The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Warren Carroll, R.I.P.

On July 17 Warren Carroll died at the age of 79. A pioneering Catholic educator and a brilliant historian, Dr. Carroll founded Christendom College in Front Royal, VA in 1977. Christendom is one of the "new" Catholic institutions of high education founded in recent decades in what has so far been a laudable and successful effort to counteract the declining Catholicity of so many supposedly Catholic colleges and universities. Georgetown University, Boston College, Notre Dame University, and too many other once-Catholic institutions have become victims of a form of identity theft in which their Catholic identity has been erased by administrations committed to making them no different than their secular counterparts.

Though his founding of Christendom College, Dr. Carroll joined Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, Thomas More College in Marrimack, NH, Franciscan University of Steubenville OH, and many other similar institutions in offering their students a rigorous educational experience while at the same time remaining faithful to the magisterial teachings of the Church.

I never met Dr. Carroll, although we have several mutual friends who all thought the world of him. I had hoped to meet him when our family stopped by Christendom College in the late 1980s while on a trip to visit my in-laws in Florida. Our elder daughter was "college shopping" at the time and wanted to take a look at Christendom. Unfortunately Dr. Carroll was out of his office that day, but we did enjoy our brief tour of the campus. As it turned out our daughter ultimately decided to attend Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California. Subsequently, however, I had the pleasure of being educated by Dr. Carroll through his remarkable and massive (five large volumes) History of Christendom. I've included a link (left) to the first volume of this series. It is a beautifully written history which I recommend to anyone interested in the history of Christendom from its beginnings in Old Testament revelation.

Warren Carroll left a lasting legacy not only in the college he founded, but also in the lives he touched through his writings and, in particular, the lives he touched in the classroom. He will be missed.

Requiescat in pace, Dr. Carroll.

You can read more about Dr. Carroll here: Christendom College Founder Warren Carroll Dies.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Homily: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 55:1-13; Ps 145; Rom 8:35,37-39; Mt 14:13-21

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew tells us about a miraculous banquet – the miracle of the loaves and fishes – one of the few miracles described in all four Gospels. But this passage is actually a story of three banquets.

The first is a birthday banquet that King Herod had thrown for himself. It was during this banquet that Herod had John the Baptist murdered, simply to please his wife and stepdaughter. Deeply upset when told of John’s death, Jesus wants to be alone with His apostles, to grieve and pray with them in peace and quiet. So he sets off in a boat, headed for a deserted area along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. But the crowds won’t hear of it and follow him on foot. Jesus can’t escape, even for a few hours.

Feast of Herod and the Beheading of John the Baptist

Seeing thousands of people lining the shore, he’s moved with pity, sets aside his own needs, and spends the day among them, healing the sick, teaching them, caring for them. We get the impression that Jesus almost loses track of time, and as evening comes, the Apostles, those most practical of men, become concerned. Can’t He see it’s late and the people are hungry? He’s spent the entire day with this demanding crowd. Enough is enough! And so some of the Apostles approach Jesus and suggest He dismiss the crowds. Let them go so they can buy food in the surrounding villages.

"Give them some food yourselves"
Jesus’ response is extraordinary: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” The Apostles must have been shocked. Feed them ourselves? Has He gone mad? We hardly have any money and only five loaves of bread and two fish. These 12 practical men, these realists, still had so much to learn. They had watched as Jesus turned water into wine. They had witnessed thousands of cures. And still they thought only in human terms.

In effect Jesus is telling them, “You seem to have a problem. Go ahead and see if you can solve it yourselves.” But the apostles don’t hear this. Their faith, still in the embryonic stage, allows them to hear only the apparent absurdity in His words. They haven’t yet accepted that there are some problems we humans simply cannot solve without divine help.

And so Jesus, no doubt with a sigh and a shake of the head, orders the crowd to sit down on the grass. He then takes the food, and in words remarkably similar to those He would later use at the Last Supper, blesses and breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples, who then distribute the food among the crowd. 5,000 men, and probably many more thousands of  women and children, hungry and weary, eat and are satisfied.

In an ironic twist, Jesus turns the Apostles into waiters at His banquet. The men who wanted to dismiss the crowds become instead their servants. This banquet, this miraculous picnic hosted by Jesus along a normally deserted shore in Galilee, was a banquet of love, so different from the banquet of death thrown by Herod.

Jesus feeds the hungry, and in doing so, gives His Apostles something to think about. Did they make the connection to the psalm we prayed only moments ago? “The hand of the Lord feeds us; He answers all our needs.”

Yes, the Apostles experienced the miracle; it would be hard not to as they watched the bread and fish multiply in their own hands. And yet it would seem they only recognized its full meaning much later. They didn’t recognize the sign of the bread. Neither did they see how Jesus has used them, multiplying the bread in their hands, not His own, and distributing it through them. They didn’t grasp the meaning of the 12 baskets full of fragments, far more then they started with, showing that the Bread of Life, the Bread He would later give the world, would never be exhausted.

"This is my body..."

And so a story that begins with a banquet of death, and moves to a banquet of love, ends with a banquet of life, a banquet of eternal life. Jesus didn’t institute the Eucharist that day in that deserted place; no, He waited until the Apostles were ready. He waited until the night before He died. But He did provide His disciples with a glimpse of the banquet to come, the banquet at His altar, a banquet that would feed, not thousands, but millions every day.

The Eucharist is a marvelous gift. But how much do we value it? When you are hungry or thirsty, do you think only about your next meal, or do you think also about your next Eucharist? When you sit at the dinner table with family and friends, do you take a moment to reflect on the miracle of the Eucharist at God’s table?

Jesus fed the stomachs of the thousands who had followed him in Galilee. Today He feeds the souls of His followers throughout the world, providing them with perfect nourishment, giving them Himself – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The Eucharist is so valuable, it’s invaluable. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council called it “the source and summit of the Christian life.” And the most wonderful thing about the Eucharistic miracle that will take place a few moments from now on this very altar is that God has sent each of us a standing invitation to this banquet.

Today’s Herods also send out invitations to their banquets, invitations to turn away from God in sin, invitations to reject the Bread of Life for a culture of death, invitations that the world pressures us to accept. But as St. Paul tells us in today’s 2nd reading, by accepting Christ’s invitation, we can conquer all that the world throws at us. With the Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Tomb of the Apostle Philip

In the first century, during those early days of the Apostolic Church, Asia Minor, today's modern Turkey, was among the first mission territories targeted by the apostles. Indeed, all seven of the local churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation were located in Asia Minor. Tradition and in particular the writings of the Early Church Fathers also tell us that John the Apostle spent the final years of his life in Ephesus. It should come as no surprise, then, that more than one apostle ministered and died in Asia Minor.

