heritage, a woman with a southern twang, and an array of skin tones from light to dark.  All gathered together in song, listening to the Word of God, breaking it open together, and feasting at the common table in which God provides us the true manna from Heaven, Jesus Christ himself.  

In this world where the devil seeks to divide men from one another on any ground that he can, it’s more important than ever to seek unity.   To realize that we are all made in the image of God and that we should always seek peace and reconciliation.  In Matthew's Gospel, he gives a quick outline of how the Matthean community should respond to conflict.   Privately at first.  If that doesn’t work, take a couple holy men and women with you to talk it out.  Are you still unable to work things out?  Go to the Church, ask them to help arbitrate matters.   What do we Christians do then?  We have to do what is for the good of both people, separate until reconciliation can happen authentically.  Sometimes forgiveness takes time.  

Yesterday began the first day of St. Michael’s Lent.  This is an older devotion that involves fasting from August 15th to September 29th.  It begins with a day devoted to Mary, the perfect disciple of Christ.   It ends with a feast of Michael the Archangel, whose name means “Who is like God.”   It’s an opportunity for us to choose to add something to our life or give up something that is standing in the way of that realized dream that we glimpse at Mass.  I started a few days ago in order to get in some serious prayer and fasting for a friend who is having surgery.   Today I recommit to that.  How about you?  Will you join my wife and I as we pray and fast for this country?  For our Parish?  For our families?  Our friends?  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Hail Mary, full of grace (Luke 1:28)

August 15, 2017

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary -

Mass during the Day

Lectionary: 622

RV 11:19A; 12:1-6A, 10AB

PS 45:10, 11, 12, 16

1 COR 15:20-27

LK 1:39-56

My grandfather used to stop by our house every day as he came home from his long shift at work.  During that visit, he would pull out a candy bar or cake that he had left over from his lunch.  I learned many years later that he didn’t actually have left over food, but would stop and charge the candy at the company store so that he would have some treat to give us.  I don’t remember it very well, mostly through the stories that I’ve been told.  I do remember though the excitement of knowing he was coming.   Not just because I would receive a treat, but because he had promised.  I knew he would be there and that it would be fun.  It always was.

That’s excitement, that palpitation is how we should feel on this Feast day.  The Church has made it a Holy Day of Obligation for a good reason!  The very nature of this solemnity declares one of God’s promises to each of us, that of eternal life.   In the life of Mary, we see a person who has given herself completely to God’s plan.   A woman who said yes to every detail and gave her very body to Him to form in it the body of Jesus Christ.  We find her at the conception, the birth (logically), the presentation.   The one who nursed the child as he grew.   The one who comforted him as he learned to walk, with all it’s bumps, scrapes, and bruises.  A catechist who taught the faith, fed and clothed him.  Walking along the way in silent witness to the crucifixion and stood at the foot of the cross when most others had run the other way.  In the upper room at Pentecost and likely a fixture in the lives of the disciples, especially John.

Why is this feast so important?  Because it outlines for us the kind of life we too should live.  If Mary was not assumed?  What hope have we?   The Scriptures themselves reveal to us that she is to be called blessed for all eternity (see Luke 1:48.)  From this section of Luke, we get two of our very prominent prayers: the Hail Mary, and the Magnificat.  One is a prayer that reminds us of the greeting of Elizabeth, the other a prayer that reminds us of the response of Mary to her situation.  This feast reminds us to look at all of her life and especially the end of it.  

Did Mary die? That’s something that you’ll find people arguing over.   To me, it doesn’t matter.  Did she fall asleep?  The Dormition?  All of those details are much less important to me than what we see happened after “she completed the course of her life.”  Even the book of Revelation when speaking of Mary, giving us a glimpse of her as the Ark of the New Covenant, speaks of her being swept up into Heaven after a long period of time.  Rightly so.   If the woman who bore Christ into the world in a physical way did not receive the reward at the end of the race, what hope have we?  We who imperfectly try to do the same on a spiritual level and fail so miserably.  That is why to me the argument over exactly how it happened is much less exciting than the discussion over the fact it did happen!  

