Who You Are is Who I Want to Be

Image result for christIf you think back to your English class and how to write good fiction, you might have heard that there are various classic conflicts out of which come our stories: man vs. man.  Man vs. nature.  Man vs. himself.  Man vs. supernatural.  Man vs. technology.  Man vs. society.  I recall a few years ago watching the end of The Amazing Spider-man and the main character, Peter Parker is sitting in class and his teacher says, “It is said that there are only 10 plots in all of fiction, but I believe there’s only one: ‘Who am I?’”  She’s referring to another broader list of plot formats, but I think that her simplification of “Who am I?” could also sum up those various conflicts.  Image result for amazing spider man classroomUltimately, they each involve man (or woman) trying to discover who he is – and all of those plot conflicts have to deal with identifying who he is in various situations.  For example, we could say The Terminator (classic woman vs. technology) asks “Who am I?” in the life of the heroine, as she is pitted against the technology that is trying to hunt her down, and the story reveals if she is the kind of person that can survive or not?  Does she have those virtues necessary based upon who she is in this encounter?

It sounds good — you can use the question “Who am I?” in all of those plot conflicts to analyze stories.  But all of those plot conflicts from English class regard fiction.  In other words they come from the main character who flows out of the imagination of the author.  They should tell us something about the author.  We can get a lot about the author from his characters, but a brilliant author might write about a very simple minded character.  Or a very moral author might write about some awful villains.  The author defines the characters.  We only get to the root of who the characters and why they are in the story when we know the author.  In the Gospel, something very interesting is happening.  God has come down to mankind – to us – to the characters – and He has asked us who He is.Image result for second vatican council bishops

One of the most famous passages from the Second Vatican Council is that Christ, the final Adam…fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”  In other words, only if we ask the question: Who is Jesus? And seek the answer to that question will we truly find out the deepest truths about ourselves.  Why?  Because we did not make ourselves.  Our parents did not make themselves.  Our cause is hidden in Jesus and you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God (I Cor 3:23).   Who we are is revealed only by the Divine Author.Image result for ear

Let’s go back to that first reading.  “The Lord God opens my ear that I may hear.”  If we went back just one verse, Isaiah says, “Morning after morning He awakens my ear to hear as disciples do.”  Disciples of God are those who are taught the truth, and not any truth – but the truth of how to become more and more like God.  Isaiah goes on to say that he is abused by those who pluck his beard and spit on him as they insult him.  Yet, who can oppose him?  He has the Lord to help him.

Image result for elijah chariotJust before todays’ Gospel, Jesus had multiplied the bread and fish for the second time and was then still questioned by the Pharisees and goaded: “show us a sign from heaven.”  The bread didn’t rain from the sky.  To which He replies that they’ll get nothing.  So right after that episode Jesus finds a deserted place and asks first who others say that He is.  Just think of the answers.  John the Baptist – John had just been killed and the evidence had been shown to many witnesses.  Elijah.  Elijah had lived over 800 years ago and been taken into heaven on a flaming chariot.  In other words, the crowds thought of Jesus as someone who was either back from the dead or 800 years old.  That’s pretty special.  But Jesus asks not only the Apostles the next question, but us as well: Who do you say that I am?  He does not ask the Apostles and He does not ask us this question as if we were part of the crowd.  He considers us among the Apostles as we are brought into the sacred intimacy of the Gospel and He desires to drink of our faith.

Who do You say that I am?  He asks the apostles separate for they and we have shared in divine secrets.  He asks us as if we were on His level.  As if we were gods.  Faith is the doorway into eternal light.  Peter responds that Jesus is the Christ.  We know that in Matthew’s Gospel – it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to Peter, it was God the Father.  When we recognize that Jesus is God – and that Jesus reveals man to himself…we are called to conform more and more with divinity.  That is our calling.  Image result for opens the door

Faith opens the door.  Love is what moves us into the house and begins to live in it.  St. James tells us that if we have faith, but we do not have works – it doesn’t do any good.  It is dead.  If you have a key to a door, but you never use it – what good is it?  How can you prove it actually works?  We must perform those works of love and mercy by actually clothing the naked and feeding the hungry.

One of my favorite films is Gattaca in which two sons are always competing and each summer vacation they sneak away and play chicken by swimming out to sea.  The younger son always wins because he is healthier and supposed to be genetically perfect.  But on pivotal year the older son just keeps going out until the younger even begins to fail and drown.  The older rescues his brother and upon returning the Anton, the younger asks, “How are you doing this Vincent?” Vincent responds, “You want to know how I did it?  This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.”  Christ reveals to us that we are children of God and as such we can imitate Him and give everything.

Image result for gattaca swimming

Jesus is of course ready to give His entire life, because He knows He can.  When Peter tries to step in and contradict Jesus, He is contradicting His very words of Jesus’ divinity – as if Jesus was not quite strong enough to give that much.  But He is God and He teaches us that there is no limit to how much we can give in love.  Who am I?  Not much.  But who is God?  If God is our love, than we can endure any conflict.Image result for christ last supper

A Most Familiar Enemy

Image result for bored fishPerhaps you’ve been here before: You are in the waiting room of the dentist’s office and you are a little early….and you don’t have your phone.  You tell yourself, “Stay calm…Don’t act alarmed.  Maybe there’s a magazine.”  You glance to the stack on the table.  There are only ancient issues of People and cycling magazines…  You glance at the artwork on the walls…two pictures of random patches of black and red paint.  The music that filters through the speakers above are the songs that you have been trying to avoid since 2003.  The smell in the air is of a carpet that had recently been vacuumed, full of settling dust and old motor of a dirt devil.  Then you spy a fish tank with three fish and a submerged diving helmet, but even the fish must have grown old swimming around and through the diving helmet enough times till now they don’t so much swim as glide gently downwards in the tank along with current the water.  You have been cornered by the greatest enemy facing Modern Man: Boredom!

