A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Friday, July 31, 2009

"Celebrate with a sacred assembly"

Leviticus, from which today's first reading comes (23:1, 4-11, 15-16, 27, 34b-37), is not the most interesting book of the Bible for modern readers, but in the midst of these repetitive sounding details of rituals and calendars there are some things which are easier to appreciate.

One point that is repeated in this reading is the important of celebrating "with a sacred assembly." This reminds us that the worship of God is not meant to be an entirely individualistic activity: we must gather together. That is why we have Church: as an entity and an activity.

Another point that is repeated is not doing work on the days of celebration. Sadly, this concept has been largely destroyed in the modern world. Sundays and holidays are bigger days of work than ever for many.

No matter what our work obligations may be, however, a key aspect that must be retained in the importance of focus during time of sacred celebration: not just keeping "Christ in Christmas" or going to Church on Thanksgiving, but even when we are at Church to keep our focus on the Word and the worship of God, rather than the social and aesthetical elements of our gatherings.

Come, let us worship the Lord.


Iñigo had been religious as a small boy, but he was soon sucked into the sordid lifestyle that surrounded him.

In his twenties, he turned his life around: joining the army and embracing its discipline and stoicism.

Then Iñigo was severely wounded in battle and captured. The medical treatment he received was primitive to the point of brutality and he was confined to bed for months.

Bored and seeking distraction from his pain, Iñigo asked his caregivers for adventure books to read, but all they had to loan him were books about religious people. He decided to work with what he had and read the books as if they were adventure stories.

In those months of reading and thinking, Iñigo came to understand how a life of faith could be the greatest adventure, the greatest heroism, and the greatest glory. It proved to be an intense conversion experience, in which he learned much about himself, about God, and about the spiritual life.

It was the greatest turnaround of his life.

When he was finally able to get up and around, Iñigo spent some time alone, and then made a difficult pilgrimage to the Holy Land before devoting himself to study and to helping others reform their lives. His efforts were often met with opposition that sometimes turned violent. Eventually he left the country.

As Iñigo continued his studies, a small group of followers gathered around him. He began to see them as a company of soldiers: a company belonging to Jesus. They soon became known as the Jesuits.

Iñigo, also known as Ignatius of Loyola, came to be one of the great figures in the renewal of the Church. He also developed a book of Spiritual Exercises that remains not only a guide for life-changing spiritual retreats, but also for spiritual discernment and growth. He died in his mid sixties in Rome 453 years ago today.

(from a previous post)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Desire and fear

Why do we do the things we do in faith?

We have examples of two reasons in today’s readings: desire and fear.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (84:3, 4, 5-6a, 8a, 11) beautifully expresses the desire we feel for the Lord and His presence.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord, mighty God!

My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.

My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.

I myself feel that yearning, deep within me.

We need to follow up on that yearning more.

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:47-53) reminds us of the need to fear.

The Kingdom of heaven
is like a net thrown into the sea,
which collects fish of every kind.

When it is full they haul it ashore
and sit down to put what is good into buckets.

What is bad they throw away.

Thus it will be at the end of the age.

The angels will go out
and separate the wicked from the righteous
and throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Do you understand all these things?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

A way with words

Words came easily to Peter: words that made people feel good, words that changed people’s lives.

It was no surprise that he found himself in the ministry and that he was eventually named bishop of what was becoming one of the most important city in the country.

People came from all over the world to hear him and spoke of his “golden speech.” Compilations of his homilies would be published widely.

St. Peter Chrysologus shepherded the people of Ravenna for more than 25 years before his death in the year 450. His memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friar walk

The Washington Post has an article about a group of Franciscan Friars who walked 300 miles to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in Washington, DC.

The Friars themselves have a website: www.friarwalk.com

"Anxious and worried about many things"

The days in which we now live are challenging in many ways: economically and otherwise.

It is therefore easy to be anxious and worried about many things.

It is therefore critically important for us to hear the words spoken by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to Martha in one of the Gospels provided for today (Luke 10:38-42):

Martha, Martha,
you are anxious and worried about many things.

There is need of only one thing.

It is easy to be anxious and worried.

It is a matter of life and death - spiritually and otherwise - for us to keep our focus and our priorities clear.

Like Martha's sister Mary, may we stay close to Jesus, so that He may teach us how to live in this world and to live forever in the next.


The sisters were very different and yet they were also much alike.

One way in which they were different was in that one was practical, while the other was not.

One way in which they were very much alike was attentiveness.

Martha was attentive to Christ in the practical details of hospitality.

Mary was attentive to Christ in the words he spoke.

May you and I be always attentive to Christ both in the practical details of our lives and also in our prayerful reflection on his word.
'Christ in the House of Martha and Mary' by Johannes Vermeer - National Gallery of Scotland, EdinburghOn this day the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Martha.

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"All who cause others to sin"

In today's Gospel (Matthew 13:36-43), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives an explanation of the Parable of the Weeds in the Field with this bottom line:

The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin
and all evildoers.

They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing
and grinding of teeth.

Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.

Whoever has ears ought to hear.

It is bad enough to do evil things.

It is worse to "cause others to sin".

We need to look at our lives and see how the things we do and say might "cause others to sin."