That is what I think this feast is about in fact.  A feast that should eradicate the fear of death from every faithful believer.  One that should remind us to be more like Mary, one who lived out the life of a disciple in the most perfect way possible.  To be like Mary at the Annunciation, giving a perfect yes to God to help bring Christ into the world.   Again, as Mary did, carrying Christ inside of us after receiving Him and bringing Him to the world.  Giving birth to Christ in our actions, thoughts, and words.   Then following Jesus ardently in the other, helping him up when he falls, cleaning his cuts and bruises, and feeding him when he is hungry.  Journeying with him at the end of his life as he carries his cross, and being there to comfort him at his death, no matter how hard it is to watch, even if it seemed a sword where piercing our chest.

I think then today is a perfect opportunity to meditate on that simple prayer that comes directly from the Gospel of Luke and ask ourselves, what does it mean to me.  Have I made Mary a part of my life?  Have I, the disciple standing at the foot of the cross, invited her into my home as instructed by Jesus himself?  Have I failed to journey with the sick, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the dying?  Do I look for Jesus in them and accompany them as they carry their own cross?  Do I look with excitement, like a child waiting for his grandfather to visit with candy, for the end of my own life?  For the Mass?  For Jesus in the Eucharist? In the Confessional? May I pray the following words with that in mind as I ask Mary to pray for me to be strengthened to live a life of true discipleship and to “do whatever He tells me.”

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.   Amen.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Whose side are you on?

August 14, 2017

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Lectionary: 413

DT 10:12-22

PS 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20

MT 17:22-27

During this time of extreme tension in our world politically and socially, perhaps no other martyr’s feast day could be more apropos than that of St. Maximilian Kolbe.  Maximilian was a priest who became a prisoner in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz during the war.  At one point a prisoner escaped which infuriated the guards.  In response, they declared that ten other men would be starved to death to prevent others from doing the same.  During the process of choosing one man fell to his knees begging the guard to let him live.  This man had five children.  Who would take care of them?  Help them live through this?  Maximilian stepped forward and offered himself in the place of that man.  

Many days later all of the prisoners had died except Father Kolbe.  Eventually, the Nazis tired of his longevity and put him to death using chemicals in a syringe.  Saint Maximilian Kolbe embodies everything that we need in this world right now.  He reminds us of exactly what the cruelty of racism can do to an entire people.  The Nazis are the epitome of racism.  Even in the face of that hatred, in the darkest of all places, Saint Kolbe stepped forward to be a light.  He showed that the life of a Catholic involves dying to self and helping others to live.  In the first reading, the Sacred Scriptures remind us that God does not have favorites.  He cannot be bribed.   He loves all people.  Especially though, the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens.  

Like Maximilian, our goal as Catholics should be to bring life.  You and I are likely not going to have the opportunity to martyr ourselves in a concentration camp somewhere.  Yet, can we not learn from the same lesson?   Can we not learn to die spiritually to our own wants and needs to bring about the good for another?  To lead them to eternal life even if it costs us the pleasures and comforts of our own dreams and desires? In a world that is hurting, pointing blame at so many others, we have a special calling to be there to help alleviate that suffering.  That might be as simple as stopping to listen instead of replying with a harsh word.  Avoiding defending the right of some to do what they have done, instead of comforting the one who was hurt by it.  Reaching out, most especially the immigrants in our midst and being there to help them get on their feet.

Jesus in the Gospel points out that He has no reason, nor does Peter, to pay the tax.  They are exempt from it as part of who they are.  Yet, because they do not want others to believe they are against the temple, they will pay it immediately.  I think this reminds us too that sometimes we have to swallow our own pride.  That yes, there are times we don’t owe it to another to apologize, especially for something that we didn’t do.  Should we apologize for something that occurred decades or centuries ago?  If it will prevent a scandal and help others to draw closer to God?  Yes.   Apologize away.  Swallow your pride.  Love the other, and help heal the broken bonds of humanity that lead us to such places.  There is no place for racism in the Church.  Nor for hatred of the poor or the need to serve them.   

