Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: "Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us." The proposal was agreeable; some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles.

Judah was overrun by Assyrian, Babylonian and Greek armies in the seventh, fifth, and third centuries before Christ and would not enjoy sovereign nation status again until 1948, when it was established as the nation of Israel. Although Jews continued to occupy the city throughout all those centuries theirs faith was celebrated as a private religion; it was not the state religion.
The several books of Maccabees recalls their efforts in the third century bce to throw off their Greek oppressors and regain their freedom as a nation. They fought valiantly for Freedom of Religion long before the First Amendment of the American Constitution.
Today's first reading from 1 Maccabees describes a situation that might be familiar to many Christians today. If we believe our American culture was basically Christian, it has apparently been invaded and overrun by strange, foreign influences. Marriage has been redefined as friendship with privileges; once-welcome immigrants are despised as illegal; suicide is socially acceptable; avarice and greed are admired as virtues; and most Americans think they are oppressed, minority victims: we are strangers in our homeland.
The Books of Maccabees describe the violent rebellion of Jews against their oppressors. That is always an option for victims. Anger, aggression and violence, like dancing cobras, have their own fascinating appeal. Karpman's triangle drama describes the tortured allemandes and do-sa-dos of victims who become tormentors who become rescuers and victims again. There's little grace in that square dance.
Jesus was never a victim. He freely chose the  frailty, vulnerability, guilt and shame of our humanity and preferred his human nature to all the splendor of heaven. His approach to Jerusalem, his arrest, trial, scourging and crucifixion were intentional acts. His betrayer, accusers and tormentors also played their parts, willingly and energetically; but these were parts assigned by the Lord who scripted the entire drama. Pontius Pilate, in John's account, shows some reluctance but his hand is forced by the mob, the leaders of the people, and his fear of Caesar.
Christians cannot play the victim card; it's not dealt to us. Rather, we embrace every opportunity to announce God's mercy to friends and foes, in season and out of season. That mercy is unfailingly courteous; it recognizes and respects the anguish of enemies of the Gospel. They do not know what they are doing. Had they known the mystery they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
The Books of Maccabees recall the military struggle which enjoyed limited success; but our liturgical readings highlight the heroic struggle of the Elder Eleazar (tomorrow's reading) and the Widowed Mother (on Wednesday). These champions would not compromise to save their lives despite the pleading of their enemies!
I don't suppose we're approaching another age of Christian martyrs in the United States. The Catholic and Protestant churches are well regarded on all sides. Our challenge is to address those among us who would call themselves minorities and victims and invite them to more courageous action.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 157

Well done, my good and faithful servant. 
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities. 
Come, share your master's joy.

The collect of this 33rd Sunday recalls the "constant gladness of being devoted to you." It echoes The Joy of the Gospel when the master congratulated two faithful servants who had invested wisely. It anticipates The Joy of the Gospel which we expect when the Lord returns to set all things right. 

Pope Francis will be remembered as the happy pope. Inspired by the Lord, attentive to prayer and edified by the witness of poverty, he sees opportunity where many see only crisis. He seems to discover gladness wherever he goes.
Lifted up like Jesus on his cross, the pope can see from the towering heights of his papacy the world's disappointment. But the eyes of faith see abundant grace in this sadness. O felix culpa! the deacon sings during the Easter Vigil, as the Church contemplates the Resurrection. O happy fault that merited such a redeemer
I remarked recently in this blog about Saint Paul's persistent vision of joy. He was not bothered with the "problem of evil," sometimes called theodicy. Christ has won the victory. Paul knew it because he had been starved, neglected, betrayed, beaten, chained, imprisoned and exiled many times over but the Spirit still rejoiced within him. He could not deny his own happiness; it was nothing but privilege to suffer as the Lord had suffered.  
There is sadness of course -- we pause to feel sadness -- as much for the perpetrators of crime as for the victims. But sadness need not lead to disappointment. 
No Catholic imagines the Blessed Mother on Calvary weeping for disappointment. Grief, of course, for the son of her body who suffers dreadfully. But she does not venture into disappointment. She waits with a faithful heart for what eye has not seen and ear has not heard, for what God has prepared for those who love him. 
The philosopher would ask why but the Christian believes in God's fidelity and watches with expectation for the Vindication that will certainly come. 
Next Sunday we will celebrate Christ the King of the Universe; we will hear Saint Matthew's parable of the Last Judgment. We expect That Day with holy fear and eager longing. On That Day there will be great joy in heaven and on earth for God's justice and our faith will be vindicated in the sight of the nations. 

