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...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Pray for the Church in Scranton

Today the Holy Father accepted the retirement of Bishop John Martin Dougherty as Auxiliary and the resignation of the Ordinary, Bishop Joseph Francis Martino.

"Console one another with these words"

Today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) is a familiar one, for in it is described what is often called “the Rapture”.

For the Lord himself,
with a word of command,
with the voice of an archangel
and with the trumpet of God,
will come down from heaven,
and the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive, who are left,
will be caught up together with them
in the clouds
to meet the Lord in the air.

The power, the thrill, and the truth of these words is undeniable

But the words that follow are much, much more important.

Thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore, console one another with these words.

The moment when Christ returns and brings us to Himself will be wonderful beyond words (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, be merciful to me – a sinner).

But that will be only a moment.

Infinitely more important and infinitely more wonderful will be our being with Christ forever and ever in an everlasting and ever more glorious journey into Love itself.

The “Rapture” is one thing, but eternal Beatitude will be infinite.

Thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore, console one another with these words.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

“This great nation”

What makes a nation great?

Some say it is military might -- and there is some truth to that.

Some say it is economic wealth -- and there is some truth to that.

Some say it is a system of liberty -- and there is some truth to that.

Some say it is a system of care -- and there is some truth to that.

Today’s first reading (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8) tells us that it is ultimately the following of God’s commandments that makes a nation truly and fully great.

In your observance
of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you
nor subtract from it.

Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly
a wise and intelligent people.’

For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it
as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?

Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

Saturday, August 29, 2009


In many places today, more than one out of ten adults are looking for work and have not found any.

This does not include those who have, for one reason or another, given up on finding work anytime soon.

This is the world in which we live and from which we hear Saint Paul in today’s first reading (1 Thessalonians 4:9-11) urging his readers “to work with your own hands”.

Saint Paul, of course, was writing to a specific Christian community: a community in which the precepts and practices of charity as well as the perception of Christ’s imminent return led some to stop working altogether.

However, Saint Paul’s exhortation does also apply to us, to our own day, and to our own society.

People need to work: to be active and productive, to the extent they can.

We need to help others in need, while making sure that we are helping them be active and productive themselves (again, to the extent they are able).

We need to do this as individuals.

We also need to do this as a society (nota bene: governments are but one aspect of society and the activity of government in matters of social economics should be neither excluded nor exclusive).

It should be noted that it is not always easy – as individuals or as a society -- to generate employment opportunities or to help people find work: the best-laid plans for job creation, job training, and job searching do not always succeed. That is yet another reason why serious levels of creativity and activity are required from all parts of society as well as from the jobseekers themselves.

Employed or not, rich or not, powerful or not, each of us need to do our part so that each of us, to the extent that we are truly able, can be active and productive: giving glory to God, taking responsibility for ourselves and those entrusted to us, caring for others in need, and helping others in need do the same.

The nation's most powerful man...

...had a weakness for young ladies.

The moves of one young lady in particular caught his eye.

He called her over.

She came to him and whispered...

"I want you...

"...to give me...

"...right now...

" ...the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

Thus a sleazy moment in the corridors of power ended with the death of one of history's greatest holy men.

Today the Church remembers the death of Saint John the Baptist.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Oil supplies

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:1-13), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tells us the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

They were to perform a ceremonial greeting for a bridegroom with oil lamps. The wise ones made sure they had enough oil. The foolish ones did not pay attention to their oil supply until it was too late.

The oil symbolizes spiritual preparation – the grace of the Holy Spirit (spiritalis unctio, as the great hymn Veni Creator Spiritus says).

The parable reminds us that we dare not procrastinate when it comes to our spiritual life and our relationship with Christ.

We need to pray continually for the grace of the Holy Spirit, the anointing oil of eternal life.

As our Lord warns us, “You know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

Veni Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti, pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
Altissimi donum Dei,
Fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
Et spiritalis unctio.

"Come, Creator, Spirit,
Visit the minds that are Yours.
Fill with heavenly grace
The hearts You created.

"You who are called the Paraclete,
Gift of God Most High,
Living Spring, Fire, Love,
And Spiritual Anointing."

Did you hear about the bishop?

The bishop had a girlfriend once and got her pregnant.

The bishop used to make his mother cry all the time.

People also remembered the bishop saying pretty contemptuous things about the Church, its leaders, and its theology.

All that happened before he had heard the Archbishop of Milan. Soon after that, he started getting his life together, his girlfriend left him to pursue the religious life on her own, and eventually he and his 15-year-old son entered the Church to the great joy of the man's mother.

He settled into a quiet life of prayer and of writing in monasteries that he himself established, but he was not to be allowed a quiet life. He was practically drafted into the priesthood and to be a prominent spokesperson for the Catholic faith.

Then when the local bishop became feeble, he was again drafted into being made coadjutor bishop. After the old bishop died, he would continue as bishop of the diocese for 34 years, all the time writing and preaching about the Catholic faith.

Saint Augustine, bishop of the north African city of Hippo, Doctor of the Church, one of the greatest intellects of the Western world, died at the age of 75 on this very day in the year 430.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It could happen at any time

You could die today.

I could die today.

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

Our Lord’s warnings in today’s Gospel (Matthew 24:42-51) are not just about the end of the world: the warnings apply also to the end of our individual lives, which could come suddenly and unexpectedly.

Stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Be sure of this:
if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.

So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.

Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant,
whom the master has put in charge of his household
to distribute to them their food at the proper time?

Blessed is that servant
whom his master on his arrival finds doing so.

Amen, I say to you,
he will put him in charge of all his property.

But if that wicked servant says to himself,
‘My master is long delayed,’
and begins to beat his fellow servants,
and eat and drink with drunkards,
the servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day
and at an unknown hour
and will punish him severely
and assign him a place with the hypocrites,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

May the Lord Jesus give us the grace of full repentance NOW.

Then my mother said...

"'Son, for myself, I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here, or why I am here.

"'There was indeed one thing for which I wished to tarry a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness.

"'What more am I to do here?'

"I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever.

"While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother as we stood by her, and said, in inquiry, 'Where was I?'

"Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, 'Here in this place shall you bury your mother.'

I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad.

"When she heard this, she held him fast with her eye and an anxious face, because he cherished such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, 'See how he speaks.'

"Soon after, she said to us both: 'Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord's altar, wherever you are.'

* * * * *

"On the ninth day of her sickness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine, that religious and devout soul was set loose from the body.

"I closed her eyes; and there flowed in a great sadness on my heart and it was passing into tears, when at the strong command of my mind my eyes sucked back the fountain dry, and sorrow was in me like a convulsion. [...] But she neither died unhappy nor did she altogether die.