Polycrates, a second-century bishop of Ephesus, in a letter to Pope St. Victor (c. 190), refers specifically to "Philip, one of the Twelve Apostles, who is buried in Hieropolis with his two daughters, who grew old as virgins." Polycrates also mentions a third daughter, who "led a life in the Holy Spirit and rests in Ephesus." According to the early Church historian Eusebius, another early document, the Dialogue of Caius, also states that Philip's grave is located in Hieropolis. Tradition holds that Philip was martyred in Hieropolis around 80 A.D..

Despite ancient Church tradition and these early and rather authoritative comments, some of today's experts think Philip the Apostle might have been confused with Philip the deacon whom we encounter in Acts. Personally, I believe the Early Church Fathers could tell the difference between the two men. Anyway, both men could well have died in Asia Minor since it was certainly prime mission territory.

As if to confirm these early traditions, a team of archaeologists has apparently uncovered the grave of Philip the Apostle right where is was supposed to be, in Hieropolis. Hieropolis is located in the southwest corner of modern Turkey in the province of Denizli. Archaeologist have been working in the area for decades and among their objectives has been the location of Philip's tomb. The team responsible for the find is led by Italian archaeologist Francesco D'Andria.
Professor D'Andria at St. Philip's tomb

Speaking to the Turkish news agancy, Professor D'Andria stated, "We have been looking for Saint Philip's tomb for years. We finally found it in the ruins of a church which we excavated a month ago." According to D'Andria, both the structure of the tomb and the ancient writing found on it clearly indicate it is the apostle's tomb. Archaeological work moves slowly to ensure nothing is damaged and all artifacts are well documented, so the tomb has not yet been opened. That will happen soon enough.

The find has generated a lot of excitement and in Professor D'Andria's words, "The discovery of the tomb of St Philip, who is a very important figure for Christianity, will make a tremendous impression in the world." I expect it will also become a major pilgrimage site.

Read more here: St. Philip's Tomb Found in Turkey

Friday, July 29, 2011

Perk up, folks. Enjoy life. Being is good!

On Sunday when I step up to the ambo to proclaim the Gospel and preach I look out at the congregation and am amazed by what I see: hundreds of faces looking, for the most part, indifferent. In fact, far too many look downright grumpy. It happens every week, so I shouldn't be amazed...but I am, and saddened as well. Here they are, participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and being given the remarkable opportunity to be nourished by God's Word and by His Body and Blood at His table. And it's an opportunity you and I can seize every day of the week. Should it not be a time of unsurpassed joy, a joy one would expect to see reflected in the faces of those who experience it? That it apparently isn't makes me wonder what in their lives makes these people happy. What is it that brings joy to them? Perhaps nothing.

As I mulled this over, I recalled a video someone shared with me a few months ago. It's totally secular, not at all religious, but it certainly beings a smile to the faces of those who watch it. And its message is pretty simple: life is a wonderful gift. Just being alive is truly good, and we should enjoy what God has given us, where He has put us, who He has called to share their lives with us.

Just in case you're not one of the over one million people who have viewed this video (below), go ahead and watch it. It's brief. And even if you've watched it before, watch it again. It might just cheer you up.

And then, when you attend Mass this weekend, and the priest or deacon stands before you to proclaim the Gospel, you just might let your face reflect what you're about to hear. The Gospel, after all, is the Good News of Jesus Christ, not the bad news. And don't forget, God does want you to be happy.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Joyce Kilmer

Sergeant Joyce Kilmer in uniform (1918)
It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised by something you just stumble on.

Today, while glancing through a collection of religious poetry, I came across a poem penned by Joyce Kilmer. Kilmer, an American poet, literary critic and journalist, is best known for his poem "Trees" with which most high-schoolers of my generation are familiar. Kilmer joined the Army during World War One and was killed at the 2nd Battle of the Marne in 1918 at the age of 31. He is probably the best known American Catholic poet of his time.

Kilmer was a prolific poet but until today I had read few of his poems. But those that I had read I found especially appealing because of their simplicity and deep feeling. Interestingly, these are the same traits for which many modern critics disparage his poems. But then, who cares what modern critics think? After all, they write only to each other.

The poem I came across today is a brief hymn to the Blessed Virgin.

       The Singing Girl

There was a little maiden
   In blue and silver drest,
She sang to God in Heaven
   And God within her breast.

It flooded me with pleasure,
   It pierced me like a sword,
When this young maiden sang: "My soul
   Doth magnify the Lord."

The stars sing all together
   And hear the angels sing,
But they said they had never heard
   So beautiful a thing.

Saint Mary and Saint Joseph,
   And Saint Elizabeth,
Pray for us poets now
   And at the hour of death.
God's peace...

Blessed Titus Brandsma, Martyr at Dachau

Blessed Titus Brandsma at Dachau
On several previous occasions I have mentioned the visit I made to the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau as a child, just a few years after World War II. That visit had a tremendous impact on me and played a significant role in the formation of my worldview. Although Catholic priests and nuns were imprisoned and killed in all of the Nazi camps, I'm pretty sure Dachau held the largest contingent. Today the Church celebrates one of these, Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch Catholic priest of the Carmelite Order, who was murdered at Dachau in 1942. Considered a martyr by the Church, he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1985. Today, July 27, is his feast day.

Fr. Brandsma was a remarkable man, a professor of philosophy, one of the founders of a major Catholic university in the Netherlands, a journalist, and a staunch and outspoken enemy of the Nazis. Perhaps his most courageous act, and likely the one that resulted in his arrest and subsequent death, was his authorship of a pastoral letter by the Dutch bishops which was read in every parish in the country. In this letter, he condemned the vicious anti-Jewish actions of the Nazi occupiers, especially the first deportation of Jews to camps throughout Europe. He also made it clear to Dutch Catholics that the Nazi ideology was completely incompatible with the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Church. As a result he was arrested and ultimately sent to his death at Dachau. Interestingly, the first 3,000 Dutch Jews deported by the Nazis were all converts to Catholicism. And while the Nazis likely considered this a strong message to Dutch Catholics, it ended up having an effect opposite to that intended.

Fr. Brandsma spent very little time in Dachau. He arrived in June 1942 and was given a lethal injection by an SS doctor on July 26 of that same year. He was 61 years old. With Christlike forgiveness, Father Brandsma gave this doctor a rosary.

The following is a letter written by Fr. Brandsma (Inmate #30492) from Dachau on June 12, 1942.

Dear Brother-in-law and Sister,

If until now I wrote to the Prior of Nijmegen, now it is better to write to you. You forward the letter to the Prior. He will take care for further expedition and also for the answer in your name. The answer must be written in German. No abbreviations that are not easily understandable. If not, the letter is not passed on. I have been allowed to read the letter the Prior sent to Kleve but not to keep it, as it was in Dutch.

