February 5, 2012 - Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Slavery is horrible. It is difficult to imagine how horrible it really is from the perspective of the freedom that we enjoy as modern Americans. There is still slavery in the world: women enslaved as prostitutes, children enslaved as soldiers. There are also millions of workers whose conditions are such that their lives are no different than slaves, even if they are not called that. The economic system and globalization rely on such virtual slaves. The only way to ensure a constant supply of cheap clothing and electronics to American stores are these sorts of slaves.

Clearly we are not in a position to better their working conditions. We only buy what is for sale; we do not decide how it is made. But we also do not care how it is made. Oh I know that if someone said this shirt was made by people who are abused and forced to work and given very little in return, not nearly enough to survive, we would not buy it, but there is no one to say that. If we really cared we would insist on knowing, but it is easier to forget. The average family has its own struggles and must prioritize. If the shirt can be found for a few dollars less then that helps the budget.

The current system removes us from the guilt; it removes everyone from the guilt. The managers of factories say that the corporate executives have set the production goals. The corporate executives say that consumers demand a certain product at a certain price. Consumers say that they never asked for anyone to the enslaved. Nevertheless, there are slaves. If we owned slaves directly, we would have to look at them and realize that they are human just like us, we would be forced to sympathize and imagine what it would be like to be a slave. Since no one is in charge, no one has to carry that guilt.

What is the solution? Clearly there is a problem. The solution is twofold: support those who are working to end slavery and stop supporting those systems that promote it. As it says in our first reading today, “a slave longs for the shade, a hireling waits for their wages.” On the one hand, through charity we can give some relief to those sort of suffering. On the other hand, through justice we can pay what we owe to those who work for us.

Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we take up a collection for Catholic Relief Services. This collection does much of the most important work in the world. No one cares for the poor as much as the Catholic Church does. No one cares for the poor as efficiently. No one cares for the poor in more parts of the world. I am mentioning this now, almost two months before the collection is taken up , because our annual giving to this collection should not just be our spare change. If we could meet the people who need our help, if we were the people who need help, how much would be enough?

It is by means of Catholic Relief Services and similar organizations that the Body of Christ is united in charity. It is not possible for every one of us to go serve in Africa and Asia, so some members of the Church go serve there , and we support them. It is in this way that we give shade to those who are suffering.

Then we must oppose all systems that support slavery. What systems promote slavery? First of all pornography and prostitution. We must be opposed to such things because they serve no good end, but we also must oppose them because of how they are supported by slavery. We must also begin to care where things come from. We do not need, necessarily, to “buy American”, but we do need to insist that, wherever a product is made, it is made ethically, with respect for the human soul that labored to create it.

This means, above all, voting with our wallets. If we have to spend a few extra dollars on clothing that is not stained with the sin of slavery, even if that means that we cannot afford to buy as many shirts in a year, even if that means that we cannot be as fashionable as we want. Corporations always give us exactly what we want if we are willing to pay for it. If we demand that people be treated with respect, and we are willing to pay for that respect, they will get it. In this way the hirelings will receive their wages.

Slavery is horrible, but it is the image which St. Paul uses today for the life that he lives. He says that he has made himself a slave to all. What does this mean? Paul was free to do anything he wanted. He was a citizen of the Roman Empire. He was not a slave to anyone. He could have spent his life making money or on any of the pursuits that humans like to pursue. Instead, he dedicated his life to telling people about Jesus Christ.

He traveled long distances to deliver a message, though no one paid him to be messenger. He taught a wisdom greater than any philosopher, though no one paid him to be a teacher. He healed the sick and raised people from the dead, though no one paid him to be a doctor. He exercised concern for all those suffering, the poor and the rich, though no one paid him to be a social worker. He settled disputes that arose in the Christian community, though no one paid him to be a judge. He took up a collection for the poor in the Holy Land, though no one paid him to be a fundraiser. He gave his whole life, and asked nothing in return, because he considered himself a slave.

In this sense we are all slaves. As Bob Dylan said, “it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody.” We will spend our lives to some purpose. If it is a selfish purpose, we will be slaves to our addictions. If it is a generous purpose, we will be slaves to those we serve. Are any of you called to be slaves of the poor? Are any of you called to spend your life in order to relieve the suffering of another human being? It is a noble calling to be a slave of the slaves.

February 4, 2012 - Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. God knows everything: in the past, the future, and the present. He would not have made such a generous offer if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. Since Solomon wanted something that God wanted to give him, God offered to give him whatever he wanted.

Has God offered you whatever you want? No? Me neither. The problem could be that God is not as generous as he used to be, but that makes no sense. The problem surely is that I do not yet want what God wants to give me. God will happily be generous as soon as I am receptive.

Yet God has offered to give us his gift: the Holy Spirit, God himself. What else could we possibly want? Would we want money or fame or any other worldly possession? No. Who would want money or fame except because they think it will make them happy? Who wants anything at all except because they think that it will make them happy?

The problem is whether I believe that the Holy Spirit will make me happy. If I really believed that a life of serving God and my neighbor would make me happy, I would not do anything else. The essential problem of sin is a failure to believe that God is the source of my happiness. Eve ate the fruit because she failed to believe that God would make her happy. Every sin that has ever been committed has been done for this reason.

If only I would believe in the happiness God has to offer, how happy I would be! There is no failure of generosity on his part. He is ready to give me the happiness that my soul desires. I, however, for whatever reason I know not — pride, foolishness, fear, or all these things — will seek happiness everywhere except the one place that I am sure to get it.

Solomon eventually rejected the wisdom that God gave him; in his old age, he became a fool, worshiping other gods to please his wives, but in this one glorious moment Solomon did not ask anything for himself except the wisdom to accomplish the task God had given him. He is an example for us, that when we forget ourselves we will finally be happy.

February 3, 2012 - Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

As Sirach chooses how to summarize the life of King David, he mentions some things that would be mentioned in any history: killing Goliath with a stone, the defeat of the Philistines, and the many songs and prayers he wrote. In a modern history, just as in the actual record we have from the books of Samuel and Chronicles, his sins would play a larger part though. The only thing that Sirach has to say about his sins is that the Lord forgave him.

Perhaps Sirach’s account is too rosy for a man who committed adultery, murdered loyal servant, and forgot his role as a steward of God's people. The original account is harsher too concerning David's war against the Philistines. By Sirach's description it was all glory, but God would not let David build his temple since his hands had shed too much blood. By Sirach's account, David is a hero.

But David is a hero. He did kill Goliath when the Philistines threatened to destroy Israel. He did establish Israel as a kingdom. He was not perfect, not by any means, but then no one in the Bible is except Jesus and his mother. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was a cowardly liar. Moses was a murderer. In other words, they were just like us. What is remarkable about them was not that they never did anything wrong, but that they did something right. Modern histories may dwell on the dark valleys of a life, but there is something to be said for the glorious peaks as well.

We could look at David and say, “Well at least I’ve never been as bad as he was”, but then have we ever been as good as he was? Even King Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist, and did not want to kill him. What does it take to judge a human life? Should we consider how good someone has been or how low they have sunk, or simply take an average of a whole life?

This sort of calculation is too much for anyone. We must not think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad ones. We must rely on the mercy of God, that he will forgive us our sins as he forgave the sins of David. The most important fact about David in the first reading today is not that he killed a giant or who he defeated. It is is this: “The LORD forgave him his sins.”

February 2, 2012 - Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Today's Readings

Today is the Feast of the Presentation. The child Jesus is now 40 days old. This is the last celebration we have of the child Jesus, until we begin again with the Annunciation. In the Jewish law, the presentation signified the end of the pregnancy of Mary, since the official recovery after pregnancy was 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a girl. Today Mary is bringing her sacrifice to the temple: two birds. She was supposed to bring one bird and one lamb, but a poor woman is allowed to bring two birds instead. Here is another sign that our Lord was not ashamed to be poor.

