Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 133

Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.

Today's Old Testament reading from the Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Saint Matthew remind us of God's sovereign authority over us. 
  • Isaiah says, For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. 
  • Saint Matthew's parable challenges us, "Are you envious because I am generous?'"
Given those readings I find Saint Paul's attitude all the more refreshing. He has found his place in God's service with his dedication to the well being of others. He is not cowed by God's sovereign majesty; nor does he make much of his own divine authority in the Church. 
Rather, although he is writing from prison and tempted to hope he might die in the wretched place and be delivered instantly into Paradise, he prefers release from prison that he might return to Philippi. 
In either case he is open to God's will. His fate doesn't matter that much to him; but, given his druthers he’druther be on the Gospel Road again. 
The great Italian poet Dante put it succinctly, "In his will is our peace." 
This gospel may sound sour to American ears. The Catholic Church has a history of championing workers’ rights to a living wage; and our sympathy may lie with those who labored the whole day in the hot sun and were paid no more than those who arrived in the cool of the evening.
We also have a tradition of challenging authority. In fact, we're supposed to be able to change our leadership with national, state and local elections. "Throw the bums out!" we say; although the bums are demonstrating a remarkable ability to stay in place.
The landowner in Saint Matthew's story won't even respond to the workers' complaints. He replies to only one man. He owes the workers nothing but what he has paid them. "Take what is yours and go!" he says with considerable contempt. The point of this parable is not God's contempt for his people. It is rather his generosity and freedom.
Precisely because the story is hard to swallow, it smacks us with God's sovereign freedom and superabundant generosity. We're not used to seeing such behavior; wealthy people are usually parsimonious; even their generosity is self-serving. The landowner in this story sneers at the whole lot of them. We need other stories to show us God's more genial side, and there are many in the scriptures.
Isaiah reminds us of God's sovereign freedom and strange ways when he says,
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.
This should remind us of Jesus’ rebuking Saint Peter, which we heard recently, “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God thinks but as men!”
I find it helpful to look at the universe around me when I think of God’s generosity. The  stars in the sky; the fruit on a tree; the sand on the seashore, the bugs in a swarm; the power of the wind: they speak of overwhelming abundance. If they are not infinite they are far beyond my counting. They are quite literally as high as the heavens are above the earth; and that measure seems to increase exponentially every time a scientist studies the data – which is also expanding exponentially!
So who am I to complain if I don’t get as much as I want? Do I have standing in God’s courtroom, especially when I cannot finish an inventory of the gifts I’ve been given? Saint Paul from his prison cell just wants to do more for the Lord. He knows intimately the Lord’s mercy for he has received the good as well as the bad. He never suffered a stress or misery which was not compensated, and he knew plenty of both.
Isaiah was told, “They will look but not see; listen but not hear.” This parable challenges us to open our eyes and see again God's generosity.

Memorial of "Padre Pio," Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

Lectionary: 448

I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

Closing his letter to Timothy, Saint Paul reminds him (and us) of where we stand in time; that is, between that moment when Jesus made his noble confession of faith before Pontius Pilate, and the "appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
To be human we need a sense of where we are both geographically and chronologically. Rising from an unusually deep nap in mid-afternoon the first thing we ask is, "What time is it?" Most often, under normal circumstances, we know what time it is when we get up in the morning, take our lunch or retire at night. For as long as historians can remember people have kept track of the time. There are records of Romans complaining of living too much by the sundial! Rarely are we caught off guard and discover that time has slipped away.
Likewise, as Christians we want to know the time. Indeed some Christians have studied the scriptures like ancient magicians studying the entrails of chickens to determine when the Lord might make his long awaited appearance. They do this despite the specific teaching of Jesus:
“But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
In today's teaching this chapter in time began with Jesus standing before Pilate and making his noble confession. Paul would remind us that we too must make our "noble confession" by keeping the commandments without stain or reproach. 
We stand under judgement all of the time; it is both God's judgement and our neighbors'. They're watching to see if we act like the Christians we pretend to be. Sometimes their notions are unrealistic or self-serving. Panhandlers may think we owe them charity if they see us coming from the church. 
But very often they are right! The human being has a sense of right and wrong and they know when we're doing wrong, even if they sympathize with our misbehavior. They might even show some compassion for our hypocrisy because they recognize it in themselves. 
But they want, need and deserve inspiration. Our non-Christian, non-practicing neighbors need to see married couples holding hands in public; parents and children enjoying one another; and volunteers committing themselves to works of mercy. They need to see spirited church ceremonies if they happen to look in on us on a Sunday morning. They need to see something attractive in our behavior. 
Our life of faith can fascinate our neighbors because we are fascinated by, and live always in the light of 
the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 447

