Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Memorial of Saint John Bosco, Priest Lectionary: 324

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/013117.cfm

In the countryside around my hometown, one sees yellow yard signs with big black letters that say, "Eyes on Jesus." I used to find these humorous, until I realized that this was a quotation from the Epistle to the Hebrews, from our first reading today, in fact: "Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."

Jesus leads and perfects faith in the Gospel today. As Jesus responds to the desperate plea of Jairus to heal his daughter, he is interrupted by the woman with the hemorrhage. who touches his cloak and is immediately healed. He asks who has touched Him in order to teach His disciples about faith. They point out that many people in the crowd have touched Him, but as the woman steps forward Jesus tells her that her faith has healed her. She alone has touched Him in faith. Not only were her physical eyes fixed on Jesus; more importantly, her interior eyes of faith were fixed on Him. Only now does Jesus proceed to the house of Jairus. To external appearances, He is too late, but He responds "just have faith." At His word, the child is raised -- the very syllables He spoke are given to us: "Talitha koum."

Wow. There is a lot to unpack here. As Jesus leads the crowd and His disciples in particular to the house of Jairus, He perfects their faith. Exterior things like touching Him are fruitful when accompanied by faith. Faith in Him triumphs even over death. It is the interior life of faith that is essential from which external fruits and actions flow.

The Church uses the example of the woman with the hemorrhage to demonstrate how the sacraments work: external signs prompted by faith which are efficacious and fruitful.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 323

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/013017.cfm

One of the interesting facets of the March for Life is that it is a big Catholic reunion. I invariably see people from all over the place that I have known from various Catholic circles. It is a joy! During one of these encounters, I went to the bookshop of the National Shrine to find a book I was recommending to the young man I was meeting with. Of course, I also found one to pick up for myself! It is a collection of occasional essays by Fr. Jacques Philippe, who is about my favorite contemporary spiritual writer. Yesterday once I was back from the March and had a quiet day since the seminarians had a free weekend, I read the first essay and then followed up with another essay on a topic that caught my attention as one I need help with: peace. Although I do not think that I am possessed by "Legion," I often live in a way interiorly that resembles the poor possessed man in the Gospel today. My interior life is often the farthest thing from peaceful. No wonder I then make decisions or speak or act in a way that does not reflect peaceful good judgment. Fr. Philippe suggests that the solution is first to find peace, then to deal with the situations I am facing -- not the other way around.

Jesus acts in this way with the possessed man. He gets rid of Legion first, then man can clothe himself and act peaceably and reasonably. So often I do the opposite. I seek to control the situation first, hoping this will result in peace. What it does instead is produce poor decisions because good judgment results only from a peaceful interior. The lack of peace was something inside the possessed man that had to be driven out. It was not coming from his circumstances. My lack of peace is likewise interior. I can be peaceful in trying circumstances. I've done it. I also can be totally lacking in peace in serene circumstances. Peace is found within through faith in Who Jesus is and who I am in relation to Him. External circumstances do not change Him and my relationship to Him. As the Beatitudes tell us, the peacemakers are children of God.

Peace is a result of confidence, trust, and gratitude. These are characteristics of children of God. A lack of peace results not only in active hostility and aggression but also in passive fear, defensiveness, and separation. Walls and barriers, in other words, are not signs of peace, whether they are interior or exterior. At the end of the Gospel today, the man once possessed is now at peace and the townspeople are "seized with fear." They beg Jesus to go away, as the demons had done at the beginning. The once possessed and now peaceful man wants to remain with Jesus but instead follows His instructions to announce "all that the Lord in his pity has done" for him. Who is acting like a child of God?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 70

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012917.cfm

Sorry to be seeing things through the lens of the March for Life these days, but it's just where I am. These readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time are a great reminder of how to witness to the way of the Lord Jesus in the world. The way of the Lord Jesus is not a political movement, and it does not operate from a base of power. Just the opposite: God calls for a "people humble and lowly." We are to be those "who count for nothing." The Beatitudes must be our standard of life.