The lamb or the first bird was a burnt offering to the Lord. It was not eaten as most sacrifices are. It was burned up entirely. The odor of the burning animal rose with the smoke and the sweet smell made atonement to the Lord for the mother. The second animal, always a bird, was killed with a thumbnail, its blood squeezed out, and then the meat was eaten by the priest’s family. It was an offering for unintentional or unavoidable sin, in this case, touching blood. These sacrifices are bizarre to us, even more so than sacrifices in general. The idea that a woman would need to atone for giving birth or had committed a sin while doing so is strange; we are uncomfortable that such a thing would be required in the Law given to Moses by God.

It seems that Luke was also uncomfortable with the idea since he makes no mention of the actual sacrifice. He instead tells us about two people whom Mary and Joseph met on their way in: an old man and an old woman. The old man, Simeon, just runs up and takes Jesus, blessing and praising God. The old woman, Anna, appears, thanks God, and begins telling people about the child. Here Jesus is welcomed by the people Israel in the way that he ought to have been welcomed. All Israel is represented in these two people who were longing for the Messiah. We celebrate today the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This story is very Old Testament: we have the ancient sacrifices and the prophets longing for a Savior, but something is different – the Savior has arrived. All prophecy is fulfilled. All sacrifice is ended. Most of the people do not know yet, but this child is the fulfillment of every prophecy; this child is the sacrifice that takes away all sins.

February 1, 2012 - Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

There is a feeling that we do not really possess a thing until we have counted and measured a thing. When we buy a new object, it is not really ours until we have tested it out. If I buy a car, I want to drive it, to see how it handles, how fast it can accelerate, how well the brakes work. Undoubtedly, I looked into all this before I bought it, but I have to do it again now that I own it. When someone gives me a gift, I do not just open it, look at it, and put aside. If the situation allows, I am going to try it right then and there: it is a book, I will flip through it; if it is a sweater, I will put it on; if it is a paperweight, I will feel how heavy it is.

Such is the problem with David's action today. He is counting the fighting men of Israel, because he wants to know how many fighting men he has. The correct answer is zero. He has no fighting men, because the people of Israel do not belong to him. It may seem like a small thing he has done, asking for a census, but it is not. By daring to count the people of Israel, he is suggesting that they belong to him when actually they belong to God. God must punish him severely to make clear that Israel belongs to him alone, not David.

The people of Jesus' hometown should feel pride at seeing a hometown boy make good, but instead they are offended that he would be so wise and powerful. They do not know that he is God. Perhaps they never heard how the Angel Gabriel came to Mary. As far as they are concerned, he came to Nazareth as a young boy from Egypt. He worked as a carpenter until he was 30. Perhaps he made a shelf or a yoke that they use every day. They seem to think that they have got him all figured out, but they do not realize that there is more than they know.

No one's existence is comprised of their usefulness to us. Every single person has a dignity that cannot be summed up in a checkmark on a census or by a job or by their family. There is more to people than we know. Getting to know them as individuals is part of loving our neighbors.

January 31, 2012 - Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest

Today's Readings

In the readings today we see the remarkable love of the father for his son. Absalom had rebelled against David and stolen the kingdom from him. He slept with David's wives. He killed his half-brother, David's son. He started a war, and chased his father from Jerusalem. Today we hear the end of that war, when the officers of David triumph in battle, and kill Absalom. David is not excited to hear that he is beaten the rebels; he mourns the death of his son. He never stopped loving his son Absalom, despite Absalom's ungrateful attitude toward him.

In the Gospel, we see a father who is willing to do anything to save his daughter. He comes to Jesus, and falls at his feet, and begs him. Jairus was an important man, but he forgets all dignity and all pride when it comes to pleading for his daughter's life.

It is this word “daughter” that links the two stories in the Gospel today. Jairus is concerned for the life of his daughter, and when Jesus speaks to the woman he says to her “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” It is by this sentence that we can be certain that Jesus felt toward that woman as Jairus did toward his daughter, as David did toward Absalom. God loves us as a parent loves their child, or rather, more than that.

What did David say when he heard that Absalom had been killed? “My son, my son Absalom, if only I had died instead of you!” Surely this feeling was shared by Jairus, as it is shared by so many parents whose children have died, as it was shared by our Father in heaven. God came down from heaven to earth and actually did die instead of us.

Since Jesus died for us, we may still die in this body, but there is no reason why our souls have to die too. He proves this by raising Jairus's daughter back to life. We can be sure that God has power even over death. We can be sure that he loves us and every single person he created. Is it possible to doubt then that he will raise to new life not only the daughter of Jairus but every child who has ever lived and died? There will be a resurrection for everyone who does not reject their Father's love.

January 30, 2012 - Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The unclean spirits beg Jesus to let them enter the pigs. When they do enter the pigs, it does not do them any good. The pigs run off a cliff and die. The unclean spirits are afraid to be cast out entirely, but they cannot be at rest even where they ask to be sent. It was pointless to be put into the pigs, but Jesus does not argue with them. They are self-destructive, and Jesus let them be self-destructive however they want. These unclean spirits are like a person who cannot be free from addiction to a sin like pornography or gluttony. They destroy themselves through their own will.

Then the people of the town beg Jesus to leave. They are above all afraid of this man, Jesus, who can control realities greater than we can see. These townspeople are like a person who wants to live life without religion. Just make money and spend money and forget God. When God comes and visits them, they want him gone as soon as possible. They reject their chance at salvation because of their concern for the things of this earth.

Then the man who has been freed from the unclean spirits begs Jesus to let him follow as a disciple. Jesus refuses his request. He has other plans for this man. He sends him away to preach the Gospel, which means that this man was an Apostle, and we do not even know his name.

It is this way with us. So long as we are self-destructive or worldly, God lets us do whatever we want; there was no point in guiding our foolishness, but when we begin trying to follow God, roadblocks suddenly appear; God is guiding us according to his plan. We can destroy ourselves or ignore God in any way we want, but if we decide to become a disciple, he will be firm with us. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son or daughter whom he accepts.”

In the first reading, David is punished for his sin, and he is punished severely. Meanwhile many people commit similar sins and worse yet seem to receive no punishment. It is because it would do them no good. By punishing David, God is saying that he has plans for David, that David is worth preparing for greater things. We do not want God to grant our every prayer. We want God to make us better, even if that means suffering and obstacles.

January 29, 2012 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus taught in a way that astonished people. The people of the synagogue were amazed before Jesus cast out the unclean spirit. Jesus simply went into the synagogue and taught. I wonder what that must have sounded like, what it must have felt like, to have been sitting in the pews while Jesus gave a homily. I know what is like to hear a great preacher, to listen to someone who seems to be speaking directly to my soul, to my situation, to my desires, to my hopes, but Jesus is more than a great preacher. Every word he speaks carries with it an authority that no mere human person could ever speak with. When Jesus talked about the Scripture, it was like an author commenting on their own book. When he talked about the world or nature, it was like an artist commenting on their own work.

Jesus is the fulfillment of God's promise to Moses to send a prophet like us who would speak the words of God. Every prophet who was a true prophet spoke God's word, but the people of Israel had come to understand this teaching of Moses to refer not to all the prophets who had come to Israel but to one great prophet. Jesus fulfills that role perfectly. The prophet was supposed to come and teach the people the will of God, finishing what Moses had started. This is what Jesus did. After 1500 years, humans were finally ready to hear the rest.

What surprised the scribes and Pharisees was that Jesus did not come with new laws, as if the only thing lacking was specificity. Instead, Jesus came with something greater than a law; he came with the Holy Spirit. So now we Christians, rather than following a law, are disciples of a person. By the power of the Holy Spirit we declare ourselves devoted to Jesus Christ and to his Father. The law was a sort of middleman that Jesus eliminated. By following the law, the Jews were obedient. We Christians, instead, declare our obedience first and act in accord with that obedience. In this way, we Christians follow a stricter law then the Jews, but we follow it in freedom.

