October 29, 2012 - Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

How could we, living in the culture that we do, not stand accused by the first reading today? “No obscenity or suggestive speech.” “Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you.” Could St. Paul have more explicitly condemned our entertainments if he had seen them himself?

Yet how can I preach this without opening myself to the just accusation of the Gospel today, “You hypocrite!” I have often sworn off television and movies only to return to them. Yet I cannot be silent on this topic, letting this clear condemnation pass by lest I be accused myself, because then I would really be a hypocrite. Contrary to the popular use of the word, a hypocrite is not someone who condemns their own sins. A hypocrite is someone who condemns every sin except their own.

So today I will not mince words, because Paul does not. “Be sure of this: no immoral or impure or greedy person has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.” And that applies to movies and television too. Whenever I say this, there is always someone who comes to me and talks about the rosary on EWTN. Of course I am not talking about that. I am talking about everything else. If the only television and movies you watch are EWTN and the Discovery channel, fine. But almost everything else is filled with discussions of immorality. What is the average sitcom these days except “obscenity or silly or suggestive talk”? And all these reality shows about dresses and housewives, what are they other than covetousness and greed, celebrating lifestyles that can only be condemned? Listen to the names of these shows, “Modern Family” and “The New Normal”. How is that not the anti-Gospel?

But it is all art and entertainment. And what is a person supposed to do, be entirely separate from the world? And we don’t watch them for those things but for something else. And we just want to relax at the end of the day. “Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” It would be a shame to go to Hell over a tv show, but Satan will use anything to distract us from God. St. Paul’s point is that we Christians have better things to do with our time, like thanking God and helping others. Satan would rather we waste our lives with television and movies, and the Internet; I am not even going to get started on the Internet.

October 28, 2012 - Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 31:7-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Hebrews 5:1-6
Mark 10:46-52

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus is ready with an immediate answer. Are we ready with an answer? If we heard that Jesus was waiting for us, and he asked this question, would the answer come so quickly to our lips? Bartimaeus does not have a list. He does not pause between various options. He knows what he wants: to see again. We should have a desire in our hearts as strong as the desire of Bartimaeus to see again. He wants to see so badly that even when the people tell him to be quiet, he calls out all the louder.

What should this desire be? If it were for some material object, it would not be worthy of being all-consuming. If it were merely for a physical healing, it would be inferior because it would be temporary. We are all going to die. Every one of us is terminally ill. A physical healing might grant us a few more years or even decades, but nothing more. The desire of our hearts is for something greater, for a healing that will last more than 100 years. The desire of our hearts is for the Resurrection. In the Resurrection, we will have every material thing we need. In the Resurrection, our bodies will be healed of every pain and disability. And the Resurrection is forever.

But what does it mean to desire the Resurrection? The Resurrection signifies a completely different mode of being. To desire the Resurrection is to desire change. If I want to participate in life forever, I have to be changed into the sort of person who can live forever. Right now I am not good enough. If I lived forever, my faults would infinitely multiply. The only way we can live forever is if we first become perfect. Perfection seems like a hopeless goal in this life, but it is a necessary prerequisite for the Resurrection. Since the Resurrection is the desire of our hearts, this perfection is the desire of our hearts.

The perfection we want is not simply to be freed from all sins. It is not enough to stop doing bad things. When Jesus says, “Be perfect”, he is speaking about love. To be ready for heaven, our love has to be perfect. First of all, our love of God has to be without qualification or reservation. We must love God with all of our heart, strength, mind, and soul. And then we must love each other as Jesus loved us. That is what it means to be perfect.

We cannot achieve this perfection by our own efforts. Justification, which is the process of God making us perfect, is by grace alone. It cannot be accomplished by human strength. Bartimaeus could never have healed his own blindness. All he could do was wait for the healing of God. But his waiting is not a passive waiting. He actively cries out to God for healing. So too we cannot just wait around for God to justify us. We work every day for the unattainable perfection, waiting for the day when God brings it within our reach. This waiting is full of striving and prayer. We strive so that we are headed in the right direction, but it is our prayers that will do the most good.

Like Bartimaeus, we must call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” We must not call out just once or twice. We must not stop if the crowd tells us that our cry is useless. Like Bartimaeus, who could not see Jesus, but still called out for him because he heard that Jesus was there, we too call out for what we cannot see but have only heard of. Bartimaeus must have wondered after calling out for the tenth or twentieth time whether Jesus was still there, or whether he had ever really been there. Suddenly, the crowd tells him, “Jesus is calling you.” Can we even imagine what it will be like after calling out for Jesus for the millionth time to suddenly hear the crowd of angels and saints tell us, “Jesus is calling you.”

What does Bartimaeus do when he receives his sight? Jesus says “Go”, but Bartimaeus instead follows Jesus along the way. Where else would he go? Jesus frees Bartimaeus to go wherever he wants, but where he wants to go is with Jesus. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus tell the rich young man to go and sell everything and then come follow. Bartimaeus, being poor, is free to just get up and follow. The possessions of the rich man act as chains on his heart that prevent him from going easily where he wants. Bartimaeus, having nothing, is not held down by anything. With these stories next to each other, we see the contrast between the freedom of poverty and the slavery of riches.

Our readings today are filled with the promises of the Resurrection. God will bring us back from wherever we have wandered off to, and in the life he has planned for us, the blind will see and the lame will walk and every tear will be wiped away. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy. This life we live now is filled with reasons for sorrow, but every sorrow will be forgotten in the life to come. This life is hard because we are separated from God and from each other. Jesus is the high priest who can finally achieve for us the reconciliation with God. When we have been forgiven by God, we will naturally forgive our brothers and sisters. There is a perfect life waiting for us, and all we need to do is become perfect.