* * * * *

"So, when the body was carried forth, we both went and returned without tears. [...] Then I slept, and when I awoke I found my grief not a little eased. And as I lay there on my bed, those true verses of Ambrose came to my mind, for You are truly...

"'Deus, creator omnium,
Polique rector, vestiens
Diem decoro lumine,
Noctem sopora gratia;

"'Artus solutos ut quies
Reddat laboris usui
Mentesque fessas allevet,
Luctusque solvat anxios.'

"'O God, Creator of us all,
Guiding the orbs celestial,
Clothing the day with lovely light,
Appointing gracious sleep by night:

"'Thy grace our wearied limbs restore
To strengthened labor, as before,
And ease the grief of tired minds
From that deep torment which it finds.'

"And then, little by little, there came back to me my former memories of Your handmaid: her devout life toward You, her holy tenderness and attentiveness toward us, which had suddenly been taken away from me--and it was a solace for me to weep in Your sight...."

Excerpts from the Confessions of Saint Augustine - Book 9, Chapters 10-12

Today the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Monica, mother of Saint Augustine

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


This word from today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:27-32) is often thrown at people of faith, especially socially conservative people of faith.

The heart of hypocrisy, of course, is to pretend externally that we conform to an ideal to which in reality we do not (internally or otherwise).

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.

You are like whitewashed tombs,
which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men's bones

and every kind of filth.

Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.

The reality is that we are all sinners: we all fall short of perfection and some of us feel mired in various sins of human weakness.

The cynical reaction to hypocrisy is to surrender the ideal: if we cannot attain perfection, why try?

That cynical path, of course, is a slippery slope down into apathy, the victory of evil, and the loss of whatever good still exists in the world.

For the good of the world and for our own survival, we must hold onto our ideals and keep trying.

We must cleanse ourselves, inside and out, by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and by that grace strive to attain the perfection to which he calls us, encouraging and helping each other along the way.

To do this, we must be honest: both about perfection and about our sinfulness.

This does not mean that we must make every detail of our personal sinfulness public, although we must be careful not to represent ourselves as having attained perfection in which we still fall short.

I myself have not attained any semblance of perfection. I have many weaknesses. I stumble and I sin. (Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, be merciful to me – a sinner)

Indeed, I daresay that, on the road to perfection, I lag far behind most of you who read these words.

Yet you and I are on the same road, striving by the grace of Christ toward the same perfection to which God calls us and helping each other as best we can.

May we keep ourselves from the trap of hypocrisy. May we never pretend that we are better than we are, but may we miserable sinners remain always faithful to the path to perfection: opening ourselves ever more fully to God’s grace so that he may make us what he wants us to be in Christ.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

God knows

We like to fool ourselves.

We like to analyze ourselves and rationalize all sorts of wrong behavior – even evil.

God knows.

The scribes and the Pharisees were intelligent and were educated in the law of God, but they rationalized and drew the condemnation of our Lord Himself in today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:23-28) and elsewhere.

God knows.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm (139:1-3, 4-6) reminds us.

O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.

My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know the whole of it.

Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
too lofty for me to attain.

May we let ourselves be challenged and comforted by God’s knowledge of all things and God’s knowledge of us.

Get medieval on you

Disputes were decided by combat.

Testimony was verified by ordeal.

The word of the king was law.

The acquisition of land by force was the rule.

Religion was important only as a tool for power.
Early 14th century statue from the church of Mainneville, France - reputed to be a true likeness
The young king thought differently.

He instituted systems of courts and written law. He negotiated treaties with neighboring rulers, acquiring some lands while handing over others to maximize political and economic stability for his people.

Most importantly, for the young king, religion was not a tool – quite the contrary, everything should be in service to faith.

He personally fed and served the poor daily. He built great houses of prayer and worship, including the glorious Sainte Chapelle.

The glorious interior of the Sainte Chapelle - click image for larger version and above link for more information and pictures

He would also come to the aid of important churches in other lands, no matter what the risk.

Louis IX, King of France, died of disease at the age of 56 in North Africa while on a failed campaign to rescue churches in the Holy Land, 739 years ago today. Saint Louis was canonized 27 years later.

(from an earlier post)

Joseph's family was wealthy

so they had no problem giving him the finest university education he could want (and he could pick his own majors).

Once he was finished with school, however, his father had plans for him, intending that Joseph carry on the family line.

Then Joseph got sick - and nearly died. After he recovered, he knew he had to follow his own way. He became a priest.

He proved to be an excellent priest, working in a parish and in various positions in the Diocese: reviving zeal among laity and clergy alike. After several years, he realized that he had to go further. He gave away his fortune and went to Rome where he ministered to the noblest and to the lowest members of society.

When he tried to enroll poor outcast children in school, he was met with stiff resistance from many quarters. So, he started his own school and his own order to teach the poor children.

His work continued to meet with external resistance. Some were afraid that educating the poor would cause unrest. Some religious orders were jealous. Joseph's friendship with a controversial scientist was also troubling to some Church leaders.

Later, when Joseph was a very old man, members of the order he himself had founded turned against him. He would be vindicated, but the dissension took its toll. The order was dissolved two years before Joseph died, at very ripe age of 91 on this very day in 1648.

The next year, Joseph's order, the Piarists, was resurrected and continues even now. St. Joseph Calasanz was canonized in the following century.

(from an earlier post)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Faith from small things

The account of Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew) meeting Christ for the first time in today's Gospel (John 1:45-51) may seem a bit humorous: he is reluctant to meet Jesus – seemingly apathetic and even prejudiced – but when he meets our Lord, he is swept away by the very simplest thing.

Nathanael said to him,
“How do you know me?”

Jesus answered and said to him,
“Before Philip called you,
I saw you under the fig tree.”

Nathanael answered him,
“Rabbi, you are the Son of God;
you are the King of Israel.”

On another level, this reminds us of the power of the gift of faith: by which small, simple things can give an amazing amount of insight, comfort, and strength.

And the gift of faith is only the beginning: the merest glimpse at the eternal glories of what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Jesus answered and said to him,
“Do you believe
because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than this.”

And he said to him,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

What would he have thought?

It is hard to imagine what Tholmai would have thought of his son that day when his friend found him taking a break in the shade.

The friend was babbling excitedly about something and Tholmai's son was skeptical, to say the least, but at his friend's insistence, he went along to see what all the fuss was about.

When they arrived at their destination, Tholmai's son saw a man (whom he had never seen before) talking about him. They were good things, but strange to hear from a complete stranger.