Then we must call upon the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to turn us from the things that lead ourselves and others astray and to lead us into the paths of righteousness, so that by His grace we may shine like the sun in the Kingdom of our Father.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Truth, justice, and the forgiving way

Sometimes there is a gap in the middle of a reading at Mass, as it is with today’s first reading: Exodus 32:15-24, 30-34.

Why the gap? As a rule, it is to help the preacher and to help the congregation hear a clear message in the reading, since many parts of Scripture are complex in their structure, etc.

Sometimes, the not-included verses contain references that would be challenging to explain fully in the pastoral context of daily Mass.

This is one of those days, for today’s not-included verses have Moses ordering the slaughter of three thousand of his own people in the name of God.

It is virtually impossible to get a nice warm feeling about this event.

Idolatry is a very natural human inclination, but it is deadly to having a true relationship with God, who is infinite and invisible.

Moses’ first reaction thus was to purge the sin by purging the sinners.

God would later remind Moses that punishment belonged to Him alone.

When it is time for me to punish,
I will punish them for their sin.

Even Moses himself would quickly recognize that forgiveness was the better path.

So Moses went back to the LORD and said,
"Ah, this people has indeed committed a grave sin
in making a god of gold for themselves!
If you would only forgive their sin!"

You and I are sinners ourselves (I know I am – Jesus, have mercy on me).

We must acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God for forgiveness.

We must be clear about what is right and what is wrong.

We must take prudent and proportionate action to protect against evil.

We must also share with others the forgiveness we ourselves have received and upon which we ourselves rely.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to us – sinners.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

"So that nothing will be wasted"

Life is tough for many of us nowadays.

It is a good time to hear again of our Lord feeding the multitude in today’s Gospel (John 6:1-15).

It is not simply because our Lord is fulfilling serious practical needs of those who are following him.

It is also because there are other lessons to be learned in our Lord’s words and actions.

Here are just two.

Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”

No lines. No crowding. Our Lord simply has the people sit in the manner people of that time ate: reclining at dinner.

Sometimes we can be too anxious. Sometimes we can be too obsessed with organization and planning.

We need to be prudent and practical, but we also need to be prayerful and faithful.

Another lesson.

When they had had their fill,
he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”

Sometimes we have in our lives momentous events and powerful lessons.

But God can also have much to teach us through small things in our lives.

Thus we need to pray always for the gift of continual discernment as we live our lives every day, “so that nothing will be wasted.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

“You do not know what you are asking”

Thus says the Lord to the mother of Apostles in today’s Gospel (Matthew 20:20-28).

Thus the Lord may frequently say in response to our own prayers.

The things for which we pray almost always may seem good, feel good, and sound good, but that does not always mean that they truly are good for us.

What is more, even if the things for which we pray ARE truly good, they may be nonetheless not as good ultimately as other plans that the Lord in His mercy and wisdom has for us.

It is good to pray for things, for there is good in all godly prayer and it is healthy to be honest with God about our desires and perceptions.

But it is a matter of life and death – spiritually and otherwise – for the “bottom line” of our prayer to be the same as the “bottom line” of Christ’s own prayer (Matthew 26:39b):

"My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;
yet, not as I will, but as you will."

May we be honest in our prayer, as we ask for this or that, but may our prayer always begin and end with “yet, not as I will, but as You will."

Embarrassed by Mom

Their mother walked right up to the teacher, in front of all their friends, her sons sheepishly following behind her.

She was straightforward in saying what she wanted: special treatment for her boys.

Her sons looked at the ground, their friends grumbled, but the teacher smiled: a gentle smile with the barest hint of a shadow.

The teacher spoke directly to the sons. There was a serious misunderstanding here. He asked them if they could do something and they said they could.

The teacher now spoke quite solemnly. The specific request was off-limits, but they would get very special treatment.

“The cup that I drink,
you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized,
you will be baptized.”

On this day we remember Saint James the Apostle (a.k.a. James the Greater), the eldest of these two sons, who shared in the suffering of Christ through martyrdom just over a decade after his teacher and Lord.

(from a previous post)

Friday, July 24, 2009


We today are affected by the decisions and actions of those who went before us.

Likewise, the lives of generations to come will be affected by the decisions and actions we make today.

When humanity strays from what is true and real, the effects are felt for generations.

Thus says the Lord in today’s first reading (Exodus 20:1-17):

For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation...

But thanks be to God that, by the power of His grace, the effects of faithfulness and of living the truth are felt much, much longer.

...but bestowing mercy down
to the thousandth generation
on the children
of those who love me
and keep my commandments.

We are the beneficiaries of a thousand generations of holy men and women.

By the grace of God, may you and I build on that legacy of holiness and charity for the sake of the children among us and for the generations yet to be born.

The Commandments

In today’s first reading (Exodus 20:1-17), we have the Ten Commandments: resented by some who see it simply as a list of prohibitions - limitations on one’s freedom and fun.

Believers, on the other hand, see God’s commandments not as limitations on freedom, but as making freedom truly possible and fully fruitful; not as warnings against fun, but as gateways to endless happiness.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (from Psalm 19) expresses this reality in a wonderful way:

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.