Teach and urge these things.
Whoever teaches something different
and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the religious teaching is conceited, understanding nothing,
and has a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes.

In his First Letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul doesn't allow much room for honest disagreement. He considers his opponents "conceited, understanding nothing." In fact, he says, they have a "morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes."
I am, by the grace of God, not a theologian but from my position out here in the hinterland of theological disputation, I have sometimes heard, like distant thunder, an argument for the "right to disagree." "Honest people," it is said, "may have differing points of view."
I can understand that. Two people standing side by side and witnessing the same auto accident can offer quite different narratives of what happened. One may be a carpenter, the other a mother of toddlers. They have different skills for seeing what appears before their eyes. But if a traffic cop happens to see the incident, that interpretation will probably weigh the most in court.
Opinions, including theological and philosophical distinctions, do make a difference. Saint Paul brought his Pharisaic training to his ministry. Grounded in Jewish history and thought, familiar with the best writing of his time, working closely with forming Christian communities, and inspired by the Holy Spirit, he did not hesitate to use his authority to encourage and discourage.
He could see when people were being difficult for the sake of being difficult. These individuals permit their egos to get in the way of their own best interests and those of the community. It's not hard to detect ego; it smells and pollutes conversation. It is a tree that bears bad fruit. Pressed by conflict and defensive, it may appeal to a fictional "right to disagree."
The United States Constitution has been described as "godless." The authors and signers intentionally avoided the word God. And they granted enormous room for religious disagreement among citizens so long as they observe the law of the land. Given the broad agreement among Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, that law is a good thing; they did not foresee a religious challenge to the law. Even Christian pacifists could find a place to serve within a warlike society.
The Catholic Church has supported that document precisely because it permits Catholics to practice our faith without harassment from authorities, and because it permits us to compare and contrast various theological opinions. We can still condemn outright religious opinions that are contrary to our religious tradition.
Some Christian churches support the legal right of abortion; we don't buy it. Not only do we suspect the idea, we suspect the individualist impulses that demand it. They are hostile to our sacred institutions of marriage and family. We cannot support any fictional "right" to abortion. It flies in the face of God's mercy, with which we are intimately familiar.
Many Christian churches readily recognize divorce. It seems to them a compassionate response to the violence women endure within their own homes. Again, we smell a rat. If the vows of marriage mean nothing then Truth itself is threatened. A child of divorced parents must suspect everything they tell him. For that matter, divorce has not protected women from being sorely abused by their "lovers." They suffer more violence today than before divorce was introduced as a solution.
We wonder if the 19th century legislators who introduced divorce to the American way of life were not "conceited, understanding nothing." Perhaps, their motives were not compassion but being rid of troublesome wives.
The tent of "compassion" has become rather tattered as it shelters divorce, abortion and gay marriage. Ministering as I do in health care, I wonder if it's not a short cut to drug abuse as doctors use pharmacology to deal with troublesome patients.
Bad ideas are bad ideas, they corrupt even the mind of a good person. Saint Paul urged his disciples to avoid those who are conceited, understanding nothing, and have a morbid disposition for arguments and verbal disputes.
He urged them to trust his wisdom, experience and authority, even as they asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten their understanding. That Spirit which is confident, courageous, humble, generous and hospitable opens ways to communion that are closed to the opinionated.

Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Lectionary: 643

I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit....