"How do you know me?" Tholmai's son asked.

"Before Phillip called you, I saw you under the fig tree."

Tholmai's son saw the light. "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

There was a smile. "You believe because I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than this."

Nathaniel, son of Tholmai (Bartholomaios), indeed saw greater things, including the death and resurrection of Christ, and he would help spread tidings of these things to the world.

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle.

(from a previous post)

Sunday, August 23, 2009


"This saying is hard; who can accept it?"

So say many of Christ's disciples in today's Gospel (John 6:60-69) and so say many Christians and others in the world today.

Sad to say, a choice will be made in some parishes this weekend to choose the short form of the second reading rather than the full selection (Ephesians 5:21-32) in order to avoid hearing any mention of submission or subordination.

The specious excuse usually offered is that more than half the congregation would be instantly and irretrievably alienated by the "Seven Words You Cannot Say among the PC" (Politically Correct):

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands...

Oh, no! "Fire and brimstone coming down.... Rivers and seas boiling.... Dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria!"

Completely lost in this pandemonium - between the hypersensitive, the chauvinists, and the generally confused - is the fundamental point of the reading that was clearly stated just one verse before:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Men, women, husbands, wives, children, mothers, fathers, single people, childless people, laypeople, hierarchical people... whoever or whatever you are....

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

That is the bottom line of the reading.

That points also to the bottom line of the resistance to the reading (and indeed to most of the deposit of faith).

The modern world teaches us that submission and subordination are bad things: to be rejected in favor of "autonomy," "doing my own thing," "my feelings," "having a life," "my space," and all forms of narcissistic propaganda.

What the world is selling us, of course, is submission and subordination to whims and impulses.

What the world eventually leaves us with is "the dictatorship of relativism" and oftentimes outright totalitarianism as a "solution" to the chaos it has unleashed.

The submission that the world offers under the guise of "autonomy" is bound inextricably with conflict: conflict within oneself and conflict with others.

The submission of which St. Paul writes is bound inextricably with love: love of God and love of God's children (which includes love of one's true self).

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands
as to the Lord...

Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her....

The submission of which St. Paul writes can itself exist only with submission to the Lord.

Only in loving submission to the loving and infinite God of the Universe can we find true freedom: freedom from our limitations, freedom from the failures in our past, and freedom from the culture of selfishness that is all around us.

It is the same loving submission and the same choice as that of Joshua in today's first reading (from Joshua 24):

Decide today whom you will serve....

As for me and my household,
we will serve the LORD.

It is the same loving submission and the same choice as that of Simon Peter in today's Gospel:

Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and are convinced
that you are the Holy One of God.

We must rise above the dictatorship of whims that the world calls autonomy.

We must rise above the slavery of coordinated selfishness that the world falsely calls love.

We must love truly and be in submission to our loving God, so that we may more perfectly love and that we may be in loving and proper submission to one another.

(from an earlier post)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"The Lord enabled her to conceive"

It is a simple statement in today's first reading (Ruth 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17), in the midst of an extended narrative about how the great-grandparents of King David met each other, but the message of this simple statement has great meaning in our day and age.

When they came together as man and wife,
the LORD enabled her to conceive
and she bore a son.

In this day and age, if anyone says that sex is only for a wife with her husband (and a husband with his wife), the opinion-makers call it strange.

In this day and age, the definition of marriage itself is being systematically twisted by the media and even by judges and lawmakers.

In this day and age, conception is not seen as a gift from God, but as a commodity, almost like water: to be turned off and on at will or even bottled up and trucked in from outside.

In the midst of this lustful and wayward age, when Truth is shouted down by personal desires and political correctness, the Church holds firm: upholding the sacredness of every aspect of the transmission of human life.

We have been entrusted by God with the stewardship of Creation and the stewardship of our bodies, but when we start rationalizing and effectively making ourselves masters of our own universes, we not only offend God but we even set ourselves up for a backlash from Creation itself.

In the midst of this lustful, selfish, and wayward age, may we find peace and contentment in the plan and the ways of God.

Call no man Father

Today’s Gospel (Matthew 23:1-12) is often used by people to bash Catholics for calling priests "Father." Such an interpretation of our Lord's words invariably misses his point and would have been foreign to the Apostles and the early Church, who continued to use the term "father." St. Paul himself claim spiritual paternity of the Corinthian church in 1 Cornithians 4:15.

When we look deeper, today's Gospel offers us several points that are critically important for our life in the Church.

The first thing Christ does is to remind us of the importance of offices within the community of the faithful. Some among us are entrusted with certain functions within the body of believers and we should be respectful of these functions, even if the behavior of certain people entrusted with these functions (God forbid) is not respectable. To be sure, immoral behavior must be dealt with in an appropriate way, but God’s promises to his people ensure that his grace is at work even if individuals fail. The personal failures of Church leaders do not diminish the truth or the inner power of Church teaching.

Then Christ tells us not to call people “Rabbi,” “Teacher,” or “Father.” Taken together with the rest of Scripture, the point here is that ultimately it is God who is our leader, our teacher, and our father. Earthly fathers beget only by the grace of God – parents are co-creators with God. Earthly teachers of faith are only instruments: it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us. Earthly leaders may derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," but the ultimate source of authority and inalienable rights is God. We may use titles of respect for different people as appropriate, but must never forget that none of these people are anything more than instruments in the hand of God.

Our Lord also speaks of those who exalt themselves, meaning most particularly those who exalt themselves within the community of the faithful. It is easy here to point the finger at the clergy in this regard, but none of us are exempt from this danger. We may take just a little too much pleasure in being recognized as devout people. We may receive just a little too much satisfaction in having our good deeds recognized and appreciated by others. We may be just a little too confident that we are the virtuous ones who can do a much better job than whoever is in power right now.

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.

Finally, our Lord gives guidance to those who undertake the responsibilities necessary for the good of the people. Humble service must be the watchword of anyone who works in the Church. One of the greatest Popes of all time, Gregory the Great, used this Gospel passage to create his own job description, to always remind himself what he was doing, as he called himself "the servant of the servants of God."

Humility should not be confused with false modesty. Humility must be real. Nor should humility be confused with weakness or hesitancy regarding the truth or the power of God. We must be humble about ourselves, but strong in GodI am not worthy, but Jesus is Lord and his word is true.

The greatest among you
must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself
will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself

will be exalted.

(from an earlier post)

The Queenship of Mary

is a doubly strange concept for many today.

To begin with, the notion of queenship sounds alien to some people in an age of democracy.

Moreover, some see such a title as “the Queenship of Mary” to be an example of ideas about Christ’s mother they consider “over-the-top” at best.

