Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

Demas, enamored of the present world,
deserted me and went to Thessalonica,
Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia.
Luke is the only one with me.

We know little about Saint Luke beyond what he has written in his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. We know he was a Christian scholar with extraordinary insight into the Gospel and spoke fluent, beautiful Greek. He may have been a physician since he shows some interest in the biblical account of healings. He shows more sympathy than other divine authors for women, although some critics still detect chauvinism. He makes a few cameo appearances in Acts when he writes of "we" (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–15; 21:1–18; 27:1–37; 28:1-16). Finally, Saint Paul mentioned Saint Luke in his Second Letter to Timothy.
Today we celebrate the faithful friend who stayed with the disgruntled Saint Paul when everyone else abandoned him. In that respect he was like the Apostles who were appointed to be with the Lord. Our vocation is often simply to watch with the Lord and his disciples.
Some Christian communities keep prayer vigils as members take turns throughout the night. Some parishes and group of parishes maintain "perpetual adoration" to watch with the Lord day and night, seven days a week, throughout the year. In many ways we obey Saint Paul's injunction to "pray without ceasing."
We stay with one another too, as I often witness in the hospital. Spouses stay with their partners, parents with children, children with parents and siblings with one another. Even friends sometimes make the effort for the lonely patient when there is no one else. There is a volunteer organization dedicated to staying with the dying.
This dedication to presence is not an animal instinct; if it were we could not refuse to do it. Rather, it belongs to our spiritual nature to watch and wait with one another even when we can think of nothing else to do. We well remember Jesus' asking his sleepy, somewhat tipsy disciples to watch and pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane. We still regret their inattention.
Luke is the only one with me. It's what we do; it's how we show we belong to Christ and to one another.

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Lectionary: 468

I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous by faith will live."

We have begun a series of readings from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. This is the most important theological document of the greatest theologian in our history; every sentence, phrase and word is laden with meaning and burdened with controversy. Much of his earlier writing has led up to this teaching, and theologians often study his Letter to the Galatians to see the development of his doctrine. "For freedom Christ set you free!" (Galatians 5:1) must lead to "There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)
I find in Paul's writing a convergence of these mysterious words, freedom, salvation and "no condemnation," or "vindication."
In our common experience everybody knows freedom and vindication. Freedom is like getting out of jail or passing through immigration. You can go where you want to go and do what you want to do. Vindication means the judge has ruled and you are not guilty. We're a little less sure about salvation. Many Christians say it has something to do with heaven, like "When you die you go to heaven."
As I ponder these words, given my Catholic upbringing and personal experience, salvation, freedom and vindication represent deliverance from the anxiety which is the shadow side of freedom. This anxiety is often so unbearable people will do anything to be rid of it, from conformity to others' expectation, obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions up to suicide. The bizarre rite of murder/suicide which has appeared in recent history may be the conformist's last desperate attempt to escape the pain.
Jesus heard the words of his Father, "You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests." Taking those words to heart he could move freely among friends, family, strangers and enemies, saying what the Spirit prompted him to say and going where the Spirit led him. He had the endorsement and authorization of God. The Father wanted what he wanted, and he wanted what the Father wanted. They are of one mind, one heart and one Spirit despite the singular difference that the Father is not the Son; nor the Son, the Father.
If he suffered anxiety like any other human being -- as, for instance, in the Garden of Gethsemane -- it was relieved by prayerful communion with the Father. He never hesitated to speak or act out of some anxious concern; rather, he moved with astonishing ease and grace. People would say of him, "Where does he get such authority?" They might say in the same breath, "Where does he get such freedom?"
Oddly, Saint Paul never met Jesus in the flesh before his crucifixion and death. He knew Jesus only by the word of others and the Spirit that confirmed it.
In that Spirit, Paul found his own freedom to speak and act with complete confidence. He too had heard, "You are my beloved son, on you my favor rests."
With that experience of freedom he could write, "The one who is righteous by faith will live." Faith is willing to be both guided and restrained by the Spirit of God.
"Romans" begins with his astonishing greeting, "Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus... to all the beloved of God in Rome." He enjoys the mysterious paradox of being both a slave with all the security of one who is owned by, directed by, and obedient to another; and the freedom to speak, act and travel as he pleases.

A slave who has totally surrendered to the will of his owner, told to sit in the corner for eight hours, might do so with complete equanimity. It would drive me nuts!
Paul suffered anxiety but not for himself or his salvation; he knew only God's anxiety for the churches which he loved so dearly. He found freedom, salvation and vindication in his complete surrender to the Holy Spirit.