Blessed be God!

(from an earlier post)

Man of Lebanon

He was born in a village high in the mountains of Lebanon.

When he was only three, his father died, having been captured by imperialistic infidels.

As he grew older, his uncle worried about the young man's growing religious fanaticism.

When he was 23, he secretly joined a band of men who were holed up in a mountain stronghold. He would take a Syrian name.

This mysterious man in the black robes would travel little, but people from all over Lebanon and beyond would come to him for direction.

He would suffer a stroke while celebrating Mass and died on Christmas eve in 1898.

He would be beatified at the end of the Second Vatican Council and canonized in 1977.

The memory of Saint Charbel Makhlouf (also spelled Sharbel Makhluf), Maronite priest and hermit, is celebrated by many on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hear, but do not listen or understand

The Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been proclaimed throughout the world.

The nations of the West all have hundreds if not thousands of years of history of publically embracing Christianity.

Christians educate their children in the Faith and proclaim the Truth of Christ in print, on radio and TV, and on the Internet.

But many do not believe. Many even reject the faith they were taught.

It is a cause for frustration and even heartbreak.

Our Lord’s quotation of Isaiah (6:9-10) in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:10-17) explains the situation neatly:

You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.

Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts
and be converted
and I heal them.

People block the Truth with wrong ideas, peer pressure, bad logic, specious excuses, old habits, intellectual laziness, and stubborn selfishness.

Moreover, faith is truly a gift: a gift that can break down all the barriers that men and women can build.

Pray for the gift of faith: for ourselves, for those who are dear to us, for our nation and for our world.

The politician's daughter

Bridget was the daughter of a rich but personally pious politician. She married extremely young, but happily, and had eight children. When she was in her early forties, her husband died. Always a devout and generous person, Bridget now devoted herself fulltime to her faith. As a contemplative, she became renowned for her asceticism and her mysticism. Her writings were widely read. She was also extremely active, founding a religious order, living charitably and piously amid decadence and chaos, and even admonishing the Pope (a pious man then in the grip of geopolitical intrigue).

Born in Sweden, St. Bridget died in Rome around the age of 70. She was canonized 18 years later in 1391. One of her daughters, St. Catherine of Sweden, was herself declared a saint several decades later. Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The answer to tears

So many things have been alleged in recent years about Mary Magdalene that it is easy to lose track of something very basic and also critically important that happens when she first meets the Lord again after his resurrection as we hear in today's Gospel (John 20:1-2, 11-18).

Here is a woman, a human being, overcome with grief and pain.

Here now is the answer to her tears: Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, Lord and Savior, ineffable God and closest friend.

“Why are you weeping?”

What is it in our lives that causes us pain? What is it that is bringing us to tears or casting darkness upon our soul?

Here is the answer to our tears, to our pain, our emptiness, and every darkness:

...Jesus Christ, once tortured to death, but now living forever and extending that same eternal life to us. He is the healing for our pain.

...Jesus Christ, the humble wanderer who sustains the universe in being and in a wisdom beyond the ken of man. He is the light for our darkness.

...Jesus Christ, who dwells in inapproachable light and yet is closer to us than our very thoughts. He is the love for our emptiness.

Behold the answer to tears: our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(adapted from an earlier post)

There was something about Mary

something very wrong.

The very best medical care available seemed unable to help her and she went from place to place with no relief.

Finally, she found someone who was able to cure her. She was so grateful that she went to work for him, learning everything she could from him.

Then, in a terrible turn of events, the man who had cured her was arrested on trumped-up charges, found guilty, and executed.

Mary watched him die, one of the few who stayed by him to the end.

Two days later, still overcome with grief, she went to visit his grave, but the body was gone.

Mary ran in panic to her coworkers, but they just came, looked, and left.

Grief now totally overwhelmed Mary and she sobbed uncontrollably.

Through her tears, she saw people around her and she heard them ask why she was crying. One of them seemed to be a landscaper. She hardly knew what to say to them.

Then the "landscaper" called her by her name, "Mary."

Now she saw clearly.

It was him.

It was Jesus.

It was the Lord. He was risen as he had said.

Mary Magdalene was thus the first to see the risen Lord and would be the one to bring the news to the Apostles.

Much later, many strange stories would be told about Mary, but what always remains clear is that she was faithful to the Lord even in the most horrible of circumstances and that she was the first to tell the news of Christ’s resurrection.

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who to blame

In today’s first reading (Exodus 14:21-15:1) we hear once again of the parting of the Red Sea.

It is an incredible miracle, a symbol of salvation, and an article of faith.

It is also a massacre of an entire army.

The blame, of course, for the massacre rests with the army’s leaders, whose emotions and stupidity drove the army on: emotions and stupidity which then collapsed upon them like the waters of the sea.

Although “the LORD was fighting for (the Israelites) against the Egyptians”, it was really those emotions and stupidity that brought death upon the Egyptians.

What are we risking, as individuals and as a society, with our own emotions and stupidity?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner.

His mother and brothers

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:46-50) and its parallels usually strike cradle Catholics as strange. We have been raised to venerate the Blessed Virgin Mary, but today’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ brothers and seems to depict Jesus as speaking almost dismissively of his mother and family.