If we want to see the fulfillment of these promises we are going to need the faith of Bartimaeus, the ability to believe even when we cannot see, and the hope of Bartimaeus that continued to call out when Jesus did not immediately answer, and the poverty of Bartimaeus; since he did not have material things to love he was free to love Jesus and follow him. Bartimaeus is for us an example of faith, hope, and love. This is the contradiction of the Gospel. A blind beggar who was dismissed by those around him is for us today an example of perfection.

October 22, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 2:1-10
Psalm 100:2-5
Luke 12:13-21

There are two wrong ways that people commonly think about how to get into heaven. The first is what Protestants accuse us Catholics of, called works-righteousness. According to this idea, we do good things and bad things and God keeps track, and then if the good is more than the bad we get into heaven. This is what many people, Catholic and Protestant, tend to believe. It is wrong. We are not saved by works of the law. The other wrong way is the traditional Protestant teaching that they get from misreading these verses, called Sola Fide. According to this idea, if a person believes that Jesus is Lord then they will get into heaven no matter what they have done. Jesus himself says that this is wrong.

The true Catholic teaching is what St. Paul gives in this reading today: “By grace you have been saved.” Salvation is by grace alone. What is grace? “It is not from you; it is the gift of God.” It is the power of God to change us. We do not go to heaven by having more good actions than sins. We do not go to heaven because of what we happen to believe. We go to heaven if the grace of God changes us into the sort of people who can live in heaven. The reason why Protestants accuse Catholics of works-righteousness is that good works are one way to tell whether the grace of God is active in my life. If today I am more likely than last year to serve the poor and do the other things that Jesus says, then I clearly have changed for the better. There is progress in the right direction.

Also, because of free will, when we choose to do bad things, we are refusing the grace of God and not changing for the better. This is why no one can say that they have done enough good to get by with a little sin. Like the man in the Gospel today, when he decided to tear down his barns instead of sharing his bountiful harvest with the poor, it made him a little smaller and worse. Faith is important. “By grace you are saved through faith.” Knowing about Jesus and his teachings helps us to accept the grace of God, but knowing and even believing mean nothing if we are not changed for the better by them.

October 21, 2012 - Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53:10-11
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
Hebrews 4:14-16
Mark 10:35-45

Jesus is once again reflecting in the Gospel today the reality of objective truth, that there is just this truth about who is going to sit in his right and who is going to sit on his left and he cannot just change that. This is a struggle that we have: objective truth. There is something that is good and something that is bad, and it is difficult for us to do what is good and is difficult for us to not do what is bad. What are we supposed to do about that? Our first inclination is that God should change the truth. He should change what is good and change what is bad so it fits us better, but we know that will not work because we know that what is good is good. Even things like loving each other, helping each other, serving each other: these are difficult too. It is not just that we have some disagreement with God about what morality should be. We actually have difficulty following the morality that we ourselves know to be right, so that even if we know that such and such a thing is objectively good, we cannot do it. Who would argue that we should not serve the poor? Yet how difficult it is to serve the poor, to forget ourselves, to stop being consumed by this culture of consumerism!

The solution to this problem we have where we know what is good but we do not want to do it, is provided for us in the Psalm today. As we repeated over and over, “Lord let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” This is a beautiful refrain. It sums up everything we need to know about our relationship with God. We have God's relationship with us; we have our relationship to God. The situation is what it is. The truth is the truth and cannot be changed, and we are not very good at following it. God loves us, and he wants us to be with him forever in heaven, so, for his part, he is going to be merciful. “Lord let your mercy be on us.” God is going to do that. I am not going to preach to God here today about being merciful, so we will just let him do that.

The second part is about us, “as we place our trust in you.” That has been the problem since the beginning: trusting in God. All the way back in the beginning, that is what the problem with the fruit was about. God said not to eat it, but Adam and Eve did not trust this command of God. They did not understand the command, so they decided not to obey. What they could have done is just trust. Eve hears that snake talking and decides to trust it instead. Anybody other than God we will trust. We will trust the people on the TV. We will trust politicians. We will trust whatever we happen to be thinking at any given moment. Anybody but God, we will trust. There is something wrong with that. We know there is. Somehow the one being we cannot trust, is the one who loves us perfectly.

If you are looking for someone to trust, what more should you look for than God? He is all-powerful, which means that no one will ever be able to stop him from fulfilling his promises. He is all knowing, which means that he never makes a mistake; he never does anything accidentally; he knows what he is doing; he knows the consequences, now and 2 trillion years from now; he knows what he is doing. Last of all, he loves us. He loves us so much that he died for us, as our first reading says in that interesting prophecy about the coming of Christ, “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity, if he gives his life as an offering for sin” which, when that prophecy was given, who could have imagined how that would be fulfilled? That Jesus Christ would come and live and die for us.

Now, finally we have the proof that we can really trust God. That was the only thing that maybe was left. We know that God can do what he says is going to do, and we know that God knows the right way to do things. Those are both part of the essence of being God, but that last question remains, whose side is he really on? That question was in Eve’s mind, as she was looking at that tree. She remembered that God said not to eat it, but then she wondered, “Whose side is he on? Maybe he is just trying to keep me from becoming as smart and powerful as him?”