But it is a mistake to view such titles and devotions as the “Queenship of Mary” in isolation from the saving work of the One Mediator, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as revealed in Scripture.

To be sure, Mary had a unique and critical role – beginning with her saying “Yes” to God, continuing through our Lord’s life and death on the cross, and even being present at the great Pentecost event – but everything Mary was and everything Mary did was made possible by the grace of Christ (her son though he was) and was a manifestation of her faith.

We see all of this tied together in the account of the Visitation (Lk 1), as Elizabeth proclaims the blessedness that flows from Mary’s faith and Mary herself exults in what has been done for her (and for all) by the grace of God her Savior.

We must remember also that our Lord promised a kingly eschatological role to his followers (e.g., Mt. 19:28).

This kingly role that awaits us flows from the power of faith and the power of Christ’s grace – all of which was exemplified in that humble teenage mother who said “Yes” to God. For all of these reasons and more, the Church celebrates today the Queenship of Mary. detail from 'the Madonna of the Magnificat' by Sandro Botticelli
(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 21, 2009

"Need a life"

Every once in a while we read of parents who neglect their children using the excuse “I needed a life.”

They do not recognize that they have a life: a life of a parent – a life infinitely more meaningful than anything else that parent might think is more “fun”.

(I write not in condemnation, for I too am a sinner.)

In today’s first reading (Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22), we hear the famous story of woman who puts family first: even her mother-in-law!

God comes first, of course, and true family obligations never require denying the Truth, committing evil, or directly cooperating with evil.

Also, for priests and religious, "family" includes the faith community to which they belong.

Moreover, all of us must be prudent (without rationalization): destroying ourselves does not help our families.

But family comes before self: before comfort, before a non-family “life”.

An energetic pastor

Joseph Sarto's father was a postman but he wanted to be a priest. From his very first assignment he was a tireless worker, tackling multiple responsibilities at once. He kept up his own studies, while providing night school for adults in the area. Many towns in the region asked him to preach in their parishes. He would later be heavily involved in the seminary, energetically promoting study of St. Thomas Aquinas and of Gregorian Chant.

When he was 54 he was appointed bishop of a troubled diocese. Again, his energy, vision, and devotion proved very successful. Within ten years he was promoted to head an archdiocese and was named a Cardinal.

Ten years after that, against his wishes, he was elected Pope.

In the eleven years of his pontificate, he initiated a complete revision of canon law as well as the Liturgy. He worked to navigate the Church through a very dangerous political environment as well as philosophical challenges to Church teaching. He encouraged early and frequent reception of the Eucharist. A strong Pope, he was personally humble, austere, and devoted to pastoral work: especially preaching and hearing confessions.

He was greatly troubled by the political instability in the world and a growing militarization. His fears would be brutally confirmed. Two months after a high-profile assassination, a ferocious war broke out.

Within days, the man born as Giuseppe Sarto but forever known as Pope St. Pius X, died of grief, 95 years ago yesterday. He was canonized forty years later and the memory of Pope St. Pius X is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Be careful

Today’s first reading (Judges 11:29-39a) is a disturbing, cautionary bit of history.

One of ancient Israel’s leaders makes a rash vow that leads him to kill his own daughter.

There is the obvious lesson about making promises to God without fully thinking them out.

There is also the lesson that God’s blessings – even great and powerful blessings – do not always come with infallibility.

The Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah” and God accomplished mighty deeds through him.

But then Jephthah makes a thoughtless vow and follows up by committing a horrible ontic evil.

Discernment, of course, is the answer: discernment in the things we do and the promises we make to God.

He did not want the life society offered him

What interested him was a life of virtue and prayer and he spoke passionately of this with his family and friends.

A new and very different monastery had opened several miles from his home. It focused on absolute simplicity and prayer.

This was the place he was looking for. His enthusiasm was so great that when he entered the monastery in his early twenties, four of his five brothers came with him... as well as more than two dozen of his friends.

Now he could devote himself totally to prayer.

However, it was clear that his vocation to prayer was combined with extraordinary charisms of leadership. Three years later, he was sent to establish a new monastery in a place known as the Valley of Bitterness (which he renamed "Clear Valley"). The reputation of the monastery spread quickly and many flocked to join, even his widowed father. He had to open still more monasteries.

His reputation for holiness, wisdom and leadership grew so much that the wider Church many times would turn to him to help solve difficult challenges. He was summoned to a meeting of the nation’s bishops to help sort out serious problems that had arisen in some dioceses. He was called to combat heresies and rally political support in defense of the Church and of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. He was even asked to decide who was the rightful Pope, after two groups of Cardinals elected two different men on the same day. He also wrote important spiritual books.

Bernard of Clairvaux, pioneer of the Cistercian order, died in his 63rd year in 1153. His reputation did not diminish in death. He was canonized twenty years later. Two centuries later, Dante depicted him as his guide through the highest heavens in the Divina Commedia. In the 19th century he was declared a doctor of the Church. Cistercian monasteries around the world today look to him as one of the founders.

His memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"No one has hired us"

This brief lament in today’s Gospel (Matthew 20:1-16) is echoed millions of times nowadays.

Unemployment is a terrible thing on many levels: social, economic, personal, and emotional.

The image of today’s parable recalls the places where day laborers congregate, waiting for someone to drive by and hire them for a day or a few hours of work.

One of the remarkable things of the parable is that even at the end of the day, there are still some who have not given up and gone home, but rather have stayed in the marketplace, looking for work.

Remarkable perseverance that is rewarded.

Of course, there is not always a happy ending, where a person is hired at the last minute and generously compensated.

Employed or unemployed, however, we are reminded by today’s readings that God is our ultimate employer: the One for whom we ultimately work and the One by whom we are ultimately rewarded.

God has hired us.

Employed, unemployed, or underemployed, may we find reward in serving the Lord and His people.

A John

He was often seen in the company of prostitutes and he went by the name of "John."

It wasn't what one might think: he was a priest.

Also, a notorious Cardinal vouched for him.

Seriously, few souls are more lost than those who find themselves in situations where they sell themselves for money or whatever. They are in a dreadful trap and society does not always make it easy for them to get out of it.

Father John disregarded the cynicism of society and reached out to these lost sheep, establishing a place of refuge to which women of "ill-fame" could go and change their lives.

He did other good work as well, from educating the clergy to spreading devotion to the Sacred Heart. He also established new religious orders (for which he needed the political assistance of Cardinal Richelieu and others).

St. John Eudes died at the age of 78 on this very day in 1680.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Why has all this happened to us?"

