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...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Don't look back

If we have made mistakes, we need to learn from them and move on.

If we have sinned, we need to do truly the best we can (by the grace of God) to make up for what we have done, seek the free gift of God’s forgiveness, and go forward.

If we have committed ourselves to Christ, however, there must be no looking back.

It is dangerous, if not deadly, to entertain doubts or “what if” fantasies contrary to our commitment to Christ.

The words of Christ at the end of today’s Gospel (Luke 9:57-62) are plain.

No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind
is fit for the Kingdom of God.

For those among us who have looked back, who have wavered, and who have fallen – God is merciful.

For those among us with hands firmly on the plow in the field of the Lord – God is absolutely reliable.

Don’t look back: go forward in the mercy and in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

He was a young man from the boondocks

lured by the attraction of the greatest city in the world, but when he got there, what ultimately seized his imagination were not the great monuments of power and commerce, but rather the churches and the faithful people.

He received baptism and devoted himself to studying ever more deeply the faith he had embraced.

During his life, he would find himself in many places, but his favorite place was in the Holy Land: in Bethlehem, where he would live and work for many years, often in near isolation.

He wrote books, sermons, and commentaries full of wisdom and insight, but his greatest work was commissioned by an old bishop friend of his: a high-quality translation of the entire Scriptures into the language of the day that could be given to the people for their use.

So great was the quality of his work, his translation of the Holy Scriptures is still used even today: nearly one thousand and six hundred years after he completed it!

Saint Jerome – priest, hermit, and ancient Father of the Church – died in Bethlehem on this very day in the year 420, about fifteen years after completing what would be known as the Vulgate or Biblia Vulgata: a Bible for the people (who in Jerome’s time used Latin).

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Escalator clause

"Amen, amen, I say to you,
you will see heaven opened
and the angels of God
ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

The last words of today’s Gospel (John 1:47-51) present us with an interesting image.

Scholars say it is an allusion to “Jacob’s ladder” (Genesis 28:12) which was actually more accurately translated as “stairway”.

Our modern experience might even update this image (if you think climbing a few flights of stairs is hard, imagine climbing a stairway to heaven!) to something like a celestial escalator, enabling the angels of God to ascend and descend effortlessly.

However it is imagined, what does it really mean for our Lord to speak of angels of God ascending and descending on Him?

The key point is that Jesus alone is the connection between God and humanity: no one comes to the Father except through Christ and nothing that the Father does for humanity is without Christ.

Angels exist and are at work in our midst, but it is only by the power of God that their work has effect and it is only through Christ that they minister to humanity.

If that is the case for angels – powerful spiritual beings that they are – how much more so for us: all that we do must be done in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ.

Saint Michael the Archangel

Saint Michael the Archangel
defend us in battle;
be our protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God, thrust into hell
Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.


Sancte Michael Archangele,
defende nos in proelio;
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli
esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae Caelestis,
satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum
pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute in infernum detrude.

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

(from a previous post)

I am Gabriel...

that stand in the presence of God

and am sent to speak unto thee
Luke 1:19

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

(from a previous post)

I am Raphael...

Raphael's Departure - by Giovanni Belivarteone of the seven holy angels,
which present the prayers of the saints,
and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.
Tobit 12:15

Today the Church celebrates the Archangels
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

(from a previous post)

Monday, September 28, 2009

"From the land of the rising sun..."

Today’s readings are for the Monday of the 26th Week in Ordinary time – not specially chosen for the memorials celebrated on the 28th of September (which, of course, falls on different days and different weeks from year to year).

Yet it is a striking coincidence that on a day when the Church memorializes some who suffered death for their Christian faith in Japan, the first reading (Zechariah 8:1-8) says this:

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Lo, I will rescue my people from the land of the rising sun...

The explicit reference of the prophecy, of course, is not the national symbol of Japan, but rather part of an idiomatic expression (much like “from the four corners of the world”).

The primary message is that God will reunite His scattered people, restoring their relationship with Him in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

It is also a message for us in our own spiritual lives: lives that sometimes feel scattered, empty, and perhaps even irreparable.

The restorative powers of God are truly infinite: able to turn our short-term failures into good things that age well, our daily drudgery into hope and joy, our scattered spiritual lives into a deeply peaceful life centered on Him.

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Old men and old women,
each with staff in hand because of old age,
shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem.
The city shall be filled
with boys and girls playing in its streets.

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Even if this should seem impossible
in the eyes of the remnant of this people,
shall it in those days be impossible in my eyes also,
says the LORD of hosts?

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Lo, I will rescue my people
from the land of the rising sun,
and from the land of the setting sun.
I will bring them back to dwell within Jerusalem.

They shall be my people,
and I will be their God,
with faithfulness and justice.

Lawrence had a wife and three kids

He had a modest job as a document specialist and he went to Church regularly.

Out of nowhere, this average husband and father was accused of murder.

The local justice system being notoriously corrupt and unreliable, fellow church members arranged for him to leave the country.

This average husband and father soon found himself on a ship with four priests and a leper.

To make matters even more uncomfortable, after the ship left port, Lawrence discovered that they were going to a distant country where Christians were routinely tortured and killed

Sure enough, not long after their arrival, Lawrence and his companions were arrested. They were cruelly tortured for days, but they reaffirmed their faith in Christ and rejected the offer of release.

Lawrence said, "I'm a Christian and I will remain a Christian even to the point of death. Only to God will I offer my life. Even if I had a thousand lives, I would still offer them to Him. This is the reason why I came here in Japan, to leave my native land as a Christian and die here as a Christian, offering my life to God alone."

They were all hung upside down and made to bleed slowly to death.

Lawrence was the last to die, days later, on September 29, 1637 outside Nagasaki.

The great Pope John Paul II beatified Lawrence Ruiz and his companions nearly 350 years later in Lawrence’s home country of the Philippines. They were canonized on October 18, 1987.

(From an earlier post)

A Dysfunctional Family

Vaclav was a fine young man, raised by his grandmother in the Christian faith of his father. His mother, however, hated Christianity and when Vaclav's father died, she sought to drive it out of the country their family ruled.

Though he was not yet of age, responding to the pleas of the people, Vaclav overthrew his mother. He made an alliance with the neighboring superpower, brought in more priests, built churches and cared for the poor.

One Sunday, he was visiting a church in another town. He planned to return home after Mass, but his brother stopped him and made him stay the night.

Early the next morning, as the church bells rang, Vaclav rose and went out. His brother followed him to the church door.

Vaclav, knowing that his brother and his mother had been scheming against him, looked back at him and said: "Brother, you were a good subject to me yesterday".

"And now I intend to be a better one!" said his brother as he struck Vaclav's head with his sword.

Vaclav grabbed his brother and wrestled him to the ground, saying, "Brother, what are you trying to do?"

One of his brother's henchmen then stabbed Vaclav in the hand. Vaclav let go of his brother and went to take refuge in the church, but his brother's henchmen struck him down at the church door and ran him through with a sword.

They say that Vaclav, still a very young man, died there on this very day in the year 935 with the words: "Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit!"