That the problem that is faced by James and John in the Gospel today. I am amazed by this question. They go to Jesus and ask him to trust them. They say, “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” This is a loaded question. They cannot even say what it is yet, but they ask Jesus to trust them, and blindly promise to do whatever they ask. Jesus is not going to fall for that. It actually should be the other way around. God should come up to us and say to us, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” He does say that. God comes up to us, and he says, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” We are afraid. We do not want to trust that question. We think, “What if he asks something bad?” Of course, he will not. He is God. He knows what he is talking about. “I want you to do whatever I ask of you.” What if he asks us to do something that is bad for us? Whose side is he really on? He died for us. He is on our side. He is not going to use of us. He is not going to have us do something bad for us and then throw us away. He loves us, and not just in a group, not just collectively: he loves us individually, every single one of us. When someone who loves you like that comes up to you and says, “I want you to do whatever I ask of you”, your answer has to be yes. Not just because were afraid of him; not just because he is God so I better do it; but because we know that whatever he asks of us is going to be better than anything we could ever imagine for ourselves. When James and John ask to sit beside Jesus in the kingdom, they are really asking for love and respect. Jesus denied their request and then gave them everything they ever wanted.

October 20, 2012 - Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 1:15-23
Psalm 8:2-7
Luke 12:8-12

When we hear this Gospel, perhaps we even feel a little fired up, ready to acknowledge Jesus before a firing squad. Certainly, if we are ever called upon to deny Jesus and worship idols, we will have to die as martyrs, but in the meantime, there is more than one way to deny him before others. Have we acknowledged him by our words and actions each day? Every time we curse at someone, we are denying Jesus. Every time we hurt someone we are denying Jesus. Every time we fail to help someone we are denying Jesus. They can turn to us and ask, “How is it that you speak about this human who was God but you do not even treat me like a human being?” and we will have no answer. That is what it means to deny Jesus before others.

We acknowledge Jesus when we give up a life of riches to preach the word and serve the poor, because then someone will ask, “How is it that you have given up everything you could have had, just to tell people about Jesus and take care of the poor?” and we will say, “Jesus had nothing.” How much more powerful is this testimony than any number of televangelists with million dollar homes! We acknowledge Jesus when we suffer gladly, speaking of him even in the midst of pain, because then someone will ask, “How is it that even though you suffer you have not given up on God?” and we will say, “Jesus suffered too.” How much more powerful is this witness than any number of pamphlets! We acknowledge Jesus when we love others, especially our enemies, because then someone will ask, “How is it that you can love them when they have done such terrible things to you?” and we will say, “Jesus loves everyone, even you and me.” How much more powerful is this testimony than any number of preachers on soapboxes!

By faith, hope, and love we acknowledge Jesus before others. Faith that causes us to act. Hope that endures through every trial. Love without qualification. It is not normal to see such things, but with God all things are possible, so when the impossible happens right in front of people’s eyes, they will have to acknowledge that God was at work in us. That is what it means to acknowledge Jesus before others.

October 19, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 1:11-14
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 12-13
Luke 12:1-7

There is a philosophical question that goes back to Socrates but is still asked today as if it were new: would you rather do something wicked and have no one ever find out or not do something wicked but have everyone believe you had? For instance, would you rather get away with sexually abusing a child or have everyone in the world think that you had even though you were completely innocent?

On the one hand, there would be prison and headlines and scandal and shame. Your own family would disown you, and every friend would abandon you. On the other hand, you would have actually done something despicable but everyone would continue thinking that you were a good person. Which would you choose, if you had to choose?

Do not dismiss this question lightly. For sure, it is unlikely that you would ever actually be forced to make this choice, but your decision reveals who you really are. Do you want to be good or to seem good? Everyone wants to seem good on some level; no one desires to be despised in the eyes of those they love, but only some people have a desire to actually be good.

Today Jesus tells us that “there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” Nothing. Neither our good deeds nor our sins will be hidden at the end of time. If we have done good deeds in secret, we will finally have credit where credit is due. If we have done wicked things, we will finally be revealed as the frauds that we are.

Even now, nothing is really done in secret. God is watching us. He knows everything about us. Whether the whole world hates us or loves us is immaterial. God loves us, and he knows us thoroughly. He knows how many hairs are on top of my head. I do not know how many hairs are on top of my head. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Those things we did that we have tried to forget, tried to convince even ourselves that we never did them? God knows all about them. We will never fool God; we will never impress God. God knows us exactly as we are, but he loves us anyway.

October 18, 2012 - Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

2 Timothy 4:10-17
Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18
Luke 10:1-9

St. Luke was the companion of St. Paul and the author of one of the four Gospels and of the Acts of the Apostles. We are indebted to Luke for so much information about the early Church, but we know so little about him. We know that he was with St. Paul for much of his journeys preaching the Gospel. We know that he was a physician by practice, which comes out in the details provided when Jesus heals someone. There is an old tradition that he was one of the seventy-two described in the Gospel today, but this seems unlikely since he was not circumcised. However, he certainly did experience the apostolic lifestyle in his years with St. Paul.

Another companion St. Paul mentions is St. Mark, who also wrote a Gospel, and we know that Luke used Mark’s Gospel as a source for his own. He begins his Gospel by saying that he is aware of many attempts to write down the story of Jesus, so he has decided to put it all together in an orderly fashion. We suppose that, since he was with St. Paul, he saw some of the events that he describes in Acts firsthand.

It is from Luke that we have most of what we know about Mary. His gospel is particularly noteworthy for including so much about the early years, from the Annunciation to Mary to the Visitation of Elizabeth to the Birth in Bethlehem to the Presentation to Simeon to the Finding of Christ in the temple at age 12. In other words, the joyful mysteries of the rosary are all from Luke. The historical record also mentions a painting of Mary done by Luke. There are many copies of this painting, and no one is sure if any of them is the original.