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 496

Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night? 
Will he be slow to answer them? 

I love the woman in this story, though I'd rather admire her from afar. Here is one of those women who knows what she wants and knows she should have it, a perfect terror to men.
I picked up Tolstoy's War and Peace a few months ago. I've read it twice already but I could hardly put the book down for my delight in meeting again the dreadful "Anna Pavlovna Sherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Federovna." She's a woman who, if you saw her coming in the street, you'd duck down an alley to avoid. But because she is indomitable the entire novel depends upon her two interventions. (If you've not yet read War and Peace, you must!
Jesus' widow should be called "Anna Pavlovna." She knows the judge can answer her prayer. He can, must and will! He is, after all, only a man. As "Maria Portokalos" says in My Big Fat Greek Wedding said, "The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."
In 1215 the lords of England forced King John to sign the Magna Carta and acknowledge that the king is also subject to the law. He hated the idea but had no choice. That principle still governs our presidents and governors more than 800 years later. We regard it with such reverence we might suppose that God too is subject to the law.
There is no automatic principle, mechanism or impersonal device higher than the Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God's decisions are just; they make justice.
Does the woman in Jesus' parable have a just claim in a human court of law? It doesn't matter. She will have her settlement in her own way because the judge, fearing for his life, will decide in her favor. Like the decision of the baseball umpire or basketball referee, it's final, settled and done. 
This is not to say God governs arbitrarily, by divine whims or moods. That's not the point. 
We have the scriptures and our long memory of God's constant mercy to assure us of God's constancy. But his dependability does not render him as a mindless power, energy or machine. Rather, he is the Lord who hears prayers.
The widow in Jesus' story knows this, as do Anna Pavlovna and Maria Portokalos. And Jesus knows it better than anyone! He is so sure of it he calls the Lord, "Abba!" -- whom we dare to call "Our Father." 

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, Franciscan Religious

Lectionary: 495

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is, and from studying the works did not discern the artisan; but either fire, or wind, or the swift air, or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water, or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.

Here is a curious contrast: in November, as we ponder the Last Thing -- Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell -- and approach the Solemnity of Christ the King, the Church offers readings from Wisdom literature. 

These "Sapiential Writings" of the Bible are not nearly so wrought with apocalyptic expectation. They are collections of sayings gathered by old men and offered to children, who will in their turn become old men. No one supposed the end of the world might happen soon. 
Today's reading begins with the simple observation, "All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God...." 
The psalms and wisdom literature reflect an enormous gratitude to God for the gift of the Law and its inherent wisdom, which save us from that foolishness. In the Book of Deuteronomy today (4:6-8), Moses predicted, 
Observe (the statutes and ordinances as the Lord) carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.” For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and ordinances that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you?
Recently the news media is choking with delight over the fall of men who were regarded as wise. These wise Hollywood moguls knew the entertainment industry; they were adept at promoting themselves and their interests. Catch hold of their ascending stars and you too can rise to fame and fortune. 
But wait! Now they're fallen fools and the same media wonders how they thought they could get away with their grotesque bullying and exploitation of vulnerable women. 
Psalm 37 would observe of such clever people, 
"I have seen the wicked triumphant, towering like a cedar of Lebanon. I passed by again. They were gone; they were nowhere to be found." 
Christians should be especially suspicious of those clever prophets who expect the End of the World very soon. As Deep Throat suggested, "Follow the money." No one gets rich off their Christian faith, regardless of their expertise. 
Today the Church celebrates the wise young woman, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, who followed Jesus into poverty and received the Kingdom of God. She was not successful in worldly terms. Many would call her foolish or mad for giving away her wealth; but everyone will finally celebrate her victory. 