Image result for candy rack store

The same feeling hits you at the checkout line….or Math class…or even a movie that should have ended 20 minutes ago….Boredom can strike anywhere!  Think of the checkout lane.  You are surrounded by all kinds of sweet candies that could give you pleasure, but they are not a real cure to thoughts of boredom.  We are tempted to look at the sad pain of the celebrities in the tabloids.  We choose pain over boredom.  This is why we find warfare so fascinating.  The darkness of war gets our attention more than trite pleasures, because it jolts our spirit out of boredom.  During peacetime, we substitute sports and gambling – ritualized forms of risk so that we can feel alive.  The modern life can be very predictable and controllable, but also unsurprising and dull.  Our souls were made for more.Image result for bored person

Peter Kreeft writes that “Jesus is the only man in history who never bored anyone.”  If our idea of Jesus fails us by being boring (as has been the case in our culture) we do not have the real Jesus.  Unfortunately, this word “Jesus” that we praise has become a controversial and embarrassing name to us.   Kreeft says that no one is embarrassed to talk about Buddha or Moses or Muhammad, like we are embarrassed to talk to non-Christians and even to each other about Jesus.  If you mention Jesus, the temperature in the room either rises or it drops really fast.  It is the most non-neutral name in the world.  Why?  Jesus confronts us personally.  To the fear of boredom and of fear of embarrassment, our reading says: Be strong, fear not!  Here is our God.  We should be able to say that right now.  We are in in His House.  He is on our lips.  Yet we know that most if not everybody has been bored at Mass.  Why?  Well, we must not be connecting with Jesus. Image result for jesus

Kreeft goes so far as to say that “in response to the miracle in our life that is Jesus – we have produced an almost equally amazing miracle.  As Jesus turned water into wine, we have turned wine back into water…turning the intoxicating wine of the Gospel into a mushy grape jelly.  He came to light a fire, and we have found a way to water it down.”

In our wealth we forget that we need Jesus, but He is not only the cause of our regular food and our drink, but more importantly of the food and drink of the soul.  You may go weeks without really encountering a poor person dressed in shabby clothes as St. James describes in the second reading – with your need to pay attention to them and serve them.  But I doubt you go a day without running into someone who is spiritually undernourished or someone who does not know how to dress themselves in charity. Image result for arrogant man

How can you tell if someone is undernourished?  Well, one of the symptoms is sloth.  I’m not speaking of laziness.  The slothful person might run here and there and everywhere, but they have a passive will.  It is inactive and even its ability to desire is weak in the presence of the True Good.  In other words, the person is needing God’s Presence to lift them up, and He is here – but they don’t properly find the interest in God.  Kreeft says it is the soul’s refusal to eat its food.  So we turn to the spiritual junk food which is violence or we remain in boredom which is a kind of spiritual anorexia.

What is it that these souls need?  Most will admit that Jesus is good.  Some will even admit that He is true — perhaps even His Church is true — some even admit that they should go there, but they just can’t find the desire.  What is missing is beauty.  Beauty is the answer to boredom.  We have forgotten beauty.  More from Kreeft: “Deep truth heals your mind, and deep goodness heals your will, but deep beauty wounds your heart.  Beauty hurts.”  Beauty relieve boredom because beauty is what our soul is made to love.  “Beauty turns our head whenever we see it because it turns our heart.”  There is pain in beauty, because we want to reflect what is beautiful.  “We have never seen anything under the sun more beautiful than Christ.” Image result for easter lily

Think of this man who was deaf and dumb.  Jesus performs one of His most interesting cures on this man – spitting and touching his tongue, groaning aloud…He heals this man so that the world of sound is now available…the man can finally speak – and Jesus says: don’t talk about this.  Why?  That would be the most natural reaction – to simply take all that energy and dissipate it with talk.  Perhaps Christ wants the man to be continually renewed inside with the wonder and joy that could come from revealing his love of God through his actions rather than his mere words.  Ephphatha: be Open!  This is the beauty that the world needs to awaken from its boredom.

Image result for crucifixion

Let the Law Change You

Image result for animal farmIn a famous little book called “Animal Farm,” there is restlessness among the horses, chickens, sheep, and dogs who are all stirred up by the pigs until they revolt against their human rulers in anger.  They feel they were mistreated and had begun to see humans as unfair abusers of power who “did not produce anything.”  So, the animals start kicking and biting them and chase them out and in an effort to maintain order and not to sink as low as the manipulation of their previous masters, the pigs wrote on the barn wall the Seven Commandments of Animalism.  They were:

  • Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
  • Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
  • No animal shall wear clothes.
  • No animal shall sleep in a bed.
  • No animal shall drink alcohol.
  • No animal shall kill any other animal.
  • All animals are equal.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve read the whole book, but as I recall the pigs (who are the brains) behind Animalism over time begin to change the commandments.  The pigs move into the farmhouse claiming they needed a quiet place to think if they were going to do all the mental work for the farm.  Related imageThey begin to eat in the kitchen, use the drawing room for recreation and sleep in the beds.  Now, some of the animals simply shrug it off believing that the leading pig (Napoleon) was always right, but one of them goes back to the Commandments.  Wasn’t there one against sleeping in a bed?  And on the wall it reads 4) No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.  One of the pigs explains, “You have heard that we pigs now sleep in the beds of the farmhouse?  And why not?  You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds?  A bed merely means a place to sleep in.  A pile of straw in a stall is a bed, properly regarded.  The rule was against sheets, which are a human invention.  We have removed the sheets from the farmhouse beds, and sleep between blankets.”  They were true pigs in a blanket.  And the story goes on until every law is altered.  The pigs even learn to walk on two legs and the very first law becomes “Four legs good, two legs better.”

Image result for ten commandmentsOften we think of sin as breaking The Commandments – meaning we fail to observe one of them.  This would be the case if someone steals something from someone else….classic breaking of the commandments.  But adding to the commandments or changing them is also a problem.  The pigs add to their commandments whenever they like to justify themselves or even to put themselves on a pedestal.  God warns against this in the first reading where it says “you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.” Of course we have to interpret the Law, and we are always being tempted to enshrine one or another interpretation and even apply it unwittingly to others.