Many of us might ask the same question as Gideon in today’s first reading (Judges 6:11-24a):

My Lord, if the LORD is with us,
why has all this happened to us?
Where are his wondrous deeds
of which our fathers told us when they said,
‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’
For now the LORD has abandoned us...

The angel of the Lord does not answer Gideon’s “Why?”.

The angel simply encourages Gideon to go forward “with the strength you have” and with the assurance that the Lord is with him.

Likewise in our own lives, we may not always understand why things happen, even if the Lord is with us. The ways and the wisdom of the God of heaven and earth are not necessarily easy for finite humans to comprehend.

Yet those who are faithful have God’s assurance, expressed so beautifully in today’s Responsorial Psalm (85:9, 11-12, 13-14):

I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD–for he proclaims peace
To his people, and to his faithful ones,
and to those who put in him their hope.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Following other gods

There are people who say there is no God.

In truth, these very same people worship many gods.

They worship their intellect and their pride.

They often worship and serve their own pleasure

Sometimes they will worship and serve something outside of themselves: sometimes money, sometimes power, sometimes a lover, sometimes a philosophy, sometimes a national identity, sometimes a charismatic leader.

In today’s first reading (Judges 2:11-19), the Children of Israel bring disaster upon themselves again and again because they want to fit in with everybody around them and follow gods that are not God, because they think it is a good thing to do.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:16-22), our Lord Jesus Christ says, “There is only One who is good.”

May you and I not follow other gods.

May we follow, worship and serve only God.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Watch carefully how you live"

The first words of today’s second reading (Ephesians 5:15-20) could not be more obviously relevant for these days of economic and other upheavals.

Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.

Prudence, prudence, prudence – this should be our daily motto in these challenging times.

In addition to prudence, we must also exercise discernment.

Do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.

Finally, we should not be focused simply on today’s dangers or the rigors of prudence: we must also be attentive to a full spiritual life.

Be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another
in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


In these days of economic upheaval, the familiar words of the Magnificat in today’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-56) resonate strongly:

The Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

There are some who see upheavals as an opportunity: some people get torn down, other people get helped, but they themselves try to gain greater advantages for themselves from both.

The Magnificat reminds us that it is God who casts down and lifts up.

Earthly wealth and comfort will be worse than useless if we are not right with God.

Physical poverty and suffering will be worse than tragic if we are not right with God.

In good times and in bad, we need to be prudent; we need to be altruistic; but most of all, rich or poor or in-between, we need to be right with God.

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

How much more Mary...

And Enoch walked with God:
and he was not;
for God took him.
Gen 5:24

By faith Enoch was translated
that he should not see death;
and was not found,
because God had translated him:
for before his translation
he had this testimony,
that he pleased God.
Hebrews 11:5

And it came to pass,
as they still went on, and talked,
that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire,
and horses of fire,
and parted them both asunder;
and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

2 Kings 2:11

And she spake out with a loud voice, and said,
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
And whence is this to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For, lo,
as soon as the voice of thy salutation
sounded in mine ears,
the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed:
for there shall be a performance of those things
which were told her from the Lord.
Luke 1:42-45

"...and if He had prepared a place in heaven for the Apostles,
how much more for His mother;
if Enoch had been translated and Elijah had gone to heaven,
how much more Mary..."
Theoteknos, Bishop of Livias (near Jericho), c. 600 A.D.

Today the Church celebrates
the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(from a previous post)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Providence and zero-sum games

Mors tua vita mea, an old boss of mine used to say, Your death is my life.

It is an ancient saying for what is called in the modern world a “zero-sum game” – a situation where “win-win” is not possible: one person wins absolutely and the other loses utterly.

It is vitally important to avoid such situations, of course. A “win-win” situation is better for everyone.

But sometimes that is impossible.

Today’s first reading (Joshua 24:1-3) and Responsorial Psalm (136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22, and 24) describe a situation which was de facto a zero-sum game: the survival of the Children of Israel in the Promised Land was incompatible with the previous status quo and... God cared for His people.

Thus we have these verses from today’s Psalm that sound so strange to our ears:

...Who smote great kings,
for His mercy endures forever;
And slew powerful kings,
for His mercy endures forever.

Yes, God showed great mercy to the Children of Israel, but should not God have shown mercy also to the kings and their people?

We cannot exclude the possibility that these great and powerful kings brought wrath upon themselves and their people by imprudent choices and wicked deeds.

Nor can we exclude the possibility that these kings and their people did not deserve all of what happened to them.

No matter what: the mercy of God endures forever and His providence is often beyond our ability to comprehend.

How did God show mercy to these kings and their people? We may never know in this world.

We do know, of course, that even when bad things happen to us, we can rely on the mercy and love of God in faith.

God is mighty. God is wise. God is loving.

The loving mercy of God can and will overcome – even when we think it impossible.


We are all human. We are all fallible. We are all sinners. (I know I am.)

We all know people who have gotten divorced, even among those who call themselves conservative (the most beloved politician of American conservatives was divorced).

We all know of priests who have solemnly promised to be celibate who have broken that promise: sometimes criminally.

Broken vows can be tragic, but even more tragic would be for us to let go of our ideals and resign ourselves – as individuals, as a Church, and as humankind – to hopeless mediocrity.

And so in today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:3-12) our Lord challenges us with truth and with ideals about marriage and about celibacy.

Some Pharisees approached Jesus, and tested him, saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause whatever?”

He said in reply,
“Have you not read that from the beginning
the Creator made them male and female
and said,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh?

So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

Therefore, what God has joined together,
man must not separate.”

They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that the man give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss her?”

He said to them,
“Because of the hardness of your hearts
Moses allowed you to divorce your wives,
but from the beginning it was not so.

I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife
(unless the marriage is unlawful)
and marries another commits adultery.”

His disciples said to him,
“If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.”

He answered, “Not all can accept this word,
but only those to whom that is granted.

Some are incapable of marriage
because they were born so;
some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage
for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.

Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.”

We must not let go of our ideals, neither the ideals of marriage nor of celibacy, even if we or others fall short.

When we fall short, we can and must come to the Father of mercies for the grace of forgiveness and for the grace to go forward as best we can in this world: faithful to his truth, faithful to the ideals he has given us, and thankful for his mercy.

(adapted from a previous post)

Mad Max

Some said that there were things that made Max mad.

Some said that he said bad things about Jews or at least worked with people who said terrible things about Jews (during a very sensitive time).

But Max did not hate Jews: he had even worked at great personal risk on behalf of Jews.

He loved all people and most of all, he loved the truth.

Of course, Max would occasionally step out of line.

One day Max stepped out of line and took the place of a man who had been chosen for death.