An example of this is found in our second reading today. There is no law in this reading; St. Paul merely suggests that it is easier to follow God if a person does not get married. Some people are afraid of what St. Paul says, because he seems to suggest that unmarried people are holier than married people, or at least that is how some people interpret it after reading it the first time. What St. Paul actually says in this reading is simply an undeniable fact: married people, especially married people with children, do not have time to spend their whole day in prayer. If a married person did spend all day in prayer, as if they were a contemplative nun or a Carthusian monk, they would be shirking their responsibilities to their spouse and their children. It would be wrong for a married person to abandon their family in some misguided attempt to be a more faithful servant of God.

However, I want to clarify one thing that St. Paul says. He says that an unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, but this is not necessarily true. St. Paul is talking about a good unmarried man and a good married man. If we compare the lives of St. Bruno the monk and St. Louis the king, we would find that, although they were both Saints, St. Bruno spent far more time in prayer. This does not mean that St. Bruno was a better man than St. Louis, only that his life was simpler.

St. Paul is not speaking of an absolute fact but a possibility. Clearly not every unmarried person takes advantage of their opportunity to follow God. When I read this passage as a celibate man, I do not see St. Paul congratulating me or suggesting that I had better than married people. What I see is a serious challenge. I have given up the possibility of a wife and children so that I could more completely dedicate my life to God, but this does not mean that I necessarily will. I have so much free time without a wife or children, but what do I use that free time for? If I use my freedom as a single person to watch television or to collect figurines, then I am a fool. In giving up the possibility of family, I have given up a great good. If I fill this space left behind with self-indulgence, with anything less than a greater good, I am a fool.

So St. Paul is speaking of possibilities. A person could give up marriage and use the time and energy they save for prayer and serving others. If someone can do this, then their life will be simpler than the life of a married person who serves God. As St. Paul says, “I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you.” Just because he recommends the one does not mean that he disdains the other. If a person can live the undivided life of service to God and neighbor, then they should not get married, but it is far better to get married and start a family and serve God and neighbor as you are able then to live a life of selfish indulgence.

There is no Christian vocation to be a carefree bachelor. Your life has been given to you by God not for you to do with it whatever you wish, but for you to use for good purpose. A life of meaning, a life with purpose, whether that purpose is raising a family or caring for the poor, is a life well lived. St. Paul followed his own advice. He never married, and had no children. He used his freedom to travel the world and preach the Gospel. He often lived in poverty. He sometimes lived in jail. He could never have done this as effectively with a family to care for.

How could God give this teaching in the form of the law? He could not. He is inviting us to exercise our freedom in favor of serving him. By definition, this cannot be mandated by law. Nothing is commanded. The vocation of celibacy is merely proposed. There would be no way for this to happen in the old law.

The second reading is a framework for the whole Christian life: no Commandments, just suggestions. St. Paul’s teaching is for people who are asking one question: “How can I serve God better?” In this way, a Christian is beyond the law. A disciple of Jesus Christ does not need to be told not to commit adultery or murder or theft. Would any of that serve God? Of course not. God does not want to control our lives with a lot of “do this” and “do not do that”. God wants us to be his coworkers, to share with him a vision of the universe, a mission, a purpose. Once we share that mission with God, we will be free.

January 27, 2012 - Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Just imagine how many people were involved in this evil act. The sin was not David sin alone. Surely the entire palace staff was fully aware of what had happened, if they chose not to say anything. David was certainly not able to write and so a scribe came in and wrote that note for him, that horrible note, but did not say anything. Joab receive the notes, and obeyed David. And not Joab alone, but all the fellow soldiers who participated in the retreat knew what was going on. So many people were involved in the evil, but no one said anything.

Why? Was it simply fear? So many people were afraid of losing their position, or even their life, but I think there is more going on here that. There is also the mentality of being part of a group. “No one is saying anything, why should I?” We humans take our cues from the actions of those around us. If we are alone, we have to think for ourselves, and surely not all of those who participated in the murder of Uriah the Hittite were actually cowards. Probably many of them simply considered it someone else's responsibility.

We need this group mentality to get through everyday life. Life would be so much more stressful if we could not follow the lead of those around us. Nevertheless, this does not excuse committing a sin. Each of those people ought to have stopped and thought about what they were doing. What they needed, was more reflection, more conscious thought about what they were doing. Probably some of them would still have been cowards, but not all of them.

This same group mentality is at work in how we engage our culture. So many things that we do, without question, are simply what everyone else is doing. We need to become a witness to those around us. Without a doubt, this is not easy. We will be, at least at first, like the tiny mustard seed. The group will turn on us and try to crush us, because they do not understand why anyone would want to be different. But the kingdom of God will grow. It appears here, and it appears there, always seeming small and weak, but it is a force growing in our world. Someday we will find that we are part of something greater, greater than ourselves, greater than we could possibly have imagined.

January 26, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, bishops

Today's Readings

God is not wasteful. He does not leave the door open when the heat is on, he does not light a lamp and then cover it up, and he does not give his Holy Spirit to those who will lay around and do nothing. Jesus' words here do not seem fair: “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Should not those who are lacking something be given extra? However, it is completely fair because of the abundance of God's gift. If someone does not have, is because they have wasted what they were given. God gives us gifts in abundance; if we are lacking, it is because we are not using what we have been given.

As Jesus says here, “Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.” Eminently logical and yet we do not do it. Do we use these ears given to us by God for his service, for listening to the word of God, for hearing the distress call of the poor, for listening to the lonely? God has given us these eyes to see his people in need, but what do we use them for? To watch TV? God has given us, every one of us, a mind and body to use for his glory. We are not our own. We do not exist to give ourselves pleasure, to entertain ourselves. We exist to love God and our neighbor. Why would God continue getting his gifts to someone who uses them for evil purposes or even simply for no purpose? He is rich but he is not wasteful.

Yet God is merciful. Even though we have wasted his gifts, and we have, for that is what sin is, wasting the gifts of God, even though we have wasted his gifts, we can change that in a moment, in this moment, right now. Today is the day of salvation! Now is the acceptable time! We can begin serving God, using his gifts to us, right now, and then we will see what God will give us. O the gifts that God has in mind to give us! The riches which he is longing to bestow on us! As soon as we use the gifts that he has given us, we will find that he has so much more to give us.

January 24, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

David is being more careful this time. He tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem once before, but a man died. That time they put the Ark on an ox cart as if it were just another box. It almost fell off. This time they carry it in as they are supposed to, and every six steps, David sacrifices two animals. When the Ark finally reaches the sanctuary, David makes many more offerings. He is being very careful to show respect for the Ark which he did not do the first time.

What was the Ark? It was box. Inside the box were three items: the Ten Commandments, written on stone by the hand of God, some of the manna, the food that appeared in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, which proved that he was a priest. It was a box that contained three miracles. It was not an idol like the pagans worshipped. No one thought that it was God or that God was inside, but it represented the presence of God in Israel. Therefore, it had to be treated with the highest respect.

We, in this church, have a box too. Inside that box is the Eucharist which is the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. That means that the tabernacle is greater than the Ark of the Covenant, inasmuch as the Eucharist is greater than the manna or the tablets or the staff. It is necessary then that our respect for the tabernacle should be greater than the respect that David had for the Ark.

Not that we should sacrifice animals, but that we should not treat it like any just any other item. When we enter the church, we genuflect toward the tabernacle. We keep silent because we are in the presence of the Divine. I have had people try to converse with me while I am at the tabernacle with the door open, as if we were not in the Holy of Holies.

We must cultivate an attitude of piety, which is the fear of the Lord. This does not appear automatically. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit, which we need to ask for and keep in practice. God does not seem to strike people dead anymore for casual disrespect, but this should not stop us from respecting holy things. Let us be thankful for his mercy, but remain afraid to disrespect him.

January 23, 2012 - Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What a frightening statement Jesus makes today! No forgiveness for eternity, if we blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Some people have taken this literally and feared that they have committed this unforgivable sin. They have come to believe that, no matter how sorry they are, God will not save them. This is not true. There is no sin which we cannot repent of. Indeed, the unforgivable sin is failing to repent.