St. Augustine said that one of the primary rules for interpreting scripture is this:  Let Go and love your neighbor.   If you read it and get something else?  If it leads you to hate someone or some kind of person?  You read it wrong.  That is so important for us in learning to be like Saint Maximilian, ready to give up our own life, our own wants and needs, that someone else might be brought to life.  Like Mary at the wedding of Cana who declared “Do whatever he tells you,” we too should be simply signposts that point to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Where Was God in Charlottesville, VA?

August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 115

1 KGS 19:9A, 11-13A

PS 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14

ROM 9:1-5

MT 14:22-33

When Moses first encountered God it was in the crackling fire of a burning shrub somewhere in the mountains of the desert.  Later the Israelites would watch in awe and wonder as miracles were performed in their midst, water was transformed into blood, and the sea itself was parted to make way for the passing of the chosen ones.  Lightning, thunder, clouds and even trumpets heralded the theophany from the mountain where God gave them the commandments.  The prophets of Baal saw fire rain down from heaven at the prayers of a prophet, and in today’s reading, we see God appearing in the gentle whisper on the wind.  Again in the Gospel, we see Jesus appearing in the midst of the tumult of a terrifying storm only to calm the winds and comfort his followers.

In the Sacred Scriptures, we find an amazing thing about God.   He is present in so many ways, no matter where you find yourself.  Whether you are in bondage and slavery, free and wandering, or settled down for a rest at night.  G.K. Chesterton used the analogy from a poet to refer to it as the hound of heaven.  God’s presence calls to us in every event, even ones we don’t want to be a part of.  That is not to say that God wills bad things to happen, heaven forbid.   What it does mean is that even in the most horrible of circumstances, we can find God working to bring good out of them.   The difference in permissive and perfect will.  He permits things to happen, but He doesn’t always desire them to.

As we watch the news right now about Charlottesville, Virginia we see people behaving in such reprehensible ways.  Racism being disguised under the very thin veil of nationalism.  Hatred from both sides of the aisle.   What amazes me, even more, is the amount of blame going around.  Not just blaming, but almost a sense of justification coming from people who claim to be Christian.   “If the white racists didn’t rally none of this would happen!”  “If the Democrats hadn’t used such hateful rhetoric and stirred up the pot, it would have been a peaceful protest!”  “How dare they take away their heritage and tradition!"  "If the statues had been left alone, no one would have died.”  

How do we find God in such times?  There are so many waves rocking the boat.  The internet inundates us with so vast an amount of information that it’s hard to know what is the truth and what is a slant.  News articles that should be “just the facts ma’am,” are filled with political commentary and personal bias.  It becomes so difficult to discern truth in a time where hate seems to be flowing freely from both sides of the aisle.  The emotional turmoil that people are experiencing is real and should not be discounted.   Satan has long used fear to control the masses and in this case, it has worked exceptionally well.  Fear of our own safety, the safety of our children, having the money to feed our families, of encroaching ideologies that are different than our own.

Like Elijah on the mountain, we have to take our time listening and watching to find God’s hand.  His hand was not behind the wheel of the car that mowed down those poor people.  Nor was his hand guiding that helicopter to the ground.  None of that was part of God’s plan.  All of those events were the direct result of our own free will.  Our choices.  God lets us have free will in this world that we might choose to love.   Forced love isn't loved.   When we choose to love, with some sacrifice involved, it begins to look like true love.

Jesus met the disciples exactly where their fear was.  They were in the boat looking around at all the things that threatened to harm them.   The waves of hatred, the winds of pain and indignation, the waters of political correctness that sought to swallow their identities.   All of these things were seeking to draw them away from God, away from what Christ offered in the incarnation.  Jesus says to them “take courage.”   That word in Greek has a connotation of being joyful!  Be of good cheer!  Be happy!  It is I.    Do we realize why we should be happy?  The Incarnation is the key to understanding all of it.