At the March this year, there was optimism about the political fortunes of the pro-life movement, perhaps too much optimism. Although the political situation may change and change even radically, there will always be need for compassion and support for those facing a crisis pregnancy. That will never change, and we must be those people. It was refreshing to hear the Vice President, the highest ranked person ever to address the March in person, speak this way:
"So I urge you to press on. But as it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.
I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we each of us do all we can to meet them where they are, with generosity, not judgment. 
To heal our land and restore a culture of life we must continue to be a movement that embraces all, cares for all, and shows respect for the dignity and worth of every person."
Let us not put our hope in princes (even princes like this one) but in the Lord Jesus. The Beatitudes of today's Gospel are the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7). As one of my beloved professors from seminary taught us, the Sermon of the Mount is the Constitution of the Christian Life. This standard of life applies across the board: the way, for example, we talk to and about the person across the hall or the street, as well as the person across the political spectrum or across the border. If we can become as small and gentle as the Lord directs, then we will rejoice for our reward "will be great in Heaven," and that's where it matters!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church Lectionary: 322

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012817.cfm

On the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, it is appropriate that we have readings on faith. You see, faith is a way of knowing, not a way of emoting. I had a frankly moving experience of faith while participating in the March for Life events yesterday but which lead to certitude. In particular, the experience of faith I had was at the Mass for young people that I attended in the morning at the DC Armory. It was the "realization of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen." In comparison to the Mass the night before at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception...well, there really isn't a comparison in human terms on the "evidence." The Armory is a dumpy old space that only has size and crowd capacity to recommend it. It's the overflow venue for the youth Mass held in the Verizon Center downtown. Humanly speaking, just about everything says "B team" about this celebration.

And yet...and yet I "realized" the reality of Mass more powerfully at this Mass than at the much grander-in-all-ways celebration the night before. For someone who has been doing things like this for a long time, I personally don't really enjoy these massive events. But I keep coming and, more importantly, bringing people to them. I realized why during this Mass at the Armory, triggered largely by the music which brought to mind so many young people I have known in my work over the years. I mystically saw their faith all at once at this Mass. And then I knew why I had done these things: oh yeah, Jesus is especially appreciated in the storm-tossed boat! My faith, that is my certitude, in Him was restored and strengthened. It is part of my life as a priest to be my part in this large body so that those with me can be the part they are to be. It makes sense.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Angela Merici, virgin Lectionary: 321

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/012717.cfm

I am writing from Washington today, here for the March for Life. I have to admit that I love Washington, even as I fear it. I love it for the story of our country that is shared in so many ways as one walks around the city. As people would say today, it's the "narrative." Washington still gives a great narrative of America.

And what of our narrative as Christians? And yes, it is a "narrative." Just look at how Jesus teaches: parables. "Without parables he did not speak to them." Our narrative as Christians is simply Him. But how often do I, do we, get off the narrative? It's bad PR, bad politics, and especially bad evangelization to go off the narrative! Don't get sucked into all the "fake news" swirling around us all the time. Our news, the Good News, is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. That's it.

We will see if the March for Life makes the news today. But what will be even more wonderful and remarkable is that "he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay." That's the story!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus, bishops Lectionary: 520/320

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012617.cfm

Back when I had two parishes, a small one and a smaller one, I used to say about the smaller one that the best thing about such a small parish is that everything is personal...and that the worst thing about such a small parish is that everything is personal!

For better or worse, everything about Christianity is supposed to be personal. Look at these two personal options for the first reading today, for example. I think that this is what Pope Francis means by "accompaniment": dealing with people personally and not institutionally. That's hard work, but the Church is a communion not a corporation. We really do have to measure out generously, especially as pastors of the Church. We can't hide behind procedures and policies because they are not personal. That doesn't mean that everybody gets what everybody wants, but everybody has to be treated as a person not as a commodity. It is very hard to say "no" person to person, but "no" can be the most pastoral response. "Yes" is often quite easy but not necessarily right. Just ask a parent. Sometimes it is "yes" for one thing or for one person and "no" for the next. You see, we need to love as God loves: each of us differently, not the same, because we are different and need different things. When truth and charity demand "no," then "no" it must be for the good of the person.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle Lectionary: 519

