Monthly Archives: August 2022

Leading in Our World

Dear Folks,

What does it mean to be part of the royal family of God? Last week I wrote about Jesus as prophet, priest, and king, and how we are to participate in those three roles as well, or perhaps, how Jesus exercises those roles through us. I think in these days we need to think more about the royal role, in which we are called to be leaders in this world.

In the book “Leadership Without Easy Answers” by Ronald Heifetz, he says that a leader points to the reality that calls for adaptive change and keeps the conversation focused on the

relevant issues.

We can tell the story of the Gospel, and also the story of how the world looks through the Gospel lens. This involves a vision of what it is to be human, and what makes for a good life. How many people think it’s important to have a good life? What does that even mean?

Have we thought about it? I would suggest that many (most?) people presume the question has been answered and charge ahead focused on immediate issues without regard to the

larger picture.

There are always tensions between Christian belief and the accepted beliefs of society. Right now, there is tremendous, fierce tension on the understanding of being male and female, on the meaning of sex, on the meaning of family, and the sanctity of

life. These are all connected, and the Catholic understanding shows to live that leads to human flourishing.

Mary Eberstadt in her book “Adam and Eve After the Pill” tells about how the sexual revolution has done great harm, but even though there are mountains of data, people refuse to recognize it. She compares it to the days of the Soviet Union, when there was a huge amount of evidence that their system caused tremendous human suffering, but so many refused to acknowledge it. There is a great “will to disbelieve.” I would also recommend “The Truth Overruled” by Ryan T. Anderson, which goes into more detail about the fierce resistance that meets any dissent.

As long as people look at their identity being all about their feelings, people will not be able to develop a solid sense of self, and a profound and stable vision for life becomes harder and harder. As long as people look at sex as a toy, it will facilitate treating other people as toys, easy to use and discard. Conceiving children becomes an inconvenience rather than a vocation, and life without abortion become unthinkable. If marriage is whatever we feel like it being, it will not have a solid foundation, and we lose the central crucible for forming people to be part of civilization. Our society has so much violence, so much anger, so much loneliness, so much misery. I’m reminded of Mahatma Ghandhi being asked what he thought of western civilization, and he said, “I think it would be a good idea.”

If we share the beautiful truth about how God made us for love, and what love really is (as in not a feeling but a decision) how the way we share ourselves is central to the good life.

This leads to an understanding of the authentic gift of self and the fullness of human life. We can recognize our feelings and know that they are important, but they can come and go and can mislead us. We can present a vision of what marriage is that will lead to a

society that flourishes. The conversation might start with some questions, like “Why does human life matter?” “What is marriage and why does it matter?” “Is loving a person different from loving ice cream?” Who knows what will follow from that?

By developing our ability to present the Catholic faith, the Catholic vision of how Jesus reveals to us what it means to be human and being able to do it in a compelling and inspiring way, we can be leader in the world.


Fr. Jim

Prophet Priest and King

Dear Folks,

In “Sign of Contradiction” by Pope John Paul II, he speaks of the three “munera” (offices, functions, duties) of Christ: to teach, to sanctify, and to rule. “Christ is alive in the Church as prophet, priest and king, thanks to the share in these functions enjoyed by the whole people of God” (Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 10-12; 31).

As prophet we are called to witness to the truth according to our own vocation. He emphasizes that people have a right to the truth, and many forces seek to deny it to us. He speaks about how the world will often manipulate the truth by disseminating some aspects and suppressing others (He said this in 1976; I wonder what he would say now). If we are going to proclaim the truth effectively in this complex world, Jesus’ advice that we be “cunning as serpents and innocent as doves” (See Matt 10:16) is as relevant as ever.

I have spoken a great deal about exercising the priestly function, offering our work and ourselves to the Father united with Jesus’ gift of Self. Also, we consecrate the world by praying for it and by work that develops creation so that it better helps people and show His glory.

The regal function requires special attention. How are Christians called to exercise leadership in the world without “forcing our religion on others” (an accusation frequently and often carelessly made)?

All laws and all governments are forcing certain practices on people based on some idea of what is right and what is wrong. People with little sense of history and philosophy often presume their basic ideas of right and wrong objective and obvious to everyone (and have always been), so that they can boldly assert and expect everyone else to recognize them, as well as condemn people in the past for not practicing them. They then believe that other ideas are biased and irrational, and if they are put forward by a Christian, they are religious beliefs and have no place in public policy. However, many of their ideas were not accepted or even heard of for much of human history. A strong case can be made that many of the moral beliefs that are now taken for granted would not be with us if it were not for the work of Christians. The notion that the life of a peasant is sacred in the same way as the life of an aristocrat or even the emperor would have seemed like madness in most of the ancient world. It was the Judeo – Christian tradition that made possible what was later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights … include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Christianity gets much criticism for not immediately abolishing slavery, as if it should have been obvious from the beginning. However, the notion that slavery was wrong pretty much did not exist until it percolated up from Christian thought. Of course, overturning millennia of human practice did not happen quickly or easily. It required many years of persuasion, but they could not persuade everyone. A pivotal moment in persuasion was when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written by the Christian woman Harriet Beecher Stowe. It aroused empathy for slaves, showed the horror of their situation, and shifted the conversation. It was not definitive, however. In the Civil War, they overpowered the forces that were pro-choice on slave holding, and those who profited from the slave industry lost power. Perhaps when slavery was abolished it became possible for more people to believe that society could work without this “peculiar institution.”

