Monthly Archives: February 2023

Into the Desert

Dear Folks,

On the first Sunday of Lent, we encounter Jesus in the desert for forty days. This echoes the story of Moses and the Israelites in the desert for forty years before they entered the

promise land.

We also remember that after the golden calf incident, Moses was fasting for forty days on Mount Sinai while God was renewing the covenant. Hosea uses the image of an adulterous wife to teach about Israel’s relationship with God. Hosea takes her out into the desert to help her remember their love (Hosea 2:16). Elijah had a good meal and then fasted for forty days while walking in the desert (1 Kings 19). He sorted through the noise and heard God’s

whispering to him. This pulled him out of his despair and renewed his sense of purpose.

During Lent we are to find a bit of desert, clearing out some of the usual stimuli and the usual pursuits to hear the quite call of God. The world works hard to addict us to its stimuli so that we never have a chance to think, to step back, to question our direction.

In Daniel Goleman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” he mentions one of the components of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. This was the first time I realized that selfawareness is something that some people have more of, and some people have less of. I

think we humans have a dangerous tendency to presume we are completely self-aware and how can we not be? I suspect a lot of it has to do with being distracted by other things. We are constantly bombarded by messages and stimuli; we have so many tasks nibbling at our ankles, and we are constantly drawn toward our desires. Looking to things outside ourselves, we lose track of what is happening inside.

If we live in a house that regularly has certain odors, we soon stop smelling them. When we go out, we can lose the habituation, and returning we become more aware. Whatever we do this Lent, let us step away from what we usually do, and refresh our perception, so

we can go back and see things in a new light.

Fasting and abstaining remind us that we can say no to our desires by God’s grace when we choose to. We can easily get in such a deep habit of saying yes, we lose the ability to say no, and this makes us less free (see John 8:31-34). Too much attachment to the things of this world can make us lose our desire for the presence of God.

If we do Lent well, we can come out of it seeing things (including ourselves) more clearly, more free to choose things that really matter over lesser things, renewed in our sense of purpose, more keenly desiring the presence of God, and bolder in serving Him.


Fr. Jim

What Does Jesus Mean?

Dear Folks,

The Gospel readings from last Sunday and this Sunday have Jesus issuing some serious challenges. How do we respond in practice? There are some big questions. People might look at His words and say they are not practical, and then they skip over them. That would be very bad. If we can be unaffected by Jesus’ words, we are a failing at discipleship.

Jesus talks about anger: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…(Matt 5:22).” Does this mean we should never be angry? We read what Jesus said in Matthew 23, and He sounds pretty angry to me. When Jesus flips over tables and drives the money changers out of the temple, He seems pretty angry then too. What are we to think? We read in Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” There is a right way to be angry, when it is based on love, and we see our loved ones doing self-destructive things. This leads to seeking to help if one can. In Matt 23, after Jesus is angry, He weeps over Jerusalem. Under loving anger there is profound sadness.

Jesus speaks about divorce, and we see parallels in Matt 19:1-12, Mark 10:1-12 Luke 16:18, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-11. Only Matthew has the clarification that it is not applicable to illicit unions, which we find expressed in the Church’s practice of declaring certain unions did not achieve a permanent sacramental bond. This happens when something was defective in the way the union was formed. It is controversial and very messy, but the best way we know to find justice and hold to the truth. The key takeaway is approach marriage with all the seriousness that can be mustered. It’s doing something that cannot be undone.

We come to the issue of self-defense. In Matt 5:39, Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil…”. If we take it the way it first sounds, not only do we then renounce war and self defense, but never call the police, lock our doors, or use password on our computers, for they are

all resistance to those who are evil. This can’t be right. Letting the world be ruled by predators, terrorists, and bullies does not seem like loving all people. Not only does that mean a lot (awful lot) of innocents get hurt, but the perpetrators are encouraged to lose their souls.

In 1Samuel 25, Abigail prevents a war between David and her husband Nabal (Abigail is a Biblical heroine worth knowing about). In verses 33-35 David seems happy and relieved that he did not do all that killing. It sounds like he didn’t want to but felt compelled to. I think that was common in Biblical times (and is not unknown in our time) when the cycle of revenge did so much harm and neither side really gained. Jesus liberates people from that compulsion.

The Catholic Church has held the right of just war, of enforcing the law, and of sometimes a right, even a duty to defend self or another against an unjust aggressor. Violent defense is always the last resort, and we still have concern for the good of the unjust aggressor. That is why, when even the most horrible villains are caught, we must still respect their human dignity. Their lives are still sacred. We don’t torture them, whatever they have done. This is why the Church has been leaning away from capital punishment since the time of Pope Saint John Paul. It is better they be alive so they can repent (see Ezekiel 18). If I had my may, the worst criminals would be put into a cell and then pipe in EWTN, Word on Fire, and Augustine Institute videos. Victory over evil is greatest when a sinner becomes a saint. That is our goal.