The people immediately acclaimed Vaclav as a saint and a martyr. (Sadly, many remember him only through a Christmas carol by the Latinized form of his name: Wenceslaus).

He remains the patron saint of the Czech Republic.

Indeed, on this very day in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in the very place where King Wenceslaus was martyred, interred, and venerated.

(updated from an earlier post)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Inclusion and...

The message of today’s readings is one of solidarity and inclusion.

In the first reading (Numbers 11:25-29), a disciple of Moses is perturbed that people outside the group are prophesying, but Moses is welcoming.

But Moses answered him,
"Are you jealous for my sake?
Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!
Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"

In the Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48), a disciple of Christ says “"Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us."

Jesus replied,
"Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.

“For whoever is not against us is for us.”

Of course, in another place (Matthew 12:30), our Lord says,

Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

There are many important lessons in the tension of these two truths.

One of the things that we should remember is that there are times when we need to work together with others to achieve the common good.

Yet we must also be open-eyed about the different agendas or beliefs of our sometime allies.

Another thing to remember is that God distributes His gifts and His call to holiness universally, yet Jesus Christ is the one and only way to eternal life.

Watch what you say

Many of us are sometimes a bit loose with our words and our actions (Miserere mei, Domine), straying - if only a little - from the perfection to which Christ calls us.

Sometimes this hurts not only our own relationship with God: sometimes our poor witness causes others to go astray.

Our Lord’s warning in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48) should give us pause.

Whoever causes
one of these little ones who believe in me
to sin,
it would be better for him
if a great millstone were hung round his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.

We should seek always the grace to be conscientious in all our words and all our actions, so as to deepen our relationship with Christ and enhance our witness to others.

(adapted from an earlier post)

The body part that causes sin

You know which one it is.

Every man has one.

Every woman has one too.

It is right between our ears.

Yes, we may have physiological impulses to do this or that, but the cause of sin is ultimately in the mind, for it is the mind that chooses to sin.

People sometimes forget this when they hear our Lord's words in today's Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48).

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

But it is never one's eye that causes sin nor does a hand cause sin, nor even a particular lobe of the brain: sin in caused in the mind of the sinner.

Our Lord is not saying here that eyes and hands cause sin: what he is saying is that our response to sin in our lives must be as drastic as ripping out one’s eye or chopping off one’s hand.

We must look at ourselves and our lives with great precision and clarity.

What habits of thought, habits of speech or habits of action lead us astray or cause us to fall?

Tear them off, cut them out, and throw them away.

If emotional, intellectual or lifestyle changes - even drastic ones - are necessary to pull us out of spiritually unhealthy places, then we should do them (mindful of our solemn responsibilities).

It is better that than the alternative.

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

(adapted from an earlier post)

"First, pray for direction."

"Spend regular time in a quiet place -- whether that be in a church, in a place of natural beauty, or even in your own room.

"Ask God for his help and guidance. God will answer these prayers. Sometimes it might be answered in a direct experience of prayer. Other times, it might be answered through other circumstances or by people around you. But if you pray, it opens your heart to recognize the signs that God gives to you.

"SECONDLY, talk with others.

"Consider your gifts. Seek direction from people that you already know and trust, who already have a relationship with the Lord. Perhaps that will be a priest, a religious sister or brother, or a parent.

"THIRDLY, be aware of your feelings.

"What is it that truly brings you satisfaction, peace, and joy? Know your fears and know that God calls you past those fears.

"LASTLY, trust God.

"Know and believe that God loves you and wants what is best for you. God has made you a unique person. Your gifts, the gift of your life, your background and circumstances, come together to form a wonderful mosaic. It is that priceless work that is you that God calls forth.Remember that ultimately, true happiness does not come in imitating what other do, or living up to the expectations of peers or family members. True, lasting, and profound happiness is found solely in embracing the will of God."

from a reflection by Father Len Plazewski,
Director of Vocations for the Diocese of Saint Petersburg


Saturday, September 26, 2009


In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:43b-45), the disciples do not understand what the Lord Jesus is saying are afraid to ask Him about it.

May we never be afraid to ask the Lord for the truth of what He says and what He wants for our lives.

Physicians tortured

They were twin brothers who refused to be paid for treating patients and who were zealous in their Christian faith.

They were arrested, tortured, and executed...

...just over 1,700 years ago.

They are included among the saints named in the first Eucharistic Prayer.

Today the Church celebrates the memory of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, September 25, 2009


Some of us have a yearning for things of the past: the golden age of decades ago or the glories of centuries gone by.

This yearning may find resonance in these words from today’s first reading (Haggai 2:1-9):

Who is left among you
that saw this house in its former glory?

And how do you see it now?

For some among us, the glories of the past seem forever gone and we who dwell in this present mediocrity are doomed to a darkening future.

But now take courage... says the LORD.

Take courage,
all you people of the land,
says the LORD, and work!
For I am with you,
says the LORD of hosts..
And my spirit continues in your midst;
do not fear!

With God, our future will be glorious...

And more!

Greater will be the future glory of this house
than the former, says the LORD of hosts;
And in this place I will give you peace,
says the LORD of hosts!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"A small bag with holes in it"

And whoever earned wages
earned them for a bag with holes in it.

These words of prophecy from today’s first reading (Haggai 1:1-8) resonate painfully and bitterly well for many in the wake of the economic and financial troubles of the past year.

Thus says the LORD of hosts:
Consider your ways!

As bad as things may be, God invites us to consider our ways: not just to consider what we have done (and what we have failed to do), but what to do in the present and in the future – focusing our energies on the things that are truly important.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To carry or not to carry

As we go through life, it is important to look at ourselves and see what we are carrying within us.

We may be carrying resentments. We may be carrying attachment to unhealthy things (spiritually and otherwise).

Today’s readings remind us what to carry and what not to carry.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 9:1-6), our Lord warns His followers against excess.

He also warns against carrying resentment.

And as for those who do not welcome you,
when you leave that town,
shake the dust from your feet
in testimony against them.

In the first reading (Ezra 9:5-9), Ezra holds both the memory of past sins but also the joyful recognition of God’s mercy.

This sentiment is echoed (no coincidence) in the Responsorial (Tobit 13:2, 3-4a, 4befghn, 7-8) – important words for us to carry throughout this day:

So now consider what he has done for you,
and praise him with full voice.

Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of ages.

He had been a priest for just 8 months

The older priest had been ordained a decade before the young priest had even been born.

The young priest had heard many things about the older priest, who was known as a humble and very holy man.

For his part, the older priest was happy to speak with the young man, to hear his confession, and to share some of what he knew about God and the love of Jesus Christ.

Then the older priest told his new young friend something very strange.

The young priest would someday become Pope.

The young priest would later tell that story among his friends and laugh.

He venerated the old priest, but it was ludicrous that he would ever become the Bishop of Rome.

It would take more than a few miracles.

Fifty-five years and a number of miracles later, the once-young priest was already in the 23rd year of his pontificate as the great Pope John Paul II.