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 494

Then he said to his disciples, "The days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. There will be those who will say to you, 'Look, there he is,' or 'Look, here he is.' Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.

First generation Christians enjoyed high expectations and suffered great anxiety. Hearing the apocalyptic expressions of Jesus repeated by his immediate disciples many awaited the "second coming" at any time. He had died, had been raised from the dead, had ascended into heaven, why would he not return shortly to establish the Kingdom of God once and for all?
Twenty centuries later we cannot answer that question, despite many attempts to read the mind of God and decipher his ways. Some people, after a period of near hysterical anticipation, simply get tired and quit. The United States in particular experienced the ecstasy of several "great awakenings" and their inevitable collapse.
Some theologians attempted to solve the problem by stripping our religion of its apocalyptic expectations. Bishop Barclay, writer of a marvelous set of commentaries on the Bible, once observed that there are two kinds of churches, those who ignore the Book of Revelation altogether, and those who read only the Book of Revelation.
The "liberals" were the former; "conservatives", the latter. Liberal Christians favored stability which should lead to prosperity, big business, big government and "an end of history." They don't need all that religious uneasiness.
Conservative Christians stir the pot, appeal to the poor and disenfranchised, and look for the Lord to overthrow Big Business, Big Government and Big Church (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church.) The sooner, the better.
Disappointed liberals become ambitious for worldly things and sometimes become fabulously rich. Disappointed conservatives drop out of church; some become anarchists or terrorists. Both groups declare no faith in "organized religion," as if there can be any other kind.
Where is the Roman Catholic Church in all this? Certainly some members are liberal and others, conservative; but the official teaching and the formal liturgy simply acknowledge the prophetic disturbance without lending formal recognition or credence.
Many of the symbols of our faith -- candles, sheep, lambs, incense, angels, fire, virgins, saints, stoles, altars, ashes on foreheads, etc. -- appear in apocalyptic literature. Playing the conservative, I once restored the crucifix and several statues to a Catholic church, to the everlasting gratitude of my parishioners.
In a Roman Catholic reading of apocalyptic passages of scripture, especially of Revelation and the Gospels, we find reassurance during times of upheaval; these texts are not invitations to revolution. They are not threats to the wicked (who don't read them anyway) but consolation to the oppressed. 
They are certainly not guarantees to the satisfied that you can enjoy prosperity in this world and happiness in the next. During the seventies and eighties some American Christians hoped for a global, thermonuclear war to bring about the Second Coming; they were that assured of their personal salvation! That reading is a bastard combination of liberal contentment with conservative upheaval. "Let's stop the game while we're winning!" 
Nor do we support Steve Bannon's pessimistic theory of historical cycles. People are not vegetation; their decisions make history but cannot be predicted like the four seasons. 
In today's gospel, the Church recalls Jesus' reassurance, to the effect, "Do not run about hysterically thinking the world might have come to an end; you'll know it when it happens!" We do not accept any theory of history which would expect certain developments to mature into universal peace and justice. Nor do we watch for signs that prefigure the End. 
An old hermit was asked, "What would you do if you were told the world will end tomorrow?" He replied, "I would do the same as I did today: wake up and say my prayers, take my breakfast, and go to work in the garden."

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 493

Hear, O kings, and understand; learn, you magistrates of the earth's expanse!
Hearken, you who are in power over the multitude and lord it over throngs of peoples!
Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High, who shall probe your works and scrutinize your counsels.