Many thanks for all the kind words, from yourselves, the Prior and all the others. I am all right. One has to adapt oneself once more to new circumstances and with the help of God, I'll succeed here also. Our dear Lord will also continue helping. I may write once a month only. This is now for me the first occasion. Best greetings to all. I was pleased to receive information about the number of new novices, the new priests, the results of Oss and Oldenzaal, the health of Hubert, Cyprian, Vitalis and the other patients. Best wishes for a good recovery of Fr. Subprior. If one wishes, one can send me each month 40 Marks. The Prior will gladly look after that. As Henry wrote, Kaeter the pastor has been transferred to Ribergen. Congratulate him for me. Have any other pastors whom I know been transferred? I'm still waiting for news from Akke Kramer regarding his brother John.

Many greetings to the parish priest and curates at Bolsward, to Father Provincial and all the Confreres. Let us remain united, under the protection of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Not too much worrying about me.

In Christ yours
His humility is evident as is his concern for others who are obviously living in much better conditions than he. We can only hope and pray that we will also possess such courage and humility should we be placed in a similar position...and believe me, brothers and sisters, this is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Pax et bonum...

Homily: Wednesday, 17th Week in Ordinary Time

Note: Our Gospel passage today repeats a few verses from last Sunday's longer passage in which Jesus relates the parables that compare the Kingdom of Heaven with buried treasure, a pearl of great price, and a fisherman's net. I hope my homily from last Sunday opened up this Scripture reading and providing some useful insights into these parables. Today's passage just repeats the first two of these parables, and I have tried to address them from a different perspective.

Readings: Ex 34:29-35 • Ps 99 • Mt 13:44-46

Our Gospel passage today consists of the two shortest of Jesus’ parables. And as I read them again the other evening, one thing in particular jumped out at me.

How likely would it be just to stumble on a treasure buried in a field? They certainly didn’t have metal detectors in Jesus’ time. So I’m guessing it would be pretty unlikely. And how likely would it be to find a pearl worth so much that only by selling everything you own could you buy it? Having lived on Cape Cod for many years, I’ve eaten a lot of clams and oysters, but I’ve never found a single pearl, much less one worth so very much.

Considering first that treasure in the field, we know one thing: it was buried. In other words, it was hidden. Many people had probably walked right over it, never realizing it was there. About the only way to find it is to be led to it.

Didn’t you sense that the man who found the treasure didn’t expect to find it, that he really wasn’t looking for it? But when he does find it, he immediately recognizes its worth and does pretty much what we’d all do. He sells everything and buys the field. And now both the field and the treasure are his.

Jesus tells us that this unexpected treasure, this thing of such great value, is just like the Kingdom of Heaven. For some of us, then, the Kingdom isn’t something we can find on our own. We can only be led to it. It might seem as if we just stumbled on it by happenstance, but no, that’s not how God works. It is through His amazing grace that we are shown the way to the Kingdom. It is a gratuitous gift, one we can’t earn, one we don’t deserve, but to receive it we must be open to the movement of the Spirit in our lives.

Only then will we be able to respond to His urgings. Only then will we recognize the Kingdom that God has placed right in front of us.

Oh, yes, there’s one condition: we must be willing to rid ourselves of everything else. How did the Gospel put it? “He sells all that he has…” And from this God’s Kingdom comes!

The parable of the merchant and his pearl is similar, but with an important difference. Listen again to the story: “…the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.”

Do you see the difference? In this instance, it’s about a man who is a merchant of pearls. His job is to look for and find pearls. It’s what he does. And as he looks, this one time he finds a remarkable pearl, a pearl of great value.

But the merchant of pearls doesn’t discover the Kingdom strictly by chance; no, it was the result, the fruit, of a long search. And he knows his business. He knows pearls. He has studied them. He knows their value. He knows worthless pearls, the fakes, when he sees them. He won’t be deceived. And so, when he finds this remarkable pearl, he sells all he has to buy it.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Kingdom. Nothing on earth, nothing in the universe, has greater value. Both of these parables have the same purpose: to reveal the presence of the Kingdom.

But in one parable the Kingdom is discovered through a gratuitous act by God. God acts in us through His Holy Spirit, the Spirit who guides and inspires, leading us to Himself. And in the other parable we find someone exerting great effort in the search for God, an effort the leads to a recognition of God’s presence and His action in our lives. God leads us to His Kingdom is different ways, doesn’t He? But it’s always through His grace that we are able to discover and possess it.

Life is short, brothers and sisters, but it’s filled with opportunities to seize the kingdom, that treasure of inestimable value. These moments of grace are the most precious moments in our lives. Let’s not waste them, letting them pass by unnoticed.

And once you possess the Kingdom, don’t rebury it in another field, or lock it in a safe. Share it with the world. Show others how valuable it is. Build up the Kingdom as Christ commanded us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A New Down-Sized Witness Protection Program

I receive far too many emails from folks who, motivated by the best of intentions, feel compelled to send me every odd, humorous or outrageous thing they encounter while surfing the web. I suppose we're all guilty of this to some extent, but some people take it to an extreme, sending out multiple emails daily, and adding all sorts of clutter to my already overflowing inbox. In most instances -- and please don't tell them this -- I simply delete the email without even a glance. But every once in a while the content of an email will catch my eye for more than a millisecond. It's usually something visual and strange enough to arouse my curiosity.

That's what happened this morning when the below image arrived in an email sent by an old Navy friend who later joined the U. S. Marshals Service, from which he retired some years ago. His accompanying note stated that, due to budget cuts in this time of governmental austerity, the Witness Protection Program has been redesigned. Even though I've seen little evidence of  federal programs being cut, it brought a smile.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life and Death and Love and Hope

John McCarthy enjoying a fine cigar
Yesterday, July 24, would have been my father's 102nd birthday. Born in 1909 he died in 2005 at the age of 95, a long life by any standard. He was a far better father than I believe he thought he was, but I suspect that's probably true of many of us. So often we focus only on our mistakes and forget about all the good things -- the love, the example, and the hope -- we were able to share with our children. Life in a truly Christian family is always a story of shared faith, of mutual love and forgiveness, a story of godly virtues so often rising above the human failings; and such was the story of our family. Dad was a very happy man who thoroughly enjoyed the gift of his life and the lives of those he loved and those who loved him. And yet he had another gift, the gift of tears, an outward sign of his empathy for the plight of others, an empathy realized in remarkable generosity. I was, in many ways, formed by my father and I owe him a debt I will never be able to repay, and that's as it should be. John Joseph McCarthy, resquiescat in pace.