The part about the “brothers” is relatively easy to deal with: in the usage of that time and place, that term included close relatives who were not necessarily children of the same parents.

The seeming slight against the Blessed Mother seems more difficult to deal with.

"Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."

It not only disturbs our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it makes Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and it seems to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary in the Gospel of Luke.

But the Gospel of Luke also gives us the key to understanding what our Lord is saying, most specifically in one of the things Elizabeth says upon her Visitation by Mary.

“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And in what Mary says at the Annunciation.

“Be it done to me according to your word.”

Christ’s message in this Gospel passage is that a relationship with Him must be based on living faith in God. As we know and as Luke emphasizes, Mary is first and foremost a woman of faith, who accepts and lives out the will of God – in a way more profound than our imagination can bear.

If we accept our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, receive his grace and live according to God’s will, we are His brothers and sisters, and because of her faith, the greatest of our sisters is Mary (whom our Lord on the cross also presented to us as our Mother).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and our Sister in Faith.

(adapted from an earlier post)

The Preacher

Lawrence was a famous preacher, with a deep knowledge of Scripture in its original languages, who performed miracles and was often (as popularly described today) "slain in the Spirit."

He was so well respected that he was invited to speak at churches and great events even before he was ordained a priest. He converted many.

Not just a "talker," he was a capable administrator and would serve in the highest offices of his Capuchin order. He was also skilled in diplomacy and geopolitics.

Perhaps the most cinematic moment of his career was when he personally led an army against a host of invaders, riding in his Capuchin habit on horseback and armed with only a crucifix.

He was also a deep contemplative, falling regularly into ecstasy during the celebration of Mass.

When he was old and sick, he was begged to leave his monastery in his native Italy for an important diplomatic mission. He performed the mission, but was too sick to return. St. Lawrence of Brindisi died in Lisbon July 22, 1619 and his memory is celebated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday morning courage

Not all of us like our weekdays.

For some, Monday morning is the hardest time of the week.

But for all of us, Moses’ words in today’s first reading (Exodus 14:5-18) are great words of courage with which to begin this day and this week.

Fear not! Stand your ground,
and you will see the victory

the LORD will win for you today.

Will everything go well today? Possibly not. But no matter what happens, by the grace of God we can faithfully and truthfully repeat the words of today’s Responsorial (Exodus 15:1bc-6):

My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.

The bishop was not popular

Several times he was physically attacked, coming close to death more than once, and thrown out of town.

This went on for nearly 25 years, but the bishop always came back.

So they killed him.

Just as they had killed his old friend, the bishop who had sent him to that city.

Just as they had killed the one who had personally sent his old friend: the Lord Jesus Christ.

The memory of St. Apollinaris - martyr, bishop of Ravenna, and friend of St. Peter the Apostle - is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:30-34) reminds us of the need for taking a little time off.

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.

He said to them,
"Come away by yourselves to a deserted place
and rest a while."

But this same Gospel reminds us that, even when we are taking some well-deserved time off, we must be faithful to our mission of sharing God’s grace with others.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gently with the Spirit

The President of the United States is sometimes called “the most man on the planet” because he is Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military.

In truth, the most powerful man on the planet is a small, soft-spoken, elderly man from Germany because he is the Vicar of Christ.

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:14-21) reminds us that the greatest power in the world – the power of Christ, Eternal Son of the Father, through Whom all things were made – is manifested very often in ways that are gentle and subtle.

May we seek always the power of Christ in faith and love, with gentleness and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved in whom I delight;
I shall place my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not contend or cry out,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.

After exiting the service, life went downhill

He had picked up the gambling habit when he was in the service. After his unit disbanded and he exited the service, gambling caused him to lose everything he had.

He tried different things, but nothing worked. When war broke out again, he went back into the military and served until the war was over.

After the war, he was out on the street again. He was hanging out with some other homeless men when a rich man came by and offered him a job, working on construction for a new monastery the man was building for the local Capuchins.

The ex-soldier accepted the offer and, after one last struggle with his temptations, took the job.

He worked diligently and came close to becoming a Capuchin himself. A chronic physical ailment, however, came back in force and so instead of a Capuchin friary, he found himself in a big city hospital.

While he was at the hospital, he did what he could to help out, no matter how menial the task. In time, this six-foot-six former soldier would become a nurse.

Eventually, he would become a priest and founder of a religious order devoted to the sick: the Order of St. Camillus, which continues to this day.

Camillus de Lellis died at the age of 64 on July 14, 1614 and was canonized in 1746. His memory is celebrated in the United States on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Too quick to condemn

Too many of us – liberal or conservative – are too quick to condemn.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 12:1-8), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says this:

If you knew what this meant,
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice,”
you would not have condemned these innocent men.

Do we hear Him saying this to us as well?

Pope fractures wrist in fall

The Vatican Press Office reports that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, fell in his room overnight while on vacation in Aosta, suffering a slight fracture of his right wrist. He celebrated Mass, had breakfast, and went to the local hospital where his wrist was immobilized.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


In today’s first reading (Exodus 3:13-20), Moses asks God His name and God responds:

God replied, "I am who am."
Then he added,
"This is what you shall tell the children of Israel:
I AM sent me to you."