It is of God becoming a man that we find a return to what Adam and Eve had in the garden.   They walked face to face with God.  They were able to see the beatific vision, to experience what we will experience fully in heaven.  God wants us to return to that.  To the place where joy reigns supreme.  All of these distractions in this world are trying to bring us away from that joy, to bring us to despair, to make us ask questions like “If no one else is doing it why should I bother?”  “Look at all those people doing the wrong thing, and how great their lives are!  Why should I fast and spend so much time at church?”  Because what God offers is so much greater than any temporal pleasure we can have here in this life.

Again, how do we find God in the darkness of a world torn by political intrigue, racism, and violence?  By looking for Him.  Starting with ourselves, we begin to work on who we are.  We become the change we want to see in the world.   Then we look each other in the eye, looking for the image of God that is in that other person.  The image that is present regardless of age, gender, working class, or skin color.  We listen to their story, their pain, their angst, and we attempt to understand.  We look for Jesus in them and try to show them Jesus in us.  Not rejecting their experience as invalid because it doesn’t match our own, but instead realizing that what Jesus did in dying for us on the cross was to offer a unity to all of humanity, in all of its shapes, forms, and rainbows of colors.

Pray for those hurt.   Pray for those who did the hurting.   Pray for those who do not have the ability to tell their story without anger.  Give your time to someone today when they need it.  Offer yourself as a sacrifice, forgetting your problems and needs and simply being there.  Listen to them, not listening to just find a time to speak of your own story, but listening to just hear theirs.  Realize that the humanity that is in them, regardless of how they treat it, is the same humanity that Jesus took upon himself in the incarnation.  The same humanity that He still possesses today in Heaven.  

That’s what it means to be the body of Christ.  We are bad to set up borders of them vs us.  The media in this country want that border to grow because it gives them ratings.  They aren’t interested in calming things down for the most part.  And yes, there are some in power who use their position to make inflammatory statements that don’t help the matter.  That’s on both sides of the aisle!  What we should agree with as Christians is that as members of Christ’s body, racism cannot be part of our lives.  Patriotism is a good thing when done properly.  Nationalism is a dangerous ideology, one that allows a nation to do whatever it wants regardless of who it hurts.  I am a patriot.  I want the best for my country, and that means the best for every person in it.  Not just the ones who look, act, and talk like me… but every person.

Above and beyond that, I am a Catholic first and foremost.  That means I am a Christian who believes that every human on this planet is infinitely valuable.  That the world doesn’t belong to you or me but is a gift from God that He gave us to be stewards of.  I also believe that one day each and every one of us will have to answer for every idle word that we say, every harmful and hurtful comment that we post, whether anonymously or not.   That you, every single one of you, is worth me giving up my time and my own pleasure to just get to know.  I also believe that as Scripture says so many, many times… the Kingdom of God is one of peace, not violence.   

We get the example from Christ himself on the cross of how the justice of divinity works.  Where as I, in my anger, might view justice often as someone being put in prison or murdered, Christ gives us a vision where true justice is self-sacrifice.   Today’s Psalm says “Kindness and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed.”  What a beautiful image that is, yes?  Are we ready to bring that into the world with us?  A place where justice and peace go hand in hand?  Where kindness and truth are both able to be done at the same time?  Where truth springs forth from the earth itself and justice shine down from heaven?   We have work to do Church, and it starts with our own hearts.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Those times when you only see one footprint....