Nap time: Dad (93) & Pedro (1) in July 2002
Yesterday, however, was yesterday, the past. But today is our first step into the future because it's also the 10th birthday of our eldest grandson, Pedro. Talking about it today Diane and I both remarked how clearly we remembered that day a decade ago and the anxiety we experienced as we waited for him to be born. Since then we have been blessed with seven more wonderful grandchildren who never cease to astonish us with their intelligence and their goodness. One thing I have discovered is that the arrival of grandchildren has brought about a change in me. Oh, life is still full of anticipation and surprises, but everything else pales when placed alongside the grandchildren. My great hope now is to live long enough to experience them as young adults. What a blessing that would be!

Barbara & Pete in 2005
And yet in between these family comings and goings, our lives are graciously touched by many others and we are saddened when they are taken from us. On Saturday we received news of the death of a close friend who had suffered for many years with MS. Although she and her husband had moved to a rural (very rural) part of Georgia, we were able to visit them on a couple of occasions in recent years. It was wonderful to see how Barbara dealt with her affliction with real courage and amazing grace. Watching her reminded me of something Flannery O'Connor once wrote in reference to the many years she suffered from Lupus, the disease that would ultimately take her life:
"I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, p. 163.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Barbara and her husband once lived in Milledgeville, GA, the same town where Flannery O'Connor lived most of her too-short life.

We will miss you, Barbara Christian, resquiescat in pace.

A Changing, Odd World

Here are a few interesting facts about life today, including a few that certainly took me by surprise...

Higher Education. An increasing number of people are receiving master's degrees these days. According to Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, nearly 2 in 25 people age 25 and over hold a master’s degree. This is about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s or higher in 1960. It would seem that grade creep has now expanded into degree creep, as a growing number of employers include an advanced degree among the qualifications for many jobs. Increased specialization has become the desired educational outcome, as students follow a path that begins in middle school and leads them all the way to graduate school. Along the way they receive plenty of job training, but the one thing they no longer receive is an education. To read more check out the NY Times article: The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s.

Fakirs are fakers. Oh, my, another bubble burst. All those yoga masters who for years have been generating all kinds of oohs and aahs with their levitations are actually phonies. Check out this video that's created quite a stir on YouTube:

How old is old? To all you folks who think you're going to live forever, here's some sobering news: Don't expect to live past 114, at the most, 115. Of the past nine people who have held the title of oldest human being all but one reached this milestone at the age of 114, and only two lived past the age of 114. The other two made it to 115 before entering eternity. To read more: The World's Deadliest Distinction.

Economic Freedom and Poverty. Among my favorite organizations is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which in their words "is a non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization whose purpose is to further in successive generations of college students a better understanding of the values and institutions that sustain a free and humane society." I especially like their books and journals, which are available online at very reasonable prices. And if you join ISI ($25 for us who are neither faculty or students) you get some very deep discounts. 

In their web journal, First Principles, ISI included an interesting video (see below) from The video shows the connection between the degree of economic freedom a nation enjoys and the personal income of its citizens. While it's certainly true that the quality of a nation's economy and the standard of living of its people represent one of the more important elements of a free and just society, it is not the only element. Other freedoms -- religion, speech, press, association, etc. -- are just as important. 

Intercollegiate Sports. I'm not a big fan of intercollegiate athletics, and believe they have generally had a negative effect on the quality of education delivered by our colleges and universities. In most institutions the presence of intercollegiate athletics has led to the creation of two parallel but unequal educational programs, one for "scholarship" athletes involved in big-time (i.e., money-making) sports, and another for everyone else. Most of the arguments in support of intercollegiate athletics are easily countered with facts and common sense, but I suspect this will have no effect on their continued growth. 

Putting all this aside, however, I will descend from my soapbox. This all came about when a friend asked me the other day if I could identify the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States. I could not, but I guessed anyway and suggested that it might have been a Harvard-Yale football game. Well, my friend didn't know either and had incorrectly assumed I would have this piece of trivia stored in some easily accessible brain cell. And so I was forced to do a little online research. It turns out that I was correct about one thing: it was a contest between Harvard and Yale. But I was wrong about the sport. It wasn't football, or baseball, or basketball, or any of the other big-time sports. It was a two-mile race between the crews of Harvard and Yale that took place on August 3, 1852 on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Now you know.

Dodgeball, an athletic oddity. The subject of dodgeball came up in the same conversation that generated the above question about the first US intercollegiate sporting event. That conversation quickly gravitated from football and baseball to grade school gym classes and the odd sports beloved by P.E. teachers. First on both of our lists was dodgeball. I played dodgeball a lot as a kid, but only in gym class. I never played in or even witnessed a game of dodgeball anywhere else. Back in those days, before the universal availability of organized sports -- e.g., Little League, Pop Warner, Youth Soccer, etc. -- the kids in my neighborhood would join up and head for the school playground or a vacant lot, divide into teams, and play touch football or baseball or whatever other sport happened to interest us at the time. But we never played dodgeball. I suspect we considered it a sport in which fast, little kids had a real advantage and most of us weren't fast and little. It was also boring. Of course, we believed the same about soccer which we considered a third-world sport not worthy of attention by real American boys. (I still feel this way.)

That's enough for now. Blessings...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Homily: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Ps 119; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13:44-52

I recently received an email from a former business acquaintance. I hadn’t heard from him in several years, so it was one of those checking up to see how you’re doing emails.

Anyway, he’s an interesting guy. He’s young – well, he’s in his forties, and that’s young – very bright, and very successful. He owns his own software company and his business is booming. He and his lovely wife have two young children and live in a beautiful, large home in an affluent suburb. He has a Lexus and a BMW SUV. Life is good. Indeed, most people would assume he has a near-perfect life. I mean, what more could someone want?

And yet, judging by the email I received, my friend is anything but content. Listen to some of what he wrote…
“I'm really tired (mentally) and feel like this business is not the calling for me. It doesn’t seem possible to be a good businessperson and a good person at the same time. So we will see what happens. My wife and I have been talking a lot lately and feel like we're going after the wrong things in life...  and can't seem to find a way out of the rat-race.  So we're actually pondering on how to down-size, and try to lead a "simpler" life.  Maybe our house, cars, etc. aren’t really worth it in the end.”
Now you don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see that this man is searching, searching for something more fulfilling than what he already has. And what he already has is just about the best that this world can give. After all he lives better than 99% of the world’s people. And yet his discontent is palpable.

Of course my friend’s not unique. All of us are searching for something better, something that will bring true and lasting happiness. And this is exactly what today’s Gospel reading is all about.

You see, Jesus is pointing the way for us, telling us that what we’re all really searching for is something only He can provide. He calls it “the Kingdom of Heaven,” a phrase that appears nearly 100 times in the Gospels. What exactly is it?

Well, based on what Jesus says about it, we know it’s something to strive for; that it’s more difficult to enter if you’re rich; that it’s easier to enter if you’re childlike. It belongs to the poor, the humble, and the persecuted. It has humble beginnings and grows like seed and expands like yeast. It’s not here or there but it’s among us. And yet, even though it’s among us, we pray for the kingdom’s coming whenever we pray the Our Father.