Image result for pharisees   By the time of Christ, the Pharisees had established hundreds of rules which they kept sacred.  Today, Jesus is questioned about why His disciples do not wash their hands very much.  Jesus is not against washing hands.  Remember how He Himself washes His apostles’ feet?  The problem is that the Pharisees are not trying to be sanitation experts keeping you from infection.  They are to be religious leaders who are supposedly trying to get people to heaven.  Yet, they are teaching that this external practice of how you get ready to cook or eat your food is the path to holiness – that is that external cleanliness is the path to holiness.  Remember Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”  Purity of heart is the path to holiness and it hasn’t a thing to do with washing or dirtying your hands before you eat.  Image result for noah's ark

What are The Commandments?  Think of the ark.  Do you remember how evil the world became and God decided to start over with the exception of Noah?  The ark is this structure that Noah builds and it holds a microcosm of all of the creation he was supposed to save within it.  It is an image of the harmony of God’s wisdom.  All of the animals and his family are spared by this external structure that will guide them over the chaos of purifying water.  Later, when the Israelites leave Egypt they are to become one people.  How is that going to be possible?  Well, they are given a structure – they are given the DNA, the genetic code for how to become the children of God – and they carry it around in a golden box that is also called the ark.  The ark contains the microcosm of how everything is supposed to interact to establish peace and love with God and each other.  The problem is that the ark and the commandments were still a very external thing to the Israelites.

Christ comes and shows us how to see the Law.  It is not a tool to prop ourselves up.  It is not a weapon to beat others down.  The Law is the wisdom behind the majesty of the entire universe.  But to live it and maintain the integrity of our understanding we have to first apply it to our own souls.  The Pharisees were right to seek a more thorough purification – only they needed to look inwards. Our own souls are to be an ark to carry the living wisdom of God within them.  Only then can we finally find the peace that is dynamic enough to adapt to our broken world and the love that is willing to sacrifice everything for the Other. Image result for pulling weeds

In fact to enshrine the Commandment in our hearts, “Thou shall not kill,” we have to forgive others who we most resent.  To enshrine in our hearts the Commandment “Thou shall not commit adultery,” we have to root out any habit of lusting after others.  We have to work at ripping out the weeds that grow in our souls if we want to reflect God and begin to see Him in the Creation He has designed.   God certainly takes us safely through water in Baptism, but as we continue to go through the spiritual wilderness of life, it is the sacrament of reconciliation that enables us to know that our wisdom is in accordance with God’s Word.   When we are absolved we know that grace is resting safely back within the ark of our hearts. Image result for gothic church

In the end, the satire of Animal Farm is just a clever means to reveal the tragedy of communism.  Yet if we alter the wisdom of God to conform it to our wayward hearts like the pigs, than we will become like the very creatures we despise.  On the other hand if we allow our hearts to take on the design of Eternal Wisdom through the purification of baptism and reconciliation we are joined to the God we love!  The final ark of the Church is composed of all of us receiving Christ and keeping Him through the wisdom that neither adds nor subtracts from Christ, but seeks to multiply His Presence.

Preferring the Best

Image result for st. louis king of franceSo, the game “would you rather” can be a fun way to break the ice with people.   For example you can see what people value by asking, “Would you rather lose all of your money and valuables or all of the pictures you have ever taken?”  Or maybe how they want others to see them by asking “Would you rather your shirts be always two sizes too big or one size too small?”  Yesterday was the Feast of St. Louis and he himself enjoyed asking “would you rather?”  You see his mother Queen Blanche used to tell him when he was a boy….now don’t judge her when you hear this….but she used to tell him, “I love you my dear son as much as a mother can love a son, but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should ever commit a mortal sin.”  Okay, that sounds harsh.  But what she is really saying is, “Louis, I love you and I want the greatest good for you – that is that you go to heaven through the most perfect relationship with God that you can have.  I would rather that you be lost to me in this life, yet be asleep in the Lord and at home with Him, than that you be with me – but have lost the grace and love in your soul and risk eternal distance from God and from myself.”  So one day King Louis asked Sieur de Joinville, his friend and historian, “What is God?”  Joinville answered, “That which is so good that there could be nothing better.”  St. Louis replied, “Well said.  Now tell me, would you rather be a leper or commit a mortal sin?”  “I’d rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper!”  St. Louis later took him apart and corrected him in private.  For St. Louis everything was for the glory of God and the good of his subjects.  St. Louis is a saint because he would rather die to himself 1000 times than mortally sin against any of them. Image result for crucifixion

Today, Christ is trying to correct another kind of oversight in His followers.  But rather than lead us through the turning point of having horror of sin, He is trying to lead us past this stage to the turning point of seeing our capacity for union with Him.  What He will do on the cross will be so “right” that it will give us a chance to have all that we have done wrong erased.  But if He is right, it is not just that it is a huge sigh of relief that our past can be purified….rather it is a monumental colossal reason to rejoice, for Christ has come to share what He is with us – completely.

With regards to Christ, He is giving us His flesh from the Cross.  Now, these people who walk away in disbelief, in their defense, have never seen Christ die on the Cross.  Now that He has yielded Himself up to the trial of death and Resurrection, we have a great opportunity to believe.  No, we have not died and are not yet able to see perhaps the full eternal value that His Flesh has given to our bodies.  But, if we wait to trust Him until we die then – isn’t it too late?  Faith will not be required, and so we have no promise that we can show our support of Jesus at that point.

Image result for eucharistWhy did Christ’s followers leave Him?  Well, they said His teachings on His Flesh and Blood being real food and drink was a hard teaching.  Who could listen to it?  It seems that they thought Jesus was insisting that His flesh somehow be cut up in pieces to be served to them.  He does not correct them that they will eat His flesh, but He asks them another question: “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before [in heaven]?”  In other words, He is not what they think – for He came from heaven…and He is going back there in one piece.  It is from Heaven, that He will send us His spiritual flesh, the New Manna.  When Mary received the Holy Spirit upon her at the Incarnation Christ took flesh from Mary in her womb, but she remained distinct from Christ whose Body was born from her.  In the outpouring of the Spirit upon the bread and wine, we have His Flesh and Blood before us in a way that we can all eat together and through the centuries to be joined into His Mystical Body.  This is why we are called to time and again receive Him each Sunday, so that we the Mystical Body can pulse with His presence in us.