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012517.cfm

In the homiletics practicum that I am teaching, I thought it a good idea to read and hear some good homilies before we started working on our own. I intend to keep assigning homilies from great preachers throughout the history of the Church as the seminarians prepare their own. To start with, I had each seminarian read a homily by Msgr. Ronald Knox. One of these was written for the Church Unity Octave on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Msgr. Knox began by contrasting different types of conversions. He mentioned first a conversion like Bl. John Henry Newman's which was a conversion of conviction but not of manner of life. There are also those conversions that involve a change of the way one lives, more of a moral conversion. Msgr. Knox said that usually St. Paul's conversion is presented as a conversion of conviction, like Newman's. St. Paul is generally presented as still being the same sort of man but now at the service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than its enemy. Knox suggests that Paul's conversion was actually a conversion in both ways. He sets out to show that Paul has been rendered more tender, compassionate, and patient by his encounter with Jesus Christ as well as being convinced of the truth of the Paschal Mystery. Granted this change in Paul was more interior. He certainly kept charging about with tremendous zeal, perhaps even more zeal than before.

I would suspect that most of you probably don't need much of a conversion in convictions. Even your external mode of life is likely not in need of a major overhaul. I doubt that my readers are made up of heretics and notorious sinners, although I would be happy to be wrong about that. But I would suggest that most of us probably do need an interior conversion of life like St. Paul. Of course, this conversion will overflow to the external parts of our lives and might become quite radical in time. But it will begin inside, as we let go of certain attachments and instead cling more readily and joyfully to the Cross.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church Lectionary: 318

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012417.cfm

St. Francis de Sales is one of my favorites saints. Really. I know that I say that about a lot of saints, but he is at the very top.

He is an ordinary saint like the unworthy servant in the parable who simply did what he was supposed to do. St. Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life seems to me to be the "how to" book for lay Christians and even for secular clergy -- for anyone living "in the world." I don't think that he is as soft and gentle as he is sometimes portrayed, if that means indulgent. He calls for living a pretty intense life. But he does not see the things of this world as evil. He is no puritan. The life of devotion needs to come from within and then extend to the externals of life, not the other way around.

Listening to St. Francis de Sales makes Christianity make sense. It's not a cult. It is the clear and simple way of those who have encountered Jesus Christ and therefore want to follow Him. There are no short cuts on the way. It is pretty much the same every day. It is full of quiet joys and quiet love, as well as quiet struggles. And it leads to Heaven.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children Lectionary: 317

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012317.cfm

The Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. It's that time of year again. Except that it is true, it is hard to believe that unborn children have practically no legal protection in our country. What does it say about us that we cannot make room for unborn children? Well, it says about the same thing, only clearer and more dramatically, that we cannot come up with a just and compassionate immigration policy, that we cannot be troubled with the social problems of vast sections of our society, etc.

What does it say about us that we resort to violence on a massive scale against vulnerable life? Well, again, it says something similar to but only much worse than the fact that we attack each other with no regard for human dignity, that we revel in institutional violence of all sorts from protests to torture to sports, etc.

We simply do not have the dignity of the human person as the core of our moral vision. Instead, we have the autonomous self. In order to maintain this unnatural premise, selfishness and violence will always be justified. The vulnerable and powerless will always be the losers. And who is more vulnerable and powerless than an unborn child?

We must act instead from the premise of the dignity of the human person. To protect these children, we need to protect the dignity of their mothers especially. We must love them. We must help them. Their mothers, in our messed up system, are their strongest legal protection. Without their mother's protection, they don't have much. So let's protect the mothers who are so often themselves vulnerable and powerless. When the mother says "yes" to the child, then the child is protected legally, even now.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 67

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012217.cfm

Well, it sort of sounds like Advent again with our prophecy of light and hope from Isaiah, quoted and fulfilled in the Gospel. Hope is the key. It distinguishes Christian life.