The Kingdom is near because Jesus is near. It is proclaimed throughout the whole Gospel, and has been coming ever since the Last Supper, and in the Eucharist, it’s in our midst. And in today’s Gospel reading we learn even more about it. We learn that it’s supremely valuable, something for which we should give up everything. Now this might seem like a difficult thing to do, a hard decision to make, but in His parables Jesus says no.

Art above by David Bonnell
He likens possessing the Kingdom of Heaven to the man who discovered the buried treasure and the merchant who found the pearl. Each sold everything to possess them because they recognized their value and the unequaled joy they would bring. And in case we didn’t appreciate the message of these first two parables, Jesus adds a third, in which he tells us that the value of the Kingdom of Heaven will ultimately become clear.

He compares God’s Kingdom to a dragnet that collects all sorts of things. But at the end of time the catch in the net will be sorted out. Those who recognized the value of the reign of God and helped build it up will possess the kingdom, while those who hindered its growth by putting other things first will lose it.

In our second reading, St. Paul helps us appreciate the value of God’s Kingdom even more. According to Paul, to be part of God’s kingdom is to be part of God’s family, to become children of God, to become brothers and sisters of Jesus. And so Paul tells us that to possess God’s Kingdom is to achieve the end for which we were made, to enter into an intimate relationship with God.

He also gives us a message of hope, that for those who belong to God’s Kingdom, all things work for good. Not only is God’s Kingdom the fulfillment of our destiny, but it also brings nothing but good. And just as there is joy in finding the Kingdom, there is joy in helping to build it. This, brothers and sisters, is what you and I are called to do every day.

We build the kingdom whenever we trust completely in God, whenever our selflessness overcomes selfishness, whenever our love conquers sin and our faith overcomes suffering.

We build the kingdom whenever our hope conquers despair; whenever we visit the sick, comfort the dying, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless.

When married couples help prepare engaged couples for marriage, they build the Kingdom.

When our parishioners work courageously for life, changing the hearts of those who would promote the culture of death through abortion, euthanasia, or capital punishment, they build the Kingdom.

When our pastoral visitors bring love, compassion, companionship, and the Eucharist to the elderly and the homebound, they build the Kingdom of God.

When our faith formation teachers help parents build a solid foundation of faith for their children, they build the Kingdom of God.

When our outreach ministry assists families in need, they build the kingdom of God.

And we build the Kingdom in a very special way when we participate in the Eucharist, when the priest, acting in the person of Christ, makes present Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross.

Some day we’ll all be caught up in that net, and what happens to us then will be determined by our faith and how we realize that faith in our lives, by what we consider valuable, whether we work to build up the Kingdom or try to tear it down.

Are we so caught up in our world of materialistic values that we willingly sacrifice everything for nothing? Or like my friend, have we come to understand that happiness does not come from the things of this world, that only God can bring the lasting happiness we all seek.

Will we, like Solomon in today’s first reading, recognize the worth of that which is truly valuable and choose it above everything else?

Life is short, brothers and sisters, but it’s filled with opportunities to build the Kingdom. Let’s not waste them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, 16th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 16:1-5, 9-15 • Ps 78 • Mt 13:1-9

On a few other occasions I’ve mentioned my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Francis Jane. Well, that last comment by Jesus in our Gospel passage was an expression she’d occasionally use in the classroom. Of course, back in 1957 her version was from an older translation: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” And whenever she used it, we all knew that what she had to say was particularly important, that we were likely to encounter it again, probably on a test.

I believe that’s exactly why Jesus used it: “Hey, disciples, listen up! To help me with my work, you’re going to need to understand this.” Remember, it was only to the disciples that Jesus explained his parables, opening them up for their understanding. Jesus, you see, didn’t intend to evangelize the world Himself. No, He first had some redemptive work to do on the Cross. He intended to evangelize the world through His disciples – through Peter and John and Paul and Andrew and Mark and all the rest – and also through you and through me.

And so let’s look at this Parable of the Sower from a slightly different angle, and see how it can help us grow in discipleship. We’ve all heard this first and greatest of Jesus’ parables many times, perhaps so many times that it loses its freshness, that we’ve failed to plumb the depths of what Jesus is telling us.

Usually, we focus on the soil because it represents those who hear God’s Word and how they receive it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but as Christians you and I have already heard and received God’s Word, and presumably we have accepted it. As Christians we should already be "good soil". Perhaps it’s time for us to focus on the sowing.

Later in this same chapter of Matthew, when Jesus explains the parable to the disciples, He doesn’t specifically identify the sower. But we assume it represents Jesus Himself who has brought the Word of the Kingdom into the world. Sowing the seed, spreading the Word is certainly God’s work, but it’s also work you and I are called on to do in Jesus’ name. How did that command go?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you…” [Mt 28:19-20]
So, it would seem that we’re being told to join Jesus in His sowing of God’s Word, and what the sower in the parable discovered is the same thing we’ll discover. It didn’t take him long to learn that a lot of that seed didn’t bear fruit.

When you talk about the Good News to some folks, they’re simply unable to understand it. They’re just too much in the grip of Satan. Others seem to receive the Word and understand it, but their enthusiasm is short-lived. And when things get a little tough, they drift away. Then there are those who are just too attached to the world and its material attractions. Their minds and hearts are monopolized by these things, leaving no room for God’s Word.

But this doesn’t mean we stop sowing, that we cease to evangelize. No, God wants us to keep sowing His Word just as His sower did, because some of that seed will fall on good ground.

We must also remember that Jesus is the sower, not us. We’re sort of his farm hands, his day laborers. Jesus will handle all the pathways, the rocky ground, and the thorns. He may do it through us, asking us to return time after time throwing that seed…or the next time around He just might use someone else.

For you and me, sowing God’s Word among all those rocks and thorns can be pretty discouraging, but only if we think of it as our work. But it’s not our work. It’s God’s work. And with or without us, God will have a bountiful harvest. As we’re told in Isaiah:
“So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” [Is 55:11]
Even if you and I are total failures as evangelists, God’s word will still accomplish its purpose. You see, brothers and sisters, as much as we’d like to believe it, it’s not totally up to us. Oh, yes, we have to help, but in this, as in everything, it’s God’s will be done…not yours, not mine.

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dali, Gross, Chagall, Matisse, Raphael, Convents and Miracles

I'm not a great collector of fine art, primarily because I can't afford to be. But I do have several wonderful signed prints that hang on our walls where I can enjoy them every day. 