Image result for eucharist supper of lambIf you ever wonder why the Church isn’t doing more or looking more like Christ, note that Jesus says that the Flesh is of no avail.  We cannot merely receive the Body of Christ physically.  We must only receive Him if we already share in His Spirit.  One of the aspects of His Spirit that is unmistakable is humility.  God humbles Himself so low in this mystery – He hides from us under the appearance of bread and wine.  Everything seems so natural.  Believing in anything always implies that we also humble ourselves.  In humility we fast before communion, we go to confession regularly to be free of sin, we physically put on better clothing.  We listen and trust that the God of Heaven has come down to us and in our little humility we meet God in His great humility. Image result for husband and wife church

Humility is central to the words of St. Paul commanding us to live this communion out in the family.  The family is to serve the Lord in body and spirit.  The wife is to serve the Lord by serving her husband in everything – that takes humility.  Notice how much more is instructed than from the husband to ensure he does not take advantage of his wife.  He is to serve the Lord by being ready even to give his life for His bride, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her.  Not all women are capable of being biological mothers, and yet the vocation of women as mothers is a calling to welcome new life in their own flesh.  This great act of charity is how each of us has come into the world.  Husbands exercise their true authority to the extent that they protect and nurture their wives and as an extension of their own bodies – even to the point of offering up their flesh in imitation of Christ.  May we all seek union with Christ above all things knowing that our mortal flesh and our mortal lives are passing, but the glory of God has been extended to His saints, and can be extended to us provided that we would not rather have anything else.     Image result for communion of saints

Courage Required

Image result for fireman“The days are evil.”  So says St. Paul in the Second Reading and we know the Word of God always rings true.  We, the Church, are in some dark times.  We must recall that Christ was born, Christ died, and Christ founded the Church (that is He drew us into His Body all so that He might continue to work through us)….and to fight evil.  And He has won the war.  Yet, we have not yet seen the triumph of the Last Day – we are still called upon to fight evil in His Name.

I bring all of this up, due to the news from the last three weeks which has only gotten worse.  If you are not familiar with some of the bigger stories, a leading bishop of the United States who had been made a cardinal, has been discovered to be a sexual predator and has been for the last 50 years.  To make matters worse, it seems difficult to believe that his conduct was unknown to others in authority.

This past week, the Grand Jury report out of Pennsylvania has exposed seventy years of clerical sexual abuse across 6 different dioceses with staggering numbers of priests and victims involved.  And it was all hidden away.

Image result for house on fireA brother priest put it this way: the house is on fire.  Just as people were beginning to think that the Church was on the mend – this recent scandal opens a lot of wounds.  To make it worse, whereas my recollection of the scandal in 2002-2003 involved the priesthood, this scandal has started with a cardinal – the highest level of authority.  In fact, this round has revealed that some of those who were telling us that the first scandal was being handled properly were involved in brushing their own deeds under the carpet.  So, any healing that we felt was taking place is not only ripped back, but it is difficult to see where to authentically let new trust and hope begin to grow again.

In the face of all of this we could become understandably loaded down and depressed.  If depression is anger turned inwards, than depression throughout the Church could turn us against each other and we could lose our charity.  Depression and despair are understandable – but they are not helpful.  When faced with the corruption of the Image result for christ whip money changersTemple, Christ lets Himself get angry with an anger that is directed outward.  He even makes a whip and drive away the money-changers.  His anger is not directed at individuals.  His anger does not last forever, but His anger is effective.  He was righteously angry at corruption and it moved Him to take action.

Any anger that you may have over the scandals and the cover-up is understandable too…and it can even be a good reaction if our anger moves us to have courage.  If we say the Church is on fire, our impulse (perhaps like others) would be to run out of the Church to whatever we perceive to be “safer”.  Instead, let anger that we have motivate us to be courageous.  The world needs the Church and the Church right now needs men and women to run into the fire to rescue those who are in the danger of being lost and to preserve all is good, true and valuable.

The Church is the house that Wisdom has built, as described in the first reading.  She is holy not because we have decided to associate ourselves with Christ.  The Church is holy because Christ has decided to associate Himself with us.  Christ will never abandon His Church.  It is His Body.  She has taken on new wounds by sinful members, but she herself is always pure.  The world needs the purity that can only be found in the Eucharist, and so can only be found in the Church.

Men and women have followed Christ in His call to chastity for the sake of the Kingdom for nearly 2,000 years.  Chastity is a virtue.  It is a positive reality – a power, by which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit through prayer and even fasting to win control over our minds and hearts and bodies, so that we can give ourselves away in love.  Christ is so perfectly in control of Himself that He can give Himself away to us in the Eucharist.  Everyone is called to chastity – men and women, priests and laity.Image result for the eucharist

Clerical celibacy is a discipline that has been lived by the clergy of the Church for all of her history and has been made mandatory for much of that time.  Celibacy simply means not being married, and the practice of priests not being married stems from Christ’s own words where He says that those who can accept not being married for the sake of spreading the Kingdom should do so.  Why?  So, priests can more perfectly imitate Christ and hopefully point us more readily towards the supernatural reality of the Eucharist – that this Bread really is His Flesh.  Celibacy says that even the highest natural good of marriage is worth being sacrificed for the reality of Christ’s Body that He shares with us.

The men who have failed so terribly in the news failed to live chastity.  The devil wants us all to kill our chastity and to close us in on ourselves in various ways big and small.  The failure we see is in chastity.  Yes, these men were also celibate – but their failures involve a failure to protect the flock – it was not a failure to get married.  Marriage is wonderful, but in itself is not a guardian against moral failure.

While this scandal is wide, Christ is in the Church – and even our efforts since the last scandal of 2002, our diocese have not been in vain.  Over 100,000 adults have gone through Protecting God’s Children to assist in providing a safe environment for children.  All of the diocese’s clergy, seminarians, and employees working with children receive a background check.  Lay members who are not employed by the Archdiocese review every allegation regarding clergy and the board draws from law enforcement, medical ethics, psychology and psychiatry and physicians.  There are no clergy conducting ministry in St. Louis against whom there is a substantiated claim of abuse by a minor.  These are some of the facts from the letter going home in this week’s bulletin from Archbishop Carlson.