If the world around me, and everyone in it, were ideal my only problem would be me. My inner moods and dispositions would not conform to the wonderful place in which I live. I would simply be challenged to live in a manner worthy of the call which I have received, an invitation to conform to everyone else's behavior.
Sometimes I am convinced the only problem is me. If enough people are mad at me I am sure of it. And then I remember that others have problems too; and the world we live in is a mess. I am only another of God's problems.
Today we celebrate the Evangelist Matthew. Jesus sent him along with all the disciples into a mad, chaotic world of distressed persons and dysfunctional families with a bond of peace, the Holy Spirit.
This bond is strong and subtle. It can hold large congregations of quarrelsome people together and reassure isolated prisoners like Saint Paul that, "All shall be well; and all shall be well; and all manner of things shall be well."
The Apostle surely knew whereof he wrote when he urged the Ephesians to live "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love." He felt that peaceful spirit even as he wondered if he would ever get out of prison, if he would eat another meal, be permitted to finish his letter, or be beaten by his guards.
There in that miserable place he knew the presence of Jesus who had also been imprisoned, beaten and finally executed. This cosmopolitan man, raised in comfort, educated in the best schools, conversant with the best people, familiar with capital cities and the highways that connected them was reassured by the Spirit that he was right where God wanted him.
He could not be bothered with theodicy, the modern question about the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God who seems to have lost control of the world. He could say what our African-American Christian neighbors living in a hostile nation, tell us over and over, "God is still in charge."
Even the hostility is a sign of God's sovereign authority.
Yes, the problem is me; but it's also all around me. And the Spirit of God still binds us together with all humility and gentleness.

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

Lectionary: 445

Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion:
Who was manifested in the flesh,

vindicated in the spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed to the Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.

This passage from Paul's first letter to Timothy is a poem or song celebrating the "mystery of devotion" who is Jesus. However, this mystery requires many names and deep reflection. If you think you know the Lord, you don't. If you acknowledge that you are known by the Lord and wish to remain in his company, you reflect some of the humble wisdom required of a disciple.
This mystery comes to us as a "manifested" word, "in the flesh." The word, of course, is an analogy which suggests the mystery; human beings speak words to one another; what God does is unspeakable in human terms but it's something like a word -- which we have heard and welcomed. But the word was a man who came to us in the flesh, a messenger from God, bringing peace, mercy, atonement, justice, communion and so forth.
However, the Word was crucified like any common criminal. He did not display any great authority or power while he lived among us; he did not persuade Roman emperors, their sycophant kings or their punishing armies to worship him. In fact he and his claim needed vindication. It was given by the Spirit.
You and I received that Spirit, but not everyone has. I often think of Saint Luke's "icon" which reveals the young virgin Mary and her matronly cousin Elizabeth greeting one another. These two know something in the Spirit that worldly powers cannot imagine. They are dancing for joy well beneath the radar that scans the earth for resistance or rebellion. Why would the emperor care if a couple of silly women are pregnant?
But we know and we dance for joy.
The mystery is seen by the angels, which are also invisible to earthly powers, and proclaimed to the Gentiles. The apostolic church never forgot its keen disappointment that the entire Jewish world did not receive the Word.
But he was "believed in throughout the world" by those whom God foreknew, even as he was taken up in glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

My eyes are upon the faithful of the land,
that they may dwell with me.
He who walks in the way of integrity
shall be in my service.