And now the once-young priest now Pontiff had the honor of canonizing the humble priest who had heard his confession and who had told him such amazing things.

Today, just over 7 years later, on the 39th anniversary of the old priest’s death, the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina – known in his lifetime worldwide as Padre Pio.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"You may keep your gifts, O king"

Today’s first reading (Ezra 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20) tells of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem with revenue allocated by the ruler of the empire that dominated that part of the world in those days.

King Darius did this because of his own policies and his vision for the Empire. His actions may have coincided with the will of God and in doing this he may have been an instrument of God’s will de facto, but he had his own ideas and agenda.

Other rulers would be not so benevolent.

So we have seen in the millennia since: it is easy to take the Emperor’s gold, but the Emperor’s gold almost always comes with strings attached – sometimes subtle (yet nevertheless deadly) and sometimes long after the fact.

A great example can be found in the words that the prophet Daniel spoke to another ancient potentate (Daniel 5:17):

You may keep your gifts,
or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.

Daniel faithfully declared the truth that comes from God. He ended up taking the King’s gifts, but would have just as happily let them be taken away forever.

So too for us – as a Church, as believing citizens in society, as individuals in a community – we should be detached and ready to detach from the good-feeling things governments and people want to give and should always be faithful to what God has spoken and written.

You may keep your gifts,
or give your presents to someone else;
but the writing I will read for you, O king,
and tell you what it means.

His mother and brothers

Today’s Gospel (Luke 8:19-21) 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.

More difficult to deal with perhaps is our Lord's cool reaction to hearing that his mother and brothers are outside. Instead of going out to see them, he simply says, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it." In the parallels (e.g., Mark 3:33-34), our Lord's reaction seems outright dismissive.

"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."

This may not only disturb our long-nurtured Marian devotion, it may even make Jesus look like a rude child (“I don’t need my parents, I’ve got my friends”), and seem to clash with the wonderful depiction of Mary elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke.

But it is precisely in the Gospel of Luke that we find the key to understanding what our Lord is saying, most specifically in one of the things Elizabeth says upon her Visitation by Mary (Luke 1:45).

“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 (Luke 1:38).

“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.

(updated from an earlier post)

Monday, September 21, 2009

We are all in this together

We are not the Pope.

We are not all bishops.

We are not all priests.

Some of us resent the fact that there are people other than themselves with positions of official ministry and of authority in the Church.

Some of us may especially resent the fact that there are positions of official ministry and authority in the Church that we personally cannot have and would never have been able to have.

Today’s first reading (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13) reminds us that even if there is differentiation within the body of Christ, we are all in this together, and that even the differentiation is directed to making all of us a mature unity as the Body of Christ.

Thus Saint Paul pleads,

I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live
in a manner worthy
of the call you have received,
with all humility
and gentleness,
with patience,
bearing with one another
through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit
through the bond of peace:
one Body
and one Spirit,
as you were also called
to the one hope of your call;
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all
and through all and in all.

But grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

And he gave some as Apostles,
others as prophets,
others as evangelists,
others as pastors and teachers,
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry,
for building up the Body of Christ,
until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God,
to mature manhood,
to the extent of the full stature of Christ.

The Call of Saint Matthew

The concept of vocation, of being called by Christ, was depicted most wonderfully by the great Italian painter Caravaggio in his "La Vocazione di San Matteo" which hangs in the church of San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome.

Many of us can imagine ourselves in Matthew's place as he hears Christ calling him.

"Who? Me?"

(from an earlier post)


So, you go up to the guy and you tell him that he’s gotta give you such and such amount of money and if he doesn’t, you’re going to take his stuff or take his family or tie him up and take him someplace until his relatives cough up the dough. It’s a pretty sweet racket, because you get a big piece of the action: as big as you want. You can live like a king and all you got to do is put the squeeze on the people in your territory.

That is what it was like to be a tax collector in the time of Christ: more like a gangster than a dedicated public servant.

Not only were tax collectors generally corrupt, decadent, and ruthless: they were ultimately collecting taxes to fund the very same regime that was cruelly oppressing the people.

Hence the scandal of Christ calling a tax collector (technically, collecting customs duties) to be one of his key disciples.

Needless to say, it proved to be an excellent choice. Levi, also known as Matthew, would not only be a successful Apostle, but would be responsible for the Gospel that stands at the beginning of the New Testament canon: a Gospel that strove eloquently to make clear to his fellow Jews that the Messiah had come in the person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

St. Matthew is a reminder to us all of how successful repentance can be.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist.

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Against the way of the world

It has never been easy for faithful Christians to implement their faith fully in the world. In ancient times, saints were executed by the state. In medieval times, saints often ran afoul of hypocritical rulers as well as the corrupt allies and antagonists of those rulers. Even in the golden era of “Going My Way”, anti-Catholicism was very strong in many places and advancement in politics was acceptable only if you could minimize the concrete effect of faith on your decision-making.

Thus, the words of the wicked in today’s first reading (Wisdom 2:12, 17-20) resonate still in our world:

Let us beset the just one,
because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings...

But, as difficult as it may sometimes be, the way of God is infinitely better than the way of the world.

The contrast between these two paths is illustrated eloquently in today’s second reading (James 3:16-4:3):

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder

and every foul practice.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.

And the fruit of righteousness
is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?

Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?

You covet
but do not possess.
You kill and envy
but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess
because you do not ask.

You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.

Which way shall we go?

Wisdom from above
is first of all pure,
then peaceable,

full of mercy

and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.

And the fruit of righteousness
is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Bishop's Blood

Winston Churchill once said that he had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

This bishop is remembered only for his blood

Little is remembered of the details of his life or of his death: he was just one of many hundreds who were being slaughtered for their faith in Christ.

But on this day, in the city of Naples and throughout the world, a little more than 1700 years after his death, the blood and the faith of this bishop, Januarius, is remembered.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why the recession happened

There are many things that led to the recession that has been afflicting the world: people wanting to buy houses they could not afford (with the encouragement and facilitation of sellers and lenders), speculators and financial companies wanting quick profits without true substance, the selling of complex financial instruments little understood by their purchasers and having ephemeral value, short-sighted corporate management, government confusion, etc. etc. etc

The bottom line as to why the recession happened, however, is simple and is stated eloquently in this warning by Saint Paul in today’s first reading (1 Timothy 6:2c-12):

Those who want to be rich
are falling into temptation
and into a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires,
which plunge them into ruin and destruction.

For the love of money is the root of all evils,
and some people in their desire for it
have strayed from the faith
and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Just before that, he also reminds us,

For we brought nothing into the world,
just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.

If we have food and clothing,
we shall be content with that.

Money cannot buy happiness, no matter what the world says.

The words of today’s Psalm (49:6-7, 8-10, 17-18, 19-20) reinforce the message:

Yet in no way can a man redeem himself,
or pay his own ransom to God;
Too high is the price to redeem one’s life;
he would never have enough
to remain alive always and not see destruction.

Fear not when a man grows rich,
when the wealth of his house becomes great,
For when he dies, he shall take none of it;
his wealth shall not follow him down.