August 11, 2017

Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin

Lectionary: 411

DT 4:32-40

PS 77:12-13, 14-15, 16 AND 21

MT 16:24-28

One of the things that drew me towards the Catholic faith, and trust me there were many, many things, was the beauty of the story of Saint Francis of Assisi.  One night I sat down to watch the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon.”  I wasn’t surprised when I saw the men flocking to this itinerant beggar who had in such a dramatic way left behind everything and everyone in his life to dedicate himself to Christ and His Church.   When he stripped down naked before the bishop, declaring that from now on his only father was the Father in heaven, I was maybe even a little choked up.  Then came on the screen a gorgeous actress(I may have even had a little bit of a crush on her!), playing the humble and meek Clare of Assisi.  The beauty of her chaste relationship with Francis and her desire to love God entirely was something that moved and stirred in my soul.  Francis walked in the footsteps of the Master.  Clare followed his examples to walk in the same path.  Then here was I, a most imperfect man, wanting to do the same.

In our age of rationalism and scientism, we often try to dismiss God from our daily lives.  We push him to the side and forget the witness of untold generations of men and women to the miracles in their lives.  We believe that we know better than those uneducated and ignorant men and women who came before us, who comprise 98% of all the humans who ever lived.  There is one thing though that never fails to attract.  Authentic witness.  The reason so many flocked to Francis at that time was not from miracles, comfort, or even style.  It was because he lived a life of poverty and tried to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.  A saying often attributed to Gandhi goes something like "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

That is a powerful reminder to us today to remember who we are called to be.  St. James (James 2:15-18) reminded us time and again in his letters that just praying for others in their time of need is not enough.   We must be willing to give them what they need as well.  “Be well and warm!”  How useless is that to the man who is freezing as we walk away in our double coats.   There are many who say the church is shrinking, that people are leaving in droves... And maybe they are.  There are those who argue it is a good thing and others who claim it is a travesty.  The answer to both situations?  To be authentic Catholics.   To take one step at a time, on the very tracks that Christ has walked before us.  In each difficult circumstance, to carry our cross with dignity even when we are given nothing but insult and ignominy.

My grandmother had one of those footprints in the sand posters in her living room while I was growing up.   I think everyone has heard or seen it by now.  It goes on to say that there were two footsteps in the sand when you walked side by side and only one when Christ carried you.  I think an even more appropriate image of discipleship is for there to only ever be one set of footsteps… Christs with ours inside of them.   Just like my daughter used to put her feet on mine and make me walk around, sometimes we just gotta put our feet on Christ’s and go where he goes.    When she was just a baby and it snowed, she would follow right behind me.   That way she never had to step in the snow, just in the impressions that I had already made.  We too need to learn that lesson.   Then to be like Saints Francis and Clare, and live an authentic Christian life that will draw others to it… not because of anything we did, but because of everything He has already done.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Not like this.

August 10, 2017

Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

Lectionary: 618

2 COR 9:6-10

PS 112:1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9

JN 12:24-26

Yesterday was the anniversary of the dropping of the Fat Man on the Japanese city, Nagasaki.   Estimates as high as 80,000 deaths in the immediate fallout and the first three or four months of radiation poisoning and injuries. With everything going on in the news involving North Korea, I find it interesting that very few took the time to remember this horrific event.  We could spend all day discussing whether it was a necessary evil, or if lives were actually saved in the process by preventing an all out war, but I don’t think anyone would simply ignore a very large number of lives (many of them innocent) were snuffed out in this one moment in time.  

As I was sitting in the doctor’s office today waiting to be taken in for some blood work, I listened almost in horror to a conversation going on around me.  People were talking about how they thought President Trump should handle this North Korean crisis.  The overwhelming majority seemed to think he should just get as big a bomb as he can and wipe them off the face of the Earth.  Not just the dictator in charge, but even the women and children, regardless of who they are.  This is the world we live in.  Between the violent nature of our television shows, the plethora of video games that involve killing and murdering for sport, and the exceptionalism that runs rampant in our country, we have created a volatile situation where people can sit and have a casual discussion about wiping out an entire country (25+ million lives.)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not for ourselves that we are to live as Christians.  We are to be like the wheat that dies, sowing our own lives that others might live abundantly.  When we give freely of our time, talents, and treasures; we live an abundant life.  The life we were designed to live.  One of joy and contentment.  When we cling to what we have selfishly, to the point of being willing to kill those who have even less, just so that we can feel safe?  I don’t think that is in the heart of the gospel at all.  He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.  Why do we in many cases only see the poor as the ones who are our allies?  The ones who live around us or can give us something back?