The Book of Wisdom was written within the century before Jesus was born. It's authors enjoyed enough social and political stability that they could research and collect sayings and proverbs into a book. Their collaborators published the book and distributed it to prospective readers, probably students in the school at Jerusalem.
The Roman Empire, despite its shortcomings and excesses, offered stability; and many nations and people didn't mind its rule. Merchants could travel, contractors could build, artisans could create, bankers could lend at interest, schools could teach and research, new ideas could be generated: people could be reasonably content and hopeful in a predictable world.
The Divine Authors of Wisdom had neither the ear of the Emperor nor the attention of kings but they could hope their considered exhortation would be taken seriously by their aristocrat pupils. They could remind the powerful that, "You would have no power were it not given you from above!" as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate.
Regardless of the political system -- democracy, aristocracy, plutocracy, or dictatorship -- authority comes from God. If it fails to govern wisely and justly its authority is revoked.
The American bishops have reminded we-the-people that the economic/political system that fails to care for the needs of the least among us is doomed to failure.
All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable. From the Scriptures and church teaching we learn that the justice of a society is tested by the treatment of the poor. The justice that was the sign of God's covenant with Israel was measured by how the poor and unprotected—the widow, the orphan, and the stranger—were treated.

If you have ever been subject to advertising -- which is to say, "everyone" -- you know marketers are not concerned about the least among us. They appeal to those who have access to cash. Our entire economy is built around the demands of consumers; not the needs of the neediest. Upside down: it cares for the haves rather than the have-nots.
As a chaplain in a hospital, I see the cost of our way of life daily. Most patients are here due to their unfortunate decisions. They have responded to a loud, demanding market economy that cares not a whit for their real needs. They are sold a bill of goods that is not good; they're assured their decisions will please them -- until they collapse and are taken to stressed hospitals, rehab centers, and nursing homes.
That's no surprise, of course. Today's excesses are just the current manifestations of Original Sin. It is always with us, regardless of who is in charge or which ideology of freedom they espouse. 
The Gospel teaches us to recognize our guilt, turn away from sin, and atone by offering shelter to the homeless, care to the sick, and mercy to the needy. 

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

But the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace.

I find a salutary contrast between today's Old Testament reading from Wisdom and the selection from the New Testament Gospel. Wisdom speaks reassuring words of peace and comfort for the souls of the just, "They are in peace." But Saint Luke teaches us to say, "'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"
The contrast reminds us that the mercy of God is pure gift. We dare not take it for granted; it is not mechanical like gravity, or required by some law which even God must obey. But we can be assured of it.
We should never forget that we have no claim on God. The indifferent cycles of the Earth, with their rise and fall, ebb and flow, life and death remind us continually of our mortality. By nature's scale a human lifespan is not much longer than a mayfly's and seems to have little more import.
Hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards, tornadoes, droughts, fires, earthquakes and eruptions laugh at our pretensions of mastery. Scientific research, discovering billions and billions of galaxies, and seemingly infinite varieties of life evolving through millions of years, dismisses human claims of significance. What is the human creature against the panoply of stars?

In the light of such cosmic indifference it's not hard to say, "'We are unprofitable servants....'"
But the Spirit attests to the esteem and affection in which God holds us. We would know nothing of God if he did not continually save us, heal us, gather us, reassemble our society, and restore our original beauty. Despite our insignificance in the sight of the stars, the Father has sent the Son to save us and the Spirit to move us. God does not abandon us.
Even the scientific skeptic has to admit our scientific curiosity asserts our significance. 'Here we are!" the human says before the abyss. 
The Elect say before God. Although we are unprofitable servants, we praise your Name!

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini

Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the Lord in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart; Because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.