I have much more to say, but it will have to wait. How will history look back on Christians today? I hope it will show us tirelessly pushing to protect the lives, the dignity, and the rights of all people. We shall see.


Fr Jim

Sign of Contradiction

Dear Folks,

Last year and this year, my retreat was about going through Pope Saint John Paul’s book “Sign of Contradiction.” This book is the text of talks he gave at a retreat for Pope Saint Paul VI and his cardinals in 1976. He talks about encountering Jesus, who is a “sign of contradiction” or a “sign that will be contradicted” according to the prophecy of Simeon in the temple (Lk 2:34 the Presentation in the Temple). This sign calls for a response, and this response shows who we are and forms us. Whenever people encounter Jesus, they are tested.

The glory of the universe points to the glory of God, but there is an ambiguity. In the midst of the beauty and goodness, there is ugliness and harm. We decide how we will respond, and the Holy Father says it is not determined by the proportions of good and bad we have experienced, but something within us, perhaps grace. (Further reflection on this can be found in Victor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”).

We go to the story of Adam and Eve: Satan presents God as a rival, someone trying to keep them from the best possible life, and Satan presents himself as a Prometheus figure. In Greek mythology, the gods of Olympus decided to keep fire from humans, so they didn’t rise too high. Prometheus defied the gods and brought people fire, enabling civilization. We can see that the devil has had considerable success in convincing people that sin will bring us a better life. I have heard practicing Catholics describing a food as being so delicious it was sinful. C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters” develops this idea in some interesting ways.

Satan is, of course lying. The world was created according to the Word, and Satin brings anti-Word and anti-Gospel. This leads us to anti-Love. Jesus stands in contradiction to this. Jesus’ love for the Father and His Love for us overcame His natural self-love, so He was willing to die on the cross for us. “The Cross justifies us before God and justifies God before us.” If Jesus believed it was worth that to save us, how can we say anything is too much to ask of us to follow Him? Our complaints against God fade away in the face of the cross. “God wants for man the joy of choosing God, the choice that suffering teaches us to make.”

Jesus reveals to us the meaning of what it is to be human. As we seek to understand ourselves, we start with “Who is Jesus?” Jesus is the one who gave Himself in love, at the cost of great suffering. We exercise our humanity most fully when we choose to give ourselves in love, even at great cost. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind (John 9:39).” In a dark room everything looks the same. When a light is shone, we can distinguish. In our Gospel this Sunday (Luke 12: 49-53), Jesus warns that He will bring division. The more Jesus clarifies, the more people will choose for or against Him. When we truly encounter Jesus, life is different. Be warned.


Fr. Jim

Ready for Jesus

Dear Folks,

Our Gospel today talks about being ready at any moment to meet Jesus. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ – you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’ But now you are boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).”

Life is full of things we can neither predict nor control. If things have been steady for a while, there is danger that we will think we can count on things just continuing. Life can change in an instant. Empires can rise and fall with amazing rapidity.

Two books come to mind. “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard talks about the human tendency to think we are entitled not to be affected by change, and how we can choose to stay stuck or to adapt. “Age of the Unthinkable” by Joshua Cooper Ramo speaks of how life is changing faster and faster, compared to previous centuries. He recommends resilience. St. Paul understood resilience: “I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living abundance and in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me (Philippians 4:11b-13).” Our relationship with God gives us something to cling to when the storm hits, and the stronger that relationship, the more powerfully it can carry us through the turmoil.

That brings us to Treasure in heaven. Luke 12 talks about giving alms and talks about a prudent (phronimos) steward who is found doing God’s work when the Lord comes (which could be any time).

Matthew 6 talks about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and that we must be careful not to do it for the wrong reasons. Story of the rich young man Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30 all tell of Jesus saying that giving alms will bring us treasure in heaven.

With all those in mind, it might be worth rereading the parable of the dishonest steward in Luke 16:1-13, and understand Jesus is talking about stewardship that builds treasure in heaven.

There is a point I want to emphasize really hard: this is not about buying heavenly bitcoin. If we ever reduce Christianity to a business transaction, we have missed the point. Christianity is a love relationship with God, and the more powerful the relationship, the more joyfully we encounter our beloved. Heaven is consummating our relationship with God, and the more our hearts are by our discipleship here, the more we are open to that love in heaven. How do we get our hearts widened? Love relationships stretch us by being attentive to the presence of our beloved (as in prayer), choosing our beloved over other goods (as in fasting), and doing things to please our beloved (as in almsgiving).

May our desire for God ever grow, and enable us to seek first His Kingdom.


Fr. Jim