In the words of the Book of Wisdom in the first reading: forsake foolishness.  We endanger each other whenever we focus only on the things of this life.  The failure by leadership does not mean that we have to let our own virtue be compromised.  We can rally each other in prayer.  We can acknowledge the pain of others with patience and our own with courage.  The craziest thing right now might seem to be evangelization.  “It looks like our house is on fire, but hey, come on in!” Yes, this sounds crazy, but it is exactly the spirit we need.  Our house was built by the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Christ feeds it from His blazing Heart.  Fire purifies as it burns.  May it burn out the all of the corruption from the top of the hierarchy down to the bottom of our hearts and may we stand fast and unite our prayers with all men and women in the world: sinners in need of the water of mercy and the fire of love.Image result for sacred heart of jesus

Our Lady and the First Verse

Image result for our lady of guadalupeThis passage from Revelation always brings to my mind Our Lady of Guadalupe.  She is not crowned with stars, but her mantle is bedecked with them and she is most certainly clothed in the sun that blazes out from behind her gown.  I took a trip a few weeks ago up to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin.  One of the things that fascinated me was behind the Church. Image result for our lady of guadalupe shrine monument to unbornThey have a monument to the Unborn with a big old statue of Mary holding three children and facing in the direction of this massive three walled structure that serves as a mausoleum for children who have been lost in infancy and there are these placards regarding contraception, in vitro fertilization, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research.  The placards are powerful, but they simply and peacefully state the words of the popes on the human person and how these practices reduce our understanding of the human person.  Well, I was already aware of it, but was inspiring was to see these words outside myself – molded in bronze – and not going anywhere.

Image result for chant notation          That might seem a strange thing to bring up on Mary’s feast, but God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and all of the angels behold Mary – she is this first person who was created human from nothing and who now has received unity with God entirely – spirit, soul, and body – and she’s not going anywhere.  They get to behold her beholding them.  Heaven rejoices that the first verse to the song is now complete.  The song God sings begins with the Creation of Adam and Eve, but when they fell it is as if the music stopped in the middle of the verse.  Christ is the New Adam and He begins the verse from where Adam and Eve fell….we call this Redemption, but for this first verse to truly end, Mary, the New Eve must be with Him in Heaven.  It is not good for the human nature of Man to be in heaven without a living breathing woman to complete this picture….to finish this first verse and fill our hearts with the promise that we may sing the pattern of love.

Image result for lebron james dunkThink for a moment if Mary hadn’t followed Christ body and soul.  Christ ascended to glory and the expectation to us is you do the same: how daunting could that be.  Nobody else has made it after Him to heaven, but we’re pretty sure some people will get there.  It would be about as ridiculous to see LeBron James lift off the ground (all 6 foot 8 of him) and shove the basketball through the net and score two points and then give the ball to a regular person and say, “Okay, now you do what he did.”  To carry out the analogy you could say that Mary took the ball and shot a beautiful jump shot and scored two points.  Yes, live all uniquely different lives – but they can all be filled with the same spirit as Christ and follow His course – and score.  Even if we don’t by our own power launch the ball into the basket, but have to hit off the glass.  Mary, our Model pray for us.

The Transition of a Lifetime

Image result for back to schoolAugust is not for Wimps!  And neither are transitions.  August is notoriously the month where we switch from the summer schedule back to the school schedule.  Maybe for some it marks the end of lounging around and the beginning of intense sports practices.  Now, often enough when the shift is on and the stress is high, people say “I hate change!”  But that might be a little dramatic.  Nobody likes bad changes.  So, when we say, “I hate change” this is supposed to mean something because we don’t even like what are supposed to be good changes.  We should pause and consider whether it is the change that we dread – as if things are only going to get worse – or is it possibly the transition?  That is: the great challenge in shifting between how things are and how things will be if we can successfully make it through the change.   Image result for bread of life

God, give us grace.  Our second reading deals with the biggest transition we can make: from the old man to the new man.  It is this that enables our mortal flesh to put on immortality.  Jesus as the Bread of Life in our Gospel is key, and yet making it through this change is worth any difficulty in transition. Image result for israelites in desert

Consider the Israelites.  They have been slaves for four hundred years.  They finally make it out to freedom and immediately upon being free of the Egyptians – they start to complain.  Oh, would that we were back with our bread and our fleshpots in Egypt.  In other words, they think back on Egypt as some kind of place where they felt more in control.  Yes, back in Egypt they were in slavery, but compared to the unknown hardships of their journey – they would rather have the predictability of their former way of life – despite its denigration and chains. Related image

God does not leave Moses to answer them himself.  He will send them Manna from heaven.  You know in the last century it has become a popular theory among some scoffers who have sought to de-mythologize the Manna to suggest that the Manna was probably just the goo that came out of the Tamarisk plant.  Brant Pitre in his work, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” describes how some skeptics have brought up these desert plants that excrete a resin-like substance as a natural explanation of the manna.  Even more difficult to believe, some suggest that the Manna could have been a type of insect that fed on the Tamarisk plant’s leaves.

Insects w/ secretions

This simply does not add up.  For one thing, the Manna was known as Bread from Heaven.  In other words the bread had a supernatural origin (in the direction of the sky).  Furthermore, no matter how much was gathered whether you seemed to gather a bunch of it altogether or you only collected some – either way each Israelite always ended up with the same amount – an omer, or about a liter by todays’ measurements (Ex 16:18).  Furthermore, the Manna never lasted for longer than a day.  You simply could not hoard it away without it going bad (Ex 16:20).  Natural substances simply do not act like this.  Also the Manna was sent every day for forty years without a break, while the Tamarisk plant only secretes its resin in the summertime.  So how could this plant substance have sustained them the other nine or ten months of the year?  Last, but not least the word Manna literally is Hebrew for “What is this?”  They were stumped.  They had no idea what it was.   It didn’t look like an insect or like the resin from a plant.             Image result for desert quailBut that’s not all.  God also gave them quail every evening so that they would have flesh to eat.  It was also miraculous in that these birds simply came up and made easy hunting of themselves wherever the Israelites happened to stop.  In fact, there is no mention of hunting at all.  When was the last time a bird simply sat in one place, so you could take it and make dinner?  Noteworthy for us: the Manna was to be kept in the Tabernacle, this portable temple, wherever they went.  The flesh is not kept – for all flesh is grass (ls 40:6).  And they eat these foods as they are purified in the desert.  Wandering around, so close to the Promised Land – but not able to enter.          Image result for the eucharist               We seem ourselves to stumble around.  Truly, Jesus is Manna to us…that is: we don’t know what He is.  Those men in the Gospel wondered: Can He be both the son of God and the Son of Man?  We can look to the words on Christ’s lips for an answer.  He is the True Bread from Heaven.  He will give us both bread from Heaven and His flesh to eat…both united now together in the Eucharist – so in Christ, we see that His flesh (which is the perfection of our own) has been united to His divinity and be willingly offered has been made capable of immortality. Image result for the passover