Luke is also our only source for the story of Pentecost. Other authors mention the Holy Spirit, but only Luke tells us exactly how the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on that day, how Peter preached, and how, on that one day, 3000 people joined the Church. We are indebted to St. Luke for our understanding of the early Church. If we add to this that Luke may very well have been the secretary who wrote down some of St. Paul’s letters, much of the New Testament is given to us through his work. Praise God for St. Luke. May we, in our times, serve the Church as well has he did in his times.

October 17, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Philippians 3.17-4.1
Psalm 34.2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Resp. 5
John 12.24-26

St. Paul directs his listeners to follow his example. This is one problem with WWJD, (What would Jesus do?): it pretends that we have seen Jesus and can even attempt to copy him. We have not though. We have only heard of Jesus. How is it possible that we will be inspired by the life of Jesus when we cannot see it? If we have only heard the stories, than how is Jesus different from any other fictional character? The stories can be impressive, but we need something more in order to be strongly connected to Jesus. The Philippians could only guess what Jesus was really like, but they knew St. Paul from many encounters. Paul does not tell the Philippians to be more like Jesus. He tells them to be more like himself: “Be imitators of me.” Why? It is not pride. He knows that he is living his life as a result of his personal encounter with Jesus. His life is a concrete example of the mission of Jesus Christ. He wants to lead the Philippians to Jesus. Paul points to himself, because he knows that the real example is the work of the Holy Spirit in him. He knows that everything he had accomplished was a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast we are celebrating today, wrote letters to the Churches. They were written on his way to die in Rome as a martyr. He, it is supposed, knew Jesus by watching the Apostles. So the faith was handed on to him, part of the second generation of Christians. Before he dies, he makes sure to hand on the faith just as he had received it. St. Ignatius followed St. John who knew Jesus personally. So the personal impact ripples out. A life changed by the example of Jesus is itself an example.

So we are better off than the early Christians. They only had Jesus as an example. We have Jesus and 2000 years more of martyrs and saints. Above all we have the flesh and blood example of the latest links in this chain. No example is perfect except Jesus himself and his mother. We ourselves know personally many imperfect examples of Jesus love, in our friends and family. Our job is to continue passing on this example by becoming, as much as possible, examples of Jesus Christ to others, until the day that Jesus Christ himself returns.

October 15, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-eight Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31 -- 5:1
Psalm 113:1-7
Luke 11:29-32

Jonah just walked through the city of Nineveh, one of the wickedest cities in all of history, and told them it would be destroyed. They repented in sackcloth and ashes, with fasting. Jesus walked through Jerusalem, the holy city, and told them it would be destroyed. They killed him. Jesus begins with the stories that the people have known their whole lives to show them how they are failing now.

St. Paul also begins with a story from the Old Testament. When Abraham and Sarah were not able to conceive, they used a surrogate mother, the slave of Sarah named Hagar. Hagar has a son, but Sarah hates her for it. Then Sarah finally has a son and kicks Hagar and her son out of the house. St. Paul says that this story is an allegory for us. As it really happened, Hagar was a good person who was mistreated, but in the allegory each person just stands for a concept. Hagar was an Egyptian slave. Sarah was the wife, a free woman. Hagar became pregnant easily, in the normal way. Sarah became pregnant only after decades of trying, only after God made a promise that she would have a son. Hagar symbolizes how Abraham tried to take control of the situation and make things happen by his own power. Sarah symbolizes waiting for God to fulfill his promise in the right time. Christ freed us, but we right now are like Abraham, waiting for God to fulfill what he has promised.

Do we trust God? Will we wait for the happiness he promised, or will we try to reach out and grab whatever we can provide for ourselves? The lesson of the allegory is that the son of a slave is still a slave. Abraham would have gladly handed over his house to his first son, Ishmael, but when the true son is born, Ishmael is kicked out by Sarah, proving that all along Hagar and Ishmael were nothing more than slaves. The happiness of sin seems like it is real, and while it is the only happiness we can have, we accept it, but all along it has always been slavery. When the true happiness of heaven is revealed, we would gladly forget about the sin. Compared to what is coming, the fleeting happiness of pleasure or possessions is nothing, but we will be enslaved by them if we choose.

October 12, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 3:7-14
Psalm 111:1-6
Luke 11:15-26

The problem with the law is how empty it is. There are hundreds of laws about food and eating, but none of them ever fed a starving person. The law about not mixing wool and linen in one cloth do not warm someone in need of clothes. Even the laws that tell people to care for the poor are still empty unless someone obeys. Above all, the law does not satisfy us spiritually. The only thing that the law does is reveal to us how lacking we are. Because of the law, I know what I do wrong, but the law does not lift a finger to help me do right. This is why St. Paul tells the Galatians that no one is justified before God by the law. The only thing that the law can provide is a curse for everyone who disobeys it, and who can go through life without ever breaking the law? We all break the law. So we all are cursed.

We are beaten down over and over again. And the law is true. It is no use to pretend that the law is false. The curse of the law is so frightening that we want it to be a nightmare we can wake up from, but we know that it is true. Journeying through the law is like walking through a desert. Does it help while walking through the desert to pretend that the human body does not need water? No. The law of thirst is absolute. If someone pretends that they do not need water, it just proves how badly in need they are: they are starting to lose their mind from thirst. But what if, instead of denying the law of thirst, we find an oasis?