Today's responsorial psalm picks up on the theme of leadership from 1 Timothy. Psalm 101 is one of the royal psalms, probably written for the grand ceremonies when a king was crowned or welcomed for a state visit.
In the selection above the king speaks, announcing his benevolent gaze upon the "faithful of the land" and his policy of employing in his service the "upright." The king of Judah, a descendant of David, the protector and sponsor of God's temple, sets the tone for just government.
It didn't always happen that way but the Jewish religion allowed critics of the government -- God's prophets -- ample freedom.
Of course, this being a divinely-inspired religion of human beings, the king found ways to influence the prophets, by special favors or outright threats. There were prophetic guilds in Judea just as there are religious communities in Catholicism; they could be devout or impious, zealous or lazy, intelligent or stupid, perspicacious or dull. Inevitably the question arose, "How do you know if a prophet is from God?" That too was the king's problem, which he and his capital city had to address.
Jewish kingship disappeared with the Babylonian exile and was never restored. Prophets remained and guided the people through the turbulent centuries that followed, but they too fell silent long before Jesus was born. The Jewish religion persisted with a restored priesthood in Jerusalem until 70 CE, and rabbis provide guidance to this day.
The new Christian religion adopted a different system of leadership as the apostolic missionaries disappeared. Bishops, deacons and presbyters led churches scattered throughout the Roman world, from Britain and Spain to India. The system was built around the Mass with the bishop presiding, the deacons providing physical and clerical assistance, and the presbyters acting as elders. In many cases the deacon had more authority than the presbyters but the bishop, representing both Jesus as high priest of the altar and the enthroned God the Father from his presider's chair, ruled the assembly.
During apostolic times the bishop might have been appointed and ordained by an apostle. After that halcyon era he would be elected by the presbyters and formally ordained by an assembly of neighboring bishops who laid hands on his head, thus ensuring the unity of the Church.
Given the external hostility of Roman authorities and the Jews, and the internal challenge of managing money and personnel, the bishop's job was never easy. Not then; not today. Many, like today's martyr Saint Januarius, were executed as reward for their zeal.
Anyone who wants the job probably wants it for all the wrong reasons. If he gets the job he will suffer even more for the inevitably disappointment; no amount of privilege can balance the misery.
Which is why we must pray for the leaders of our church, from the pope, through the cardinals, bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, ushers, greeters, readers, Eucharistic ministers down to the altar servers, not to mention virtually everyone else in these trying times. Amen.

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 443

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

In recent years many critics have raised concern about the Church's support of the state. When Saint Paul urged Saint Timothy and his disciples to offer prayers for kings and all in authority, few authorities were even aware of their Christian subjects; they were so few.
By the time of Saint Augustine, the Church had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. Seeing the Empire disintegrating before his eyes, he wrote his City of God, a book-length essay that foresaw the rise of the Church to political eminence during the middle ages. There was no single state for many centuries but virtually all rulers in Europe claimed allegiance to the Catholic Church, even as they waged continual warfare with one another and the City of God, Rome.
Many Catholics, citing Augustine's work, believe the Church's greatest century was the 13th, when the pope and bishops had enormous political, financial, military, economic and social power. This, despite Pope Innocent II's recognition of an inner corruption and his promotion of the mendicant orders to reform the Church. More than ever before, Europe needed to hear of Jesus' poverty and helplessness.
By the dawn of the 20th century secular governments had regained authority and the Vatican empire was reduced to 110 acres; the Pope's influence, mostly moral. But it took a Second Vatican Council to recognize the rightness of that arrangement.
Throughout these many centuries we have found justification for our attitudes toward secular authority in today's passage from Saint Paul's letter to Timothy and a similar passage in his Letter to the Romans
The Church has an obvious preference for economic and political stability. We pray for our rulers because we want civil authorities, of whatever religious persuasion, to govern wisely and justly, and so to maintain peace. 
We have a long memory of injustice, both those we have suffered and those we have imposed upon others. The Magisterium might deny our support of racism, bigotry and persecution, maintaining as it does the purity of God's action within the Church, but we know that sinful societies, acting in fear and greed, fighting for stability and defending their prosperity, can do terrible things. Catholics recall the hostility we met arriving in the United States and we remember the Saint Bartholomew's Day massacre, which spawned such suspicion. We remember too, Catholic Spain's expulsion of Jews and Muslims in 1492. We're not innocent. 
Since Saint Paul wrote his letters to the Romans and to Saint Timothy, we have devised ways to select our governors and change our laws. The Apostle would have supposed God himself willed the Empire, it was so deeply entrenched and settled. We know we have the duty to support, criticise and challenge our governments. They are only secular institutions set up to serve a purpose.
Christian patriots are profoundly aware of their own sins and those of governments. They demand justice especially when it might cost them some measure of comfort or security. Habitually they make sacrifice and they don't mind asking the same of their authorities. 
The Lord himself sent us from Jerusalem to our native or adopted lands to be a blessing. We remain as staunch supporters of good government and fearless critics of corruption; and thus we contribute to God's work of building the Kingdom. 