I heard a man once tell his children that you only give money to those who can give you something back.  That when it comes to the poor on the streets, only those who are going to do a dance or play a song, or wash your windshield deserve to eat.  Those who cannot give you anything, he declared them unworthy of his hard earned money.  How happy I am that Jesus didn’t feel that way.   Why?  Because I didn’t do anything to earn His grace.  I can’t do a song that he didn’t inspire.  I can’t dance a dance without using the feet God gave me.  I have nothing to earn anything He has to give, and He would never charge for it anyway.  

Something does need to be done about this situation in Korea and the dictator in charge.  What?  I don’t know.  I am not a strategist or an analyst.   I am just a man who knows that his heart is heavy to think of murdering millions.   To think of men, women, and children; ones who had no choice in what country they were born, and in many cases no ability to leave, being killed along with those in charge.  All to make me feel safe.  All for my comfort.  Do I want to be safe?  Yes.  I want to feel safe in my own home. I don’t want to even start thinking about what a nuclear war would bring to this world.   But as one of my favorite lines in the Matrix goes, “Not like this, no not like this.”

When Saint Lawrence was told to bring all of his riches before the government and turn them over, he asked for a few days to prepare.   He then went out and sold everything the young church had to its name.  Then all money he gave to the poor, widows, and orphans.  He then returned to the Emperor with a cadre of the indigent and declared when asked where the riches were replied: “Right here.”  The riches of the church are in the outcast, the poor.   We should never forget that.  

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Scraps of the Masters Table

August 9, 2017

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 409

NM 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26A-29A, 34-35

PS 106:6-7AB, 13-14, 21-22, 23

MT 15: 21-28

There is this woman that I know who has been through a very abusive relationship.  Though it’s been over a decade since she was married to that man, anytime he is around she turns into someone I’ve never met.  This bold and outspoken woman becomes a mouse, unsure of herself and almost afraid to speak.  Just the presence of that person is enough to introduce doubt and fear.  It is as if she forgets exactly who she is.  No amount of reminding seems to be enough.  It is an internal struggle that begins in a place that no one else can see.  A place where one has to remind themselves of who they truly are, who God created them to be.

The Israelites in the desert were much like this in today’s readings.  The same people who had witnessed the many signs of God in Egypt now stood on the precipice of the promise.   Looking from the desert in which they had been traveling into the land of milk and honey must have been a difficult and enticing site.   Waiting for the scouts they had sent in to return with news as to what lay ahead would have been nerve racking.  The anticipation and excitement must have grown from day to day.   Then it happened.   Some of the men who came back began to sow doubt and fear.   They forgot who they were.  It spread.  Like a disease, one by one the people began to doubt and question who God was.   No longer did the column of fire or the splitting of the sea remind them of his protection, but the obstacles to claiming the new land had become too great.  The army of Israel had become a flea circus.

In the Gospel, we see the opposite.  We see a woman who does not forget who she is.  In all humility, she agrees that she is an outsider.  When Jesus compares her to a dog, she doesn’t deny but embraces the symbol.   She begs for the scraps at the table.  That is the key to the Christian life.  Humility.  Meekness.   Being meek doesn’t mean that you are weak.   On the contrary, it means you know exactly who you are.  You know not only your weak points but also your strengths.   You don’t hide what you are good at, but you also don’t brag about it.  Above all, you realize that it is God who provides and not you alone.  Yes, you must work.   You must march into the land that God has promised, but not trust in your own abilities alone.  This spiritual battle we are in is one we will lose if we begin to say “God I got this. I don’t need you anymore.”   The giants in the realm of demons are so far beyond our imagination that it would make the giants in Canaan seem fleas.