What solution is there besides denying the truth? Faith. Just as food is to a hungry person and water to a thirsty person, so is the grace of faith to someone longing for God. Jesus tells us that if a demon is cast out, but the soul remains empty, the demon will return with 7 companions. If the law denies us our demons, but we remain empty, we will find worse demons. We will begin to think that we would be better off without the law. With faith though we are full, too full for any demons. Saying “NO” is a weak way to get rid of sin. Instead, say “Yes” to the Holy Spirit, to faith, to the grace of God, and there will be no room for evil.

Recorded Homily

If you would like to hear me preach, my parish records the 9:30 homily, which I gave last weekend. You can click here to listen. It is my homily for October 7th.

October 11, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 3:1-5
Luke 1:69-75
Luke 11:5-13

When a parent gives something to their child, they are showing their love. They provide for their children because they love their children. It is the tendency of fallen humans to be selfish, to hold onto what is good, but this tendency is broken when a parent looks at their child. Suddenly, the desire to be generous is overwhelming. Every parent wants to give their children the whole world. A man might be selfish and mean and ruthless, but still have big plans for all that he could provide for his son.

This is one of the great dangers of our current culture of birth control. Becoming a parent changes a person for the better. They suddenly have to think beyond themself. As people delay having children into their twenties, and into their thirties, and into their forties, they extend their own childhood, their own period of self-concern. Consider the parable of Jesus today. Who is the person who persistently asks for something until we get out of bed to get it? It is not our neighbor. It is a child who will not stop crying until they get what they need. No one knows persistence like the parents of a newborn. They learn generosity through suffering because no matter how much they hate getting out of bed, their love for their child will make them answer their cries.

That is how we are supposed to be with God. As a newborn calls out to its mother for food and comfort, so we should be in prayer. God has amazing gifts to give us, but he cannot give them to us until we ask. If we ask once, perhaps we do not even know what we are asking for. When we ask twice, we begin to feel the need. But only after we have asked again and again, persistently, will we begin to know what we are asking for, and only once we know that longing are we ready to receive the gift. God will not leave us emptyhanded. God has promised to provide for us, and he will do it. He is a father who keeps his promises. He promised to send a Savior into the world who was powerful enough to free us from our enemies, and he did. He promised to send his Holy Spirit on the Church, and he did.

October 10, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 2:1-2, 7-14
Psalm 117:1-2
Luke 11:1-4

The Gospel today raises the question of what Jesus really said. You surely noticed that the Our Father in the Gospel today is rather different from the Our Father that we usually pray. The difference between the Our Father that we usually pray, from Matthew, and the prayer from Luke that we read today are more than just translation issues. This prayer is not even the “Our Father”, it just starts “Father”.

It is not uncommon for Matthew and Luke to relate different versions of events. This can often be explained by saying that both versions occurred. It should not surprise us that Jesus preached two similar but not identical sermons. The differences in the beatitudes, for instance, can be explained in this way. However, it hard to believe that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray more than once and he gave them two versions of the Our Father.

So what are we to think about the faithfulness of the Gospels? The shorter version of the Our Father makes sense if we just assume that Luke got it from someone with a rather poor memory, but if we begin assuming that bad memories are at play in the Gospels, what can we trust? Scholars are far more likely to assume that Luke’s version is original and that Matthew expanded his version, and it is true that there is nothing in Matthew’s version that is not implied in Luke’s, but the devotion of Christians to the Our Father, to the Lord’s Prayer, is precisely because it was written by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself. We want the original!

If we relied on ourselves to reinterpret Christianity with each passing generation, some of us would switch to this Our Father, some of us would stay with Matthew’s version, and some of us would throw up our hands and say, “Let’s forget the whole thing, if we can’t even get the Our Father right.”

It is good to read the Scriptures and seek wisdom from them, but while the Scriptures are the revelation of God to us, our individual interpretation cannot be the final authority, lest the 2 billion Christians have 2 billion Christianities. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us which Our Father to pray. We must rely on Tradition. The Church has prayed Matthew’s version for thousands of years. This Tradition is more convincing than any scholarly argument or personal feeling. Tradition is also divine revelation.

October 9, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 1:13-24
Psalm 139:1-3, 13-15
Luke 10:38-42

St. Paul is giving his résumé because the people have been telling the Galatians to stop believing what he says. In order to convince them that the Gospel which he shared with them is true, he tells them the story of how he heard it. Yesterday, he said “I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Today, he is specifically relating how this happened. He tells us that when he had the revelation that converted him, he did not go to Jerusalem. Instead, he went out into the desert, to Arabia. He needed some time to think about this experience. Only after three years does he go up to speak to Peter.

His life story, he says, was an inspiration to the Churches. Not because of what he did, but because his life proved what God could do in him. If God could change Saul, persecutor of Christians, into Paul, preacher of the Gospel, then no one was beyond help. If Paul can convert, than the worst person you know can convert. Why, even you and I can convert. Before his conversion, St. Paul was not an inspiration, but a cause of fear; after the conversion, the inspiration is all the more powerful because of how bad he was. All along, God had a plan for him.

As the psalm says, “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.” In some ways, it is the same path for everyone because it is the path of doing the will of God. In another way, it is truly an individual path for each one of us, because God knows us individually. God had plans for Paul. Even while he stood assisting with the stoning of St. Stephen, God had plans for him. Even while he persecuted Christians families, God had plans for him. We know what our path has been up to this point, but only God knows how it goes from here on out. If it started well, it might finish badly and be all the more tragic because of the good start. If it has been a difficult path, then all that difficulty will be glory if it ends well. It is God’s will and he will do all he can to guide us. We pray to him, “Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way” for our sake, so that we will follow him.