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 130

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.

Jesus tells us today a shocking-but-not-surprising story. We've all met people like this. Jesus ben Sirach says, they hug tightly wrath and anger.
Ignoring everything else, wrath, anger and the desire for revenge are their most prized possessions.
But they are also possessed by their diabolical possessions and cannot act reasonably.
People sometimes ask me about diabolical possession. Perhaps they've seen again the movie The Exorcist, or the History Channel has broadcast another of its pseudo-religious theories. After watching that outlandish entertainment they don't want to hear that most of us are possessed from time to time by passions of anger, fear, greed or lust. It's a very common experience and yet profoundly disturbing.
The servant in today's story has apparently been beyond the pale of reasonable behavior for a long time. He seems to believe he can actually pay back in full his overwhelming debt. Supposing he was competent to begin with, we might ask how did he get into this predicament. I met a very competent postmaster one time who lost his job when he gambled with government money. For a mere $700 his career and marriage were destroyed.
Perhaps the mean-spirited servant was always in over his head, but was clever enough to distract others from the obvious. I knew another fellow some years ago who was cruising the gay bars of the local city. No one suspected it despite certain obvious signs of his proclivity because he was habitually aggressive. Thrown on the defensive by his manner, we didn't ask what was he hiding. (The best defense is a good offense.) Finally the crisis erupted and the scales fell from our eyes.
Sinful behavior is insane behavior; it is the behavior of the diabolically possessed. They have given their lives over to a lesser god. They are owned by a master who is unworthy of love or trust.
But we all do it once in a while.
The real failure is not so much this fellow's incompetence, indebtedness or habitual denial; it is his lack of mercy. Shown extraordinary mercy, he shows no mercy.
Perhaps, despite his new freedom -- being forgiven and all -- he is still possessed by the humiliation of being found out. Spared of punishment, he must punish another man who owes him a pittance.
The Gospel of Saint Matthew makes much of mercy. In the Lord's Prayer we ask God to "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."
Jesus only comment on his Prayer follows directly,
"If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
If we didn't get the message from Matthew 6 (the Sermon on the Mount) this story in Chapter 18 drives it home. Any Christian who expects mercy had better show it to others. Any Christian who thinks he has not already found overwhelming mercy had best look again.

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, Pope, and Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Lectionary: 442

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.

In the twentieth century, philosophers and theologians began to pay more attention to the identity and experience of the individual person. A philosophy of existentialism was born. I have been laboriously reading Martin Heidegger's 415-page Being and Time for the past month and am now fifty pages into it. Perhaps on the third reading I'll begin to understand his teaching.
     Nevertheless, these philosophers and theologians are onto something. Like Saint Paul, they know that we cannot ignore personal experience. That may seem obvious, and it is; philosophers generally point out the obvious because we're obviously overlooking it! 
     If our thinking begins in personal experience, our communications are framed in traditional language and we assume others know what we're talking about, although they can only hear and understand from their own personal experience. 
     Saint Augustine pondered that mystery. How does a thought in my mind, he wondered, move through my words, mouth and breath to other ears and into their understanding? Does the word I use to mean this, mean this to them? Very often, if not more often than not, what I say is misunderstood. It is always a struggle, as the Captain said of Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."  
     So when Saint Paul wants to reassure his disciples of salvation, he begins with, "This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance!
     With the understanding this next statement is underlined and in bold, he declares. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.How do we know that? "Of these (sinners) I am the foremost!" 
     If you believe his personal experience; if you accept his credibility, you will accept his doctrine about Jesus Christ. 
     It seems -- and I am no philosopher but it seems to me -- that the Church has sometimes tried to divorce personal testimony from the Truth. In other words, the doctrine is floating out there in the ethereal world of Reality, regardless of anyone's acceptance or belief. "You should believe it not because I said it but because it's true!" We might even add to our moral/ethical teaching, "Do as I say, not as I do." 
     Saint Paul knew better. He asked people first to believe in him; and secondly, to believe in his word. He was amazed and grateful when they "took it not as the word of men but as the Word of God."
     If they can't believe in us, they probably cannot believe in our word, even if it is the Word of God, the Truth
...for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.
Saint Paul moved from place to place throughout his career, but not so quickly that people didn't come to know him. He was not the itinerant preacher who gives a weekend mission in a parish, wowing the congregation with erudite oratory, and then moving on before they discover his dark side. He stayed for months and years at a time; they knew his irritability and impatience as well as his humility and zeal. He was apparently grounded in Galatia by a disgusting eye disease; and they tenderly cared for him. They believed in his gospel despite his frail human condition, and he never forgot their kindness.
     Today the Church celebrates the martyrs, Saints Cornelius and Cyprian and, once again, we are astonished by the testimony of our martyrs. Whatever their personal failings -- and we all have them -- they stood by their faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit invites and challenges each of us to accept this as my personal credo, not as the word of men but as the word of God: 
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