What does it mean to blaspheme? It means to speak with contempt about holy things. Someone who has contempt for the Holy Spirit cannot be healed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is offering freedom from evil spirits, but the scribes accuse him of offering this freedom under false pretence. What if one of those scribes was possessed by an evil spirit? Would he let Jesus free him by the power of the prince of demons? Probably not. So he would be forever bound.

It is like someone who has been poisoned and needs an immediate antidote. The one mistake which they must not make is to despise the antidote. If someone has diabetes and needs to start eating a healthy diet, the one mistake which they must not make is despising the advice of their doctor. They can call their doctor a mean old man, so long as they eat their vegetables.

When Jesus is talking about forgiveness, he is referring to the path of forgiveness. Anyone who starts down the path of forgiveness can be cured of all their sins, but if their sin is to refuse to make the journey of repentance, they necessarily remain forever in their sins. How could Jesus forgive the sin of despising forgiveness?

Which, then, merely leaves the question, why did Jesus call it “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” rather than “blaspheming forgiveness”? If he had said “blaspheming forgiveness”, we would understand right away, but because he said, “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” some people believe that because they once said something bad about the Holy Spirit they cannot be saved. Perhaps it was because the scribes would in principle believe in forgiveness, but they rejected the means of forgiveness.

If a person, in principle, believes that oxygen is necessary for life, but rejects breathing, they will die. It is necessary not only to accept forgiveness, but to accept forgiveness as it actually can be had. If a person believes in forgiveness but will not go to a priest and confess their sins and be forgiven by the power of the Holy Spirit, what good does that do them?

January 22, 2012 - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

It is remarkable that the people of Nineveh listened to the call of Jonah, so remarkable that it is unbelievable. Nineveh was a terrible city. It certainly is in competition for the worst city in the history of the world. Every record we have from that time tells us that Nineveh was a city of cruel and violent people. The idea that a prophet would be successful walking through Nineveh shouting out that the city is about to be destroyed because of the sinfulness of the inhabitants is difficult to imagine. What if someone walked into our city and started shouting that the city would be destroyed? Who would believe them? It is more likely that Jonah would be mocked, thought of as a crazy person, beaten, and killed. Instead the whole city, from the lowliest peasant to the great king, repented of their sins in sackcloth and ashes.

We have no other record of such a repentance ever happening in Nineveh. From being built in 700 BC to its destruction in 612 BC, Nineveh was consistently bad. So if this repentance really did occur, it must have been very short-lived. Yet let us allow it to be as short-lived as possible, or even to simply be a parable about what would have happened if they had repented, the lesson for us is the same. The worst people in the whole world, if they would repent from their sins, would be forgiven. The Ninevites heard the call of Jonah, and they repented.

Our gospel has a similar theme. Andrew, Peter, James, and John were busy. They were fishing. Jesus comes to them and calls them. “Come and follow me”, says Jesus. They hear the will of God, not in a mysterious way, but clearly, in their own language. Just like the Ninevites, they heard a call and they responded immediately, and we know that this is true history and not just a parable. Other people might have told Jesus that they were busy, but these four were ready when they heard the call to leave everything behind and follow Jesus.

It is relatively common to be looking for a sign from God, but it seems like it is rare to receive one. It would be easier if signs were more a dime a dozen, if every time we turned around God was announcing his will to us. This whole life would be more black-and-white, simpler. It would be obvious whether we were following God's will. Yet for some reason this is not how God chooses to reveal his will in the world. It is only on rare occasions that a prophet walks through town threatening destruction unless we repent. It was only once in the history of the world that Jesus walked along the shore of Galilee calling disciples.

But if we did hear his call, are we ready to respond? Since these explicit signs are so rare, we need to be ready should one ever come along. But of course we do have the call of God constantly before us. The call of God is recorded in Scripture, and we read Scripture at Mass every day. The words of Jesus, “Repent and believe in the Gospel”, are here before us today. St. Paul's instruction to the Corinthians, “Let those using the world act as not using it fully”, applies equally to us.

St. Paul's words seem as if they do not apply because it seems that he was mistaken. His entire instruction is predicated on the first line: “I tell you brothers and sisters the time is running out.” It seems that St. Paul believed that the end of the world would arrive during his lifetime or shortly thereafter. Two thousand years later, he seems to have been proven wrong. Yet he is not wrong. No matter how much time is left, the time is running out. When you attend a basketball game it is as true to say that the time is running out one minute into the game as it is with one minute left. Time is always running out because we are always approaching the end.

But why is it that this state of affairs should cause us to separate ourselves from the world? It is because there is something wrong with the world. This world is filled with violence and selfishness, pornography and gluttony. This world is broken. If the world were better, we would not need to separate ourselves from it, but since the world is broken it is a dangerous place to put our hope and time is running out.

What is wrong with the world? I am. I and you and every fallen human being on earth is the problem with the world. It would be easier to obey God, I think, if he always gave commandments; if he would simply give guidance in my everyday life, yet I do not even obey the few commandments that I have. Where does all the selfishness in the world, the violence in the world, the problems of the world come from? From the people of the world, and their failure to obey the commands of God.

How remarkable it is then that Jesus chose for fallen human beings to be his apostles, to pass on the Gospel that can save us from ourselves! He knew as he chose the apostles that one would betray him and the others would fail him from time to time. He knew that the successors of the apostles would often fail to live up to that high calling. He knew all this, and yet he chose them for this most important task.

Now then that he has chosen you. Despite your sins, despite your weaknesses, he has chosen you for some work he wants to accomplish in this world. He trusts you with some part of his plan to change this world for the better. I do not mean that he will choose you, or that he might choose you. He has chosen you. This very moment is the time to respond to the call. “"This is the time of fulfillment”, he says, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” This, right now, this moment, is the time of fulfillment. “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Turn away from sins, away from this world, and accept the mission that God has for you.

January 21, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Today's Readings

David’s eulogy of Saul, the king of Israel who preceded him, is rather different than Samuel’s description of a king. It was just last Friday that we heard Samuel warn the people of Israel how bad it would be to have a king, that a king would enslave the people and take what is rightfully theirs through oppressive taxes. Today, David tells the women of Israel to weep over Saul, “who clothed you in scarlet and put golden ornaments on you.” As if before the days of Saul, women had never owned nice clothing or jewelry!

We see here the transformation that Samuel warned about. It is not that the people of Israel are better off, but they are told to pretend that what portion they have, what is left to them after the king has taken what he wants, is a gift from the king. We should not be fooled by David’s sentimental attitude. King Saul did not provide anything for the people. At best, he gave them back a portion of what he had taken from them.

It is like the government in our country. People want the government to provide things for them, but the government cannot provide anything which it did not first take away. Our president would like us to be grateful that he is going to give us all health care for free. Really, he is going to take our money and then spend it on the health care he thinks we should have. We should be grateful for this? Saying that the government is providing something is just a convoluted way of saying that the government is controlling another aspect of our lives. It is as if someone offers to take you out to dinner, orders your dinner for you, then takes the check and pays with your credit card.

The government plays an important role in make sure that the wealthy provide for the poor. This is the responsibility of the wealthy, and we cannot deny that many wealthy people fail in their responsibility. But when the government offers free education, so long as it is their education, and free healthcare, so long as it is on their terms, with abortion and birth control, and free food, so long as we eat what they tell us to eat, this is not an act of charity.

If we want to be free, we must fight against two kinds of people: politicians who offer to pay for things and rich people who think that since they earned their money they can spend it however they want.

January 20, 2012 - Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Kings Saul and David, the first two kings of Israel are symbolic of Judaism and Christianity. Like Judaism, Saul came first, chosen by God. Like Judaism, Saul was rejected by God. And just as the new covenant in Jesus Christ replaced the old covenant, so God chose David to replace Saul. And just as God gave better promises to David than he gave to Saul, we have better promises in Jesus Christ than were given by Moses. And as God promised David that his throne would endure forever, that he would never reject David or his descendants as he rejected Saul, so the new covenant in Jesus Christ, the son of David, will last forever and never be replaced.