No matter where we may find ourselves in our lives, God is there, loving us.

"I am who am."

Mount Carmel

In the Holy Land, high above the waters of the Mediterranean rises Mount Carmel, a special place of spirituality and contemplation since the time of the prophet Elijah.

This tradition flowered powerfully in the 12th century A.D. A small band of hermits developed into a thriving group of monasteries.

The Carmelites eventually established monasteries throughout Europe and eventually around the world. Living out the Gospel in both active and contemplative ways, the Carmelites hold as their exemplars both the prophet Elijah and the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of our Lord Jesus – remembering her under the title of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel", celebrated on this very day: the Feast day for all Carmelites.

(from a previous post)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Think you’re smart?

Some of us are very confident about the level of our intelligence.

Especially if we are incessant users of the Internet (myself included).

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:25-27), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ reminds us that the most important knowledge – knowledge of God – is a gift.

At that time Jesus exclaimed:

"I give praise to you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

"Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.

"All things have been handed over to me by my Father.

"No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."

Controversial religious order

John joined that relatively new and controversial religious order while he was a young man. The order sent him to Paris for his studies and eventually he obtained a teaching position there.

Several years later, serious accusations were lodged against his religious order and he was forced to stop teaching.

Shortly after that, at the age of 36, he was elected head of the order.

John defended the order against its detractors, dealt with serious divisions within the order, and made important changes within it.

After about ten years, the Pope vindicated John’s order and formally condemned its greatest critic.

The Pope would eventually force John to become a Bishop and then a Cardinal.

John became widely known for his theological wisdom and personal holiness (there were many stories of miracles). He went on to have a great influence on the Universal Church: advising Popes and acting as the guiding force of an Ecumenical Council.

Suddenly, while the Council was still in session, John died, still in his early 50's. He may have been poisoned by his enemies, but they could not conquer him: his order - the Franciscans - would continue and his theological writings would be venerated as among the best of all time.

But John's name would not be remembered, for he had stopped being known by his baptismal name.

There were many different stories about where he got the new name. One story says that when John was a little boy, his parents had brought him to the great St. Francis, not long before his death, and that St. Francis himself was the origin of John’s new name: Bonaventure.

Bonaventure was recognized as a saint with little delay. In due course, he was listed as a "Doctor of the Church."

His memory is celebrated on this day - the anniversary of his death in 1274.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cradle stupidity

What do I mean by “cradle stupidity”?

I am not referring to today’s first reading (Exodus 2:1-15a) in which the baby Moses is put into a basket in the river.

I am referring to a lesson from today’s Gospel (Matthew 11:20-24) in which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ denounces places that have witnessed His mighty works and yet have not repented.

These were places populated by people raised in the faith given by God through Moses: cradle believers.

Pagans would have responded better, our Lord says.

If the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.

I myself am a “cradle Catholic” – born and raised in the Faith given by God through Jesus Christ – so I hear our Lord’s condemnation with great unease.

Those of us raised in the faith – cradle believers – can tend to coast, take for granted, or rely only on whatever we remember from whatever we learned when we were children.

To be sure, some among us have been blessed with continued growth in the faith, from childhood to old age. Also, being a convert is no guarantee of perfect wisdom and fidelity.

None of us, however, should take our faith for granted.

By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we need to rise above cradle stupidity or neophyte ignorance and grow in the knowledge, wisdom, and love of God.

Teenage girl with a ravaged face

Pockmarks scarred her face and her eyesight was bad. Her family tried to hook her up with one young man after another, but to no avail.

It was not simply a matter of her "unattractive" face and poor vision: she herself had something else in mind for her life. Her heart was set on a very special man to whom she had been introduced when she was a little girl: Jesus Christ.

When she turned 18, she was baptized and dedicated herself to a life of holiness. She met with great opposition and eventually had to be taken away from her hometown for her own safety.

She came to live in a Christian house and many came to be impressed by her spiritual beauty.

She would die at the age of 24 and would be instantly revered by all who knew of her.

Three hundred years later, on June 22, 1980, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be proposed for sainthood, was beatified by the great Pope John Paul II. Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Real peace, not a cartoon

Some people’s concept of Christ as Prince of Peace is more like a cartoon.

In last Monday’s Gospel (Matthew 10:34-11:1), our Lord deflates that cartoon image decisively.

"Do not think that I have come
to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace
but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's enemies will be those of his household."

Peace cannot come at the expense of truth, nor of course can full truth exist without godly love.

We should not seek conflict for its own sake, but we cannot let fear of conflict cause us to betray Christ’s truth.

Above all and before all and in spite of all, we must be faithful to Christ, to his truth, and to his love.

(adapted from an earlier post)

I'm Henry the...

When he was a young man, Henry was headed for the priesthood, but everyone eventually decided that his destiny lay elsewhere.

He subsequently found himself in a leadership position in the public sector. He did a reasonably good job, although he sometimes clashed with others (he worked in a very poisonous environment).

In his work, he generally tried to uphold the common good, with mixed success. In his personal life, he and his wife were very pious and were generous to the poor.