Lectionary: 441/639

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed.

Oh, how sad and sore distressed
Was that Mother highly blessed
Of the sole begotten One!

The Latin poem Stabat Mater Dolorosa is generally attributed to Franciscan friar Jacopone da Todi, although this has been disputed. It is a fine example of religious lyric in the Franciscan tradition. It was inserted into the Roman Missal and Breviary in 1727 for the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on the Friday before Good Friday. Following changes by Pope Pius XII, it now appears on the Feast of Our Lady's Sorrows celebrated on 15 September. wikipedia

[Forgive me if I crow once in a while about our Franciscan heritage. It was quite a movement in the 13th and 14th centuries. Jacopone, a nickname meaning "Crazy James" was part of the excitement.] 

On the day after the Exaltation of the Cross, (it seems to me) the Church might more appropriately celebrate the Ever Glorious Virgin Mary. But I suppose we do that anyway, in many ways. Our Franciscan province celebrates Our Lady of Consolation in October. That title seems to fit today's memorial. 

In Carey Ohio, where I was ordained, there are two altars on either side of the main altar. On the left side is an image of Our Lady of Sorrows. It is a pieta image. The marble Virgin sits in desolation above an altar; below the altar is a marble image of Her dead son. That altar doesn't get much attention; I've not found a photo of it on the website or the facebook page. Pilgrims go immediately to the right side of the basilica and the more familiar image of Our Lady of Consolation, a dressed statue with many fabulous clothes which are changed periodically. 

But Mary is the Consoler of the Afflicted because she has suffered the death of her Son. Saint Paul described that mystery at the beginning of his second letter to the Corinthians:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.
Because we have suffered much, we comfort others. Veterans sometimes remark about the calm I bring to them as they tell me their sorrows. They might be surprised by it; I needn't tell them my own particular story; they haven't come to meet the chaplain. But I recognize what the grace of God is doing in my presence. God has encouraged me in every affliction so that I may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction. 

It is not an extraordinary grace. Many people entering the church on a Sunday morning find the reassuring presence of a congregation around them. They cannot imagine what sorrows the faithful in that room have suffered; there are too many stories to tell in a year! But the consoling grace manifests itself. 

Our Lady of Sorrows is Our Lady of Consolation; Our Lady of Prompt Succor, and the Consoler of the Afflicted. We honor her with many similar titles because she too has been exalted with Jesus Christ. 

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Lectionary: 638

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

A Veteran told me of his failure in Baghdad. He had come upon the scene too late; a woman and her daughter were dead in the street. Had he been there sooner he might have saved them. He had volunteered to serve in Iraq not because he believed in the American presence there, but because he hoped to save lives.

Seeing mangled bodies in a market street where consumers shopped for their daily bread broke the spirit of this young man. 