I am involved in a very informal study group going through the Divine Comedy. We are at the very beginning and have just encountered those fearful gates of hell: "abandon hope all who enter here." The lack of hope is what distinguishes hell from purgatory in Dante. The damned are willing to talk with Dante at length whereas many of the souls in purgatory are in a hurry. They are going somewhere: Heaven!

This is the way it is for Christians in the world. We are people of hope. We are going somewhere -- else. We experience the same vicissitudes in this life as anyone else, but we see them in perspective. This why, for example, we should not get too elated or too dejected by things like politics. These things pass. Let's keep on the way to Heaven.

We are also going somewhere together. Jesus invites His Apostles into a community to follow Him. Don't try to go it alone. Stay connected, or get connected if you need to.

This perspective of hope matters even for more mundane things like dealing with the perpetual winter gloom of Ohio! OK -- it's a gloomy day (again) and I am actually a bit under the weather, but you know what? There is light, the light of Jesus Christ giving meaning and significance to all this. I want to have the attitude of the souls in Dante's Purgatory: bring in on!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr Lectionary: 316

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012117.cfm

Just what do you do with this Gospel? "He is out of his mind." And that's Jesus's family. Suffice it to say that Jesus is going to stir things up. We should not be surprised by strong reactions to Him. What is my reaction to Him?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Sebastian, martyr Lectionary: 315

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/012017.cfm

The personal element of the new covenant is reinforced by the calling of the Twelve or the Apostles. The Church is going to be founded upon these men whom Jesus has selected to follow Him and to remain with Him. This is the model that Jesus Himself sets for evangelization: friendship. I need to look no further than my father for a good example of this sort of evangelization. No body would ever leave our church without being greeted by him and invited back. Nobody that he know even for a short time would not be issued an invitation to come to church. And such invitations would just keep coming. It was completely natural to him. It helped that he was not afraid to be "awkward." He would engage in religious conversations readily. When I worked with FOCUS in the university, I was always so surprised how very timid otherwise quite poised young people were to bring up religion whereas it has always just seemed a natural thing to do. I would have to keep encouraging and reminding the student leaders to engage in conversation with those leaving Mass, not to let them just leave. These are the people, after all, who even got themselves through the doors on their own! To evangelize this way, we have to get over ourselves. Remember the direction of charity: outward!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 314

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011917.cfm

"He warned them sternly not to make him known."

There have been lines like this at the end of a number of miracle stories in the Gospels recently. What is this about? Of course, practically it didn't work. Nevertheless these requests by Jesus show us that unlike our crazy world, Jesus was not interested in how many "friends" or "likes" He has, to say the least. He does not seem to be founding a mass movement. His miracles are personal encounters. He wants people to come to Him and to form their own judgment about Him. He wants faith, and faith is not a fad. Jesus keeps moving on, not allowing a home base to develop. He especially does not want people to hear about Him from demons! For Jesus, all publicity was not good publicity. So let's give Him what He wants, ourselves. His invitation is to come and to follow. To remain.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 313

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011817.cfm

"But they remained silent."

Good ole passive aggression! Doesn't it makes us feel so superior...and so miserable? It tends to flourish where their is fear and lack of servant leadership. It also flourishes where there is no humility but rather contempt and distrust. It is always a failure of charity. You see, the direction of charity is always outward, toward the other. When we retreat in to silence, we cut off that outward direction. We turn back on self. We can never do this.

Far better if the Pharisees had said, "yes, we think that you are violating the Sabbath." That indicates some degree of interest in the other. But not the silence. The silence is about self. Even if the fear to speak is real, then speak to God. Pray for the person and the situation. Hardness of hard cannot long survive in a charitable heart, that is a heart directed out to God and to God in others.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony, Abbot Lectionary: 312

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011717.cfm

"The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."