David committed sins. He was murderer and an adulterer. He was a liar too. Though Saul was rejected for disobedience, for failing to follow the letter of the command, David certainly did enough bad things of his own, worse even. So too Christians have often failed, and every Christian does fail, to live a holy life. In rejecting Saul, God was not rejecting the man so much as he was rejecting the dynasty. In rejecting Judaism, God is not rejecting the people but the idea that anyone could keep the law and be righteous through works of the law and animal sacrifices.

So in relations between the Church and Jews, we Christians should take our cue from how David respected Saul. Even when Saul was trying to kill David, David would not harm Saul, since he dared not touch the Lord’s Anointed. Once chosen by God, the man was forever holy. We do not dare harm the Jewish people, for they are the chosen people, and though God rejects the old covenant, he is faithful to the end.

Why does God make a covenant and then reject it? At the time that God chose Saul, he knew that he would reject him later for failing to obey. At the time that God gave a covenant to Jacob and his offspring, he knew that he would reject them later for failing to keep the covenant. But Saul built up the kingdom that would become David’s kingdom. He prepared the way. And the Israelites built up the religious sensibility that would belong to all the first Christians. They prepared the way.

January 19, 2012 - Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

How far Saul has come from the days when he used to chase after runaway donkeys! When Saul was named king, it was like winning the lottery, a completely unexpected windfall, but now that he has been king for a few years, he is ready to kill David at the mere suggestion of a threat to his dynasty. It is so easy to go from humble gratitude to expectation.

Jonathan, meanwhile, who grew up in the lap of luxury, such as it was 3000 years ago, yet he is not afraid. By all rights, he should be the next king. He grew up expecting to be king, and then David appears out of nowhere. But Jonathan did not hate David. In fact, he loved him. Because Jonathan did not have his father’s attachment to the royal throne, he was free to see David not as a threat but as a friend.

Consider us here today. We live like kings. We live better than kings. Who would give up central heating, indoor plumbing, cars, and cell phones for a stone castle? If somehow all of these disappeared, we would complain that we have been treated unfairly. How can a person live without these basic necessities? Yet people did live without them for millennia. Now that we have them, we cannot imagine giving them up. This is how Saul felt at the prospect of returning to the life of a simple farmer.

The things of this world can be tools or chains. If we use them as our servants, they will be tools. If we let our attachment to them cause us to be afraid at the thought of losing them, they will be chains. Whatever you are attached to: technology, position, getting ‘A’s, a television show, having a certain standard of wealth, a relationship with a person, whatever, do not let the attachment bind you.

What motive lies behind every sin? An attachment that we refused to break. Be stronger than these attachments. Be free, radically free. There is no feeling of power like letting go. Every attachment screams: “You cannot live without me. You will never be happy if you leave me behind.” We know this is a lie. Our happiness does not exist in any of these things. Our happiness is in God. Be ready at all times to cut off an attachment that is preventing you from doing what you ought to do. Sacrifice everything, but be free to follow God.

January 18, 2012 - Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Today’s reading is a real David and Goliath story. That might be a cliché, but here it applies literally. There is a reason that people are always comparing various events to this story: it is one of the most powerful themes in the human soul. That the just though weak can beat the unjust though strong is our dearest hope. In our world it seems as if the powers of chaos and darkness are always just about to take over.

The story is reflected in the Gospel today. Jesus is like David fighting against Goliath. He is one man fighting against a culture of corruption, against the selfishness of the human heart. It seems like a useless battle. True, since he is God he is the strongest. That would be important if he was trying to destroy or kill his enemy. He could simply choose it, and all humanity would be instantly destroyed, but since he is trying to save us he appears weak.

He appears weak in the same way that goodness appears weak. How can we convince people to be chaste when the alternative is such a strong temptation? How can we convince people to be good what is so much easier and more pleasurable to be bad? We seem weak because we are proposing something which no one wants. Satan seems strong because he is telling people to do that very thing they want to do anyway.

This is how God, though all-powerful, is in the place of David, and Satan, though nothing in comparison, is in the place of Goliath. In every human soul, God stands there with five stones ready to do battle against an enemy better armed. In every human soul, including your own, including my own. In your soul there is an enemy, a sin, a temptation, that right now seems like Goliath: giant, insurmountable, unconquerable.

Do not be deceived! Look at your Goliath with the eyes of David. When David saw Goliath he did not think “No one can beat that man” and he did not think “This is hopeless.” He thought that he could beat Goliath with the help of God. Know most confidently that whatever giants are preventing you from being a saint can, with the help of God, be conquered as easily as David conquered Goliath.

January 17, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Anthony, Abbott

Today's Readings

“God does not see as a human sees.” How does a human see? Well light comes from the light source such as a lamp or the son and it bounces off an object. The nature of the object changes what kind of light and how much light bounces off. Then the light enters the human eye, causing chemical changes on the retina. This is how a human sees, but not God.

God knows everything perfectly. He does not see a thing as much as he simply knows all about it. No atom in the universe loses the electron without God being aware. So the first difference between the human sight and divine sight is that human sight is limited to those objects which we see light bouncing off of whereas God's sight is unlimited.

But there are other differences too. Even when we are looking at something and can see it perfectly, our brains cannot always process the information. This is what causes optical illusions. An optical illusion can be looked at with the best light and still fool us. One line seems longer than another but when we bring out the ruler we find that it is not. God's sight is different in this way too because he always understands perfectly everything he knows.

And even when we are able to see something and understand what it is we see, we might fail to catch the significance. If you see a ring on the fourth finger of a person's left hand you know that they are married, but if you go to a different culture in Africa or Asia you would probably miss similar symbols. A small mark or a piece of jewelry or a color of clothing might signify something very important to those who understand. Indeed the whole point of the Sherlock Holmes stories is that he could see small details and guess their significance which everyone else missed.

God, of course, understands all these things. God, however, goes beyond Sherlock Holmes, for he can see into the human heart. We have trouble seeing into our own hearts, let alone the heart of another, but God can see clearly our thoughts and motivations, our fears and our dreams. The truth in my heart might be hidden so that even I do not know it, but God does. So when God tells me what will make me happy, what I should do and what I should avoid, I can be sure that he knows me better than I do.

January 16, 2012 - Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

We see in the readings today the transformation of religion from an attempt to appease God with gifts to a system of obedience. Is religion primarily about God or about us? The old religion thought that the problem was an angry God. In this manner of thinking humanity would get along just fine if God would leave us alone, so the primary task of the religious person is to make the angry God happy. In the new religious sense that these readings teach, the problem is us human beings. Therefore, the new religion prizes obedience over sacrifice of animals.

This transformation of religion goes on throughout the Old Testament, and indeed is still going on in our hearts. Even today we have a tendency to think of God like a senile relative who should be respected but mostly calmed down. We hope that if we go to Mass on Sunday and say our prayers and even go to Mass during the week, maybe God will be satisfied and we can live the rest of our lives without any interference.

However, we ought not think this way, and we know it. God is not getting in our way; we are getting in his way. He is trying to save us, so that we can live with him forever in heaven, but we are not being very cooperative. We are the ones who should be learning from God. We are the ones who are frustrating to work with. If only we would be obedient to his commands everything would be perfect.

The Pharisees in the Gospel see fasting in that same way that Saul saw sacrifice: as a gift they are giving to God, as a way of appeasing God's anger. Jesus' point is that fasting is supposed to be a reminder for us that we are separated from God. The Apostles cannot fast because while Jesus is with them they are not separated from God.

Our separation from God, which humanity has experienced ever since the Fall, ought to make us sad; it ought to make us feel an intense longing, but sin prevents us from seeing this clearly. Fasting focuses our attention: we feel physical hunger, and that symbolizes the spiritual hunger that we fail to recognize. Fasting, obedience, and everything else that God asks of us are not his whims or his selfish desires, but exactly the remedy that our souls require.