Though in his lifetime
he counted himself blessed,
“They will praise you for doing well for yourself,”
He shall join the circle of his forebears
who shall never more see light.

There is, of course, an alternative to the traps of greed and death, as Saint Paul also reminds us at the end of the first reading:

But you, man of God, avoid all this.
Instead, pursue righteousness,
and gentleness.

Compete well for the faith.

Lay hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
when you made the noble confession
in the presence of many witnesses.

We need to avoid the traps of greed and selfishness and live lives of truth and faith by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Attend to these things

Some of the words of today’s first reading (1 Timothy 4:12-16) seem more applicable to some among us than to others, but much of it is critically important for any of us who seek to live holy lives and share the Faith with others.

The very first words “Let no one have contempt for your youth” are very important words for young believers to remember, but they also remind all of us not to let the stereotypes of age box us in as we live and share the Faith: whether we are young, old, or middle aged.

Likewise, relatively few among us have received “the imposition of hands by the presbyterate”. For some among us, however, ordained ministry is still a possibility that must be prayerfully discerned and (depending on God’s will – not ours) faithfully and obediently pursued.

Yet even those among us for whom the imposition of hands is neither a memory nor a possibility, there was often some special moment when the Faith fully awakened within us by the grace of God: a moment that it is good to recall often.

As for the rest of today’s first reading, these words should be carefully and prayerfully absorbed and put into practice by each one of us.

Set an example for those who believe --
in speech,
and purity.


Attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.

Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you
through the prophetic word...

Be diligent in these matters,
be absorbed in them,
so that your progress may be evident to everyone.

Attend to yourself
and to your teaching;
persevere in both tasks,
for by doing so
you will save both yourself
and those who listen to you.

The ways of politics

His father wanted Robert to be a politician.

But Robert decided to become a priest instead, devoting himself to prayer, study, and teaching as a Jesuit.

His reputation as a teacher became widespread and he was eventually asked to teach in Rome. He wrote important works that defended the Christian faith against the heretics of the time. So great was his reputation for wisdom and faithfulness, that this academician who had rejected politics as a profession, ended up serving at various Vatican offices and advising a number of Popes.

At conclaves, many spoke of him favorably as a papabile (to his own horror), but politics spared him, because some Cardinals were prejudiced against Jesuits.

Often in frail health, Robert died at the age of 58 on this very day in 1621.

After centuries of politically-inspired delays, St. Robert Bellarmine was canonized in 1930.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Two ways

Some believe that the way to be a good Christian is to be firm and clear about the truth of Christian faith and morals and to avoid anything that might be interpreted as compromise or entanglement with the ways of this world.

Others believe that the way to be a good Christian is to make present in this world the love of Jesus Christ and the justice of God by being actively involved as followers of Christ in the problems of this world.

In the former case, the people of this world often denounce such Christians as out-of-touch, holier-than-thou, hypocrites, or other terrible things.

In the latter case, the people of this world often smile patronizingly and use such Christians as de facto allies for very unchristian purposes.

This echoes our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel (Luke 7:31-35):

To what shall I compare the people of this generation?
What are they like?
They are like children

who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,

‘We played the flute for you,

but you did not dance.
We sang a dirge,

but you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist came

neither eating food nor drinking wine,
and you said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came

eating and drinking
and you said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.

Ideally, of course, we should follow both ways of being good Christians.

We as Christians should strive to be clear and pure while also being active in love and justice.

As in everything, we need to ask the Lord continually for his grace: that we may be true lights in this world and effective salt of this earth.

(adapted from a previous post)

Being a Christian used to be no big deal

Christians were accepted members of society. Church leaders lived comfortable lives (sadly, some were even scandalous).

But things changed. Society turned against Christians. Government agents targeted the Church. There were many stories of violence and even death.

Many Christians succumbed to the pressure and turned publicly away from the faith. Of these, many would eventually repent of their apostasy and return to the Church.

Some of those who had remained loyal to the faith were angry with those who had deserted, even to the point of treating these penitents with extreme cruelty. Some extremists said that baptized Christians who had formally embraced another religion could not be forgiven.

Caught between government pressure on one side and extremists on the other, the Pope himself was driven out of public view and died. One of his chief allies, a bishop from Africa, was captured by government agents and murdered this very week in the year 258.

The memory of Pope St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian, bishop of the North African city of Carthage, is celebrated on this day: two men who fought to be faithful to Christ’s truth and Christ’s mercy.

(from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sorrowful mothers

Two nights ago, the celebrity was rude, arrogant, and offensive.

Last night, he was mumbling contrition.

The older celebrity sitting next to him, in front of millions of people, asked,

What do you think your mother would have said?

Arrogant no longer, the young man sat in stricken silence.

The thought of his dead, sorrowful mother obviously devastated him.

Many of us know a little of that feeling.

Worse than any punishment, worse than any shame, is the terror of bringing sorrow to our mothers.

God have mercy on us for any pain we have caused them (and our fathers and all who loved us).

But no matter what we have done, no matter what kind of family we have come from, no matter what kind of family (if any) we have left...

No matter what sorrow we have caused...

Jesus Christ reaches out to us with God’s infinite love and also gives us His own mother, as we hear in today’s Gospel (John 19:25-27):

When Jesus saw his mother
and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother,
“Woman, behold, your son.”
Then he said to the disciple,
“Behold, your mother.”

The sorrowful mother stood

By the cross weeping
Where her Son was hanging.

Through her weeping soul,
Compassionate and grieving,
A sword passed.

O how sad and afflicted
Was that blessed
Mother of the Only-begotten!

Who mourned and grieved,
The pious Mother, looking at
The torment of her glorious Child.

Who is the human who would not weep
Seeing the Mother of Christ
In such agony?

Who would not be able to feel compassion
On beholding Christ's Mother
Suffering with her Son?

For the sins of his people
She saw Jesus in torment
And subjected to the scourge.

She saw her sweet offspring
Dying, forsaken,
While He gave up His spirit.

O Mother, fountain of love,
Make me feel the power of sorrow,
That I may grieve with you.

Grant that my heart may burn
In the love of Christ my God,
That I may greatly please Him.

Holy Mother, grant that
The wounds of the Crucified
Drive deep into my heart.

That of your wounded Son,
Who so deigned to suffer for me,
I may share the pain.

Let me, pious one, weep with you,
Bemoan the Crucified,
For as long as I live.

To stand beside the cross with you,
And to join you
In your weeping, this I desire.

Chosen Virgin of virgins,
Be not bitter with me,
Let me weep with thee.

Grant that I may bear the death of Christ,
Share his Passion,
And commemorate His wounds.

Let me be wounded with His wounds,
Let me be inebriated by the cross
And your Son's blood.

Lest I burn, set afire by flames,
Virgin, may I be defended by you,
On the day of judgment.

Christ, when it is time to pass away,
Grant that through Your Mother I may come
To the palm of victory.

When my body dies,
Grant that to my soul is given
The glory of Paradise.

Stabat Mater dolorosa
iuxta Crucem lacrimosa,
dum pendebat Filius.