For the Pharisees who were questioning Jesus, this answer was practically blasphemy. If Jesus were to answer today that the Son of Man is lord even of Saturday (and/or the weekend), He would be committing modern blasphemy. You see, the weekend is "me time," the sabbath of the Unholy Trinity of Me, Myself, and I. He would probably be taken out for stoning right on the spot, if he suggested that "all time belongs to Him" as we pray in the blessing of the new fire and Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Vigil. In one of his works, C. S. Lewis suggests that we can see just how generous we actually are (rather than how generous we think we are) with out time, if we look at how we respond to demands on the time that we think is ours: a vacation, a day off, a little break carved out of a busy day, etc. If we are peeved at having that time snatched away by a demand of charity, for example, then that shows our level of generosity. I don't score very well in this regard. About the best I can say for myself is that sometimes I end up like the son in the parable who says "no" at first but then relents and goes to do the father's bidding. But that surrender is liberating because it is true. All time really is His, and He shares it with me freely. I actually had a bad dream last night that frightened me, and I was having a hard time getting it off of my mind. I was prompted by it to give thanks to God for what I have, including my time. I began to pray and the fear subsided. That's real. The Son of Man is lord even of...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 311

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011617.cfm

Sorry for the terse postings lately. I have been succumbing to a sinus infection, thinking it was a bad cold and so have not been feeling the best. I have been to the doctor now and have meds and so am on the mend.

What is Jesus saying? I confess that I often ask myself this question. The hardest part is when someone else asks me what He is saying, and I have to offer some sort of plausible answer. In today's Gospel, for example, I don't really understand His answer about fasting, and I don't really understand the parables about mending cloth and about new and old wineskins. And I don't understand if and how any of these things go together. I might come up with something for each one of them, but taken together I am at a loss.

How about this for the first point on fasting? There is a time to fast and a time to feast. We definitely have the part down about a time to feast. I am not so sure that we take fasting seriously enough any more and so perhaps we are missing something. Maybe the parable about the cloth is an explication of this insight. We should not rush off to new things until we have been seasoned in the old. On the other hand, we can't just keep doing the old things in the old ways. It seems to me the deepest interpretation of the new wine is the Incarnation. Our old sinful humanity has to be transformed into the new man to receive the new divine life. The Blessed Virgin is the literal embodiment of this. She is the new wineskin, ready for the new wine.

The best that I can come up with, taking all of this together as the Church gives it to us today, is that the old has been surpassed but not superseded. The new has come, but He comes along the old ways: Jesus goes to John for baptism. That's my best shot.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 64

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011517.cfm

Ah, John the Baptist once again! The prophet. I was once told in my Anglican Sunday School growing up that a prophet is not so much someone who see the future but one who sees the present. Today's Gospel is a good example of this definition. Jesus is there for all to see, but only John sees who He really is: the Lamb of God and the Son of God. John, himself, says that he did not know Jesus until the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus' supernatural identity to Him. We have been given a prophetic spirit in our baptism so that we can see the supernatural realities around us. Too often we neglect this gift.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 310

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/011417.cfm

"The word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword."

It sure is -- no, He sure is! In the Gospel, Jesus, the living Word of God, comes across Matthew, the tax collector, and calls him: "Follow me." At these effective words, Matthew follows immediately, undergoing an instantaneous conversion.

If you are sick, come to the doctor and do what He tells you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Hilary, bishop and doctor Lectionary: 309

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011317.cfm

"When Jesus saw their faith, He said to him..."

Mission. As Jesus's public ministry unfolds, the missionary aspect appears very soon. The "four men" carrying the paralytic have heard about Jesus and do something in response. They pick up their paralyzed friend and bring him to Jesus. And they do so insistently and awkwardly, dismantling the roof in order to get their friend to Jesus. And it works, both spiritually and physically.

Even here in the seminary, even when we are not on apostolic works, we should have this missionary heart and spirit. Remember the patron of the missions: St. Therese, a cloistered nun. By giving the spiritual gifts first, Jesus reminds us to start on the supernatural level. Pray like St. Therese for the missions and missionaries. Pray for individual souls. Bring every situation to Jesus before going anywhere else. What a great way to end gossip and criticism!

Faithful, persistent prayer is answered and is effective. And then do on the natural level what you can to get souls to Jesus. You are not the answer. He is. He will see your faith and act.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 308

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011217.cfm

"Oh, that today you would hear his voice, 'harden not your hearts.'"