Henry died in his early fifties on this very day in 1024: the second Holy Roman Emperor of that name (hence, Henry the second). St. Henry was canonized in 1146.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

“Is not my job”

Many times we hear people say, “It’s not my job, man.”

Many times when it comes to proclaiming the truth of Christ in the world around us we too think “It’s not my job, man.”

In today’s first reading (Amos 7:12-15), the prophet Amos says that he thought very much the same thing.

But God told him otherwise.

I was no prophet,
nor have I belonged to a company of prophets;
I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.

The LORD took me from following the flock,
and said to me,
Go, prophesy to my people Israel.

It is our job, if God says.

May we respond what God has to say and be faithful in carrying out the tasks he lays before us.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Party house on campus

This was not the higher education that the young man from a small town had expected.

Nobody really cared about studies. All they cared about was partying (and there were more than a few togas).

So the young man left school and went to spend a little quiet time in the country.

He ended up spending a long time there and he became very close to God.

His holiness became so well known that when the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks begged him to become their new abbot.

It was not a happy house: some of the monks sometimes acted like animals and they ended up trying to kill him. The young man was saved only by a miracle.

He knew there had to be a better way to run a monastery, so he gathered some likeminded men around him and wrote a rule for monastic living.

It turned out to be a tremendous success.

Many, many more monasteries would be established, following that same rule.

These monasteries would not only become spiritual havens for the monks, but when the civilization of the outside world came crashing down, these monasteries preserved the light of knowledge and education as well as the Gospel of Christ.

The memory of St. Benedict, founder of Western Monasticism and Father of Europe, is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, July 10, 2009

“Before governors and kings”

Today, the leader of the world’s richest nation and most powerful military force will meet with the Vicar of Christ.

It will be a friendly meeting – or at least diplomatic – yet, as today’s Gospel reminds us (Matthew 10:16-23), conflict is inevitable between faithful Christians and this world’s powerful.

Beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings
for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans....

You will be hated by all because of my name....

Yet with these warnings, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ also gives guidance and comfort:

I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.

But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings
for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.

When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.

For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents
and have them put to death.

You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

“Let your peace return to you”

People nowadays seem very quick to make and express opinions about other people, even when they truly know little about them.

On the other hand, it seems that we rarely hear people openly wishing other people well and then only to friends, acquaintances, and allies.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:7-15), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls us to extend good wishes of peace even before we get to know the people or the places.

As you enter a house, wish it peace.
If the house is worthy,
let your peace come upon it;
if not, let your peace return to you.

He is not talking about blind endorsements or taking imprudent risks.

He is simply talking about wishing peace upon people and places.

May you and I always be instruments of Christ’s truth, love, and peace.

Priest dies in Chinese prison

Augustine Zhao Rong a former soldier later ordained Catholic priest, died of mistreatment in a prison, caught up in a crackdown by Chinese authorities... one hundred and ninety-four years ago.

Nine years ago, he became one of 120 victims of that crackdown to be canonized by the great Pope John Paul II (to the indignation of the current Chinese authorities).

The memorial of the Chinese Martyrs is celebrated today.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

The lost sheep first

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:1-7), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ commissions the Twelve Apostles and tells them:

Do not go into pagan territory
or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

As you go, make this proclamation:
“The Kingdom of heaven is at hand."

This is not to exclude pagans and Samaritans, of course. At the end of the Gospel (28:16-20), after the Resurrection, our Lord commissions the Apostles again and orders them to “make disciples of all nations.”

Our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel are a reminder that you and I must not neglect the lost sheep around us: those who had embraced the truth of Christ, but have wandered away.

Alas, even we have perhaps wandered.

Lord Jesus, good and gentle Shepherd, bring us all back.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Charity in Truth

"Charity in truth,
to which Jesus Christ bore witness
by his earthly life
and especially by his death and resurrection,
is the principal driving force
behind the authentic development
of every person
and of all humanity."

(the first sentence of the Holy Father's encyclical Caritas in veritate - released this morning)


Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.

At the sight of the crowds,
his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples,
"The harvest is abundant
but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest."

(from today's Gospel - Matthew 9:32-38)

Responding to terrible things

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 9:32-38), the Pharisees say evil, sacrilegious things about our Lord.

In response, our Lord simply goes about the business of the Kingdom of God: teaching, proclaiming, and curing.

There are other times in the Gospels when our Lord responds immediately this same accusation (and others), but in this case, he chooses simply to continue God’s work.

In our own lives, when we hear terrible things being said about us, about our faith, etc. we would always do well to exercise discernment – seeking the grace and the wisdom of God – so that we may rightly respond and remain faithful in that time and place to the work and the message given to us.

Monday, July 06, 2009


In today’s first reading (Genesis 28:10-22a), Jacob builds a memorial to a spiritual experience.

Such experiences can be rare in a person’s life, so it is good to remember them, especially if we feel ourselves to be currently in a spiritual desert.

It is also good to pray for new and deeper experiences, being very careful however to keep in mind that what is truly important is our deeper relationship with Christ not just an experience.

Stairway to heaven

In today’s first reading (Genesis 28:10-22a), we have the familiar image formerly known as Jacob’s Ladder.

Then he had a dream:
a stairway rested on the ground,
with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God's messengers

were going up and down on it.