Cuius animam gementem,
contristatam et dolentem
pertransivit gladius.

O quam tristis et afflicta
fuit illa benedicta,
mater Unigeniti!

Quae maerebat et dolebat,
pia Mater, dum videbat
nati poenas inclyti.

Quis est homo qui non fleret,
matrem Christi si videret
in tanto supplicio?

Quis non posset contristari
Christi Matrem contemplari
dolentem cum Filio?

Pro peccatis suae gentis
vidit Iesum in tormentis,
et flagellis subditum.

Vidit suum dulcem Natum
moriendo desolatum,
dum emisit spiritum.

Eia, Mater, fons amoris
me sentire vim doloris
fac, ut tecum lugeam.

Fac, ut ardeat cor meum
in amando Christum Deum
ut sibi complaceam.

Sancta Mater, istud agas,
crucifixi fige plagas
cordi meo valide.

Tui Nati vulnerati,
tam dignati pro me pati,
poenas mecum divide.

Fac me tecum pie flere,
crucifixo condolere,
donec ego vixero.

Iuxta Crucem tecum stare,
et me tibi sociare
in planctu desidero.

Virgo virginum praeclara,
mihi iam non sis amara,
fac me tecum plangere.

Fac, ut portem Christi mortem,
passionis fac consortem,
et plagas recolere.

Fac me plagis vulnerari,
fac me Cruce inebriari,
et cruore Filii.

Flammis ne urar succensus,
per te, Virgo, sim defensus
in die iudicii.

Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
da per Matrem me venire
ad palmam victoriae.

Quando corpus morietur,
fac, ut animae donetur
paradisi gloria.

Today, the day after the Feast of the Holy Cross,
the Church remembers Mary, the mother of Jesus,
as Our Lady of Sorrows

(from an earlier post)

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Even death on a cross"

We have seen many depictions of Christ’s death on the cross: from jeweled crucifixes and gory statuary to the depictions of films and television.

But these depictions almost always fall short in communicating at least one significant aspect of crucifixion.

A crucified man was stripped – not just literally, but also figuratively: stripped of dignity, reputation, and everything else – and hung openly by the side of the road where everybody could see the criminals die.

In the United States, when people are executed, it is a solemn and dramatic scene.

In the ancient Roman Empire, crucified criminals were set out like billboards.

Everyone saw the criminal hanging there and everyone traveled by as the criminal died slowly or as the criminal hung as dead flesh on a pole.

Yet, as Saint reminds us in today’s second reading (Philippians 2:6-11), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Reputation is a treasured thing in human society.

It is certainly important for us to cultivate our reputations as means by which we help support our families and even give witness to our Faith.

However, we cannot let fear of losing our reputation cause us to do evil.

Neither can we let fear of losing our reputation keep us from doing the good things in our lives that we know God wants us to do.

We should remember what Saint Paul says in the verse right before today’s second reading:

Have among yourselves
the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus
who though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God

something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.

"Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross,life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, There would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.

"Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honourable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation - very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honourable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world."
From a discourse by St. Andrew of Crete
(from today's Office of Readings)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Deny self and follow

These difficult times have grievously affected the poor and the middle class.

Yet the rich and the powerful have not all gone unscathed either. We even hear of rich and powerful men committing the horrific sin of suicide, either because of imminent punishment or the shame of a diminished reputation. (May God have mercy on their souls and give healing to their loved ones.)

In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-35), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us an infinitely better way.

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
and that of the gospel
will save it.

A life centered around oneself is empty and no amount of distraction and diversion can save a person from the pain and the terror of an empty life.

The sooner we reject the world’s idea of life, the better.

The sooner we stop living a self-centered life, the better.

The sooner we center our lives on Christ, the better.

The sooner we live the truth and love of the Gospel in our lives, the better.

In living the Gospel, of course, we should especially heed the words of the Apostle James in today’s second reading (James 2:14-18):

What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith
but does not have works?

Can that faith save him?

If a brother has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to him,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,”
but you do not give him the necessities of the body,
what good is it?

So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works,
is dead.

Indeed someone might say,
“You have faith and I have works.”
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you
from my works.

Will a life centered on Christ and the truth of the Gospel be pain-free?

Far from it, but God rewards fidelity with ultimate vindication. Thus we may follow the example of the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 50:5-9a):

The Lord GOD opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.

I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

He is near who upholds my right;
if anyone wishes to oppose me,
let us appear together.

Who disputes my right?
Let that man confront me.

See, the Lord GOD is my help;
who will prove me wrong?

If we thus deny ourselves and the empty life offered by the world, if we thus follow the Lord faithfully every day of our lives no matter what, we will not only endure but we will triumph eternally and sing from our hearts the words of today’s Responsorial (Psalm 116:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9).

I love the LORD because he has heard
my voice in supplication,
Because he has inclined his ear to me
the day I called.

The cords of death encompassed me;
the snares of the netherworld seized upon me;
I fell into distress and sorrow,
And I called upon the name of the LORD,
“O LORD, save my life!”

Gracious is the LORD and just;
yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD keeps the little ones;
I was brought low, and he saved me.

For he has freed my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Disobeying the Lord

A famous politician died recently and there was great controversy about his receiving a Catholic funeral even though he famously worked hard in support of things contrary to the teaching of the Church (even as he insisted on his devotion to the Catholic faith).

Christ’s question in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:43-49) seems apt:

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
but not do what I command?

As good Catholics, of course, we commend the politician’s soul into the hands of a just, loving, and merciful God.

As good Catholics, also, we need to recognize that Christ is asking that same question of us - He is asking that same question of you and me:

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
but not do what I command?

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
illuminate my path.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,

strengthen me to do Your will.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,

be merciful to me – a sinner.

Everybody knows your name

And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth
all generations shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Today the Church celebrates the memorial of
the Holy Name of Mary, woman of faith and
mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(from an earlier post)

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

"O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us,
people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

"We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here-
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers,
and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

"We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those who,
because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.

"Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

"We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon
and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces
their pain and suffering.

"God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

"God of understanding,
by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all."

(Pope Benedict's prayer
in the pit where the World Trade Center once stood)

Today we remember the victims of September 11, 2001, who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Requiescant in pace

(adapted from an earlier post)

Sinners and splinters

In today’s Gospel (Luke 6:39-42), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strongly challenges those of us sinners who try to help others.

Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?


Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?

How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?

You hypocrite!
Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.

We need to examine ourselves constantly, asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts so that we may be purged of both the known errors and the hidden faults within our hearts, minds, habits, and perceptions.

Yet we are not alone in this: every member of the Church – from Pope Benedict to the lowliest Christian – must do the same.

We are all imperfect, yet we are all called to perfection and we are all in this together.

We must help each other, while all the time being very careful that the guidance we share with others is truly of God and not our own.

As I have said before, we are all sinners – our eyes are full of splinters, wooden beams, and all kinds of lumber – but we are all called to holiness in Christ and by God’s grace to help each other on the way.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The extra mile

"We go the extra mile!"