"Piccarda Donati" by Salvatore Dali
The first is a print from a wood engraving of one of Salvatore Dali's series of 101 water colors depicting events in Dante's Divine Comedy. This particular print is of Piccarda Donati, the sister of one of Dante's friends and the first person he encounters in Paradise. Indeed, she is the only heavenly character Dante recognizes, and even then it takes him a while. The glorified bodies of the saints are so completely different, so much more beautiful than their earthly bodies, that they are difficult to recognize. It is during this encounter that Piccarda teaches Dante a lesson in saintliness. When he asks if she does not long to be at a higher place in heaven, she tells him that she wants only what God wants, that His will is her will, and so she is perfectly content to be where she is. Whenever I pass by this print, I make an effort to remember that lesson myself, and remain content with my place in the world that I trust reflects God's will for me.

I also have a print by the late Jewish artist, Chaim Gross. Born in Austria, Gross emigrated to the US as a teenager in 1921. Known more for his sculpture than for his paintings he became quite famous for his wood sculptures which I'm pretty sure I could never afford. He also taught printmaking and sculpture and, I believe, spent his later years as an artist in Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, where he died in 1991 at the age of 87. This large signed and numbered print -- "In Front of the Ark"-- is among my favorites because of the aura of holiness it presents. Whenever I look at it, I can't help but recall that command to Moses as he approached the burning bush, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."

"In Front of the Ark" by Chaim Gross
Another print hanging on our walls is a signed print by Marc Chagall. It's a rough sketch of his "Tribe of Joseph", one of twelve windows representing the twelve tribes of Israel that Chagall designed for the Synagogue of the Hadassa at the Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem. I particularly like the description of Joseph that accompanies the print:
Joseph is a fruitful bough, a fruitful bough by a spring; his branches run over the wall. The archers fiercely attacked him; they shot at him and pressed him hard. Yet his bow remained taut, and his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, by the God of your father, who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains, the bounties of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers. (Gen. 49:22-26)
All of this came to mind this morning when I read two fascinating stories published on EWTN's website on June 23. The first tells of Henri Matisse and his last major work which involved the construction of the Dominican convent at Vence in southeastern France. The second, which immediately follows the first on the linked page, relates the story of the Renaissance artist Raphael's painting memorializing the Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena. Read them both here: Surprise in the Vatican Museums & Church of the Eucharist 

Homily: 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Satan Planting Weeds
Readings: Wis 12:13,16-19; Ps 86; Rom 8:26-27; Mt 13:24-43

OK, show of hands…How many sinners do we have out there? Hmm…not that many. If you’re not sinners, you can be only one other thing: you must be saints. And if that’s the case…well, I am truly honored to be in the presence of so much holiness.

You’re all very fortunate today, because Jesus prepared the first parable in our Gospel reading just for you. That’s right; the parable of the wheat and the weeds was aimed particularly at all you sinners who think you’re saints. Now, don’t feel too insulted, because I include myself right in there with you.

Notice that our Gospel reading ends with Jesus saying, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” I guess He’s telling us that what He has to say about all this sinfulness and saintliness is pretty important. So let’s take a closer look at this parable and see if maybe it can help us correct that inflated opinion we tend to have of ourselves.

First of all, I want you to take on the role of one of the slaves. Now it’s not easy being a slave, always having to do what you’re told, even when you don’t understand or don’t agree. But God is a good and caring master. And He allows you to question what you don’t understand.

“Master, where did the weeds come from?” God explains that Satan, his enemy, sabotaged His work by planting weeds, by seeding the world with those who would cause only problems and strife. Well, naturally, we saintly sinners want to make things right. We want to go out into the field and rip out those weeds, along with anything else that might get in the way. Just turn us loose, God, and we’ll solve all your problems. Just let us do it now! For we’re the good and decent people; we’re the righteous ones; we’re the ones with ears to hear.

And look at how many weeds there are! What did Jesus call them? “Children of the evil one.” You see them in the newspapers and on TV. Why, it’s downright embarrassing. Their conduct, their ethics, their morality couldn’t be any lower. And they’re out there committing all these shameful sins right there in front of God and everyone. There’s certainly no room for people like that in His Church.

And look at the world. The weeds are taking over. Evil’s on a rampage. This can’t be the kind of world God wants. It's tempting, isn't it, sometimes dangerously and tragically so, to desire a perfect world -- to think that if humanity only got its act together we could eradicate evil and create a world without imperfections. At least that’s what the politicians tell us.

How ironic that our very imperfections cause us to think this way, to turn the imperfect into the evil, while we hide the true evils behind a curtain of political correctness. Execute the criminals; abort the unwanted; purge the inconvenient; eliminate the undesirables; cleanse the world of the imperfect. These are the world’s solutions, not God’s. And so God orders us to refrain from judging and purging, for He has a different idea. What He tells us to do seems downright foolish; and yet He insists.

“No weeding,” He says, “not now. I will wait instead for the harvest, and then I will do the separating, not you. I will decide between wheat and weeds.

“But there are so many weeds in the world today,” we complain, “so much evil, right here, right now —can’t we do anything; can’t we do something?”

Go and sin no more...
And God says, “No. Only I can see into the heart of each man and woman; only I can ensure a perfect yield from the harvest.”

We’ve been given a different job. “Go make disciples of all nations,” he ordered his disciples. Until the time of harvest we are to preach the gospel of repentance to ourselves and to the world. And that, brothers and sisters, is hard for us to take. Why can’t we do some of that judging, that purging? Aren’t we the good ones, the holy ones?

Okay, maybe we’re not always that good or that holy. Maybe we don’t spend much time reading God’s Word or deepening our prayer life – assuming, of course, that we even have a prayer life. Maybe our faith isn’t always as alive and vibrant as it should be. Maybe our children and grandchildren, our neighbors and friends, haven’t always seen our faith witnessed in the way we live. Maybe we don’t spend much time and effort helping the hungry, the homeless, the stranger, the imprisoned. After all, I take responsibility for my problems; why can’t they? And maybe, well, maybe we ignore those Church teachings we don’t agree with, those teachings on faith and morals that are just downright inconvenient.

Oh, but we do attend Mass every week…well, most weeks anyway. That must count for something. Yes, Jesus’ teaching can be a real stumbling block for us, can’t it?

Much better and comforting to think that there are just two kinds of people in the world: the real sinners – you know, the ones you see on the covers of the supermarket tabloids – and the rest of us, those of us who hardly sin at all, or whose sins are small.

The bad and the good. The outsiders – that’s them – and the insiders – that’s us. Those who have the ears to hear and those who don’t. Those who will make it to heaven and those who won’t.

Yes, it’s easy to begin to think that way. And it’s a mistake that’s been made many times before. Back in the 4th Century there was a widespread heresy called Donatism that claimed that the good seed in this parable referred to the members of the Church, and so by definition there could be no weeds, no sinners, in the Church. They believed the Church could be composed only of good people; the rest of the world was simply evil. They were a bit like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time; and it took a St. Augustine to correct them, explaining that neither humanity nor the Church can be divided into children of light and children of darkness.