There is one more thing that I think these readings remind us to keep in mind.  Not only do we have a tendency to forget who we are, we have a propensity to forget who other people are.  In our zeal to live a happy life, we can often see other people as the inhabitants of the land of milk and honey.   Instead of seeing them as images of God, we see them as obstacles to our needs and desires.  Those who are different than us become the object of ridicule.  Them. The other.  They.  Like the disciples, instead of mercy, we begin to say “send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”   How often do we turn strong, beautiful men and women into hesitant, fearful mice?  How often have we ourselves created the same situation where someone else forgets who they are?  I think that is our challenge today, to build up others.  To remember that we too are not worthy of the scraps we have received from the Master's table and that the scraps are so plentiful that we will never run out when we share them with others.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Sibling Rivalry

August 8, 2017

Memorial of Saint Dominic, Priest

Lectionary: 408

NM 12:1-13

PS 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 6CD-7, 12-13

MT 14:22-36

Growing up my brother and I, like almost all siblings, had our share of “I told you so moments.”  As the younger child, I was often the one left supervised by the eldest.  One of the most dreaded things to hear come out of his mouth was “Wait till mom and dad get home.”   That meant that I had done something (or had not done something) that he felt I should have been doing.   In today’s modern times that hasn’t changed much, except now with instant, portable communication my kids don’t have to wait for us to get home.  We instead get phone calls or text messages saying “so and so isn’t cleaning.”  Or “so and so won’t give me back my stuff.”

In the first reading, we see the ultimate opportunity for an I told you so moment.  Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are brothers and sisters.   Moses has been chosen by God to be His mouthpiece.  Aaron and Miriam start to be a little jealous of that and seem to want some of that glory for themselves.   In the process, they begin to complain against Moses and against God.  God appears in a dramatic fashion and punishes Miriam for her role in the mutiny.  There she stands before Moses punished for speaking out against him, and instead of the reaction many of us would have, Moses immediately begins to pray for his sister to be cured.  God cures her and things go back to their normal, everyday life.  

That’s one of the interesting things about the readings today.  As I was watching the news yesterday, I saw a story about a Priest in Africa who has left the Catholic church.  He isn’t just any priest, but a very prominent, celebrity type persona.  In his statement as to why he left, he kept saying things that indicated he didn’t understand Catholic teaching.  All the things he said he believed about God were already the teachings of our Church.  I think the thing he missed the most was the fact that God established it.  How often, like Aaron and Miriam, do we begin to tell God “If I were in charge I’d run it this way.”  “If it were up to me, there would be none of that and more of this!”  God established a Church on the foundation of the one disciple who had enough courage to get out of the boat.

Most theologians would agree that the boat in the story represents the Church.  When the storms begin to rock the Church, our best bet is to be like Peter keeping our eyes on Jesus.  The waves can beat on the bow, and the winds can blow across the sail, but only Jesus can help us walk across the turbulent waters of the world.  Water often represents sin.  Peter was fine as long as he was watching Jesus when he instead began to focus on the world around him, he fell into the water.   Jesus pulled him out and sat him back on solid ground.  The water didn’t change, but Jesus kept him above it, out of it.  Like the Priest who left the Church, we have to be careful where we get our spiritual direction from.  Our eyes should be on Jesus, as He revealed it and chose to do so, through His church.  

Our Saint for today knew that with all his heart.  Saint Dominic knew that people needed to find out what authentic Catholic teaching was.   So he established the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.  They were set about on the task of teaching, and have greatly influenced our theological thought and practices throughout the years.  He didn’t do this by going outside of the Church as do some but instead sought to reform and grow with the Church.  Not trying to change who was in charge, like Aaron and Miriam, but instead following the appointed head of the Church, the see of St. Peter.