But first, as He instructs these men who had followed Him, He instructs us too.  They have sought Him because they wanted earthly things.  How might this be reflected in our own lives?  Well, I have heard more than a few times, people say something like: “Well, I don’t go to Mass anymore, because I was just going through the motions – and I don’t get anything out of it.” To say that Mass is not giving us enough is akin to saying that the Manna was just probably some goo from the Tamarisk tree, because in both cases we are saying that there is nothing supernatural happening.  The Catholic Church professes that Jesus united His Last Supper where He handed the apostles bread and said to take and eat it for it was His Body and that chalice that they shared contained not wine, but His Blood…He united this Passover meal to the offering of His earthly flesh on the Cross.  That they are not two, but One – but for our sakes, He has perpetuated the breaking of the bread as what we refer to as an un-bloody offering.

I can honestly say that I’ve never thought to myself: Self, there is just not as much here at Mass as I would like to take in – I mean, I just want more meaning and love than the Mass can give me.  There are plenty of times when I’ve not grasped very much at Mass.  There have been times when I believe I could have received more, but never because the Mass was not ready to provide more.  Every time that I come up shorter than I would have liked Mass, it is because of my own shallowness.  My lack of preparation.  My weakness.  More than likely my sin.  And if it is sin – I take these to my confessor.           Image result for confessional             Jesus also tells His listeners to believe in the one that the Father sends.  Not to believe Him.  The Devil believes Him.  To believe in Him.  To believe in Jesus is to put our faith in Him.  To believe in Jesus is to trust that we are sinners and that He is our salvation.  Today, this is not easy.  Due to the increasing level of scandal in the Church, it can be even harder to believe in the supernatural grace of God working through her as a channel, but to believe in the supernatural reality of Church is to be capable of receiving the New Man of Christ Himself….to be capable of the transition of reflecting the glory of God and entering into His rest.

 

Christ Breaks the Chain…Reactions

Related imageMaybe you’ve heard of a Rube Goldberg machine before…it uses a chain reaction to accomplish a simple task like throwing a paper airplane, but it takes a many complicated steps to get there.  Just imagine if I wanted to turn on the air conditioning.  So, I took this big ol’ ball bearing Image result for ball bearingand dropped it into the right hand side of that potted plan right in front of the podium here and that we had adjusted the weight on the right side of that pot in such an imbalanced way so that it would cause the whole pot to tip over against the plantstand and the ball bearing would fall back out of the pot and hit a long chain of dominoes which went down one after another across our Church until one of them hit the forward controller switch on a remote control car (I don’t actually have) car and this big old remote car lurched in the direction of the microphone stand until it caught the cord at the bottom and then it went around and around and around the microphone stand pulling the cord around the stand until the car hit the stand knocking it just enough to fall forward so that the microphone hit the air conditioning switch to turn on the cool air.  A little task that I have accomplished in a very complicated fashion.

I mention this mousetrap kind of operation because believe it or not this can be how we sometimes think of reality.  I’ll give you an example, if some four year old [or some atheist] asks you how it is that we have cookies….you might answer because you made the cookies.  And then if they ask you how is it that you came to exist…you might answer that God made you.  And then if they ask you how it is that God came to exist….it is easy to get stumped.  It is as if we see life as a Rube Goldberg machine and there is some cause that has to be behind God….and then the whole thing becomes this endless contraption that doesn’t have a beginning…just one cause behind another behind another.  Image result for dominoes

One way to understand the problem of thinking of God as one more cause in a series of causes is to remember that He is not simply in the system.  He made it and continues to make it.  Instead of trying to answer the question of who made God – again, as if everything is in this same system….Tell that atheistic four year old that God Himself is the answer to the question of “Why is there something rather than nothing.”  [In other words, even if the universe could go back forever with an infinite number of little causes one behind the other and not require a God to start the whole domino chain in motion…..how is that we have a universe and keep on having one rather than having nothing at all?]  For the universe is not like a horseshoe that a blacksmith made which could continue even after the smith is gone.  Rather it is like the music that a violinist makes that continues only so long as the violinist continues to play.  For God’s very essence is existence and the ongoing cause of all that exists.  He continues to supply the universe with matter and energy.  If there is no God than not only would nothing have created the universe so many billions of years ago, but nothing would keep everything we see from simply blinking out of existence right now.  Image result for violinist

The whole universe is a miracle.  Creation is a miracle.  In His love God generates matter out of nothing and has given it design.  The difficulty for us is that we live on the miracle of the earth within the miracle of this galaxy.  And living within the system of God’s handiwork, we do not easily see God’s handiwork.  So, God gives us a huge clue about Who He is and how He relates to us when Moses asks God at the burning bush, “What is your name?”  God’s answer is: “I am who am.”  In other words, I am He that Simply Is.”

But that’s not enough for most of us.  Most people aren’t walking around considering well, “How did the universe get here or how does the universe keep on existing?”  Rather, we are people who often simply think “How am I going to keep existing?” So in our first reading we hear that Elisha is given some bread.  The bread is actually meant for God and since is Elisha is a man of God, he has been designated to receive it.  God had wanted the Jews to offer their first fruits.  Why?  Well, in one way the giving of the first fruits of your labors back to God shows Him that you believe that He is the original cause of your harvest from all the way back when you planted the grain.  Image result for christ multiplying breadVSo, you are sharing it with Him and showing that you hope to continue planting and growing in the future with His continued blessing.  Also acknowledging that God is interested in receiving part of your harvest right now – indicates that He is around at relevant right now (just as much as for giving the whole show a beginning).  Elisha says essentially – great, on behalf of God – your gift is accepted, but commands his servant to share the loaves with the people.  In other words, He takes what we give Him and desires to share it amongst us as family.  He multiplies the fruitfulness of that bread, as He is the reason why food exists at all right now.   They eat and there was more left over.  God shows through the miracle that He is the Creator of the whole system by choosing to operate within His own system but in a special manner to illustrate that He is not another mere part of the system.