January 15, 2012 - Second Sunday In Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. Paul says today, “You are not your own.” That is not really a message that the world is ready to hear. The world says, “It is my body; it is my life; I will do what I want.” And St. Paul says, “You are not your own.” This is not merely true theologically speaking. It is a basic truth that anyone who is not a child should be aware of. We belong to others. Parents belong to their children; they are not their own. Children belong to their parents; they are not their own. A husband belongs to his wife; he is not his own. A wife belongs to her husband; she is not her own. We belong to our communities. When we view existence in terms of what we can get out of it, we have a very shallow, very immature sense of life.

I am concerned that we have so forgotten this basic principle that we are no longer able to think clearly. Birth control, frequent divorce, cheating on taxes, and excessively seeking entertainment are symptoms of individuals who have forgotten their responsibility to the civilization in which they live. It is hard for a self-centered person to understand why these things are wrong. We understand that it is wrong to hurt others, but it is also wrong to be self-centered, to live life as if we were each the center of our own universe.

In November there is going to be a vote here in Minnesota about whether marriage is between a man and a woman, and I am concerned that many people are not ready for that vote. I think that a lot of people, good people, people who want to do what is right, do not know why we are opposed to any other definition of marriage, and I cannot blame them. To understand why marriage is not simply a matter of personal freedom or a choice between consenting adults, it is necessary to first understand that we are not our own, and our culture does not understand that.

Our whole culture, our civilization and our country, are in a decline because we do not understand that. It is as if our ancestors built up a balance in a savings account and we have decided to live on that balance without making any new deposits. When someone tells us that our civilization needs our support, we are confused. We keep spending through capital that was put there by others, and someday that is going to run out.

This past week has been Vocations Awareness Week. We are aware that there is a shortage of priests and sisters, but there is also a shortage of married vocations. The shortage is not of this vocation or that vocation; the shortage is in our sense of vocation. Fifty years ago our president told the country, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” If our president said that today someone would call it socialism. Yet that is exactly what it means to have a vocation. A vocation is not a job. A vocation is the decision to live your life for a reason. It is putting into practice what St. Paul says today, “You are not your own.”

As we have become richer in technology and leisure time, we have lost our sense of vocation. The more we have, the more concerned we become with what we do not have. In the first reading today, Samuel was sleeping in the Temple. He was not doing this because he thought it would be a good place for a nap. He was sleeping there because 3000 years ago people could not afford to waste a perfectly good roof. We might not consider ourselves rich, but until we are all reduced to living in this building, we do not know that kind of poverty.

It was in that kind of poverty that Samuel found his vocation. God called out, “Samuel!”and Samuel jumped up ready to serve. We see how ready he was since he did not even realize that it was God. He thought that it was Eli, and he did not just lie there and shout out “What?!” He got out of bed and went to Eli. Samuel was a servant, and he was ready to serve Eli, so when God called him to be a prophet, he was ready to serve God.

The question of vocation is before all of us at all times. Are we using our lives to benefit the world? But this question is particularly before the young people, people who are the stage in their lives where they are asking themselves, “What will I do with my life?” And although there are many possible answers to this question, at a most basic level there are only two answers: to live life for myself or to live life for others.

Because if our first concern is making ourselves happy as this world sees happiness then we will eventually become a lot of individuals doing our own thing. If our first concern is the public good and the good of our neighbors and the good of our families, then we will be a civilization. Selfishness is uncivilized.

And so that is merely the secular reason for vocation. As I said St. Paul's phrase does not only apply theologically, but it does also apply theologically. As Christians we are not our own because we have been purchased at a great cost: the life of Jesus Christ. How much more, then, does this apply to us, “You are not your own”! Those of us who are committed to a vocation should live that vocation not begrudgingly, not considering it an imposition on our time, but considering it our reason for living.

When John the Baptist points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God”, Andrew and Philip follow Jesus. They go get their brothers, and then their brothers follow Jesus. They all followed Jesus for three years, and then spent the rest of their lives preaching the Gospel, until they were killed for it. They did not waste their lives.

Those of you who are not yet committed to a vocation should listen for the call of God. He is calling you to something, and it is not to serve yourself, to see how rich you can become, nor to wander without meaning. Your life will not be wasted if you live it for a purpose, and God knows what he wants you to do.

January 14, 2012 - Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
Psalm 21:2-7
Mark 2:13-17

In any group project, at work or school, we might have the tendency either to take over the project or to let others do all the work. Some people are glad to have all the work done for them, but other people cannot trust anyone else to do their share properly, and depending on the group and what needs to get done they might be right, but in the group project that is this world we have to admit freely that we are not the most competent or the greatest. Those who have a tendency to take over a project are at a disadvantage. Those who know how to let others do work for them are better prepared to trust in God.

In the first reading today God chooses as king a man who was better than all the other Israelites. He was taller and stronger and more handsome than any other Israelite, but God will eventually find a replacement for him. When we think of the first king of Israel, usually King David comes to mind, there was a king before King David: King Saul who we read about today. God rejected Saul because Saul was not obedient. God gave Saul a job to do with specific instructions, but Saul decided he knew how to do it better.

The scribes and Pharisees might have liked Jesus better if when he came to Earth he gave them recognition for all their hard work. Instead, he spends his time with all slackers. They do not understand why Jesus would want to be near sinners, but Jesus says that it is only natural since sinners are the ones who need his salvation. The scribes and Pharisees need his salvation too, but they do not know that. The sinners are at an advantage because they know that they need God. The scribes and Pharisees are delusional because they think that they can get along on their own strength.

What is better, to have the whole weight of the world resting on your shoulders or to have someone else carry that weight? Without question, it is better to have someone else carry the weight, but only if we can trust that someone else. If you are the sort of person who has difficulty trusting in the competence of others, that is a fault you should work on, but know without any doubt that you can trust God.

January 13, 2012 - Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I would like to begin by just making an observation that several features of this Gospel suggest that the paralyzed person was not an adult. Jesus calls him “child”, and of course there is the practical aspect of lowering him from the roof: he must not have weighed so much. I do not know why, but I think that when I used to hear this story I thought of the paralyzed person as a man, and while nothing is certain from the indications that I point to, it just seems more likely that it is a child.

If it is a child, it is all the more difficult to deal with the association that Jesus makes between the forgiveness of sins and healing. A tiny paralyzed child small enough that four people can let him down through the roof: is he being punished for his sins? What sins could this child have? The obvious answer is original sin.

Perhaps this seems unfair or cruel, but that is really a separate question. We know from reality that suffering is present from the first moments of life. A child born with a disability or disease, are they guilty of some sin? Of course not! But then again they are often suffering the consequences of sin. Fetal alcohol syndrome, addiction to drugs, malnutrition, and many other ways that young children suffer is the consequence of sin — their parents' sin or the sins of their country's leaders or the sin of greed and selfishness in the world. Since all this is apparent on the material level how can we doubt that it reflects a spiritual reality that sin causes suffering in this world, and the innocent are often the ones who suffer.

Yet Jesus says to the child, “Your sins are forgiven.” Original sin needs to be forgiven just like actual sin. In what way each of us carried the guilt of original sin from our conception is not clear, but we know that baptism does forgive the guilt of original sin. Undoubtedly, there is much we do not understand about reality. There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. When we see a child suffering we can be sure that that is the consequence of sin in this sense that no child would have suffered in Eden. All the suffering in the world, what we hear on the news, what we see with our own eyes, is the consequence of sin, of our sins, and only Jesus has the power to save us from our sins.

January 12, 2012 - Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Whose side is God on in a war? Neither side. God is greater than humans, so he cannot be on our side. We can be on his side, in the sense that we can do what is right. Whenever we do what is right, we are on his side. Indeed, two men on opposite sides of the battle, each one fighting for his country, trying to do what is right, could both be on God’s side. Such are the unfortunate circumstances of this fallen world.

The Israelites were losing their war with the Philistines, but then they had an idea. They thought that they could not possibly fail once they had brought the Ark of the Covenant into their camp. Then they lost the war worse than ever before. They had faith in the power of God to win the battle for them. The Philistines were frightened at the thought of fighting against the powerful God of the Israelites. So what went wrong? The Israelites forgot to account for one thing: God is not our slave who does whatever we tell him to do.