Whether Jacob dreamed of a ladder or a stairway, the basic idea is the same - a way to traverse between heaven and earth – and we as Christians know its true identity.

"Truly, truly, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened,
and the angels of God

ascending and descending
upon the Son of man."

John 1:51

The real stairway to heaven (sorry, Robert Plant) – indeed, the only one – is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Only through Christ, according to the mysterious and merciful ways of God, does God come for all and all come to God.

Not only do we as Christians know this, we as Christians – as members of Christ’s body the Church – are included in that stairway.

The problem is that you and I do not always function like stairways.

Some Christians – especially some conservatives – can sometimes function more like a wall: an obstacle, pointing straight at the sky, but an obstacle nonetheless, offering little or no assistance to those who wish to come closer to heaven.

Other Christians – especially some liberals – can sometimes function more like a floor: letting people go in every direction, but not helping them come closer to heaven.

We in Christ should function more like stairways: opening ourselves to be conduits of God’s truth, love, and grace for others and helping them rise ever closer to heaven.

(from an earlier post)

Sexual assault on 12-year-old girl

An 18-year-old man was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the vicious murder and attempted rape of a 12-year-old girl. Authorities say that she had been stabbed 14 times and died in the local hospital two days after the attack.

Reports indicate that before she died, the young girl had identified her attacker and asked for God’s forgiveness upon him.

Following his release from prison, the child-killer would be back in a cell again – in a Capuchin monastery. He would die there, humbly and repentantly toiling for decades as a gardener, but would still be alive when his victim, Maria Goretti, was canonized as a saint in 1950.

Maria’s mother, then 82 years old, was present for the great event: the first woman to be present at the canonization of her daughter. She would die in 1954.

Today is the 107th anniversary of St. Maria Goretti’s death.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Heroes among the obstinate

People don’t always want to hear the truth, especially when it gets in the way of their selfish pleasures.

Thus what God said to Ezekiel in ancient Israel, as we hear in today’s first reading (Ezekiel 2:2-5), God says to us in our world today:

As the LORD spoke to me,
the spirit entered into me
and set me on my feet,
and I heard the one who was speaking say to me:
Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
rebels who have rebelled against me;
they and their ancestors
have revolted against me to this very day.

Hard of face and obstinate of heart
are they to whom I am sending you.

But you shall say to them:
Thus says the LORD GOD!
And whether they heed or resist
—for they are a rebellious house—
they shall know
that a prophet has been among them.

By the grace of God, may we - unworthy sinners that we are - be faithful heroes among the obstinate.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Dysfunctional patriarchy

Today’s first reading (Genesis 27:1-5, 15-29) does not sound very edifying: an eavesdropping wife conspires with one son to deceive his elderly, blind father and cheat the other son.

The deceiving son, Jacob, will be remembered as one of the great patriarchs of the people of God: included even in God’s great self-identification at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6):

I am the God of thy father,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac,
and the God of Jacob.

The Lord would hold Jacob to account for his conduct (Hosea 12:3f), but through Jacob – as imperfect as Jacob was – God would bring great blessings not only to his descendents but also to the entire world. Such is the power of God’s grace.

We ourselves can be dysfunctional. We ourselves are sinful. Yet God’s grace can not only advance us down the road to restitution and recovery, but can bring great blessings to others through our unworthy efforts.

Praise the name of the Lord

(from an earlier post)

Her husband slept around

Elizabeth knew this, but she was able to take care of herself and she had strong reasons to hope for his conversion and reform. So she stayed, maintaining a life of prayer, of service to the needy, and of loving care for their two children.

Sometime after her son was grown, he grew suddenly and violently resentful of his father’s attentiveness to his children from other relationships. A war erupted between them, but Elizabeth put herself in harm’s way and was able to reconcile them.

Shortly thereafter, her husband died, after repenting of his sinful ways. Her children were now grown, so Elizabeth felt able to retire to a life of fulltime prayer and service.

But there would not yet be peace for this peacemaker. Some years later, there came word that her granddaughter was being mistreated and neglected by her husband. Elizabeth’s son, the young lady’s father, again boiled over with rage and came against his son-in-law with great violence.

Now elderly and sick, Elizabeth again put herself in harm’s way and facilitated a peaceful resolution to the situation. In doing so, however, she broke her health entirely and died 673 years ago on this very day.

St. Elizabeth of Portugal, wife and mother of kings, was canonized in 1625.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, July 03, 2009

The limits of empiricism

Today’s Gospel (John 20:24-29) gave rise to the name “Doubting Thomas.”

Ultimately, of course, Saint Thomas the Apostle came to believe and would demonstrate that faith powerfully the rest of his life.

His “doubt” at the time is actually very much the same as the philosophical assertion known as “empiricism” – believe only what you can physically detect and measure – an assertion which is the foundation of modern science.

The failure of empiricism and of modern science is when it forgets its limitations.

Empiricism as a method is useful, but it is foolish as an assertion that physically-detectable realities are the only ones that exist or matter.

Likewise, science can be useful for describing, predicting, and even managing physical realities, but it is dangerous as a guide for ethics and morality.