He also gave to us one of the most powerful tools we can use to grow closer to Jesus and further understand who Jesus is.  Mary revealed to St. Dominic the devotion that we now know as the Rosary.   It wasn’t a new concept.   People had been praying all the Psalms, or simply meditating on the name of Jesus with 150 beads.  What this did was change our focus and help us to use common and popular prayers to meditate on the life of Christ.   That is the true purpose of the rosary.  We aren’t to sit there simply saying the same words over and over.  Rather, we should be thinking about what each mystery means.  Who it tells us we are, who it tells us Jesus is, and what example of discipleship can we learn from Mary and the Saints.  

Mary always leads us closer to Jesus.  She never points to herself or asks for worship. Rather she tells us to follow the established teachings of the Church.  The Rosary, while it is indeed a devotion to the Blessed Virgin, is not a prayer that so much lifts her up, as reveals to us who Jesus is in light of the events that lead to the Incarnation, the Nativity, the death and resurrection of Christ.  It also helps us more understand the promise to each of us, that if we keep Jesus at the center of our lives, we too can hope to be brought to eternal life and through His sacrifice united with our own, we can win the race and merit a crown in heaven.  

If you haven’t prayed a rosary in a long time, take some time today to truly pray the mysteries and to allow God to speak to you through it.  Above all, learn to trust that the Holy Spirit knows what He is doing through the Church.  The Scriptures say that the gates of hell will not prevail against her.  Do we truly believe that?   If we do, then when we start to doubt some teaching or find difficulty in our understanding of it, instead of walking away… find the answers.  Learn the truth of what the Church teaches and why, and above all, keep your eyes on Christ that He may lead you through the storms of this life to safety.  Worry less about the waves and more about His outstretched arms.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The man in the flood

August 7, 2017

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 407

NM 11:4B-15

PS 81:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

MT 14:13-21

There is an amusing story about a man who wanted God to save him from a flood.   In the story (link here) God keeps sending people to save the man.  A group of neighbors in a car, a boat after the flood, a helicopter as the house began to be submerged.  Every time that they offered to help him the man said: “God will save me.”  Then after drowning in the rising water the man demands of God, why didn’t you help me? I asked you to save me and you let me die!  To which of course God replies “Son, I sent you a warning. I sent you a car. I sent you a canoe. I sent you a motorboat. I sent you a helicopter. What more were you looking for?”

The Israelites had been freed physically from slavery but they were still slaves in their minds.   Here they were in the desert heading to the promised land and God was feeding them with mana every single morning.  They asked for food and he had provided it.  Then they sat grumbling because they didn’t have the same luxuries and comforts they had when in Egypt.  They weren’t doing anything about it themselves either.  It wasn’t a problem they wanted meat, it was that they weren’t doing any work for it.  They were relying on God to give them what they wanted instead of working to get something themselves.  

Often we think of the problems of the world in the same way.  We begin to pray for another feeding of the loaves in the desert or mana from heaven, without stepping out of our comfort zone and being the hands and feet of Christ.  Like the Israelites in the desert, we are still trapped in a helpless state, on the roof of a sinking house wondering where God is.  We ourselves need to get in the car, the boat, the helicopter and go find those in need and help them.   St. James says in his epistle that it’s worthless to only offer a prayer for the man who is starving and cold, pray and help him.  Give him food, a cloak, a warm drink.  Then point him to the man who can feed him both physically and spiritually, Jesus Christ.  

The problem in our world is not that there isn’t enough food to go around.  We grow enough food crops for livestock production alone in the U.S. to feed every mouth.  What the problem is, is our hearts are still enslaved in our own Egypt.  We want our cheap burgers, our expensive lattes, and our big screen T.V.s.  Yes, those things are nice.  They are also much like the fleshpots and fresh vegetables in Egypt.  They draw us back time and time again, and no I am not saying that life can’t have pleasures.   What I am saying is that this statement here really changed my life:  I thought about asking God why he isn’t doing something about all the problems in the world, but I was afraid He might respond, “Why aren’t you?”