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

This generation is an evil generation;
it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it,
except the sign of Jonah.
Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites,
so will the Son of Man be to this generation.

When we think of the Prophet Jonah we usually remember his being swallowed by a whale and then spewed up on the shore. Children like this kind of story and their parents enjoy telling it. Like the Tower of Babel, the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Noah's Ark, Jonah and his whale inevitably appear in graphic images of the bible. In children's literature these stories seem innocuous and harmless.
But when Jesus references Jonah as "a sign to the Ninevites" he does not cite his epigastric adventure; rather, he points to the prophet's preaching and the Ninevite's repentance.
He did the same when he reminded the Nazarenes that a Sidonian woman had fed Elijah, and Elisha had cured a pagan general of leprosy. His point being God's mercy is not confined to his people, nor is it owed to his people.
As we were reminded on a recent Sunday, God can show mercy and generosity to anyone he wants anytime he wants. He does not consult with our politicians or theologians when he does so.
In gratitude  the Nazarenes "drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong."  
The Prophet Jesus, like his forebears, is often "edgy." He is never far from the metaphorical brow of the hill as he speaks God's word.
Nor should his Church. If lots of good, compassionate, civic-minded people are not angry with us, we're failing our mission. When I hear that we should defend our liberties by arming homeowners with automatic weapons I know there's going to be trouble. When good people trash the world's oceans with plastics I'm sure they're not paying attention to the Truth. When I hear compassion used as an argument for divorce and abortion I know we're no longer listening to the Crucified Son of God.
The Son of Man will be a sign to this generation if Christians keep the word of God, but it will not be comfortable for anyone.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. 

Long before Saint Francis of Assisi walked out of the security of his family home Saint Paul was walking from one end of the Roman Empire to the other, announcing the Gospel of Jesus. 
His plan, like that of all the disciples, was very simple: he would speak of Jesus to anyone and everyone who would listen. How this project should be financed, where he would sleep, what he would eat, who would care for him in his sickness: these God would provide. 
He slept wherever people offered him a bed, and occasionally in the jail cells provided by enemies of the Good News. He ate whatever local food was provided; not for him to prefer his native cuisine of Tarsus. Strangers nursed him back to health, strangers directed him on the unmarked highways; strangers welcomed him to unfamiliar cities and friends -- entirely new friends -- sent him on his way. 
Francis would describe the food Saint Paul ate as "the Banquet of the Lord." There was always enough food because our Father provided everything for his Son's wedding to His Bride the Church. How could there not be more than enough when Isaiah had prophesied: 
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines?
During those Roman times, our ancestors lived closer to the cycles of sowing and reaping than we do today.  Children knew where milk and eggs came from. Without modern transportation a drought and famine might afflict one city while its neighbor a hundred miles away enjoyed prosperity. Savvy governors might try to forestall hunger and the food riots it spawns, but there was only so much they could do. 
Many today ignorantly assume those days are past -- unless they read about New Orleans, Houston, Florida or Puerto Rico. They might even dare to sit down to a meal without the "wedding garment" of grace. 
The Lord teaches his disciples not to worry overmuch about their material needs:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 
So long as we're willing to share there will be plenty.

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 466

Apply the sickle,
for the harvest is ripe;
Come and tread,
for the wine press is full;
The vats overflow,
for great is their malice.
Crowd upon crowd
in the valley of decision;
For near is the day of the LORD
in the valley of decision.

I don't know that any other nation is as concerned about "the Day of the Lord" as the United States. The Battle Hymn of the Republic, often sung on national holidays, is all about Dies Irae (the Day of Wrath and Day of Mourning), typified by bloody violence, when the Lord tramples out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
With so many stories of devastation in the news lately, even the secular press wonders if the Apocalypse is upon us. Even the recent eclipse of the Moon -- the "Great American Eclipse" -- was greeted with misgivings.
The Blessed Mother, who is invoked in today's gospel, often appears during apocalyptic times, as when the territory now known as Mexico, suffered the Spanish invasion and Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. These are times of great, unsettling change when the future appears bleak and millions suffer mass anxiety. Wars break out as governments try to secure stability in the face of upheaval and prophets say, "You can't handle the truth!" 
Mary has been popping up all over the place in the last two centuries, from Knock (Ireland) to Lourdes (France), Fatima (Portugal) and Medjugorje (Bosnia) -- to name a few. 
Mary is a sign of God's immanent appearance, as Elizabeth recognized when she greeted her young cousin. She cried, "Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?" Virtually all the seers say something similar when she appears to them.  
May grieves for the sins of the world and she warns us to repent, but her very presence is more reassuring than threatening.  
I often give rosaries to the Catholic Veterans in the hospital. I tell them, "It's like the tow rope on a motor boat when you're water skiing. Just hold on it and it will pull you out of the water." 