It is hard enough to talk to God, but just try listening. Actually, I don't think it is as hard as we might think. The Church is giving us all kinds of ways to listen to Him. The familiar repetition of the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours attunes us to His voice. So too the cyclical scripture readings in the Mass and the Office of Readings provide a running conversation with Him. The reflective repetitions of the rosary also open our ears to Him. But we must listen. Listening is a response to what someone else is doing. Too often, we can let these times of prayer be about what we are doing, rather than what He is. And yes, there is our own mental prayer. The time we set aside for Him. This is so important. Don't fall for any of the excuses not to engage in mental prayer.

And let our hearts be open to Him. It is a sad and terrible thing to hear God and then to turn away, having hardened one's heart. "Do whatever He tells you." And even better, let's do whatever He tells us without question and enthusiastically. The waiters filled the water jars "to the brim." Let's have the docile heart of the leper in today's Gospel: "If you wish." Then we are primed to hear, "I do will it."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 307

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011117.cfm

Go read the readings today. Now. The first reading explains it. The Gospel shows it. What is "it"? Jesus is the Savior. Repent and believe.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 306

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/011017.cfm

"What is man that you are mindful of him?"

Good question. Why does God love us so much? Yet He does. The love of God is revealed fully to us in Jesus Christ, as in today's Gospel He teaches with authority and exercises authority over demons. God's love is revealed in all the other good works Jesus accomplishes in His newly begun public ministry. Before we get too analytical, we should first wonder at the love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ. That wonder will lead to knowing...Him.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Baptism of the Lord Lectionary: 21

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010917.cfm

The Baptism of the Lord is a mysterious and important event. All four evangelists record it. It marks the beginning of Jesus's public ministry. But why was Jesus baptized? He certainly did not need to be. He especially did not need the baptism of repentance that John preached. Jesus is baptized so that we will follow Him into the waters of baptism that will flow from His pierced heart. The greatest effect of Christian baptism is being adopted as God's children. We become by adoption what Jesus is by nature. We are incorporated by baptism into His Mystical Body and become sharers in His Sonship. This gives us a new supernatural identity, dignity, and mission that was lacking before.

For most of us, incorporating this new identity is a struggle. As sons of Adam, we are marked by sin. This is the condition of fallen humanity. It is the source of all the cries of anguish throughout history. It is the source of our own frustration that St. Paul sums up when he asks why he does the things that he does not want and doesn't do the things that he intends.

But we have a new life by baptism that is supernatural -- divine, even. We need to live in this reality, even as we struggle in our human nature and in a world marked by sin. This our hope, our joy, and our confidence. As I get up again and again, I must say, "I am a son of God!" There are many voices from Satan to my own that accuse me of being something else. I must remember the saving waters of baptism flowing from the heart of Christ crucified and begin again. I am a son of God!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Epiphany of the Lord Lectionary: 20

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010817.cfm

The visit of the Magi was costly. No, I do not particularly mean the gifts that they brought. It was their innocent but imprudent visit to Herod that set in motion the slaughter of the innocents. Of course, it was not their fault, but one thing did lead to another. I doubt that Herod would have been too interested in some wild story of a bunch of shepherds. It was the worldly wealth and wisdom of the Magi that made Herod pay attention.

You see, cost doesn't deter God. He will take care of the innocents, as well as their mothers, etc. He will take care of all the suffering in the world by his own suffering, death, and resurrection. How this will be finally accomplished, we don't know. How will every tear be wiped away and every wrong be made right? We do not fully know yet. It's God's justice, it will happen.

God allows for the obtuseness of the Magi's approach to Jesus. He lets them find their way, albeit with the help of a big star! He does so for us. He lets them and us take responsibility for discipleship. And that costs.

Memorial of St. Raymond of Penafort Lectionary: 210

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010717.cfm

Sorry for the delay again -- I'm back at the seminary!