Father Maximilian Maria Kolbe was put to death by lethal injection on this very day 68 years ago at Auschwitz.

He would be canonized by another Polish priest, the great Pope John Paul II, in 1982.

(from an earliier post)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Forgiving disrespect

Of all of the offenses committed nowadays, disrespect often seems to be the most hated, even while it seems to be committed more and more all the time.

Disrespect also can be very hard to truly forgive.

The offense of disrespect is good to keep in mind when considering today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-19:1).

For example, Lord, if my brother disrespects me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?

Jesus answered,
"I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times."

The offense of respect also helps us understand what our Lord says about the king and the unforgiving servant.

As human beings, we are owed a certain amount of respect.

God, the Creator of all things, who loves us from Eternity, is owed infinitely more respect.

That is what makes our sin against God infinitely worse.

That is what also makes God’s forgiveness infinitely more wonderful.

That is why we must forgive each other, even when we feel disrespected.

We must forgive... or else we risk entering Eternity unforgiven.

So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.

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

The Pope was his enemy

In fact, he made himself head of a rival church.

He would later be arrested and soon would be astounded to find the Pope incarcerated there with him.

Pontian, the only pope of that name, had been the latest of those against whom Hippolytus had rebelled.

Pontian had actually resigned from the papacy after he had been arrested by the Emperor in 235 so that the Church would have a free shepherd, but now he saw an opportunity to bring a lost sheep back into the fold.

In that terrible place, Pontian reconciled Hippolytus to the Church and in that terrible place they both died: martyrs for the one true faith of Christ.

Their memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Failing to reach the Promised Land

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives a promise that would make any Christian giddy:

Amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.

But in the first reading (Deuteronomy 34:1-12), the greatest of all Old Testament prophets, through whom the Law of God was given and who regularly spoke with God face to face, dies just short of the Promised Land.

It would be easy to say to point out that Moses – as great as he was – came long before the Incarnation, redemptive death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and that those who believe in Christ have infinite benefits that Moses did not enjoy in his lifetime.

Yet it would be foolish to pretend that we too – and even some of the greatest Christian saints – may experience disappointment in life.

Even in our spiritual lives, we may feel that we may never reach the Promised Land.

Yes, we may have the grace of Christ – crucified and risen – but we are also followers of Christ and should never be surprised or disappointed that we may also be called to follow Him on the way of the Cross.

Yet, if we are faithful to the grace and truth and love of Christ, no matter how hard or long our personal Way of Sorrows may be, the infinite power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – in accordance with His loving and infinitely wise plan – will bring us to the eternal life and joy of heaven He promises.

Young wife and mother and...

Jane got married when she was twenty. Her husband was a good man and they were very happy together. They both wanted kids and they wasted no time: she had six before the time of their tenth wedding anniversary.

But it would not be a happy anniversary. Jane’s husband was killed the year before in a hunting accident.

A few years later, she attended a Lenten mission that moved her tremendously. The visiting bishop who gave the mission agreed to be her spiritual director. Several years later she and three other women decided to start a religious community of their own. The primary purpose of the community was gentle prayer, while remaining mindful of the poor. So many more women became interested, Jane had to open more monasteries for her community. After three decades, there would be 80.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal died at the age of 69 in 1641 and was buried near her longtime spiritual director St. Francis de Sales. The order she founded, the Sisters of the Visitation, would continue to flourish and other great saints would come from their number.

Her memory is celebrated on this day.

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Despising toddlers?

We have all seen and heard them: toddlers having a meltdown in the middle of a store or some other public place.

Some parents handle the situation well; some parents have meltdowns of their own.

As for the bystanders, usually those who have recently had children at that age are very understanding, while some others (especially those who have never had children or worked with children) are not.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:1-5, 10, 12-14), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says many wonderful and beautiful things about children.

Amen, I say to you,
unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.

Whoever becomes humble like this child
is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

And whoever receives one child such as this in my name
receives me.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you
that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

So it is for the children when they are peaceful, loving, trustful, and innocent.

So it is also for the tantrum-throwing toddlers.

God, the most loving and understanding of parents, understands.

He understands and loves even the toddler who screams and cries like a wounded banshee in the middle of the supermarket.

He understands and loves even you and me.

She was rich and beautiful

and all the men wanted her. They approached her with their charming smiles and boastful dreams.

They bored her.

Instead, she was fascinated with the village idiot.

To be sure, where she lived was much larger than a village and he was technically not an idiot. He had been a fine young man from a good family, but his life had gone off track. He was virtually homeless and went about town talking loudly.

Strangely enough, other young men of the town had joined him. He said they were embracing the simplicity and the poverty of Christ.

She knew what that meant.

She and other young women needed to embrace the simplicity and poverty of Christ.

Around the age of eighteen, she withdrew from the world. Her father threatened to drag her back home, but he was soon realized that it was pointless.

St. Clare of Assisi, friend of St. Francis, led the community she founded for four decades until she died of natural causes on this very day in the year 1253.Tens of thousands of Poor Clare nuns continue to follow her example of prayer and devotion to Christ, from Kiryushi, Japan, to Birmingham, Alabama (the convent of Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN).

(from an earlier post)

Monday, August 10, 2009

"A cheerful giver"

Today’s readings and Feast have a clear theme, summed up by Saint Paul (almost like a bumper sticker):

God loves a cheerful giver.

Saint Lawrence, whose Feast we celebrate today, cheerfully gave to the poor, exemplifying what Saint Paul writes of in the first reading (2 Corinthians 9:6-10) – an attitude and way of life to which we too are called:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Each must do as already determined,
without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.

God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.

When the time came, Saint Lawrence also cheerfully gave his life for Christ, embodying what Christ seaks of in today’s Gospel (John 12:24-26) – an attitude and way of life to which we too are called:

Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground

and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.

Whoever serves me
must follow me,
and where I am,
there also will my servant be.

People told stories about Larry

Everyone knew that he was a deacon of the Church, that he was well thought of, and that he was arrested during one of those large-scale roundups by the authorities.

Some said he was originally from Spain. Some said that when he was asked to show where the “riches” of the Church were kept, he pointed to the poor.

Some said that he ran into one of his old mentors in prison as he was being led to his execution.

Many said that Larry was killed by being burned alive (and afterwards he always appeared in paintings with a gridiron).

What is accepted by historians is that St. Lawrence, deacon of the Church of Rome, was executed under the emperor Valerian on this very day in the year 258.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sustenance, sacrifice, and communion

Today’s Gospel (John 6:41-51) is a middle part of our Lord’s “Bread of Life” discourse. Especially when taken together with the other readings of the day (1 Kings 19:4-8 and Ephesians 4:30-5:2), three important aspects of the Eucharist are conveyed: sustenance, sacrifice, and communion.