So say many companies that consider their quality of customer service to be an advertising asset.

It is possible that what has become today an advertising cliché has its ancient roots in the words of our Lord:

Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.

(Matthew 5:41)

In that passage and in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:27-38), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is truly challenging us to go the extra mile in living lives that are truly good – not just nice, not just goody-goody – living truly like Christ, who gave Himself totally for us sinners.

To you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.

To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.

Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours
do not demand it back.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?

Even sinners love those who love them.

And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.

If you lend money
to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.

But rather,
love your enemies
and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind
to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Be merciful,
just as also your Father is merciful.

Stop judging
and you will not be judged.

Stop condemning
and you will not be condemned.

and you will be forgiven.

and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure,
packed together,
shaken down,
and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.

For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Feeling excluded

Human beings are social by nature. To borrow a phrase from an old song, we are “people who need people.”

Sometimes, however, this need becomes disproportionately large in our hearts and in our minds and we make bad choices in order to be with people or to “fit in.”

And sometimes the greatest fear of all is to be excluded.

Today’s readings show us a better path.

In fact, in today’s Gospel (Luke 6:20-26), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says we should be happy to be excluded!

Blessed are you
when people hate you,
and when they exclude
and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man.

and leap for joy on that day!

your reward will be great in heaven.

For their ancestors treated the prophets
in the same way.

It is our nature to be social but unity with God is an infinitely more critical part of our nature and a much deeper need.

Besides, our faithful sisters and brothers in the Church and in heaven are a million times more than enough to satisfy our true social needs.

We need a better focus in our lives, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s first reading (Colossians 3:1-11):

If you were raised with Christ,
seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Think of what is above,
not of what is on earth.


When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Whom others ignored

Some people ignored the doorkeeper, but Peter did not. The doorkeeper's job was menial, his education spotty at best, and there was something dark about his past, but his devotion, penitence, and holiness were palpable and Peter was drawn to it.

For his part, the doorkeeper knew that God wanted Peter to go to the missions and constantly exhorted him to follow that path. Peter obeyed and eventually found himself thousands of miles from home in a very bad place. To his horror, he discovered that he was in a large center of the slave trade. Repeated Church condemnations had failed to stop this monstrosity and too many Christians simply ignored its evil and shunned contact with the slaves.

Peter’s first instinct as a priest was that these slaves were souls desperately in need of Christ’s saving comfort. He dedicated the rest of his life, 44 years, to their care. He had to defend his flock and his work against slave traders, bigoted parishioners, and even his superiors (who received innumerable complaints). He found translators, trained catechists, worked miracles, and baptized more than 300,000 African slaves.

St. Peter Claver, S.J., died 355 years ago yesterday (his memorial is celebrated today). He was canonized in 1888 (on the very same day as his friend the doorkeeper, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, S.J.).

(from a previous post)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Small beginnings

One of the readings that the Lectionary makes available for today’s Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah (Micah 5:1-4a) – fulfilled when Mary gave birth to the Lord Jesus in Bethlehem.

You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah,
too small to be among the clans of Judah,
From you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel...

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the LORD,
in the majestic name of the LORD, his God...
for now his greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth...

Christ came from a small town and Christ rules the Universe.

May you and I be faithful to Christ in all the small things: the small beginnings in which Christ – by His grace, with His love, and through His truth – can and will bring about the Kingdom of God.

All things work for good

Romans 8:28-30, one of the selections available for the first reading today, begins with some of the most gloriously optimistic words ever written:

We know that all things work for good
for those who love God...

St. Paul, however, is no Pollyanna: he is painfully aware of the bad things that happen to "those who love God," as he writes a little later in this chapter (verses 35b-36):

...anguish, or distress, or persecution,
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword….

As it is written:
"For your sake we are being slain all the day;
we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered."

But as St. Augustine would write some centuries later, [Enchridion, xi]: "For Almighty God… would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, were He not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil."

Perhaps the greatest example of this is found in the long form of today’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23) - the genealogy of Christ - in which we see a line of very mixed people (some famous, some faceless, some notorious) which would become the ancestral line of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Immorality and evil, of course, are still bad things with bad consequences, but Almighty God can bring about still greater good, as St. Paul says at the very end of the chapter (verses 37-39):

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly
through him who loved us.

For I am convinced
that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities,
nor present things, nor future things,
nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
nor any other creature
will be able to separate us
from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(from a previous post)

The contribution of the generations

The long form of today’s Gospel for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23) is a genealogy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ followed by the angel’s announcement to Joseph in a dream. Many take the option of omitting the genealogy and using only the account of the dream.

It is understandable: the genealogy is long, repetitious and full of unfamiliar names that are sometimes difficult to pronounce.

But the genealogy is also full of meaning, not the least of which is a lesson about history and ordinary people, for while the genealogy includes a number of famous people, it also includes many people who were never famous: people with ordinary names (ordinary in that culture) and who lived ordinary lives.

But these ordinary lives meant something: to their children and to others who knew them.

Moreover, through the mystery of God’s will, each generation in different ways made a contribution that would continue down the generations, culminating in the Incarnation and the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

While you and I do not have the opportunity to be ancestors of Christ, still we have a contribution to make, each of us in our own generation, that will pass down all the generations that may come and, by the grace of God, on into eternity.

With God’s grace, may you and I make the best contribution we can.

(adapted from a previous post)

She was their "miracle" baby

Little did her parents know what the real miracle would be.

As she grew up, everyone thought she was a perfect little girl.

Little did they know how perfect.

Before long, she herself would become a mother.

Only then would people begin to understand.

Today the Church celebrates the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(adapted from an earlier post)

Monday, September 07, 2009

Trust in God

"Trust in Him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before Him;
God is our refuge!"

(from today's Responsorial Psalm 62:6-7, 9)

"Through work... "

"man must earn his daily bread
and contribute to the continual advance
of science and technology
and, above all, to elevating unceasingly
the cultural and moral level
of the society within which he lives
in community with those who belong to the same family.

"And work means any activity by man,
whether manual or intellectual,
whatever its nature or circumstances;

"it means any human activity
that can and must be recognized as work,
in the midst of all the many activities
of which man is capable
and to which he is predisposed
by his very nature, by virtue of humanity itself.

"Man is made to be in the visible universe
an image and likeness of God himself,
and he is placed in it in order to subdue the earth.

"From the beginning therefore he is called to work.

"Work is one of the characteristics
that distinguish man from the rest of creatures,
whose activity for sustaining their lives cannot be called work.

"Only man is capable of work, and only man works,
at the same time by work occupying his existence on earth.

"Thus work bears a particular mark of man and of humanity,
the mark of a person operating within a community of persons.

"And this mark decides its interior characteristics;
in a sense it constitutes its very nature."

The beginning of the great Pope John Paul II's encyclical Laborem Exercens

Happy Labor Day!

(from an earlier post)

Sunday, September 06, 2009


The messianic prophecy of today’s first reading (Isaiah 35:4-7a) is a familiar one, set to music by Handel in a recitative right between “Rejoice greatly” and “He shall feed His flock”.