We still hear echoes of this ancient heresy among some Christian groups who preach a kind of exclusivity: “Are you saved? If you’re one of us, you’re OK...otherwise…”

St. Augustine, of course, was right. We all have both light and darkness within us – the good grain and the weeds growing together. The Church is really a kind of hospital, where we can be spiritually healed and made ready for our eternal journey. It’s a place where sinners grow and change by God's grace. That growth in grace may be agonizingly slow, like grain hidden in the soil. But in its slowness it imitates the patience of God. For Jesus teaches that there’s still time…there’s always time.

We just love to judge
I once read an article about a young gang member from a broken family — no role models, no education, no opportunities, no hope, no future. One fateful day, in a fit of uncontrolled rage, he fatally stabbed his social worker, the one person who was trying to help him. Convicted of murder, he was sent to prison for life. Now middle-aged, he’s repented, sought forgiveness from his victim’s family, finished college, and was baptized and confirmed. Subject to man’s law, he’ll remain in prison, but today he’s nothing like the violent young man he once was; and can no longer be counted among the weeds.

Who would have predicted this outcome? Nobody but Jesus Himself. Yes, the Lord turns all things to good for those who love Him.

And so, brothers and sisters, there’s good news for us in this Gospel — really good news. We won’t be struck by lighting the moment we sin, for God responds patiently and lovingly. How blessed we are that we can look back, recognize our past sinfulness, and be forgiven in the sacrament of Reconciliation. How blessed we are that God is patient, that He gives us time to change, time to make amends.

Yes, if we’re truly honest with ourselves and with God, most of us will admit that we were once weeds, and some of us that we’re still weeds. We try to hide our secrets, our sinfulness, because we’re ashamed of what we’ve done. We struggle to trust others because we can hardly trust ourselves. We play games with the truth, and too easily separate our words from our actions. And, yes, there are days when we slip back into our weed-like behavior.

The result? Quite simply, it’s hard to tell the wheat from the weeds, isn’t it? And if you look carefully, you can find the weeds in each of us. And so we remain sinners living among sinners.

But the time will come when the sorting of the weeds from the wheat will be absolute and final, harsh and decisive. And, dear friends, make no mistake about it: We will all be judged. But that judgment belongs to the master alone, not to the servants. God is in charge, not us, and His judgment is nothing at all like ours -- something for which we should all be grateful.

God is both just and merciful. He’s eager to forgive, and provide us with the grace we need to overcome our sinfulness and do His will in the world. We need only ask. Yes, He’s willing to wait for our repentance, to wait until the very last moment, for His patience is almost inexhaustible. And we can thank God for that.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Did you just call me a philistine?

Some years ago, indeed, many years ago, back in my Navy days, our ship spent a long weekend in San Francisco to provide a scenic backdrop for some now forgotten event the city was celebrating. On one of our days off, another officer and I decided to take in an exhibit of the "Treasures of Tutankhamun" hosted by the city's de Young Museum. As I recall, the exhibit had drawn a large crowd forcing us to wait in line for quite some time. And once we entered we were ushered through the exhibit rather quickly. But even so, it was hard not to be impressed by this collection of remarkable objects found in the young pharaoh's tomb.

After leaving the exhibit my friend and I decided to spend time viewing some of the museum's other collections. As we paused before one rather disturbing abstract painting, I suggested that it looked as if it were painted by "an insane three year old." That's when I heard a man's voice behind me snarl, "Another ____ing philistine." (I'll let you fill in the blanks of this somewhat alliterative phrase.) When I turned around to challenge this condescending snob -- for what else could he be? -- the coward had already walked off toward one of the doors. I let the insult pass, even though I knew my friend would ensure every officer in the wardroom heard an exaggerated version of the story by the following morning.

I have been called many things in my life, but this was the first and only time I have been called a least to my knowledge. It's an interesting word and in modern usage usually refers to someone who is anti-intellectual and disdains or doesn't appreciate artistic values. As for me, I greatly appreciate artistic values, then and now. The disagreement centers on defining what is and is not artistic; but that's a subject for another time.

Still a bit miffed, I remember turning back to that odd painting and wondering how the Philistines, the ancient enemy of Israel, came to lend their name to a word with such a meaning. I later discovered that the Philistines, unlike the Israelites, had no written language and apparently looked down upon those that did. The Hebrews placed great value in the written word, while the Philistines were more action-oriented. One can only assume that when it came to the arts, like the Spartans, the Philistines concentrated on the art of war.

Anyway, all of this came to mind yesterday when I read an article discussing ongoing archaeology aimed at discovering more about these villains of the Old Testament. We really know very little about the Philistines who sometime around 1,200 B.C. came to the area by sea, probably from what is today Greece (Sparta perhaps?). Having settled along the coastal plain, they became the perennial enemy of Israel until the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar crushed them in 604 B.C. That, presumably, was the end of the Philistines since history tells us nothing more of them.

The archaeologists' work centers on Tell Es-Safi, thought to be the site of the ancient city of Gath in southern Israel. [See map above.] Gath, one of the five cities of the Philistines mentioned in Scripture [1 Sam 6:17], was also the hometown of young David's supersized opponent, Goliath [1 Sam 17]. And Gath is again mentioned [1 Sam 5] as one of the cities to which the Philistines carried the stolen Ark of the Covenant. The archaeologist in charge of the dig, Dr. Aren Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, is confident that the site they are excavating is actually the Biblical Gath. If, like me, you have an active interest in archaeology in the Holy Land, here's a link to detailed information on this particular dig: Tell Es-Safi/Gath Archaeology.

Already there have been a number of interesting discoveries. One involves the remains of a temple-like structure which contained two large pillars, not unlike the structure the Bible tells us Samson destroyed [Jgs 16:30]. No one suggests that this was the specific temple Samson destroyed, but the find does lend credence to the Biblical account, showing that the Philistines actually constructed temples as described in Scripture.

As for Gath being Goliath's hometown, Dr. Maeir notes that "It doesn't mean that we're one day going to find a skull with a hole in its head from the stone that David slung...but it nevertheless tells that this reflects a cultural milieu that was actually there at the time."

And then there is the evidence in Gath of a great earthquake in the 8th century B.C. which confirms the words of the prophet Amos [Am 1:1; 9:1-9]. Here's a brief video in which Dr. Maeir discusses the earthquake:

It's all very interesting and like so much of the recent archaeological work being conducted in the Holy Land, simply confirms the Biblical text.

Here's another rather cleverly designed video, a tour of the Gath site conducted by a student involved in the dig.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"In You all find their home."