I once believed very foolishly that monks and nuns who spend their cloistered lives in prayer must be wise not only in the ways of God but also in the ways of foolish humanity. They have seen the dark side, I supposed, and are not alarmed or surprised by street talk or crude language. 
I fear that I never apologized for my stupidity but I have reason to believe the patient sisters forgave me. Unlike the clever of this world they do not nurture resentments. 
I often hear admiring stories in the VA hospital of the tough Louisville priests who drank and smoked and swore like sailors; but, fifty years later, these stories are not told by practicing Catholics. I fear they have never recovered from observing such low-grade scandalous behavior among the clergy 
Devout people who practice their faith daily -- it doesn't matter if they're Catholic or Protestant -- "love justice" and "think of the Lord's goodness...." They do not seek entertainment on the dark side; they live in the light and find more than enough amusement in beauty to satisfy their need for occasional recreation.
The Book of Wisdom, written not long before Jesus was born, urges the devout to live simple lives in a complex, confusing and often dangerous world. No one should expect to be a master of political and social intrigue and a saint also. God's flock will be, as Jesus said, like sheep among wolves, relying on the Lord for both protection and vindication. 
...because he is found by those who test him not, and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was clothed in innocence as she "loved justice" among the Italian immigrants in Chicago. She didn't need to get down with the homeless, orphaned adolescents; rather, she maintained her dignity and let them draw close to her. In fact, they flocked to her. 
With a prayerful heart and confidence in the power of faith to uproot a mulberry tree and cast it into the sea, she persuaded tough Chicago businessmen to build orphanages and schools while she collected young women to work as matrons and teachers to staff them. 
As we witness American culture descending again into the violence typical of her time, we pray that God will inspire others to take up her way of social action and simple innocence. 

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.

Langdon Gilkey, a Protestant American theologian of the mid-20th century, described the quest for wisdom as a kind of eroticism. Just as the human body craves certain pleasures, the mind craves knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Just as the body finds delight in carnal satisfaction, so does the mind delight in discovery and deeper insight.
Neglect of that erotic passion can only be foolishness. Willful ignorance, the decision to act without adequate knowledge or understanding, must be sinful.
The Divine Authors of the Old Testament were well aware of foolishness; they equated it with sin. The wise appreciate what they do not know, seek knowledge and cultivate habits and manners that conform to Wisdom. They worship the God who gives wisdom to his beloved.
In the New Testament we discover Jesus is "the word made flesh;" that is, Wisdom Incarnate. Today's gospel describes a severe penalty for the foolish; they are shut out of the Heavenly Wedding Banquet.
During the latter half of the first millennium, after the Roman Empire had collapsed and before the rise of medieval Christendom, young people from all over Europe travelled to Ireland to study. Christian missionaries had established the religion there; it took root in monasteries of men and women. They copied the ancient texts, secular and religious, philosophical, literary and scientific; and knew what they were reading. Fleeing the continual violence of barbarian Europe, young people worked and studied with the monks and nuns, and began the labor of restoring civilization.
Americans too have a passion for knowledge; we see it in our universities and research institutions. They are sponsored by government, business and church.
We have to wonder what kind of evil spirit suppresses that erotic impulse. Why would intelligent human beings disavow learning? Why would anyone spend two hours a day -- that is, one month a year -- watching television? Isn't that how we punish criminals in jail cells and prisons?
Desperate to maintain American dominance, the government demands that our children learn STEM -- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Those are fine things but we must also teach them history, art, literature, philosophy and religion -- beginning at home. We must cultivate an erotic passion for that most desirable and beautiful Lady Wisdom,

For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude.

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

Lectionary: 490

Now to him who can strengthen you, according to my Gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.

After several weeks, we have come to the end of Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans. He finishes with a typical flourish, a blessing of the Only Wise God through Jesus Christ. With this Epistle the Apostle tried to explain clearly "my Gospel" as opposed to that which certain "super apostles" were announcing to Jewish synagogues throughout the Roman empire. It is a "mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested... and made known to all nations...."

He hopes that Christians in Rome experience the immediate authority of Jesus and through him a freedom unimagined since time began. He demonstrates the paradox of the mystery as he speaks of obedience and freedom; in the Lord they are one and the same thing. Without the Lord there is neither. 