You know at one point Jesus says, “Have faith in God, have faith also in Me.”  In other words, put the faith you have in God in Me.  Now for Jesus to show forth the power of God, maybe it would have been enough to perform the same miracle as Elisha: feed 100 people with 20 loaves.  But He not only wants to demonstrate that God has power, but that He has God’s power – that He is the Son of God.  Many of God’s miracles show us how grand God’s power is and if we believe in it, than our faith opens up the reality under the surface of this universe.  Our faith walks on water.  This miracle shows another side – it is God’s generosity that fills us.  Christ demonstrates that He knows and can harness the power of His Father, for His love is at the heart of our universe and right now He is able to fill our stomachs and physically keep us alive.

Christ does not let them take Him and make Him king, because He does not want them to use Him for a lesser purpose….to make Him one more cog in a Rube Goldberg machine….they could use Him to multiply bread and help them get through some basic needs, but He has come to reveal that not only is God not one more cause among many – but that each of us is not simply some domino in a chain. Image result for crucifixion cup blood

 

Of course, the Eucharist is the next step.  He allows this bread of His death to be that which can come to us as our daily bread – it is available throughout our lives – piercing the course of our lives and bringing us into contact with each other.  Yes, our humanity was supposed to have a simple process of following God’s will and we have made it complicated, but Christ has done the work that the whole of humanity could never complete on its own and He not only gives us this victory at the end, but whenever we enter into His sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Spiritual Half-Time

Related image“Come apart and rest a while.”  It sounds so wonderful and refreshing just to imagine Christ saying that to us.  This Gospel is used at a lot at retreats…which always seems strange, because as soon as Christ and the apostles get away from everybody they are immediately swamped by people again.  The only time they have apart is the time where they are all rowing together and looking for a place to stop.  Actually, I think the whole thing is kind of Christ’s plan.  Hey you think you need a break – look at how desperate these people are out there.  They are longing to be led.  You might be tired….in fact you might be even more tired physically now that you’ve been rowing, but you already have what they want: you have a purpose….You have a leader. Image result for masses of people jesus

Actually, the word retreat when used to describe the act of taking some time away to pray is a little strange in itself.  Retreat is a military term.  And militarily it’s not something that you are supposed to want to do.  You would never start off a battle with a retreat.  There’s the old fighting spirit that this or that team “Never calls retreat!”  But, retreat is not the same thing as surrender.  Surrender involves the leader or a delegation from the leader going to meet the opponents and giving up.  Retreat on the other hand involves the leader taking his side in the direction away from the opponents as quickly as possible to find cover, so that they might keep on fighting.  The idea is to regroup, to treat the wounded, to reflect on the mistakes that have been made, address weaknesses, and to make a new strategy to win. Related image

Christ has called us sheep, not soldiers – but yet He still calls us forth to battle.  Spiritual warfare is different from the material warfare of this world.  In a worldly battle – fighting a material enemy is all about divide and conquer.  Dividing an army from their supplies of food and ammunition, breaking down their lines of communication so that their leader cannot get the message to the troops, and finally separating sinew from bone with the sword and soul from body.  Fighting our spiritual enemy is all about uniting to un-conquer – or to liberate.  Yes, Christ desires to unite His people to Himself, but not as their tyrant, as their Divine Bridegroom.   We will find our greatest freedom in unity with Him.  And not only freedom, but when we finish today’s scene next week, Jesus will show how He is the new supply line of food when He multiplies the bread and fish.  He ultimately gives us His Spirit – the perfect communication of God’s presence to us.  In His Cross and Resurrection, He will reunite Flesh and Blood for the victory of New Life. Image result for kurt russell coach miracle

Still, even with Christ as our shepherd – today, if we thought of Christianity as a team – the papers have been trashing our team and given up on our chances.  We had a lot of promise, but it looks like our Shepherd is not around.  Things seem pretty dark.  In the first reading, God takes the shepherds of His people to task and in our own day leadership has come under fire.  Many of the sheep are scattered.  Well, I went and looked through some clips of famous half-time speeches.  One of the coaches rallied his men by stating that “this game is not for nice people.”  In a way, that is very true.  As Christians, we are certainly not supposed to be mean.  But we are supposed to get in the thick of things.  We could only be “nice” if we stayed on the sidelines.  Alexander the Great once said, “I’m not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I’m afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”  Christ always has the heart of a lion who tells us the Kingdom of Heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.  Perhaps this very week we can besiege heaven with our prayers and lead others off the sidelines – away from simply being respectable and nice and into some form of charitable service. Image result for army of sheep led by a lion

You know it’s so easy to get down on our condition and the lack of goodness in culture.  I’m guilty.  Another coach put it simply: “Great moments are born from great opportunity.”  What we have is a great opportunity within the darkness of our world.  It might seem crazy – why would God let His Church become so battered?  Yes, many sheep seem adrift.  People in our own families and friends have lost their sense of direction.  But, we who are here have a tremendous opportunity.  The pressure builds from the outside (and even from the inside) – but it can push us to make an act of complete trust in Christ and move us to love each other in the Spirit knowing that our lives depend on our faith.  Jesus has called us to have the very unity that He shares with the Father.  We were never going to achieve that unity in peaceful pastures where we could all safely comfortably spread out.  Is there any reasonable way to expect that if we were all doing fine that we would need that kind of unity? That kind of love?  It is when the chips are down when things are so difficult on the outside and we are so torn on the inside that we need to draw close to one another.  Maybe that’s how the Church will begin to turn the corner.  We will finally be brought into such a tight unity that others will see us and know once again that there is something unique about Christianity and sense that they are truly missing something….and through the Spirit – they will realize they are missing Someone.  File:Botticelli, Pala della Convertite.jpg