One line struck me in today's Gospel of the Wedding Feast at Cana: "So they filled them to the brim." Following the Blessed Virgin's instructions to "do whatever he tells you," the servers at the feast not only fill the water jars but do so "to the brim." They follow the Lord's instructions enthusiastically. Let's do the same.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Andre Bessette Lectionary: 209

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010617.cfm

Since we don't observe the Epiphany in this country on January 6, we get to celebrate the feast day of St. Andre Bessette. I was talking to a young man who is in formation for the Congregation of Holy Cross, St. Andre's community. In this country this religious congregation is best known for running the University of Notre Dame. (In Canada, it is a different story, thanks to St. Andre! Go read about the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.) In any case, this young man credits St. Andre's canonization with the renewal going on in Holy Cross, a renewal that is about rediscovering the roots of the congregation, including the founder, Bl. Basil Moreau.

It is a good lesson to learn from St. Andre: pay more attention to porters than to presidents!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop Lectionary: 208

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010517.cfm

Today Jesus continues to gather his disciples. He is patient with them and penetrating in understanding them. It is all to easy for us to be like Cain to our brothers and resort to hate. This is not the way of the Lord Jesus.

I am so grateful to those who accept me, with my many faults. I am trying to be more accepting of others in this way. I want to be more critical of myself and much less of others. And even of myself I need to be critical only in a way that leads to conversion rather than to negativity.

St. John Neumann shows this sort of understanding and humility in the Office of Readings for his feast today. This was because he was a true disciple of Jesus. He got it. He followed the master. I want to do the same.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious Lectionary: 207


Awkward. That's the word for it. The prophet, St. John the Baptist, declares Jesus to be the Lamb of God. Awkward. Andrew and another of John's disciples follow Jesus. Awkward. He turns to ask them what they are looking for. Awkward. They reply by asking where He is staying. So awkward as to be nonsensical.

As you can see I like the word "awkward" as it is used by the college students I have been dealing with for years now. I find it to be a more accurate description of what some mean by "intimate" when talking about Christian formation: the need to be "intimate" with Jesus, for example. That sounds almost creepy to me, but I think "awkward" nails it on the head. You see, for these young people, being "awkward" is generally and profoundly undesirable. So to be willing to be "awkward" with someone really does required a high degree of intimacy, or a longing for it.

In this passage, St. John the Baptist and Our Lord have the "affective maturity" (another catch word in formation) to be comfortably awkward. St. John the Baptist's penetrating identification of Jesus as the atoning sacrificial victim betrays a deep intimacy with God. Jesus' comfort with this attribution and with the awkwardness of the disciples who follow Him manifests His intimacy with our humanity. The inarticulate longing in the disciples for the ultimate which they recognize in Jesus causes them to be awkwardly intimate with Jesus despite themselves. As we will see St. Andrew is good in other awkward moments.

As we begin this new year, allow yourself to be awkward with Jesus. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton certainly was. She allowed her love of Jesus to move her from social respectability to being a social outcast. Awkward, indeed, and very intimate.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Memorial of the Holy Name of Jesus Lectionary: 206

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010317.cfm

The Holy Name of Jesus reveals the Lord Jesus to us more profoundly than we may think. His name being on our lips keeps His face before us. Our ears being attuned to His name helps us to seek and to find Him. We become more dependent on Him so that He becomes in fact what His name asserts: savior.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church Lectionary: 205


Yesterday, I urged prayer. Today, I urge repentance. Here come St. John the Baptist again: "Make straight the way of the Lord." There is a sinful area of my life that I am resolved to surrender to the Lord and His grace and mercy this year. (There are actually quite a few, but I am going to focus on this one.) I need to remain in the Lord so as not to be put to shame when he comes. Are you being called to repentance?

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God Lectionary: 18

http://usccb.org/bible/readings/010117.cfm

Again, sorry about the delay in posting. I have been on the road a good bit the last few days.

There is so much that can be said about this day. It has been wonderful this Advent and Christmas season that I have seen things that I have not seen before. I think that the discipline of these daily reflections has something to do with it. I always start with what the Church has to say.

Today I want only to encourage us to imitate Mary in her prayerful heart: "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." We must first be people of prayer.

1st UCat priest

Fr. Josh Altonji and some UCat friends in Birmingham!

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