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

This prophecy is fulfilled in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, one of whose acts of healing is recounted in today’s Gospel (Mark 7:31-37).

We as followers of Christ must follow in his footsteps, of course. This is why Catholics have been so involved in healthcare over the millennia, caring for the sick and also caring for the poor.

That is why it is important for Catholics to be involved in the current public policy debates about healthcare.

It is easy to want to stay out of these debates, because the animosity is often so intense and the subject matter is mind-bogglingly complex, but as followers of Christ the healer, we must be involved.


One reason why it is important for us to be involved in these discussions is that there are elements in society and in government that want to force Catholic institutions to facilitate and/or fund intrinsically evil acts such as abortion.

We must not be satisfied by assurances that individuals will not be forced to perform acts against their consciences.

These assurances would not keep the government from forcing Catholic hospitals and other institutions (and thus the religious orders and dioceses to which they belong) to facilitate intrinsically evil acts such as abortion.

Neither would these assurances keep the government from setting up a system that would force insurance plans (including yours, mine, and those funded by Catholic institutions) to pay for intrinsically evil acts such as abortion.

Conscience protection must be collective, not just individual.

As to other questions in the current debate about healthcare, as long as true moral imperatives are protected and maintained, many of them are matters of prudential judgment.

Is healthcare best left in the hands of big government or of big business and non-governmental organizations? Or perhaps a combination of both?

Again, as long as true moral imperatives are protected and maintained, these are matters of prudential judgment – and we as Christians need to be involved in society’s making of these prudential judgments.

But whether one espouses a “single payer” system or a “free market system” or some kind of hybrid system (either the same as or different from the one that exists in the United States today), we as Christians need to remember not only our collective but also our individual responsibilities to follow in the healing footsteps of Christ.

Caring for the sick and for the poor cannot be simply a matter that we delegate to the government or to our favorite charities.

You and I need to be involved personally in caring for the sick and in caring for the poor.

Thus we may be better recognized as followers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Getting dirty

Many people have a similar reaction when they hear the account of our Lord healing the speech-impaired deaf man in today's Gospel (Mark 7:31-37):


He put his finger into the man's ears
and, spitting, touched his tongue...

Many times, our Lord healed people with just a word or the touch of his garment. In this case, he used symbolic actions that were particularly meaningful for the person at hand - even though these actions might make us uncomfortable.

A similar discomfort may be involved in today's second reading (James 2:1-5) which describes a congregation's disrespectful treatment of a poor man in shabby clothes.

(Sad to say, this happens far too often today: the smelly street person who wanders into church is quickly ushered away from the rest of the congregation - or brusquely expelled.)

St. James is himself brusque in response (especially in the verse following this reading).

Listen, my beloved brothers.

Did not God choose
those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith
and heirs of the kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?

But you dishonored the poor person.

Being a true follower of Christ often means being uncomfortable: getting our hands dirty, reaching out to the aesthetically repugnant, and going outside of our personal comfort zones in order to be faithful to the love and truth of our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(from a previous post)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Lord of the Sabbath

Murder is an easy sin to avoid.

So is explicit idolatry.

Keeping holy the Sabbath Day… that’s a challenge for many nowadays (including myself).

In today’s Gospel (Luke 6:1-5), our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ puts the Sabbath regulations of that time in their proper place and relative priority: not as high as the Scribes and the Pharisees made them.

Today we have gone the exact opposite of the Scribes and Pharisees: the Sabbath is just another day – either just another work and commerce day or just another recreation day of the “all-important” weekend.

We have made ourselves, our pleasure and our convenience, Lord of the Sabbath.

In such a world, those who keep holy the Sabbath day are powerful witnesses to a Lordship greater than personal pleasure and convenience.

In such a world, for example, I personally have been edified by the sight of Orthodox Jews walking through the grass along the side of the road on a hot and humid Sabbath.

In such a world, we can give witness by reserving Sundays to faith and family.

In such a world, the great Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Dies Domini is an important resource.

We need to keep holy the Sabbath day.

We need to show to the world that the Lordship belongs not to burdensome regulations, nor to personal pleasure, nor to the modern gods of convenience.

Our Savior Jesus Christ is Lord of all and Lord of the Sabbath.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Serve the Lord with gladness

In the 21st century, mottos often seem to be only used as vestiges of tradition or as tools of corporate marketing.

Choosing and retaining a motto, however, can be extraordinarily useful for a person’s life, most especially when the motto comes from Scripture AND is truly a guiding principle for that person’s life.

Whenever I have thought of a motto, I have always thought of this phrase from today’s Responsorial (Psalm 100):

Servite Domino in laetitia

Serve the Lord with gladness.

I am not always perfect in living this motto (orate pro me), but the more I remember it and the better I live it, the happier I am.

What should your motto be?

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!

Serve the LORD with gladness:
come into His presence with singing.

Know that the LORD is God:
it is He that made us: we are His;
we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
and into His courts with praise:
be thankful to Him, and bless His name.

For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting;
and His truth endures for all generations.

(Psalm 100 - today's Responsorial)

Jubilate Deo omnis terra:
servite Domino in laetitia.

Introite in conspectu ejus,
in exultatione.

Scitote, quoniam Dominus ipse est Deus:
ipse fecit nos, et non ipsi nos.

Populus ejus, et oves pascuae ejus:
introite portas ejus in confessione,
atria ejus in hymnis;
confitemni illi.

Laudate nomen ejus, quoniam suavis est Dominus,
in aeternum misericordia ejus:
et usque in generationem et generationem
veritas ejus.

What's new

The latter part of today’s Gospel (Luke 3:33-39) presents parables about old and new wine as well as old and new wineskins.

Few people today have regular experience of wineskins, but many people have at least some knowledge of wine.

This knowledge may not always be helpful, however, to understanding the last verse of this chapter:

No one who has been drinking old wine desires new,
for he says, ‘The old is good.’

Most of us have heard that fine wines improve with age and might think that the old wine drinker’s assessment is reasonable, which seems counter to the direction of the previous verses.

Well, fine wines do improve with age, but a wine connoisseur who drinks only an old wine will soon run out of wine (even if the wine does not grow stale or sour as they often do).

Another problem in interpreting these verses is that some people broaden the intent of the parables to refer to ANYTHING new or old: making newness the ultimate measure of goodness (or antiquity, if that is their preference).

In these verses, however, “old” and “new” refer to the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the Mosaic Law and the New Life in Christ.

Seen in this light, the last verse refers to those who refuse to taste the “new wine” of Christ. In the historical context, these were people who clung to the traditions of Judaism and rejected Christ. However, this also applies most obviously to ANYONE who clings to their old ways and rejects the new life offered by Christ: the old ways of sin, the old ways of godless philosophy, the old ways of faith without Christ.

The old wine can have its comforts, but it will inevitably fail or grow sour.

The new wine of Christ is everlasting in its comfort, in its strength and in the joy it brings.

May we stop clinging to our old comforts and let ourselves be filled with Christ.

(adapted from a previous post)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

God does it

We are not perfect.