The patriarchs longed for this freedom, the prophets foresaw it, but only now is it revealed so clearly. 

Today, on Veterans Day, the Church coincidentally celebrates a Roman soldier who, impelled by an impulse of the Holy Spirit, discovered astonishing freedom. The story is told that this young man, having heard the Gospel and pondering its significance, saw a naked man shivering in the cold. Suddenly, without much thought, he threw off his army issue cape and wrapped it around the man. Wouldn't any decent person do the same?

That night he dreamed of the incident and recognized he had given the cloak to Jesus. With that he decided to leave the army and join the Church. When his commander accused him of cowardice he rose up in anger and requested that he be placed in the front line of the phalanx as the enemy approached. Fortunately, and perhaps by the impulse of the same Holy Spirit, the enemy withdrew and there was no battle. 

With that Martin withdrew from the army and was baptized. He became a bishop and was again remarkable for his courage. When several other bishops wanted to have certain heretics executed for their beliefs Martin defended their right to life. 

His story reminds us that freedom can find anyone anywhere, and opposition to freedom can come from any direction at any time. It may find us in military service or civilian life, a family home or a prison cell. Likewise, it must be exercised with or without the support and approval of legitimate authorities, be they military, familial, corporate or ecclesial. 

Hardly a day goes by when we don't hear of someone complaining how moral and ethical standards have changed. They complain, "My behavior was no worse than anyone's! What was acceptable last year is reprehensible this year. It's not fair!" 

But we know the Holy Spirit honors the dignity of every person in every age. Racial discrimination was never appropriate; sexual predation was never acceptable; embezzlement was always wrong. 

And it always takes courage to do the right thing. That's why Jesus gave us his Holy Spirit. As Saint Paul made clear in his second chapter, "You have no excuse!" for you live "according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith....'

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 489

But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects to remind you,
because of the grace given me by God
to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles
in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God,
so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable,
sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

I am struck by Saint Paul's use of the word "priestly" as he describes his vocation. That's the only time in all his letters that he uses the word priest. I am not a biblical scholar but, as I understand, the notion of Jesus as priest came late to the New Testament writers. It was introduced by the Letter to the Hebrews, which Saint Paul did not write. 
The priest in the Jewish religion of that time ministered only in the temple in Jerusalem. They had no role in the synagogues which were spread throughout the diaspora, from India to Spain. The synagogues were led by rabbis with their ministry of teaching. The priesthood was a ceremonial role performed only by men of the Levite tribe. It consisted of offering the people's sacrifices: oxen, lambs, doves or pigeons. 
In this sentence the Apostle says he is "performing a priestly service of the Gospel of God" as he brings Gentiles to the Lord. By preaching, baptizing and "breaking of the bread"  he included these strangers among the priestly people. 
The Book of Revelation also three-times describes Christians as "priests serving God our Father." 
Soon after the Second Vatican Council there was a lot of excitement and confusion among some Catholics about this "priesthood of the people." Some people envisioned "a church without priests (and good riddance!)" But, of course, they didn't have to look far to discover millions of Christians worshipping God without priests. The Protestant Reformation explored, surveyed, pioneered and settled that territory a long time ago.   
I don't think that's what Saint Paul had in mind. Perhaps it was only an evocative word for him. It suggested something, a new path which Hebrews and Revelation would explore. As I said, he used the word only once.
When I think of the word priest I recall the young poet John Keats and his first line of Endymion,
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Since the Second Vatican Council, as many Catholic volunteers have stepped up to be Eucharistic Ministers, lectors, and ministers of hospitality during the Mass, and into innumerable positions of both service and leadership outside of the Mass, we are seeing how the priest gathers the people into the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church that performs the priestly ministry, offering the sacrifice of themselves in union with Jesus Christ, in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and the peace of God our Father. 
Saint Paul saw it as he neared the end of his career and uttered the word priestly

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Lectionary: 671

He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there.He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace."