October 8, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 1:6-12
Psalm 111:1-2, 7-10
Luke 10:25-37

St. Paul is declaring his allegiance to the Gospel of Christ. He considers the Gospel more important than any wisdom that a philosopher could provide. He considers the Gospel more important than any prophecy that an angel could send. He considers the Gospel more important than his own opinions. The Gospel comes from Jesus Christ. This is why the Gospel is greater than any other religious teaching. Instead of wisdom or prophecy, the Gospel is about facts. The Gospel is simply the facts about Jesus. Here is what happened. Even, as today, when the Gospel contains a teaching, it is given simply as a fact that Jesus gave this teaching, told this story. Indeed, as great as the story is, and this parable has been very important to people through history, it is more impressive to watch Jesus do what he did in this conversation.

Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan to a scholar of the law who had stood up to test Jesus. This scholar had surely studied the law and the various interpretations of the law. He could have, without a doubt, quoted any verse of the law to Jesus. So he asks Jesus a question, not to find out information, but to test Jesus. Well, what does the test reveal? Jesus knows what he is doing. He reverses the test back to the scholar who proves that he has learned the law because he is aware of what the two greatest laws are.

Then he asks a question, but this time it is not to test Jesus but to justify himself. In this short conversation the scholar has gone from testing to sincerely asking. He trusts Jesus enough at this point to ask a sincere question, which has surely been bothering him: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers the question in the end by reversing the scholar’s question. Instead of considering who was the victim’s neighbor and then determining who needed to be loved, he says that the neighbor is the one who loved. This is the remarkable truth about Christianity. Instead of deciding whom we are obligated to love and respect, we begin with the love and respect and discover in each person whom we love a child of God, one of our neighbors. The scholar came with a test about laws, Jesus turned it into one of the most memorable teachings about mercy.

October 7, 2012 - Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 128:1-6
Hebrews 2:9-11
Mark 10:2-16

So the election is in less than a month. Let me begin by saying what I am not going to say: I am not going to tell you who to vote for. When I was ordained, the bishop handed me the book of the Gospels and he said, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, practice what you teach.” That is why I am called to do, and nowhere in the Gospels does it specify who you should vote for. I suppose in order for me to say that, there would have to be somebody on the ballot who perfectly exemplified the Gospel like Jesus or Mary. If they were running, I would endorse them. I am also not going to talk about a specific issue, like what the capital gains tax rate should be. First of all, because I have no idea. Secondly, because it does not say anywhere in the Gospel what it should be. It does say to pay your taxes, and it says to take care of the poor, but it is for the experts to determine how to apply these principles into specific laws.

But then, in this Gospel today, there is an issue. It is right here, and those of you who know how this works, know that it is not as if we choose the readings each week and read whatever we feel like. It says right here: the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year B, which happens to be this Sunday in this year. It is a cycle, and we flip to this page, and it is time to read this reading. It is not as if we wanted to talk about marriage this weekend, but God in his wisdom, in the cycle given to us by the Church, has given this to us, and I would be remiss if I read this reading without talking about marriage. I would be failing in my mandate, if we did not talk about it.

But it is very difficult. Just last Sunday someone told me that they have two nephews who are both gay, and “God doesn't make trash.” That is so true. He does not. Every single person is a child of God. Everyone is loved by God, and therefore has a right to our love. If it seems as if anything the Catholic Church has ever said suggests that we think that people are trash, then we are saying it wrong or people are hearing it wrong somehow. Hatred of people is not the truth.

Nevertheless, we have to be faithful to the truth. There are some obvious truths. I am not talking about political opinions. I mean obvious, factual, indisputable truths: male and female go together in a way that male and male do not. This is indisputable. If anyone disagrees, they are lying to themselves. I am not saying yet where to go with that; I am just saying that we should begin with the truth, because if we do not begin with the truth, where are we going to end up? Another indisputable truth is that the foundation of marriage is sex. That is not all marriage is, but I am not married to my best friend; I am not married to someone I like to go on vacation with. What makes people married is that act that only a man and a woman can do, and the children that come from it.

We start with these two truths, and we come to the indisputable truth that marriage is for male and female. As Jesus says in the Gospel today, “In the beginning God made them male and female.” So, on some level the ballot question that is before you this November is asking whether to two plus two equals four. We have to say yes. Whether marriage is between a male and female is not a matter of opinion. It is obvious, biological fact.

Still, something stops us, because even though two plus two equals four, when I see a person made in the image of God, who am I to tell them what to do? Why complicate the Gospel that we preach with this question? I know that two plus two equals four, but they think it is five, and if they want to, then they can, right? I think that this is where a lot of people are right now. Even though the truth is obvious, there is a desire to simply say, “Well, whatever!” When I think of the time and energy and money we have spent on this question, particularly this year, I realize that it could have just been spent on telling people that Jesus loves them, which people like to hear.

But this is what Jesus is saying in the Gospel today. You cannot just say something is okay even if it is wrong. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. We have to stay with the truth. When asked a fundamental question about truth, we have to acknowledge the truth. Jesus says today that when Moses was writing the law, he set up some rules for divorce. Why did he do that? Jesus says that it was because of the hardness of their hearts, because Moses knew that the people would not accept a law that simply forbid divorce, so he wrote some laws about divorce, such as a man cannot just abandon the woman and have her starve to death, which is what would have happened in that culture; he has to provide for her in certain ways. There is a certain wisdom to these laws, but now Jesus has come and it is time for the truth. The truth is that there is no divorce, and that is a hard truth. What God has joined together no human being should separate. It is more complicated. We have to know first what God has joined together, the question of annulments, but if we do not start with the truth, where are we going to end up? In this election year, I do not care who you vote for. That is for you to decide. There are complications about this person and that person, what they support, what they support. But when you get to that last question, and it says, “Is Marriage a relationship between a man and a woman?”, you have to answer yes. What can you put there other than the truth?

