Monthly Archives: December 2021

Making 2022 a More Peaceful Year

Dear Folks,The Christmas season has just begun, and today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, and also St. Stephen (Holy Family takes precedence over St. Stephen, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind). The Story of Christmas includes the story of Herod and all the nastiness that he did, so even our season of joy has a reminder that there is great evil in the world and forces that seek to stamp out the light. The story of St. Stephen, the first martyr, reminds us that the Gospel sometimes faces a harsh response. Family often includes conflict, and it has a special poignancy because these are people so special to us. God made us all to be one family, a family united by His peace and love. I want to start out this year returning to a theme that I have touched on before, but I believe that it is worth reemphasizing.There has been so much violence in the news. I’m so tired of hearing about violence, whether it is with a knife, gun, vehicle, fists, it is horrifying that there is so much. Various things have been proposed, and I do believe that law enforcement is essential, but it won’t solve the ultimate problem. We must become a more peaceful people from the inside out. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all may be one, and says that if we are, that will help people believe in the Gospel. We can’t control others, but we can look at our own behavior, and see how we can get closer to the Christian ideal. We remember what the Scriptures teach. “Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse them (Romans 12:14).” “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).”Does this mean being passive in the face of malice? Doormats to bullies? I say no, emphatically no. It does mean trying to respond in a way that has a chance of making the situation better. My whole life’s experience tells me that good intentions are not enough, that we must learn peacemaking as an art. I have found books to be helpful. “Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden is about healing painful memories (especially childhood memories), and we must begin to heal if we are to be healers. “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu is an inspiring call to forgiveness. “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn give practical thoughts on the process of forgiveness. “Verbal Judo” by George Thompson is about de-escalating conflict. “Love Your Enemy” by Arthur C. Brooks is about dialog with those with whom we disagree, and how such people can be gift. “God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!” By Gregory Popcak talks about seeking win-win solutions rather than working against each other. If you will only read one book from my list, I would encourage “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. It is twelve habits (virtues) that transform conflict into a spiritual journey, and I believe would make it more productive. I again emphasize that I don’t speak as one who has mastered this. I have come a long way from where I used to be, but I can see that I have a ways to go.We cannot do it by our own power. We must begin by opening ourselves to Jesus. It is by His transforming power that we became able to love and forgive our enemies and bless those who curse us. If we want a better world, the first step is always falling more deeply in love with Jesus. There’s no better way to start our year.Blessings,Fr. Jim

The Catholic Understanding of Mary

Dear Folks,

Mary is a key figure for Advent. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” is not only for those who love Mary and love the Bible, but for anyone who wonders if there is Biblical basis for all the Catholic teaching on Mary (spoiler alert: yes). He shows very powerfully how the Old Testament and the New Testament are woven together into one large story of salvation. We have (I hope) all been taught that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. The foreshadowing is called a “type” and the reality fore-shadowed is called the “antitype.” We see Noah’s flood and the passage through the Red Sea are types of baptism. We read in the blessing of water in the baptismal rite, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea, you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by Baptism. ”“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who in the type of the one who was to come (Rom 5:12-14).” St. Paul will go on to contrast the sin of Adam (type) and the gift of Jesus (antitype).We also see that Moses, David and even Joseph were types of Jesus. Eve is a type of Mary. This explains why Jesus called His mother “woman,” which otherwise makes no sense. Eve was called “the woman” in Genesis and didn’t get the name Eve until after the fall. Pitre will explain that Mary is not only the new Eve, but the new ark of the covenant and the new Rachel. He will explain how all this was recognized by the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries. This is not new. He also suggests reading what the Second Vatican Council said about Mary in the Constitution on the Church (See Lumen Gentium 52-68).This, of course, is not just for apologetics or for interesting Bible study. First, it helps us see how God’s big plan of salvation is all woven together. Next, if you read Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” you can see that the Bible and the liturgy are woven together in one large reality. Having done that, we will have the practice to be able to see how our story is woven into that very story of salvation history and understand our lives as a journey with God. Second, it helps us appreciate the person of Mary of Nazareth. She is not just a theological football or doctrine of the Church. She is a person, and lives in heaven, enveloped in God’s love. She loves us with a mother’s love and prays for us. This is part of the rich gift that God gives us, drawing us into His family. If there is one thing we should understand in our day and age, it is that family matters. A lot. I remember as an undergraduate talking to someone from the Reformed Bible College about the saints. She said that she didn’t see the need for this because Jesus is enough. I am pleased that even then I thought to say that would be a compelling argument if we believed that God would give us the minimum necessary. I believe He gives us the maximum possible because His love is infinite. This season we see to sharpen our attentiveness to the gifts that God gives. This a place to start. Blessings, Fr. Jim

Rejoice!