"Is anything sacred?" I ask my group of Veterans in the VA substance abuse program. To kick-start the discussion, I usually have to offer a dozen words associated with sacred: holy, reverent, pious, piety, saintly, Godly, fear of the Lord, devotion, zeal, esteem, honor, blessed, venerable and so forth.
Many are children and grandchildren of alcoholics; of the sacred they learned only that alcohol was not to be wasted. To watch a grown man cry, dump his fifth of Johnny Walker down the toilet!
In the military they learned reverence for the flag, officers and guns. Even after years of chemical abuse they still honor Old Glory.
If the discussion follows my plan we progress from "What is sacred to the Veteran?" to "What is sacred to the person in recovery?" Those with long experience of Alcoholics Anonymous can speak of sobriety, honesty and confidentiality -- "What you hear here, stays here!" The Program also encourages punctuality, courtesy and clean speech. Old timers will speak respectfully even of women, gays and members of minority races and religions.
Learning reverence is like learning to taste or smell something very subtle. Some teas seem to have no taste at first; some ointments have no smell until you've used them a while. I used to take communion on First Friday to homebound parishioners. One day, returning to my own rectory, I detected a now-familiar odor and said, "Rats!" I had not noticed it before but had learned it in the old homes I visited.
Learning reverence is like that. It doesn't come naturally but we can develop a sense of what is sacred.
The Psalmist invites us "Come, children, I will teach you the fear of the Lord." He begins by teaching us not about massive buildings or waving flags but our behavior in company,
"Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking lies, Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."
On this feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran -- an enormous basilica in Rome -- we celebrate a building most of us will never see, and we thank God for the holy sites we visit each Sunday. As we honor the buildings and the people who frequent them we learn a comportment that will serve us well in the Heavenly Hall of God.

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 487

In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

We are possessed by our possessions. The Lord would set us free. Yet we are fearful for we have invested so much of Self in our possessions we think we might disappear or be annihilated if they are taken from us. A piece of myself goes with my possessions!
That's a nice thought when I give someone a gift; not so pleasant when it's stolen from me. How dare they take mine from me, or me from mine?
We fear death because it is the ultimate dispossession. Stripped of everything we will stand before the Judge.We sometimes remind one another, "You can take nothing with you when you die." 
Some people believe there is no life beyond death. Perhaps they are really saying, "Because there is no ownership beyond death there will be nothing to live for!" 
But we often feel confined and trapped among our things. There is just too much stuff.
A few weeks ago I saw an old McCain/Palin bumper sticker that read, "I'll take my freedom, gun and money and you can keep the change!" As I walked past I thought, "You can have your guns and money but you've lost your freedom. You're possessed by your possessions."

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

The master then ordered the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedgerows and make people come in that my home may be filled. For, I tell you, none of those men who were invited will taste my dinner.'"

The excuses the invited guests offer for not attending the royal wedding should sound familiar. "I have bought a wife and married a cow!"
What may surprise us is that we're no more bewitched, bothered and bewildered than our first century ancestors. True, we have an infotainment complex that pursues us day and night, whether we are busy or at rest, relentlessly offering us new opportunities and threatening us with missed opportunities. People expect us to answer immediately when they call, email, text, twitter, flicker or tinkle.
But, on the other side, our side, we're just as reluctant to accept the Invitation as Jesus' contemporaries. We may have more excuses but they are, after all, nothing but excuses for not doing what we know we must do. In that respect, the times have not changed and there is nothing new under the sun.
If anything we have fewer excuses since we have so many efficient devices that allow us more leisure time.
Our reluctance is the problem, not the excuses.
I remember my Dad saying to my repeated buts, "But-But-But-But, you sound like a motor boat."
There is only one way to address that problem, head-on. "Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will." We hear those words and that ready attitude often in the scriptures, from Abraham to John of Patmos. Whatever I was doing, whatever my attitudes, whatever my experience -- none is so important as the Lord who stands at the door and knocks.