The enemy discovered the weakness of the American invasion. They could not resist the warplanes or tanks; there was no weakness there. They could not interrupt the supply of food to feed American soldiers, nor munitions to arm them. But they could exploit our weakness, women and children. An American believes non-combatants, especially the "innocent"should be exempt. All fighting should stop when a child wanders into the kill zone. When the American soldier sees the mangled bodies of toddlers and children something within him dies. The Vietnamese figured that out a half-century ago. Everybody knows it today. 

We should consider that the next time we go to war (with North Korea or Iran?) They might kill their own women and children. Then our demoralized warriors will return home to drink heavily, consume drugs, abuse their loved ones and finally commit suicide. We can afford to lose personnel and materiel in war, but we can't afford endless years of not knowing how to care for our morally wounded Veterans. We thought they would "do the job" and come home to resume the normal lives of civilians. We know better now; the whole world knows we have no stomach for real war. Even the "virtual war" of drones and smart bombs is proving too much for our joystick warriors. They're breaking down even as they sleep with their wives and children in comfortable, suburban homes. 

The Exaltation of the Cross celebrates God's weakness. He could not stop loving us even from the cross. He poured out his last drop of blood with his dying breath. Americans also have weaknesses, though we hate to admit it. We love children. Perhaps our enemies can exploit that weakness and help us to stop going to war. 

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

When I was a boy a neighbor kid told me that Heaven was inside the moon. It made sense to me. Heaven was supposed to be up in the sky and the moon was up in the sky; ergo, the moon is heaven.
    Not long after that a Russian cosmonaut reported that he was high in the sky and he saw nothing resembling heaven. When American astronauts looked down they saw a place that was unutterably beautiful but they hesitated to call it heaven.
    Saint Paul used traditional images to describe Christ seated at God's right hand; it was up there above the heavens. Ezekiel, among other prophets, had seen the Lord God Almighty roaring around the heavens in an angelic chariot. Daniel saw one like a son of man approach the One Seated on a Throne in the sky.
    When the highest human structures were stone towers and the heights were mountain tops it made sense that God should be up there in the highest places. The author of Genesis mocked human arrogance when he described God's coming down from his high place to get a look at the Tower of Babel, and further down to confuse their language. No one had ever seen the Earth from above before the inventions of hot air balloons, airplanes and spacecraft.
    Now that we have been there, that air travel has become commonplace, it's more difficult to imagine exactly where Christ is seated at God's right hand.
    Most of us handle that shift pretty well; the more difficult one is to understand Saint Paul's exhortation, "Think of what is above, not of what is of earth."
    Saint Augustine apparently considered hunger, thirst, cold, weariness, fear, anger, sexual desire and desires in general as things of earth. The Christian ascetic, like the Greek stoic, should rise above such things.
    In many ways that neo-Platonic attitude denied the mystery of the Incarnation. Christians supposed that Jesus had not suffered those weaknesses; or he had certainly not let them overcome him. Even sadness seemed a betrayal of faith as graveside mourners urged each other not to weep or cry. "Be strong!" they said.
    In Vietnam, when soldiers died their comrades would say, "It doesn't matter," as they suppressed their grief and horror.
    In recent years we have seen a change of heart about human emotion. Philosophers have moved beyond stoicism and idealism as psychology discovered the cost of repressed feelings. Like the proverbial whack-a-mole, suppressed anger reappears as fear, hate or lust.
    Even Christian ministers have begun to recognize human feelings first in themselves, then in Jesus, and finally among their disciples. We finally notice that Jesus wept, Jesus got angry, Jesus could flirt with women, and Jesus could feel despair. He is, after all, one of us, a chip off the old block!
    In the face of irrepressible human feelings, what does it mean to, "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth?"
    I suppose it begins with the assurance that the Lord God of Heaven and Earth has looked upon you and me with the human eyes of Jesus. He has loved us with the affection of a son or brother, nephew or neighbor. As a child he has looked up at us and admired our courage and generosity in the face of adversity.
    And he has recognized our fearfulness, anger and sadness because he has felt them too; he cannot condemn those who feel as he felt. He has been caught by surprise, as when a centurion asked for his favor and a pagan woman demanded a cure. He has laughed at what was funny -- the Pharisees who strutted about town with their fat bellies and their arrogant manners -- and assured us we can be irreverent at times. He has withdrawn in the face of danger, as when he heard that John the Baptist had been murdered.
    In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who are born of the Spirit are born from above.
The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes...
Christians are impelled by the spirit as a sailboat is impelled by the wind. We may not know where it is leading us but we're sure it comes from God. The Spirit of Jesus teaches us to trust our natural feelings of compassion for others, courage in the face of fear, and generosity in the face of need.