This morning, as I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, I was, for some reason (the Holy Spirit, perhaps) struck by a verse of Psalm 87: "In You all find their home." As I meditated briefly on this verse I couldn't help but reflect on the Church's current efforts to evangelize in a world so intensely hostile to the Word and Love of God.

Rather than responding to this challenge with enthusiasm and hope, far too many Christians see the terrorism, the persecution, the wars, the immorality, and the polarization of our world and drift instead into a kind of apathetic despair. I hear it all the time from parishioners and others who see nothing but darkness in the world. They fail to recognize the signs of hope among God's people, signs that the Spirit is active in the hearts of many. And they apparently don't realize that, as disciples, we are called to trust in God, for only He can bring good out of such evil. But we are also called to be more than spectators. We are to carry out His work of evangelization, the work He commanded of His disciples:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" [Mt 28:19-20].

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..."
The "age" has yet to close and there are far too many nations populated by folks who have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, and have certainly never been baptized. We still have a lot of work to do as we strive to help God achieve the unity Jesus prayed for the night before He died:
"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" [Jn 17:20-21].

Pope Benedict & Armenian Orthodox Patriarch Karenin
Jesus prays that the belief of the world, then, is conditional, that it may well depend on the unity of Christians, which explains why Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI devoted so much time and energy to the task of Christian unity. It is an especially difficult task, because true ecumenism must always be based on truth, a concept today's relativists eschew. There can be only one truth, not multiple versions of it, all disagreeing with one another. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, " should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth" [1 Tim 3:15]. Try talking objective truth to a relativist (and many call themselves Christian) and you will soon discover how difficult a task it is. Fortunately, it's God's Word and not our words that will ultimately bring about the unity Christ prayed for. We need only live Christ-centered lives ("...observe all that I have commanded you") and let the Holy Spirit speak God's Word through us.

Pope Benedict & Anglican Archbishop Williams
After my morning prayer I picked up the newspaper and read a brief item about a local Anglican community. I have written before about the Apostolic Constitution issued last year by Pope Benedict XVI that provides a path for Anglicans to return home to the Catholic Church. Contrary to what many have said, this action by the pope was not a unilateral action; rather it was a gracious response to a petition by the leaders of the Traditional Anglican Communion.

Tomorrow, right here in The Villages, our central Florida retirement community, one of those leaders will visit a local Anglican church, St. Luke's, and provide worshipers with an update on church unity efforts in the United States. In addition to addressing the community, Anglican Bishop Louis Campese will also celebrate Mass and confirm a member of the congregation. As Bishop Campese has said, this opportunity provided by the Catholic Church stresses unity and not absorption. In other words, these former Anglican communities, although they will be in communion with Rome, will maintain their integrity as worshiping communities and retain much of their liturgy and unique character.

St. Luke's Anglican Church is a fairly new mission effort and currently uses the facilities of New Covenant United Methodist Church. Interestingly, before New Covenant built their church, they conducted their services at our parish church, St. Vincent De Paul, back when we just a small mission church and had yet to become a parish.

Join Jesus in praying for true Christian unity.

Pax et bonum...

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, July 15, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 3:1-6, 9-12 • Psalm 103 • Mt 11:25-27

A few nights ago I watched a show that discussed a number of recent discoveries by astronomers and physicists, remarkable discoveries that have added to our knowledge of the universe. During the show, one commentator, while discussing the future, remarked,“It won’t be long before we know the mind of God.”

Hubble Telescope photo of hundreds of galaxies found in a tiny sliver of the night sky. Each galaxy contains perhaps 100 billion stars like our sun.

That brought on a chuckle from me. But then, right there in today’s Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus thanks the Father in heaven for revealing God’s wisdom and knowledge to his disciples.

So maybe knowing God’s mind isn’t completely impossible. Perhaps aided by God’s grace we can come to know God’s plan, at least partially, and share in His knowledge. But I have a suspicion this isn’t at all what our astronomer was thinking when he made that comment.

Let’s look again at Jesus’ prayer. First  He first reminds us that God is both Father and Lord of earth as well as heaven. He is the Creator and Author of all that exists, the first origin of everything, the transcendent authority of creation. At the same time He is goodness itself and takes loving care of all his children. As Paul instructed the Ephesians, all fatherhood and motherhood derives from the Father.

Jesus also warns us that we can deprive ourselves of the knowledge of God and of His love. All it takes is intellectual pride, or coldness of heart, or stubbornness of will and we can effectively shut out God and his kingdom. And the worst of these is pride.

Some years ago, while studying the heresies that have plagued the Church over the centuries, the one factor common to all of them was simple pride: an attitude that one is holier than the Church, or smarter than the Church. No one, of course, is holier than the Church, for the Church is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Pride is really the root of all sin, the strongest influence that propels us to reject God. It first attacks the heart, making it cold and indifferent toward God. Then it closes the mind to God's truth and wisdom and causes the prideful person to look to himself for life’s answers. Quite simply pride is an inordinate love of oneself at the expense of others; an exaggerated estimation of one's own learning, or abilities, or importance.

Jesus contrasts intellectual pride with the simplicity and humility of a child who sees purely and without pretense, and acknowledges his dependence and trust in one who is greater, wiser, more trustworthy. The childlike, the simple of heart, seek one thing — the greatest good, who is God himself.

True simplicity of heart is always accompanied by humility, because humility inclines the heart toward grace and truth. Just as pride is the root or every sin and evil, so humility is the only soil in which the grace of God can take root.

But it’s hard to be humble, isn’t it? And the truly humble aren’t even aware of their humility. Their entire focus is outside themselves – on God and their neighbor. And so it’s only through humility that we can turn everything over to God, allowing Him to be the Lord of their lives. The Book of Proverbs has a wonderful verse about this -- God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble [Pr 3:34] – a verse that St. James quotes in his letter.

So one question for all of us today is: do we submit to God's word with simple trust and humility? For it’s through our humility that we can reap the benefits of one of the great truths of the Christian faith: We can know the living God.

That’s the essence of Christianity, that which makes it distinct: our ability to know God as our Father. Our knowledge of God isn’t limited to knowing something about God; through Jesus we can know God personally.

To see Jesus is to see what God is like, for as the Church Fathers never tire of reminding us: Jesus is the culmination of revelation. In Him we see God’s perfect love. We see One who cares intensely and immensely about each of us, loving us to the point of laying down his life for us.

Jesus also promises that God the Father will hear our prayers when we pray in Jesus' name, which is why He taught us to pray with confidence, "Our Father who art in heaven…"  And so today, let’s pray to our Father in heaven with joy and confidence in his love and care for us.

Lord, give us the child-like simplicity, the humility and purity of faith to gaze upon your face with joy and confidence in your all-merciful love. Remove the doubts, the fears, and the pride that would hinder us from receiving your word with trust and humble submission. Amen.