October 6, 2012 - Saturday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Job 42:1-3, 5-6, 12-17
Psalm 119:66, 71, 75, 91, 125, 130
Luke 10:17-24

A lot of people dislike the ending of Job, because it almost suggests that everything he went through is all better because he now has twice as much as before. He lost his children, but now he has more children. We know that to some extent this is true though. When we are going through suffering, we forget the good times, and when we are going through good times, we forget the suffering. God even gives Job another 140 years to make up for the time that was lost. God has repaid Job in full for the suffering he experienced, though that suffering was really just the loss of God’s previous gifts. Then, at the end of the reading, Job dies. Sure, he was surrounded by his family. Sure, he was old and full of years. But he still dies. At the beginning of the book, God allows Satan to inflict any torture on Job so long as he does not kill him. So, in a certain sense, the ending of this book is more depressing than the beginning. Death comes for us all.

This is the point that Jesus is making to the disciples he sent out. “Do not rejoice because you have powers to remove suffering from the world, to defeat evil spirits and cure sickness, to be immune to venom, but because your names are written in heaven.” It does not matter how good we make this world if we are going to die in the end. A person can be a billionaire with every pleasure that can be purchased, but, if death is awaiting them, it does not matter how good this life was. What is the point of building a house of cards, only to see it knocked down? What is the point of a long, productive life, only to have it all destroyed by death?

This is the good news that Jesus brings: there is another possibility. This is what the kings and the prophets desired to hear but did not hear: existence is not merely a flash of lightning, gone as soon as it appears, but continues forever. And this perpetual existence, which would be torture if it were an endless succession of suffering interspersed with periodic moments of reprieve, has the potential to be different than the life we have experienced up to now. Not only will we live forever, but we will live forever with the perfect happiness of knowing God.

October 5, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5
Psalm 139:1-3, 7-10, 13-14
Luke 10:13-16

God’s point in this reading is important for Job, but it is very important for us and our culture. Either God is the judge and the human is being judged, or the human is the judge and God is being judged. The latter is the most widespread view in modern times, even among Christians. We are the judges of God. Perhaps I find him not guilty, or make some excuse for any action of his that I am dissatisfied with, but I am still the judge of God. It is very difficult to shift this perspective around 180 degrees, where God is my judge, and I am not in the position to judge him.

This is why God says to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” This series of questions, very sarcastic, are a dismissal of Job’s criticism of God. Job was suffering greatly and offered a very soft criticism of God: if we will be punished for wrong, then it would be nice if God would make it clearer what wrong we have done. The irony of Job is that we the reader know from the very beginning that his suffering is not because of any wrong he has done but because God allows Satan to put him to the test. The natural reaction of a modern person to reading the beginning of Job, where God allows this test, is to preside as judge over God: “How dare he allow such a thing?” But then I remember that I was not there either when God created the universe. Really, we are in the same position as Job. We do not know why God has done what he did, only that he did it.

In the Old Testament, God has people fight wars and execute others and many other things which I do not agree with at first sight, but God does not need my approval. I cannot fire him. Just because an act of God does not make sense to me does not mean that it is unreasonable. He is God no matter what I think. I do not stand as his judge. He will judge me. And on that day, I will see how his judgment of me is perfectly fair. How everything he has ever done is right and just. Until that day, I must strive to shift my perspective away from evaluating God. I am unqualified to do it.

October 4, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Job 19.21-27
Psalm 27.7-8a, 8b-9abc, 13-14 Resp. 13
Luke 10.1-12

Job is complaining today about his friends who have come to make his suffering worse. They come with advice about how he ought to handle the sickness. This is very easy to do: to see someone suffering greatly and begin offering advice. Job begs his friends to have mercy on him and leave him alone. Then he declares the reason why their advice is meaningless? “I know that my Redeemer lives”, he says. He is suffering from a serious and painful skin disease, and he says that even if his skin falls off, he will see his God in the flesh. In the midst of his suffering and illness, he has kept his eyes focused on the right place: heaven.

Hope is the virtue that keeps our eyes focused on what really matters, no matter our immediate circumstances. By Faith we believe in God, but hope is the reason this matters to us. Hope, in the darkest pit, turns us to God and gives us a reason for living. Hope takes many forms. Sometimes it surprises us when we least expect it with a glance of heaven. Sometimes it is found in the structure of everyday life, full of gentle reminders that this world is not enough. Without hope we will spend our live trying to build up a pile of money or just wandering from pleasure to pleasure. Happiness can be found in this world in limited doses, but chasing these ephemeral highs is enough to make us forget what really matters. If a person has hope, they remember.

Hope is not merely thinking about heaven. Any time we think about God rather than the mundane, that is hope at work. Every time we look at a homeless person with the eyes of love, that is hope at work. Hope does not take us out of this world, but it does transform what we experience. Temptation is defeated by hope. So many of our sins are simply because we forget that this world is not the only world. Job is a great example of hope: in the midst of his great suffering, he was thinking of God.