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power.

I was often told as a child, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." (Perhaps I should be reminded again but the grey hairs protect me.)
    Addressing the church at Colossae, Saint Paul had to direct the eager curiosity of new Christians who fell prey to speculators and fantasists with strange religious ideas. (That tradition still survives on the History Channel.) As pagans they were all too familiar with gods, goddesses, "principalities and elemental powers" largely fabricated by human imagination. With some misinformation and a bit of misdirection the Colossians could suppose Jesus is just another member of that celestial three-ring circus.
    Saint Paul wants his people to come back to earth and the reality of their own experience, Forget your religious theories and remember your baptism!
"In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by hand, by stripping off the carnal body, with the circumcision of Christ. You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God,..."
    If circumcision seemed too high a price for becoming a Jew -- a price many gentiles would not pay -- Baptism was even more demanding! Through Baptism, our entire carnal body has been stripped away from us with the "circumcision" of Christ. You did not suffer merely a loss of some superfluous flesh, you died and were buried with him in baptism." 
    We encounter this difficult conversation in the writings of Saint Paul and Jesus' controversies in the gospels. Because the Gospel is so accessible, because Jesus is so approachable, our Way seems easy. Some enthusiastic evangelists might even assure prospective members, "There's nothing to it! All you have to do is 'Believe and be saved!'"
    Protestant preachers will announce, "Once saved, always saved!" Catholics might declare, "You made your first communion, you are saved!" or "You made your nine first Fridays, you're in like Flynn!
    In their eagerness to sell a product or win a convert, they forget that this stripping off the carnal body is not easy and may be very painful. Jesus warned these enthusiasts,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves."

"Successful preacher" is probably an oxymoron. The only successful preacher in the Bible was the fictional, foolish Jonah, who bitterly regretted his success and despised God's mercy. The faithful Christian cannot expect success.
   Today, when far too many people claim the title of Christian, we should ponder its challenge and consider its price.

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

"I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"

Jesus' opponents in this story, "the scribes and Pharisees," are so intoxicated with their self-righteous anger they cannot catch the subtlety of his question.
    No one could argue that healing a man's withered hand is a good thing. Someone might say,"There is a time and place for everything!" and this is not the time for that!
    That might make a cogent argument. It might even be used against Jesus' practice of healing on the Sabbath, something which he did rather often.
    But since they didn't use that line, Jesus doesn't need to answer it. Instead he confronts them with a confounding question. They are so angry they cannot quite comprehend what he is saying, and that's because he has named their behavior -- they are doing evil on the Sabbath. When they conspire to kill him, they destroy life, rather than save it, on the holiest day of the week. These good, law-abiding, holy men!
    Recently, amid the tragedies in Charlottesville, some people used violence to fight violence. Although their weapons were not as cruel as those of the KKK and Neo-Nazis, they caused harm.
    In their own eyes, the racists won that conflict. Though none of their own was murdered, at least one was so intimidated he ran away from a group of counter-protesters.
    In any conflict, it seems, there is the temptation to fight fire with fire, to use the enemy's tactics while claiming the higher ground and the moral authority to do so.
    However, since there is no higher court in this world to validate that moral authority, the tactic fails. The bad guys win in their own minds first, and often in the court of public opinion.
    Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King won their battles as Jesus won his, with non-violence. All three men, working under the same peaceful spirit, remind us to resist evil peacefully, civilly and patiently. Our faith teaches us not to fight fire with fire or hate with hate; Jesus has already conquered sin and death by his cross.