Remember if physical battle ends in the death of the enemy – that is in the greatest physical division….spiritual battle is all about seeking the greatest unity: that of our hearts and minds with Christ, who is our Shepherd and our friend.  He gathers, He brings us to the meadow, He helps us to increase, He knows each by name, and none of His flock shall be missing.  How does He achieve this?  One coach yelled out and then repeated for effect, “We didn’t come this far to get this far….we didn’t come this far to get this far.”  We are in this battle till it is done.  He unites us by calling us all into the spiritual unity He creates by giving Himself on the Cross.  Because He is God, He is able to fulfill the Law.  Because He is man we can follow Him.  Because He is God, He can ascend and so our trajectory is beyond the terrain of this life.  This life is a zero-sum game.  If I win, you lose.  In Christ, our lives find the ladder to a new terrain where you can win and I can win.  If we follow the Shepherd and give everything, even when we seem to be rowing without physical relief we will find our refreshment, for His call for us to come apart to rest is only for a while so that we might the more fully come together and awaken as one.

Looking For The Cure

Image result for alexander the greatAlexander the Great was one of the most powerful men in the world, but at one point he fell ill.  None of his doctors had the guts to try and cure him, because they were afraid that if they failed – they themselves would be put to death.  Finally, one of his physicians named Philip boldly made a concoction and told him to drink it quickly.  However, one of Alexander’s other counselors had just written him a letter stating that Philip was trying to poison him.  Alexander read the letter and put it aside.  Now, as Alexander took the potion from Philip with cheer and with assurance began to drink, he gave Philip the letter to read.  Philip was beside himself, throwing his hands into the air and then falling upon the bedside – but he nonetheless told the king to lay aside all fear and finish drinking his medicine.  To make the scene even more intense, the treatment worked at first by drawing all of Alexander’s strength deep within himself so that his pulse slowed to nothing and he appeared to be dying.  And then the tide turned and he rapidly regained his constitution and returned to the head of his army.

Image result for amos the prophetTrust is essential.  If Alexander had not trusted his doctor, Philip, he would have died.  And if Philip had not trusted in his own medicine, he could not have urged Alexander to keep drinking it even when it first made him weaker – knowing that if his patient died, he would not long outlive him.  But for there to be trust there must be communication.  In the Old Testament, the trust of the Israelites on God relied in knowing what God wanted through the Law and the prophets.  Our first reading however, reveals just how rocky that relationship could be.  You would think that even bad news from a prophet was better than hearing nothing at all from God, but bad news was mostly what the true prophets brought the people – because they did not want to change.  In our little passage today, we do not even hear what Amos has been saying – we just hear the reaction: Get lost.  Go sell your false visions for money somewhere else.  Ouch.  Amos had been prophesying God’s wrath against the wealthy and idolatrous people of Israel.  Amos brought a tough medicine and the people were unwilling to take it….so what happens?  The communication with God broke down, and Amos’ words came true as Israel was conquered. Image result for Pope Paul VI

This month marks the fiftieth anniversary since the release of what has been called a prophetic document in the Church:  Humanae Vitae.  Basically, Pope Paul VI became one of the most hated figures in Church history because he put down in writing the reasons behind why the Church would continue to preach the Gospel of human life and speak out against contraception.  But Paul VI seeing the way the rest of the world was already racing, also made some prophetic claims.  He stated that there would be an increase in marital infidelity, a lowering of moral standards, an additional incentive for youth to break the moral law, a loss of reverence due to women, and the reduction of women to mere instruments of men’s satisfaction. Image result for birth control

Was Paul VI a true prophet?  To begin: is there any doubt that the health of marriages has declined over the last fifty years?  Yes, there are many other factors besides contraception – but in the first ten years of legalized birth control, the divorce rate more than doubled in our country and has stayed around 50%.  Similarly, is it not true that moral standards have dropped?  The breakdown of family and the false promise that sex can be purely recreational have left many youth with even less ability to learn restraint and proper boundaries.  Without the perceived consequences of children, men often expect the highest forms of physical intimacy with women in even casual relationships.  Meanwhile it is not only men who use women and look upon women as objects  – but society frequently encourages women to denigrate themselves so that they might be deemed desirable.  Paul VI also made all of his predictions against what he admitted was a common fear of the last century: overpopulation.  This past week however reveals another sad fruit of contraception, as the European Union now admits that the number of deaths in their countries is exceeding the number of births.  Man’s attempt to control the future in so many ways is endangering the future altogether.Image result for europe death birth

Of course, the Western World is powerful, but like Alexander the Great it is sick to the point that it stumbles looking for a cure.  Unfortunately, the world barely trusts the Church at all.  Now Alexander or his men could have put Philip to death, but while the Church has suffered for a cure that has largely been ignored, and she cannot be entirely killed off by the world – nonetheless she calls on the world to see her lowliness and the fact that the Church needs the cure herself.  And the good news is that things don’t always have to get worse.  If we listen to Humanae Vitae, all of these trends will begin to get better.  All the same, there are councilors who would tell the world that the Church is trying to poison it (while offering no other alternatives).  What is the cure?  Nothing other than the message of Jesus Christ Himself.  He became weak for us in particular to show us that He was willing to die that we might live.  Christ is willing to trust the Father with His whole life, that His life might show the glory of God – His love and forgiveness.  He trains His apostles to have the same confidence by sending them out with nothing but the clothes on their backs when they preach the Gospel.  They live and are successful, because they are not trying to control everything and are able to learn trust in the Father.

Image result for natural family planning

Even the natural ways of family planning that the Church has promoted since the 1970’s can in a sense be manipulated in the effort to control the size of one’s family, yet couples who invest themselves in following the guidelines of the Church most often find that it opens their hearts to trusting God.  They learn generosity and due to the sacrifices that they make are more apt to consider their spouses with the love and dignity they deserve.  If you would like to know more about natural family planning, you can attend a course through Mercy Hospital’s fertility care staff and if you let me know I’ll gladly pay the fee for any person interested.  We were all chosen in Christ before the world began and He has chosen to bring about many more through us. Image result for christ heal