Hope is given by God, but, like every virtue, it is strengthened by practice. The more often we think of what really matters, the more often we will think of what really matters. If we spend some time each day focused on God, then, when we need him, we will find our mind naturally going that way.

October 3, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Job 9:1-12, 14-16
Psalm 88:10-15
Luke 9:57-62

Jesus tells someone, “Follow me.” The man asks permission to go bury his father first. Does he mean “Lord, give me a few days. My father just died.” or does he mean “Lord, let me go home until my father dies someday and I bury him.”? This second possibility is not so strange. I know many people who have plans for their life which they will not begin until their parents die. I know a woman who wanted to become Catholic for 60 years, and finally joined the Church at age 70 when her mother died.

The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. So were hundreds of thousands of Jews, surely including the man’s father if he were alive and well. We have no reason to suppose, and several reasons to doubt, that the disciples never saw their families once they started following Jesus. I think that the man’s father had just died or maybe was about to die, and he is telling Jesus that he will not be going to Passover since he has to bury his father.

Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead”, which is literally impossible. Dead people cannot bury someone; dead people cannot do anything. Many people interpret the sentence to mean, “Let those who are spiritually dead bury the physically dead people.” Perhaps this sounds profound at first, but the closer one considers this interpretation the stupider it seems. When everyone is a Christian, will the dead bodies just start piling up? I am very strongly of the opinion that Jesus did not say stupid things, and this is stupid. Moreover, it would make Jesus a hypocrite, since he was buried by some of his closest disciples. Burial is a good thing; it is a work of mercy. Jesus was not condemning the practice. Indeed, he is encouraging it.

I think that “dead” here means both those who have died and those who are going to die. In this sense it refers to all of us. We are all going to die. A hundred years from now, or maybe more, we will all be dead. The man asks permission to leave to perform a work of mercy, so Jesus agrees and sends him away, he says “go” not “come”. Jesus’ response could be expanded and rephrased this way, “Truly those who are going to die ought to bury those who have died. Go and bury your father, and preach the Kingdom of God when you get there."

October 2, 2012 - Memorial of the Guardian Angels

Exodus 23.20-23
Psalm 91.1-2, 3-4ab, 4c-6, 10-11 Resp. 11
Matthew 18.1-5, 10

It is very foolish to say, “I will pray directly to God rather than go through one of the saints.” In the economy of salvation, the direct action is less efficient than the indirect. God, wishing to protect us weak humans from the powerful forces of evil that surround us, has created angels with the simple task of guarding us. Angels are very powerful creatures, far stronger and far more intelligent than we are. Angels are capable of knowing the mysteries of the universe and can stop the sun in the sky, but then they are tasked with guarding humans, protecting us from evil though we constantly sin and undermine their efforts. But this is how things are in the Kingdom of God. The strongest serve the weak.

On earth, we do everything backwards: the weak serve the strong, but in the Kingdom of God, logic prevails. Why should the weak carry the strong, when the strong are the ones able to carry and the weak are the ones in need of help? In this world, the poor support the rich, but in the Kingdom of God, the rich have their riches in order to provide for the poor. If things were they way we take for granted in this world, we would serve the angels, but instead the angels serve us, not because we are greater but because we are weak and in need of their help. In this world, we respect a person or dismiss them based on how powerful they are. Imagine if we could see the angels who guard each person! It would be impossible to despise them when such beautiful, powerful, intelligent creatures are devoted to them.

Why do we try to be rich and powerful and ready to defend ourselves? If we could see our guardians who are ready to care for us! Every angel who speaks to a human says, “Be not afraid.” This is what they have been longing to say as they watch us fearfully stumble in this world. If we could only see them and the whole spectacle of the supernatural taking place around us, we would forget the useless things of this world, like who gets to have the most dead trees and shiny dirt. They protect us because God loves us, and they love God. So we need to become guardian angels too, caring for people whom God loves, who are weak and in need of our help.

October 1, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Job 1:6-22
Psalm 17:1-3, 6-7
Luke 9:46-50

The least among us is the greatest. Which leads to the questions: the least what? and the greatest what? The least wealthy among us are the greatest in need of our help. The least selfish among us are the greatest givers. The least powerful among us is in the greatest danger. This phrase cannot be absolutely true, since the least powerful among us are not always the greatest intellects and the least wealthy are not necessarily the greatest doers of good.

If we were to simply read it as, the least according to this world are the greatest according to the Kingdom of Heaven, we still have difficulties. How many saints have been kings like St. Louis or popes like Blessed John Paul II? Even someone like St. Therese of Lisieux, who tried to be a little as possible, was still not the least important person in the world. She was the novice master of her community, a position of some importance.

If we follow the logic of the gospel, we can discover something. Who is the greatest? God is the greatest. Who is the greatest man? Jesus Christ is the greatest man. He just said that whoever receives a child in his name receives him. In a certain sense, that child, who is among the least important of all, is the greatest, because, in a certain way of considering things, that child is Jesus Christ, just as you are Jesus Christ, and I am Jesus Christ. So we could translate the phrase: everyone, even the one who is least is (in a certain manner of speaking) the one who is the greatest: Jesus Christ.

When we see someone, whether on their throne in their castle or on the street corner in the city, it is possible to see Jesus Christ, if we know how to look. We do not look with our eyes but with love. To look with love at anyone created in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, is to see Jesus Christ. Even if we cannot see it, whether because our eyesight is so dim or because the image is so obscured, we can, thanks to Jesus, know it. We can know that our waiter is Jesus Christ. We can know that the person driving next to us is Jesus Christ. We will begin to see Jesus, and opportunities to love Jesus, everywhere we look.