Dear Folks,Today is Gaudete Sunday, and Gaudete means “rejoice.” We read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice (Phil 4:4).”So, what does that mean? Does that mean that faithful Christians will always be in a good mood, and that sadness, anger, discouragement, and grief are permanently banished from our lives? Clearly not. Anticipating His crucifixion, Jesus said that “my soul is sorrowful, even unto death (See Matt 26:38).” When His friend Lazarus died, “Jesus wept (John 11:35).” All of Matthew 23 is a testament to Jesus’ capacity for anger and sorrow.So where does that leave us? Let’s consider that moods and feelings are passing states, and they all have their place. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for each of them “a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4).” St. Paul tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).”Christianity does not shield us from the sorrows, angers, and frustrations of life. In fact, we may feel them more keenly, since we have this powerful vision of what Goodness truly is.The story is told of one woman who tearfully told her friend that she never knew her husband drank until one night he came home sober. We do not realize just how bad evil is until we encounter the one who is Goodness Itself. Furthermore, in opening our hearts to the fullness of God’s gifts, we open them to suffering at the same time. Some people protect their hearts by not caring about anything. C. S. Lewis said in “The Four Loves” that “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matt 5:4).”To be a person of joy involves believing that in the midst of sorrows, our life is overall worth doing, and good will conquer evil. Victor Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” gives a powerful explanation that when our suffering has meaning, that makes all the difference. (If you haven’t read that book, it is worth taking a look at. I wouldn’t call it fun, but its wisdom is precious.). Our faith puts our suffering in a larger context, in which it has meaning, and cannot destroy our hope. If our hope is based on anything in this world, then we never know if it will be crushed by circumstance. If our faith is in God, then heaven and earth can pass away, but our hope will endure.Our feelings come and go. Even when they seem overwhelming and crushing, we know, we remember, that they will pass. Good and evil are not evenly matched opponents, so when it seems that evil is winning, we know that such a perception comes from only seeing a small part of the picture. As we “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep,” we remain grounded in the confidence that weeping will pass away and the victory of joy iseternal.Blessings and joy,Fr. Jim

Dear Folks,As we continue with the season of hope, I need to point out a very special kind of hope that we all need: the hope that we can make a difference in the world. There was a time when it was believed that history is shaped by large forces way beyond us, and the average person can do nothing to affect the outcome. This has been debunked, and we know that history can be changed by the smallest thing. During the 1960’s there was a naïve hope that we could fix the world easily, because it isn’t hard, and the previous generations weren’t trying. “All you need is love,” was the mantra, and there wasa very superficial understanding of what love meant. Alas, it didn’t work, and by the 1970’s there was a cynicism that the system was deeply corrupt, that heroes were not really heroic, and it was never going to get better. Then “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” burst in on the scene. Whatever critics may have to say about the movies, the feeling of the daring, old-fashioned hero was a breath of fresh air. For our hope to be realistic, I suggest considering these issues: We need focus on being productive. There are some who put a good deal of time into complaining without moving at all toward productive action. As we expel energy, we want to consider the question: how is this helpful? Are we focusing on our own desires or a higher purpose? If we want God to bless our efforts, it is good to be about something larger than ourselves. We see in James 4:1-3 “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy, but you cannot obtain; you fight andwage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” In my years of church work, it have heard a lot of conversation about how people want things in the church according to their preferences, but I haven’t heard nearly as much about how we can do church in a way that would be more pleasing to God and more effective in fulfilling our mission. How high are we setting our sights? A big issue is perseverance. If you go through the New Testament looking for how many times it encourages perseverance, you might be surprised how often it comes up. Many start with enthusiasm, but give up when they don’t get results as quickly as they expected. The prize belongs to those who keep going. Critical is learning from our mistakes. In Bill Bennett’s book “Last Best Hope” he describes the decision to make George Washington the head of the continental army. His record was mixed, and there were a number of objections. One of the points mentioned in his favor was that “he was good at learning from his mistakes.” That hit me. I had often thought about the importance of being willing to learn from our mistakes, but this was the first time that I thought about it as a skill that one can get good at. To learn from our mistakes, we need more than a general good intention. Weneed to be able to look at things that go wrong, identify the problems, and strategize a way to do better in the future. This is an art to be acquired. Who me? We read in the Bible many stories of God choosing the most unlikely people. We see Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?(Exodus 3:11).” See also the call of Gideon (Judges 6:15) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6).”God is calling you to greatness. Yes, you. You might not be able to imagine how, but God has bigger ideas than we do. Blessings, Fr. Jim