The Eucharist sustains – “whoever eats this bread will live forever”.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time,
touched him, and ordered,
“Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”

The Eucharist is sacrifice and communion – “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”.

Brothers and sisters:
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
must be removed from you, along with all malice.
And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma

Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Because of your little faith"

Why did we fail? the disciples ask.

Because of your little faith,” says the Lord in today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:14-20).

Ouch and double-ouch.

It is not enough that they failed, they are told that their faith is lacking too.

Sometimes you and I hear this in our own lives, when we tell a fellow believer of how things have gone wrong or of how we have prayed for something that did not happen and this fellow believer says, “Well, you just didn’t believe enough.”

There is, of course, a tremendous difference when our Lord says this.

Fellow believers can say “you didn’t believe enough” as a way to wash their hands of your spiritual or other problem and also as an excuse not to deal with the challenging spiritual issue of (apparently) unanswered prayer.

When our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls attention to our “little faith”, it is really an invitation to have greater faith, for He is the source of the grace by which we have faith.

This is made more explicit in the parallel to this Gospel (Mark 9:23-24):

Jesus said to him, "'If you can!'
Everything is possible to one who has faith."

Then the boy's father cried out,
"I do believe, help my unbelief!"

We believe, but we need to believe more.

We need always to ask the Lord in faith for ever more faith.

A cult had taken over the town

The cult denounced marriage, childbearing, and eating meat. They advocated cohabitation and suicide.

The Church spoke out, but with little effect: partly because the churchmen there lived very comfortable lives that did not seem to resonate with spiritual values.

The Pope sent two special missionaries to do what they could. One was a 30-something priest from Spain.

The two missionaries exhorted the problematic churchmen to embrace again the values of the Gospel. They engaged the cult leaders in vigorous debate.

They made great progress, but there was also a great backlash. Violence and vindictive investigations followed.

In the face of all this, the Spanish priest appealed constantly for peace, healing and forgiveness (while continuing to assert the truths of the faith).

The priest resolved to start his own religious order: focused on strong preaching and Christian austerity. He encountered obstacles, but he also found powerful allies.

Some say that one night the Spanish priest had a dream about a beggar and then met the beggar the very next day. The beggar embraced the priest and said, "You are my companion and must walk with me. If we hold together, no earthly power can withstand us."

The beggar’s name was Francis and he was from the small Italian city of Assisi. The Spanish priest’s name was Dominic de Guzman. The orders that these two men founded would change Christendom forever.

St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), died in August 1221, and his memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, August 07, 2009

"...according to his conduct"

Today's readings remind us that our actions have consequences.

In the first reading (Deuteronomy 4:32-40), Moses tells the people:

You must keep his statutes and commandments
which I enjoin on you today,
that you and your children after you may prosper,
and that you may have long life on the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.

In the Gospel (Matthew 16:24-28), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ warns that when he returns in glory, “he will repay each according to his conduct.”

He also says,

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Today’s readings also remind us of the Lord’s awesome power and the care He shows for His people.

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

Did a people ever hear the voice of God
speaking from the midst of fire, as you did,
and live?
Or did any god venture to go
a nd take a nation for himself
from the midst of another nation,
by testings, by signs and wonders, by war,
with his strong hand and outstretched arm,
and by great terrors,
all of which the LORD, your God,
did for you in Egypt before your very eyes?

All this you were allowed to see
that you might know the LORD is God
and there is no other.

Our actions indeed have consequences, for good or for ill.

Yet thanks be to God, for He not only holds us accountable, He also extends to us infinite forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

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

The new bishop

Not long before his first anniversary in office, the bishop was saying Mass quietly.

Suddenly, armed men broke in.

They beheaded the bishop as well as some deacons who were with him, leaving their bodies where they had just been celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Sixtus, the second bishop of Rome by that name, was buried in that same area, in the catacombs of St. Callistus, in August 258. The memory of Pope St. Sixtus II and those who were martyred with him is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Turning the tide

Doctors didn't know as much about the disease as they wanted to, but they did know that it was sexually transmitted, incurable, deadly, and spreading fast.

Adding to their misery, the dying men were shunned by society.

A newly ordained but middle-aged priest, who had walked away from a successful career as a lawyer and diplomat, decided to open a place where they could be cared for in peace. Other priests joined him.

These preists combined these good works with devotion to the Eucharist and preaching. They helped turn back the tide of people leaving the Church in the area where they worked.

St. Cajetan died in Naples, Italy, in 1547. His memory is celebrated on this day.

(from an earlier post)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"In a dark place"

For many of us, things are not going well.

Some of us may feel that our lives are in a dark place.

Saint Peter speaks to us in today’s first reading (2 Peter 1:16-19):

We possess the prophetic message
that is altogether reliable.

You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns
and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Life may be hard, but God is mightier – infinitely mightier.

His love will never fail and He will bring His faithful ones to the fullness of joy and salvation – no matter what may happen in the meantime.

We possess the prophetic message
that is altogether reliable.

You will do well to be attentive to it,
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until day dawns
and the morning star rises in your hearts.

The Feast of the Transfiguration

Detail from 'The Transfiguration' by Raphael - Vatican Museum Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
"Lord, it is good that we are here.

Matthew 17:1-4a

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Self-fulfilling despair

Sometimes it is easy to despair, especially in times like these.

As believers, we know that despair is a trap that blocks us from God’s grace and the infinite possibilities of His merciful will.

Indeed, many times, despair can be self-fulfilling, as it is in today’s first reading (Numbers 13:1-2, 25–14:1, 26a-29a, 34-35) when the Children of Israel despair of entering the land God has promised them, effectively blocking God’s promise, and dooming themselves to death in the desert.

On the other hand, in today's Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28), a woman consumed with stress and worry perseveres even in the face of what seems like a rebuff from Christ and he faith is rewarded with a miracle.

Despair and presumption are two sides to the same deadly coin.

We need to be clear about reality, we need to be prudent in our judgments, AND we need to be faithful to God – always and in everything – no matter what.

Mother of WHAT?!

Some people are taken aback when they hear Mary described as “Mother of God.”

The purpose of this title is to express a critically important truth about Jesus, not simply to say nice things about his mother.

Some people used to say that Mary was only the mother of Christ’s human nature, making it seem almost as if there were two Christs: one human, one divine.