This has been demonstrated time and time again; as humankind pushes technology as far as it will go, leaving us with pollution, manmade cancers, weapons of mass destruction, human beings treated as commodities, eugenics, and many other things.

Truth is not owned by science or by popular feelings or by governments.

Nor is it owned by religious people not fully immersed in Christ.

Truth comes from God, who created all things – seen and unseen.

May we always seek the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to discern, implement, proclaim, and defend the Truth.

Believing Farther

We know little of the Apostle Thomas: a few lines in the Gospels and ancient traditions. Much has been made of the incident that led to his being known as "Doubting Thomas". His uncertainties also seem apparent at the Last Supper:

Thomas said to him,
"Lord, we do not know where you are going.
How can we know the way?"

Jesus said to him,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:5-6

But although he had moments when he wasn't entirely clear about what was happening, Thomas believed – in fact, one could say he believed farther than any of the Twelve.

Peter’s great confession of faith was to say to Jesus,
"You are the Christ! The Son of the living God!"

Thomas’ confession of faith was to say to Jesus,
"My Lord and my God!"

The Apostles preached around the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Far off in India, Christians have persisted for millennia in the faith they hold to have received from Saint Thomas the Apostle, in spite of heresies and invasions, and they venerate his tomb today.

Thomas may have had moments when he wasn't clear, but he found his way, or rather, the Way found him: he believed and he proclaimed Christ to the ends of the earth.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

We ourselves claim to believe as Thomas did. We too say to Christ, "My Lord and my God!"

Why do we not go farther than we do in proclaiming Christ?

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Abraham versus the Extremists

Many people have always been disturbed by today’s first reading (Genesis 22:1b-19): the account of Abraham nearly killing his son at God’s command.

This incident feels even more disturbing nowadays as men and women around the world are killing themselves and others because they think it is what God wants them to do.

Is Abraham – the great patriarch of the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths – therefore the forerunner of today’s suicide bombers?

The answer is no.

To begin with, God had no intention of having Isaac die at Abraham’s hand: this was a special test for a man with a unique place in salvation history - a test that God knew Abraham would pass.

Secondly, Abraham was not getting his orders from a psychotic, self-appointed middleman: Abraham had already been successfully discerning the voice of God in his life for many years.

Of course, people like to twist things for their own purposes. The evil masters of the suicide bombers may cynically and falsely invoke the obedience of Abraham in their indoctrination. Likewise the extremist enemies of religion cynically and falsely try to portray all who are serious about their faith as being just like suicide bombers.

We base our lives on a faith that comes from God, not on decadent materialism or on extremist ideology (religious or otherwise).

Abraham is our father in faith – not our father in extremist ideology, but our father in careful discernment of God’s will and trust in that will.

Abraham was always open and listening for God’s will: ready to respond instantly, “Here I am.”

Even in the very worst seconds of his life, there with his son on Mount Moriah, Abraham was open and listening for God’s will and he was rewarded richly for it: beginning with the life of his son and then so much more.

I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.

Like Abraham, we need to be open to, listening for, and discerning continually the will of God. We cannot simply coast. Suicide bombers close themselves off and coast. Ideologues (religious or anti-religious) close themselves off and coast.

If Abraham had coasted, Isaac would have died right then and there. Instead, Abraham kept discerning and was rewarded for it.

We too must keep discerning – both when our path seems clear and when our path seems covered in cloud – listening for the voice and will of God in its ever-greater fullness. And by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we too will be rewarded.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Bad parents?

Today’s first reading (Genesis 21:5, 8-20a) presents us with some examples of parenting that are not the best (to put it perhaps too gently).

A mother takes away her son’s playmate because of her own jealousy.

A father throws his son out of his house.

Another mother leaves her child under a shrub in the desert to die.

Some people blame bad parenting for their own behavior or even for their professed inability to relate to God as a Father.

The words of Isaiah (49:15) need to be taken to heart:

Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.

Whether we had or have good parents, bad parents, or mediocre parents, God our Father loves us personally with a parental love that is infinite, eternal, and close at hand.

He entered the University at 15

Two years later, he became a Franciscan. He would go on to be ordained and to teach philosophy and theology.

But God wanted him to do more.

In his mid-thirties, he volunteered for the Missions. He had barely arrived when he was bit by the wrong mosquito. His leg swelled, giving him a life-long limp. Still, he carried out his duties diligently.

He did so well that when the opportunity came for a renewed missionary effort at the edge of "civilization," he was chosen to lead it: even though he was already in his mid-fifties, lame and suffering from asthma.

He established twenty-one missions in that strange land, converting and educating thousands of people there.

He had to work within a cultural and governmental system that was sometimes corrupt and prejudiced, but he himself was faithful, devout, and did great good.

More and more people gathered around the missions he had established and some of them became great cities that kept their religious names, such as San Francisco.

Father Junipero Serra died of tuberculosis in 1784 and is buried in Carmel, California. He was beatified by the great Pope John Paul II in 1988 and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict XVI's general prayer intention for the month of July is:

"That Christians in the Middle East may live their faith in complete freedom and become instruments of reconciliation and peace."

His mission intention is:

"Through the witness of the faithful, may the Church be the seed and soil of a humanity reconciled to be God's one true family on earth."