We are sinners.

We are weak.

We are not intelligent.

We fail.

But today’s readings remind us of God’s power to change our lives.

In the first reading (Colossians 1:9-14), Saint Paul sings of God’s power to make us “worthy of the Lord” and “fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.”

In the Gospel, Saint Peter is discouraged at his earthly failure, but trusts in the Lord.

Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night
and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”

That, of course, is when the miraculous catch of fish happens.

Saint Peter is then discouraged by his sinfulness.

When Simon Peter saw this,
he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord,
for I am a sinful man.”

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives Peter the power to overcome discouragement and fear and to do greater things than he has ever done before.

Whenever we ourselves are discouraged, may we always turn to the Lord and unworthily ask for His grace, love, and power.

From the day we heard about you,
we do not cease praying for you
and asking that you may be filled
with the knowledge of God’s will
through all spiritual wisdom and understanding
to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,
so as to be fully pleasing,
in every good work bearing fruit
and growing in the knowledge of God,
strengthened with every power,
in accord with his glorious might,
for all endurance and patience,
with joy giving thanks to the Father,
who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.

City boy

Gregory was a smart young man from a very rich and very well connected family. They owned large estates in the country as well as a mansion on a hill in the middle of the city.

When he was still a small child, however, Gregory’s idyllic childhood was shattered by war. Violence and turmoil swept through the city again and again. The end of civilization, if not the end of the world, seemed very much at hand. Somehow he was able to receive a first-class education and as he came to adulthood his intellectual reputation in the city was second to none.

Gregory entered public life and by his very early thirties, he was the top official in the city.

Gregory was successful, rich and powerful, but it very quickly became apparent to him that his life was on the wrong track. He had always been very religious, as had been his mother and many of his family, but he felt a call to follow Christ in a radical way. After much prayer and discernment, he decided to become a monk.

It was a complete change. He turned his family’s mansion and country estates into monasteries. He withdrew from the world and focused entirely on prayer, fasting, and absolute austerity.

A few years later, war threatened once again and the city was in turmoil. The once proud city now needed outside help. Remembering Gregory’s reputation, the bishop summoned him from his seclusion, ordained him a deacon (despite his protests), and sent him as an emissary for the people.

Gregory spent six years as emissary in the most powerful city in the world, a city full of decadence and byzantine politics. He got in a very difficult theological dispute with the bishop there. He would ultimately be victorious in that conflict, but unsuccessful in his overall mission: no one would be coming to the aid of his city.

He returned home to his monastery and was soon elected abbot. He continued to write and teach as well as give assistance to the bishop of the city. Then, while walking through the streets one day, Gregory came across a group of young men from a distant land that seemed not to have heard of Christ. He resolved to go there with the good news of Christ and obtained reluctant permission from the bishop to go.

The city was still in dire straits and most of the people looked to the bishop as the most reliable leader in the city and to Gregory as his wisest assistant. When word got out that Gregory was leaving, a riot ensued. The bishop called Gregory back.

Things got worse for the city: a tremendous flood, followed by widespread starvation and disease. At this darkest of moments, the bishop died.

All eyes then turned to Gregory. For six months, he delayed the inevitable: declining consecration, but administering the diocese (and to a large extent, the city) as part of a small committee.

All options and excuses eventually came to an end, however. Gregory contemplated flight, but there was no escape. The people of the city literally seized him and carried him off to be consecrated on this very day in the year 590.

Gregory was now the Bishop of Rome, the first Pope of that name, and would come to be known in the ages to follow as St. Gregory the Great.

(from an earlier post)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

For my readers...

We always give thanks to God,
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
when we pray for you,
for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus
and the love that you have for all the holy ones
because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.

Of this you have already heard
through the word of truth, the Gospel,
that has come to you.

Just as in the whole world
it is bearing fruit and growing,
so also among you,
from the day you heard it
and came to know the grace of God in truth...

(from today's first reading -- Colossians 1:1-8 -- and from my unworthy heart)


At sunset,
all who had people sick with various diseases
brought them to him.
He laid his hands on each of them
and cured them....

At daybreak,
Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

This account from today's Gospel (Luke 4:38-44 and its parallels) was echoed in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Return of the King - the third volume of The Lord of the Rings:

"At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends whose lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and... laboured far into the night. And word went through the City: ' The King is come again indeed....'

"And when he could labour no more, he cast his cloak about him, and slipped out of the City, and went to his tent just ere dawn and slept for a little."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, p. 147.

The identification of a kingly figure as a healer is set up by Tolkien earlier in the chapter.

"'"The hands of the king are the hands of a healer." And so the rightful king could ever be known.'"
Ibid, p.136

This likewise echoes what we find a little later in the Gospel:

"John (the Baptist) summoned two of his disciples
and sent them to the Lord to ask,
'Are you the one who is to come,

or should we look for another?'

"....And (Jesus) said to them in reply,

'Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind regain their sight, the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear..."
Luke 7:18a-19,22a

The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory (a genre Tolkien "cordially" disliked), yet Tolkien encouraged readers to explore the "applicability" of what he wrote. He also once described The Lord of the Rings as a "Catholic" work.

Thus readers have seen Christ-like qualities not only in Aragorn (as the healing King who returns again), but also in Frodo (the suffering one upon whom the salvation of the world depends) and Gandalf (resurrection).

(Many such nuances, unfortunately, were lost in the recent Lord of the Rings films.)

The most important echoes of this Gospel, however, are not literary echoes in famous books - no matter how wonderful the books may be.

The most important echoes of this Gospel, in which the Lord labors long and hard to bring healing, should be found in our own lives: by our laboring long and hard to bring true healing by the grace of Christ.

Then will the rightful faith be known.

(adapted from an earlier post)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

“Wait for the Lord”

We seem to be hearing more nowadays about hastening death.

In bad times, we sometimes seem to hear more about people committing the grievous, God-insulting sin of suicide (may God have mercy on their souls).

In debates about health care, there seem to be increasing whispers about the benefits of having people die earlier.

Today’s readings remind us the God alone is the Master of Life and Death: not human beings.

In the Gospel (Luke 4:31-37), people recognize the authority of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ over even the most mysterious and frightening evils.

In the first reading (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11), Saint Paul reminds us of God’s power over life and death, even in the ultimate disaster:

When people are saying, “Peace and security,”
then sudden disaster comes upon them,
like labor pains upon a pregnant woman,
and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness,
for that day to overtake you like a thief.

For all of you are children of the light
and children of the day.

We are not of the night or of darkness.
Therefore, let us not sleep as the rest do,
but let us stay alert and sober.

For God did not destine us for wrath,
but to gain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who died for us,
so that whether we are awake or asleep
we may live together with him.

Therefore, encourage one another
and build one another up,
as indeed you do.

And the Responsorial (Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14) reminds us of how we should fear nothing in this life (not pain, not poverty, not embarrassment, nothing) but rather we should continue in our lives on this earth to wait upon and trust in the omnipotent Will, the omniscient Wisdom, and the infinite Love of God.

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?

The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?

Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.