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 485

For God delivered all to disobedience,
that he might have mercy upon all.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given him anything
that he may be repaid?

Saint Paul seemed to live in a continual state of astonishment. He had only to consider the mystery of sin and he would see the overwhelming mercy of God.
With that active principle it should be far easier us to be amazed, since we are continually gob smacked by stories of war, disaster, disease, rape and terror. The media hits us from every direction with these calamities. Some of us actually experience them.
Last November 9 America woke up to a new deliverance. Some rejoiced that they had been delivered from Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party; others, that we had been delivered to the disobedience of Donald Trump and Breitbart news.
It's hard to say what Saint Paul might have thought of the incident but he would certainly respond with, "that he might have mercy upon all." And then he would sing, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom of God...."
How can today's Christian emulate Saint Paul? The times are no worse today than they were then; nor is the Good News any less fresh. Jesus is just as near to you and me in our offices and homes as he was to the Apostle on the Roman highway.
He had the support of his fellow Christians; he didn't travel alone. So the walkers maintained their Jewish customs of daily prayer, especially reciting the psalms and canticles. As they journeyed from town to town they must have discussed the innumerable concurrences between their Jewish traditions and the Gospel. Jesus is the "new Adam." Their Eucharistic celebrations are the new holocaust. Jesus is the Son of the Shepherd King David. These reflections offered them continual delight. They would have often broke out in psalms, hymns and inspired songs as they walked, probably using different words to fit the new doctrine.
Continually they met obstacles and continually they felt the surge of the Holy Spirit within them that overcomes every difficulty. How could they keep from singing of the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?

Because the Lord's Prayer runs so deep in Christian religion we may be surprised that the Old Testament rarely speaks of God as "father." The Hebrews and their descendants, the Jews, speak of God first as the redeemer who freed them from the slavery of Egypt and continues to go with them.
With continuing revelation they know their Savior is also the Lord of lords and God of gods. He is the Creator who spoke the Word and the universe sprang into being. In fact, there are no other gods; the idols of other religions are nothing more than fictions of human imagination.
But the Divine Authors of the Hebrew Bible seem reluctant to trespass upon God's sovereign majesty with a name as bold as "Father." There are only occasional references as in

  • Deuteronomy 32:6 -- Is this how you repay the LORD, so foolish and unwise a people? Is he not your father who begot you, the one who made and established you? 
  • Job 31:18 -- Though like a father he has reared me from my youth, guiding me even from my mother’s womb.
In the New Testament we find far less reluctance to call God the Father but there remains one important boundary. Jesus has an entirely unique relationship to God, whom he addresses as "Abba." We may call him "Our Father" but we should not suppose Jesus is just one of the brothers. 
On that first Easter Sunday he told Mary Magdalene, "I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." They are the same Divine Person but the relationship is different. The Evangelist will not permit us to confuse the relationships.

In today's first reading we hear the Prophet Malachi scolding his people with that important word, "Have we not all the one father? Has not the one God created us? Why then do we break faith with one another, violating the covenant of our fathers?" There can be no sibling rivalry in this Father's household. As Jesus will tell us, "Your Father knows what you need before you ask!" You have only to ask. 
In today's gospel Jesus pointedly reminds us that, as children of God, we should not regard anyone too highly. "Call no one rabbi!" and "Call no one father" are typical Hebraic exaggerations to remind us that no one can hide from God's judgment behind a pastor's or bishop's authority. Religious leaders, be they ancient, pharisaic rabbis or modern Catholic monsignors, are sinful persons like everyone else. Their foolishness is no excuse for yours or mine. Your father, who sees in secret, knows what you intend despite any lame excuses like, "the priest said it was okay" or "the priest does it too." 
Each time we celebrate the Mass the Church reminds us that we dare to call God "Our Father." We should do so with fear and trembling, eagerly, confidently, gratefully and joyfully.