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 465

Gird yourselves and weep, O priests!
wail, O ministers of the altar!
Come, spend the night in sackcloth,
O ministers of my God!
The house of your God is deprived
of offering and libation.

I am reading a biography of the American poet, Walt Whitman. Doctor Reynolds has reminded me that the United States has a long history of religious relativism. That is, the belief that all religions are the same; there's only one God; it doesn't matter if you attend church or not, believe or not, etc. 
Most Americans are deists, believing that the God who might exist left the building a long time ago. Whitman, despite his nostalgia for the agrarian society of his youth with its family-based economy, could not remember when the family worshiped together. 
Not many Americans can. But the problem is hardly new, as we discover in reading the Bible. In today's first reading the prophet Joel laments the neglect of God's temple, which "is deprived of offering and libation." He goes on to warn the people of impending disaster, "Yes, it is near, a day of darkness and of gloom, a day of clouds and somberness! He foretells an ecological disaster: 
Like dawn spreading over the mountains, a people numerous and mighty! Their like has not been from of old, nor will it be after them, even to the years of distant generations.
The invading army is a cloud of locusts, darkening the sky and consuming every leaf of vegetation on the ground. This "army" is more thorough, relentless and mindless than an army of human warriors. Armed men might grow weary of killing; they might show some compunction to their victim; they might not search every nook and cranny for victims. But insects -- like earthquakes and hurricanes -- don't care who or what they destroy, and they miss nothing.
The Hebrew prophets believed God set these "natural disasters" in motion to punish his people for their infidelity.
It's not hard to read that punishment into the ecological crises we face today. Although we meant no harm when we created the automobile culture and the drug industry and the consumer economy, we would not uproot these ingrained practices when we saw their devastation.
Perhaps, had our faith not been deprived of offering and libation, we would have retained the maturity and flexibility to adapt before the problems became crises. We would have remained obedient to the truth as it appeared to us, instead of to our habits and false belief that "it will all work out in the end." 
There is still time to repent. Life on earth will persist for millions of years, and it can wait until we change our ways; but the consequences of human suffering will not wait. Future generations will wonder why we hesitated to repent in the face of the obvious for so long. 

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 464

And I tell you, ask and you will receive;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives;
and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

"He fathers forth whose beauty is past change. Praise him."
Gerard Manley Hopkins concluded his sonnet, Pied Beauty, with that homage to God the Father.
Scholars of the New Testament tell us that Jesus taught us to honor God as "our father" although the Hebrew Scriptures rarely use that title of the Lord. This was a singular insight of the Nazarene.
They also suggest, in these our troubled times, that we study carefully how Jesus used that word. Given our history of innumerable wars and their enduring emotional impact, a cult of alcoholism and a tsunami of drug addiction, many men in the United States cannot handle the challenges of adulthood and marriage, much less fatherhood. Some have handed their children snakes when they asked for fish, and scorpions when they asked for eggs. They simply know no better.
Consequently, their children tremble with anguish, not holy fear, when they consider the "Fatherhood" of God. They remember abusive parents and grandparents and stories of cruel great-grandparents. Authority in general has been arbitrary, moody and petulant; not even vaguely paternal.
Jesus was familiar with violence. He saw the vicious injustice of Roman occupation, the indifference of Herodian rulers, and the quisling cowardice of the Pharisees. There were no good shepherds for his people and fewer good fathers.
But Jesus came down from God and he knew another reality which was only suggested by their Jewish religion. He heard his Father's blessing, "You are my beloved son; on you my favor rests." Throughout his life, even amid the violence that chased his family into Egypt, and the whispered threats that pursued his ministry, he knew the reassurance of a Father who loved him. He often spent nights in prayer, resting in God's arms with the confidence of a child.
When we think of God the Father we should think: "The Father of Jesus." Our own dads loved us as best they could and sometimes their love was reassuring and substantial. But they were flawed human beings and Jesus assures us the Father's love is greater than anything we have ever experienced or imagined.
Most of us, as we experience healing, will recall the heroic sacrifices our fathers and mothers made, especially as we understand their times and the challenges they faced. We realize now they were not prepared for parenthood by their families, schools or churches; they were winging it as parents do today. My own mother read "Doctor Spock" devoutly, like the preacher reading his bible.
Healing teaches us to stand in public and declare: "I would not trade my father or mother for any other parent on earth!" The Father of Jesus can do that because his grace is superabundant, beyond anything we can expect or imagine, because "He fathers forth whose beauty is past change. Praise him."