In fact, there is only one Lord Jesus Christ. Mary gave birth to Jesus: a single person fully human and fully divine. In that sense Mary can thus be called Mother of God (Mother in the sense of giving birth to One who is God, not in the sense that she was the cause of God).

The expression “Mother of God” is therefore primarily an affirmation of the unity of the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the most important churches in the city of Rome was dedicated to this truth. The dedication of that church, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, is celebrated throughout the world on this day.

(from earlier posts)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Courage and call

There are two Gospels available for today’s Mass.

Today is also the memorial of Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests and of many seminaries.

Taken altogether, we have powerful messages about courage and hearing God’s call.

There are many among us who are hearing the call of God to the religious life. There are many young men who are hearing the call of God to the priesthood.

Some of them, tragically, are listening more to the temptations of selfishness, the noise of the world, the legitimate complaints against a few priests and religious, and whispers of doubt.

The whispers of doubt may even try to build on this verse from the second of today’s Gospel options (Matthew 15:1-2, 10-14): “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.”

To be sure, discernment is critical, but wallowing in doubt is not discernment.

Pray, study, pray, frequent the sacraments, pray, consult with multiple holy people, and pray.

We should also hear the words of the first of today’s Gospel options (Matthew 14:22-36):

Peter said to him in reply,
“Lord, if it is you,
command me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come.”

Peter got out of the boat
and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But when he saw how strong the wind was
he became frightened;
and, beginning to sink,
he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand
and caught him,
and said to him,
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

We must discern carefully and prayerfully, but no matter what God is calling us to do, as the hymn says,

Let us turn to Jesus.
Let our choice be strong.

A weekend at St. John Vianney Seminary

Vocations Awareness Weekend

November 13 - 15, 2009

St. John Vianney Seminary
2900 SW 87 Avenue
Miami Florida 33165

"This retreat is for young men ages 18-35 who are considering a vocation to the diocesan priesthood. This unique weekend experience offers you an opportunity to spend a weekend experiencing seminary life. For a more detailed description of this weekend, click here.

"Registration is limited! Please e-mail your registration or call to sign up. For more information please contact: 305-762-1137"

from the website of the Archdiocese of Miami

"A nice guy, but not bright"

That is what people thought of him when he was trying to become a priest.

That is also what other priests thought of him after he was ordained a priest (to everyone’s amazement).

He was assigned to a parish in the boondocks, to a town where very few people cared about Church (thus limiting the damage some feared he might clumsily do).

Nothing much was heard for a while, but as the years passed, everyone in the region noticed that many, many people were passing through the small town with the not-so-bright priest.

They were people from all parts of the country and from all walks of life, but they were all people who shared the same need – the need for conversion, the need for forgiveness – and nobody was a more grace-filled minister of conversion and forgiveness than this not-so-bright priest in the boondocks.

As many as twenty thousand people would come to him every year and he would spend as much as 18 hours a day in the confessional.

The man whom other priests had thought was not too bright, would outshine them all and would become their patron saint.

St. Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney, the Curé d'Ars, the patron saint of parish priests, died 150 years ago today.

(updated from a previous post)

Monday, August 03, 2009

Do it yourself?

In today’s first reading (Numbers 11:4b-15), Moses is so wearied by his responsibilities that he wants to die.

I cannot carry all this people by myself,
for they are too heavy for me.
If this is the way you will deal with me,
then please do me the favor of killing me at once,
so that I need no longer face this distress.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:13-21), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ tells his disciples to feed thousands of people by themselves: an obviously impossible task.

Moses, of course, would continue fulfilling his responsibilities and the disciples would be able to feed the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish – all by the power and grace of God.

In our own lives, we need to be prudent in the responsibilities we take upon ourselves, but we must also remember that when God gives us responsibilities, we are not alone: God is there with us and He is mighty.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

What am I doing this for?

Every once in a while, as we struggle through yet another day filled with all of the stress and toil of our lives, we may ask ourselves this question:

What am I doing this for?

In today’s Gospel (John 6:24-35), our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us an answer and an alternative:

Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Speaking the truth to deadly force

I sometimes feel that “speaking the truth to power” is an overused expression. It sometimes seems as if it is simply a canned phrase to make people of a particular political perspective feel good about saying what they say.

Every once in a while it can even seem a little puerile: like being congratulated for talking back to one’s parents, instead of just being an adult and involving oneself in the responsibilities and processes of political discourse and representative government – while remaining always faithful to the Truth.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 14:1-12) we have a true example of “speaking the truth to power”: in a world of kings and emperors for whom massacres are a frequent tool of power, John the Baptist tells a king he is doing something wrong in his personal and public life.

John did not say it to make himself feel good or look good. He simply tells the truth.

Indeed, in that environment, he is not just “speaking the truth to power”: he is speaking the truth to deadly force – and he is killed for it.

Thanks be to God, most of us live in societies with political and other freedoms, where we can be faithful to the Truth and work effectively within the political and governmental spheres.

Most of us will not be in a position to have to speak the truth to deadly power – although it may sometimes come to that.

Always and everywhere, however, to the powerful (conservative or liberal) and to the helpless, we must speak the Truth and love of Christ.

What shall we pray for this month?

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for August is:

"That public opinion may be more aware of the problems of millions of displaced persons and refugees, and that concrete solutions may be found for their often tragic situation".

His mission intention is:

"That those Christians who are discriminated against and persecuted in many countries because of the name of Christ may have their human rights, equality and religious freedom recognised, in order to be able to live and profess their own faith freely".

The boy was a prodigy

He was a master of the keyboard by 13.

When he was 16, he received his law degree.

By his mid-twenties, he was at the top of his profession and living the high life.

And then he crashed to earth: blowing a big case.

He took a little time off and thought about his life. It was then that he felt the call to a religious vocation.

He was ordained a priest at 30. He preached and ministered to street people and also worked with different religious orders.

When he was 36, he founded his own religious order, but was not elected Superior General until a decade later.

He encountered many obstacles – at one point, nearly everyone abandoned him – but he persevered.

When he was 66, the Pope made him a bishop. Although he faced many challenges there (including disasters in the local economy and even an assassination attempt), he reinvigorated his diocese.

But illnesses piled up, even partial paralysis. His resignation, however, was not accepted until he was 78, whereupon he returned to his cell, ready to die.

But he would still have a long road to travel. His order continued to be buffeted by many forces. At times, even his spiritual life would offer little refuge, as he was spiritually afflicted from many directions.

Finally, Alphonsus Liguori died at the age of 90 on this very day 222 years ago. Six years after his death, the religious order he had founded, the Redemptorists, was fully restored. St. Alphonsus Ligouri was canonized in 1839 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1871.

(from a previous post)