God is powerful, but his power is not at our beck and call. If God had let the Israelites win that battle, what sort of lesson would it have been for them? They would have thought of the Ark as a magical device. They would have thought of God as a power that they could control. We are constantly tempted to see God as our servant and to be upset with God when he does not do as he is told.

We cannot be entirely independent of God, so we must either see ourselves as his servants or see him as ours. The only solution is to submit in service to God. I must view my life as that of a servant. This is a completely different mindset that affects my whole life. The purpose of my life is not to seek pleasure or to amass wealth or to win the esteem of my fellow humans. The purpose of my life is to serve, and that is the purpose of your life too. It does not matter – deacon, priest, husband, wife, whatever – we are called to serve. To live as a servant is to grow up, to be an adult. This world is full of the spectacle of fully grown people wanting to be served like children. We Christians are called to put away childish things.

January 11, 2012 - Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The Lord calls out “Samuel” and Samuel says “Here I am.” Jesus spends a day and a night healing the sick and casting out demons, and the next day he is up bright and early, headed for the next towns. Samuel lived to serve. If Eli called, Samuel was there. He does not drag himself out of bed or just shout across the temple, “What?!” He carries his intention through. Jesus came down from heaven to earth, not to sit around and watch tv or fritter away the hours lying in bed. He came for a reason, and every action he did was part of accomplishing his purpose.

We too have a purpose. God wants each of us to accomplish something. Just as he called Samuel to great things, so he is calling each and every one of us to great things. Do not pretend that you cannot hear the call of God! You can hear it. I can hear it. I know what God wants; I just fail to actually do it.

Are we going to live inconsistent lives? Make New Year Resolutions and then leave them by the wayside? It is not as if it is actually difficult to be a better person. It does not require effort to pass over unhealthy foods. Exercising more is not beyond our abilities. To go out of our way to love people is not a superhuman feat.

So what is wrong with us? It is as if we are people just waking up, groggy and unable to act. We should be like Samuel. We should be like Jesus. We should say, “Behold I come to do your will.” If we did not know, we would have an excuse, but since we do know God, and we know that we should follow him, we have no excuse.

The good part is that we can talk ourselves up, we can give ourselves a little motivational speech. The bad part is that it only lasts for a little while. So what should we do? Give up and surrender to mediocrity? No! Begin again over and over and over again. Do not make a new year resolution; make a new hour resolution, perhaps a new minute resolution. “With this minute I intend to do great things.” A journey of a thousand miles is simply two million individual steps. A life of dedication to the Lord, of great accomplishment in righteousness, is simply the summation of what we did with each minute.

January 10, 2012 - Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Presumption is the source of such great evil in our world. People presume that they understand another’s motivations. People presume that they know what is going on. They judge their neighbor. What an example we have today, when Eli, the head priest, walks up to Hannah and starts reprimanding her publicly for being drunk when actually she was praying. And Eli was a righteous man. He was a good priest. But what he did here was wrong.

We give priests great honor, which is right since they stand in the person of Christ. Jesus forgives our sins through the ministry of the priest. He turns bread and wine into his Body and Blood through the words of the priest. The priest inasmuch as he is a priest, is Jesus Christ, but inasmuch as he remains himself, he is a fallen man like any of us. The problem is, how do we give so much respect to a person’s office while still being ready to ignore and forgive or even condemn the man for what he does and says?

People have left the faith because of words that a priest spoke. Perhaps what the priest said was right, perhaps it was wrong, but they hurt. They were hurt by a priest, so they turn away from the Church. It does not make any logical sense: whether a priest has offended us has nothing to do with whether Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior, but these people are not thinking logically. They have been hurt, so they want to exercise what power they can against the one who has hurt them.

What good does this do? I am hurt, so I react with anger and hurt someone else or just hurt myself. This does not make the world a better place. What is needed is humility, and Hannah provides such an example of humility. She would have been fully justified in letting Eli have it, either to his face or by leaving and grumbling about it later. Instead she humbly insists that his accusation is untrue and explains herself. If Eli had had Hannah’s humility, he would have been more careful. What we need is humility before we hurt other and humility when others hurt us. What we need is humility.

January 8th, 2012 - Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

Today's Readings

Why do you own the things that you own? We all work hard to own things. We have banks and locks and fireproof safes so that we can hold on to the things that are ours, but why? What is the purpose of owning something. A two-year old has an answer: "Mine!" It is not so important why. A more mature person would say, "I own things so that I can use them." This is a good answer, but we Christians reject that answer. We Christians believe in stewardship.

The concept of stewardship is that everything we own has been given to us by God, not to use at our whims, but in order to do good - to care for a family, to live, to create beauty, to show love, etc. Stewardship tells us that nothing we have is ours; it is just ours to take care of. It is better to consider our possessions not as things we own, but as that part of creation with which we have been entrusted.

All humans have an equal share in creation. The earth equally belongs to me and Bill Gates. All of creation is the common inheritance of the human race. Some individuals have been entrusted with a large portion of this shared inheritance, some individuals have chosen to renounce the responsibility and live in poverty, and some individuals live in forced poverty without even the essentials.

Everything you own is a responsibility. If you own a house, you have to care for the house. If you own a dollar, you have to use the dollar well. Those who have been entrusted with much have a great responsibility to care for those who possess little. Whether we are rich in material goods, intelligence, talents, time, or any other gift from God, there is a force within us, impelling us to use our riches for good, to make the world a better place.

Our country, our civilization is falling apart around us. Why? Because of greed. Not just the greed of the 1%, of the Wall Street types. It is the greed of everyone who considers their life to be their own. Satan is always trying to get us to ask, "What's in it for me?" To understand stewardship, a person first has to view their life differently. Instead of wondering, "What do I have? Where have I ended up? Do I like my position in the world?", a steward wants to know "What have I accomplished?"

Stewardship appears in the second reading today, but it is not concerned with money. It is about ownership of a mystery. St. Paul says: Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit. St. Paul is saying that he is in charge of a mystery: that Jesus Christ is come to save the whole world. He knows this mystery, he possesses the knowledge, but the knowledge is not his to change as he wants or his to forget. It is his to take care of. He is a steward, a manager.

In the first reading and the psalm, there is a prophecy that, perhaps, we do not realize how astounding it is. The psalm declares: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The first reading promises that the city of Jerusalem will be holy to the whole world. We are not astounded, we are not shocked by this prophecy because it has come true. Half the world calls the city of Jerusalem holy. People from this side of the earth do make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And every nation on earth does adore the Lord. No matter which country, no matter which group of people, there are Christians there.

But when these prophecies were made, it surely seemed very unlikely. The Jews were just coming back from the exile. Jerusalem was a city destroyed. The temple had been torn down to the ground. It was a wasteland. Yet the prophecy was made, and it has come to pass.

How did this happen? People like St. Paul were put in charge of a mystery and they did not bury it in the ground, but, rather, they invested it and had a harvest one-hundredfold. The Apostles were good stewards of the faith, spreading it throughout the whole world. They were followed by other stewards: missionaries and Christians of every sort of vocation.

Today is the celebration of the Epiphany of God, the revelation of the fullness of the Truth to all people. Today we celebrate how the Magi, representing the ends of the earth, see the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We celebrate every revelation, from the beginning of time, until now. Darkness was over the world' heavy darkness covered the nations, and then the dawn from on high broke in. As the sun has the power to turn night into day, so the Son of God has the power to turn the darkness of sin into the brightness of grace.

Every one of us is a steward. Every one of us has money and property that we are in charge of. We all have talents and intelligence that have been entrusted to us to use for good. But above all material possessions, greater than our personal gifts, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is no treasure on earth that compares to this revelation. There is nothing we possess more precious than the truth.

We are in charge of this mystery, our faith. We all possess the faith and are stewards of it. What is a steward to do? First of all, we must preserve it in ourselves. The faith is not something that lasts if it is put up on a high shelf and forgotten. It gets dusty and creaky, with stiff joints. Our faith is alive, and it must be fed. The food is the Word of God and the Body of Christ. We will be called to account for how we took care of the faith within us.

And then, we must spread the faith to others. If we know the truth, we must preach the truth. We are missionaries. Not necessarily to the far reaches of the world, although some may have that vocation. We are missionaries to our hometowns. You are all missionaries to Winona. There are people in our midst who do not possess the faith or do not possess its fullness. We are called to bring the faith to them. We are called to preach. Mostly by deeds, but also by words spoken at opportune moments. All of us, not only the clergy. We are missionaries to our coworkers and our friends. Parents are like missionaries to the future, as they hand on the faith to their children.

January 7, 2012 - Christmas Weekday

Today's Readings

What is the point of asking God to do something that he wants to do? St. John says that God listens to our prayers when we ask anything according to his will. To understand this we have to consider that nature of asking. When we ask a fellow human for something, we are implicitly claiming to know better than they do. When I ask someone to pass the salt, I am telling them that I know better than they do about whether I should have salt. When I ask someone to join me for dinner on Tuesday night, I am telling them that I know better than they do about we should do Tuesday night. When I ask, I am suggesting, and to suggest is to propose what is good.

So with God, there really is no point in asking, since he always knows better than I do. If it would be good for something to happen, God knows that already. There is no information that I can supply him. There is no perspective that I can offer. In this way, asking God for something is the opposite of asking a human. When I ask a human for something, I am trying to impose my will on them, ever so gently, yet that is what I am doing. When I ask God for something, I am trying to impose his will on me.

Consider Mary. She does not even ask her son for anything. She simply tells him, “They have no wine.” Did he already know that? Clearly. He is at the same party she is. Even if he did not know it as God who knows everything, he certainly knew it as a human with two eyes in his head.

God knows all about the needs of the world. He knows about the poor and the homeless and the hungry and hurting. He knows about your Aunt Sally and your son too. He sees all the pain and suffering in the whole world, but do you? Are you observant? Are you aware?

When Mary tells Jesus that the party has run out of wine, she is proving that she is attuned to the needs of others. This is the form that our prayers ought to take. When we pray, we ought to look out on the world and see with the eyes of God and then be united to God in our common concern for the sinners.

January 6, 2012 - Christmas Weekday

Today's Readings

What does it mean to conquer the world? Does it mean that you control all the land? Does it mean that people obey you? St. John does not think so. He says that the the victor over the world is the one who believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Alexander the Great spent his entire life leading an army on the march. He died at 32 having conquered the world, or so people said. How could he have conquered the world when every day of his life was defined by the world? It seems, rather, that the world conquered him.

The battle between us and the world does not take place in Europe or Asia or Africa. It takes place in our souls. Conquering the world does not mean controlling billions of people. It means controlling ourself, and this begins with believing in the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. It is by submitting ourselves to the true king of heaven and earth that we can rule under him.

The necessary faith is not blind faith. It comes through the testimony of God. We know the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who descended on Jesus at his baptism like a dove. Then there is the testimony of the water. Water obeyed Jesus Christ. He could walk on water. He changed water into wine. He calmed the sea with a word. Who can do that except God?

Then there is the testimony of the blood. Perhaps Jesus was just a magician or an alien from another planet with advanced technology. No, because the testimony of the blood is the final testimony: he died for us. He suffered and died for us. It is this combination of power and weakness that equals infallible testimony. If Jesus were weak, why was he so powerful? If he was powerful, why did he die for us? He must be someone of great power who also loved us. Who else could that be except God?

January 5, 2012 - Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop

Today's Readings

Why did Cain kill Abel? St. John says that it was because Abel was righteous and Cain was unrighteous and the unrighteous always want to kill the righteous. The unjust always hate the just. Those who delight in sin hate the saints. The unrighteous say, “Let us lie in wait for the righteous one, because he is obnoxious to us. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways.”

Many people do not even live up to their own standards. They hate themselves for not being better, but they do not want to actually put in the effort required to be better, so they turn their hatred out on those who do. Consider the hatred directed at those who have many children by those who use birth control. Consider the hatred directed at newlyweds who were faithful to chastity by those who have never practiced it. Consider the hatred directed at those who serve the poor by those who serve themselves.

This hatred first takes the form of ridicule. They call the saints fools. They call them repressed and psychologically immature. But if ridicule does not work, if the people are obviously happy doing what is right, clearly happier than those who choose sin, the hatred becomes an accusation: The sinner thinks, “I cannot be good, therefore no one can be good. It is not possible. They are just pretending.” Finally, the hatred become pure anger. “How dare they live according to some set of rules? Do they think that they are better than the rest of us?”

It is this hatred that is behind martyrdom. It is because of this hatred that 80% of religious persecution in the world happens to the 20% who are Christian. This is the hatred that killed Abel. This is the hatred that killed Jesus Christ. This is the hatred of Satan himself who cannot stand that anyone should go to heaven when he does not.

We have to admit that this hatred is a danger for every one of us. We are all susceptible to the temptation to hate those who are better than us. Do not be deceived just because you do not kill the person you are jealous of; everyone who hates their brother or sister is a murderer.

January 3, 2012 - 2nd Day after the Octave of Christmas

Today's Readings

St. John says that “No one who sins has seen him or known him.” But St. Paul says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And the Preacher says, “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” Are Christians sinners or not? We are sinners. St. John himself wrote, in this same letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So then does no one know Jesus? Has no one seen Jesus? Certainly they have! St. John himself wrote, in this same letter, “What we have seen with our eyes. For the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it.”

What are we to say then? St. John contradicts himself. He knew Jesus. He saw Jesus. And he still sinned. Perhaps he does not mean something as absolute as it sounds. Perhaps he means to the extent that we know Jesus, we will not sin. If we do not know Jesus at all, we will sin a lot. If we know Jesus a little bit, we will sin less. If we know Jesus rather well, we will only sin a little. And when we know Jesus perfectly, we will not sin at all.

We will not know Jesus perfectly in this life. Not even the apostles and other disciples knew Jesus perfectly. Only his mother had that kind of knowledge of her son. But there will come a day when we do see Jesus face to face. On that day we will see him as he is. Then we will be like him: sinless.

St. John is expressing the relationship between seeing and knowing and being like. When we see a friend use a new cell phone that is better than ours, we want to be like them and have that phone too. When an athlete sees a star athlete run faster and comes to know how he does it, he imitates the star. When a cook tastes a steak that is better than they have ever cooked and they come to know the recipe, they will use that recipe in the future. When we see something better than our current situation, we imitate it. How much more, when we see the perfect man – Jesus Christ – and come to know him better, will we imitate him in every way.

January 2, 2011 - Saints Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

Today's Readings

Religion is a system of belief with a core belief at the center, a reason for all the other beliefs, the central point on which every other belief is balanced. It is not true that the other beliefs can be cast aside or kept depending on our personal preference, but they remain peripheral to the central belief. The other parts of religion may be very important, but everything starts with one act of faith.

For Judaism, the central belief is a promise made to Abraham, fulfilled in Moses. If it were discovered that Moses was actually named Tom, that would not change the Jewish religion, but if it were proven that the Lord did not save the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt then the whole faith would be shaken.

For Christians, our central belief is in a person, the person of Jesus Christ. Sometimes people try to shock us by showing that Jesus was actually born in March, but whether he was born in winter or springtime is not nearly as important as that he was born. God, the creator of the universe, was born of a woman. For our sake, he became one of us, a human. The central fact of Christianity contains the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If that is true, then everything else can be important in its own way. If that is false, none of the other stuff matters.

This is what St. John is saying in his letter. He says that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. Perhaps this statement is not the most ecumenical or interreligious, but the central fact must either be true or false. We cannot follow a religion if the central idea of the religion is a lie. Christmas might have Christmas cookies and a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, but if Jesus were not born, there is no point in having Christmas at all.

St. John knew Jesus personally. He spoke with him; he ate with him; he followed him. He wants to express to us that the central fact of Christianity is not merely an intellectual idea that some wise person thought up. At the core, it is about a man he knew, who lived, who died, yet who still lived. He was not only a man. He was God. That is the kind of fact that can change everything.