Blessings, Fr. Jim

Reaching for the Sky

Dear Folks,

There has been a lot of conversation about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some have even claimed that the Old Testament has a God of wrath, and the New Testament has a God of love, even though there is a good deal of love in the Old Testament and a good deal of wrath in the New Testament.

There is also paradox about the Law. Jesus says in our Gospel this Sunday, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfil (Matthew 5:17),” but the letter to the Ephesians says, “For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of two, thus establishing peace (Ephesian 2:14-16).” Does this pit the Gospels against the epistles? No. A paradox is an invitation to look deeper into the texts and the issues they are dealing with so we can have a deeper understanding.

We remember that God started with a very rough, barbaric tribe and formed them over time. We see development of thought in the Old Testament from earlier writings to the later ones. In the earlier writings, there is an emphasis on being separate from the other nations so as not to be contaminated by their evil ways and being very harsh about it. Later writings would talk about compassion for other peoples, and Mount Zion being a beacon for all the nations (See the book of Jonah, Isaiah 2, and Psalm 87).

When a plant takes root underground, it is preparing for what is to come. When it breaks out above the ground, it is not abandoning its root, but building on it. Jesus’ teaching on the Mount was built on Old Testament foundations. For example, if we read Psalm 24, we see that “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” was not an entirely new idea. Reading Psalm 37 we see that “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” was also familiar.

The law says that parents are required to feed their children and are sanctioned if they neglect to do so. The parents I know, however, aren’t motivated by the law or its sanctions, but by love for their children, and it would be unthinkable not to feed them. They are beyond they law, not that they would break it, but because they are following a higher, even more demanding principle.

We remember the Old Testament and the New Testament are the work of the same God and part of the same plan of salvation. It does not represent God changing His mind, but rather Him taking us to a new level of development. We start out learning very basic principles, and expectations get greater as we grow. In Jesus, God’s plan is unveiled, and we are called to something that is humanly impossible. It is literally impossible to live the Christian life by our own power. We are completely dependent on God’s grace. We must come to Him constantly to transform us, and then it is wonderfully possible (see Matthew 19:25-26). In that way, we can reach for the sky.


Fr. Jim

Being Salty and Shiny

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel this Sunday Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and

trampled underfoot (Matthew 5:13).” If we take this seriously, it should disturb us. If we can read Jesus’ words and be unaffected, something is very, very wrong.

There has been conversation about lower church attendance, and we are hearing about churches closing in our diocese (and I’m quite sure there will be more). Other churches have been getting

clustered and Mass schedules have been getting reduced.

Do people see that the Church is making a difference? If they don’t see that it matters, it won’t take much for them to leave. We can talk about how so many stopped because of the Covid

lockdowns, and we can talk for years about what the bishops should have done differently, but it has really only exposed how thin and fragile so many people’s motivation was. There are some

who do not come because of legitimate concerns about how their health is. Prudence is a virtue, and it is good to stay safe. We don’t want people coming to church with the flu either. But

when people go to other gatherings but do not come to Mass every Sunday, or they decide they like it better watching Mass on TV in their pajamas with their hot chocolate, what does that say

about how we have taught the meaning, the power, and the value of the Mass? I’m not saying this to blame them, but rather ask how good a job have we been doing conveying why the Mass

matters, why it should be a priority.

We are called by Jesus to transform the world by the power of the Gospel. The Gospel is the most powerful transformative message in the universe. If we truly answer that call, the Church will flourish, even in the harshest of environments. The early Church did, and they had much less to work with than we did.

How salty and shiny should we be? What is the necessary level? How much do we need to do? The short answer is “I don’t know.” If we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, would

we not be drawing in more people than we are losing? Would we not be transforming the world? Each of us has a role, and God knows what we are capable of. The story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4) teaches us if we can only do a teeny bit, but do it with all our hearts, it is huge in God’s eyes. We need to let go of the idea that we are helpless, but also that we cannot do it alone. God calls us to work together.

I suggest the future of the Catholic Church in America will be determined by how salty and shiny we choose to be. How to do that is a big question. I plan to spend the rest of my life

working on it. I’m fond of thinking that what I have been teaching has helped somewhat in that direction.

Here are some thoughts moving forward:

• Recognize that parishioners are not customers in the Church but coworkers in mission. How do our approach to Church, our expectations of the Church and our expectations of ourselves reflect that?

• Consider that the way we have been doing Church isn’t getting us where we need to go, so we can’t evaluate our Church the way we are used to. What we have thought of as doing well may not really be doing well. As someone said recently, “Get used to different.”

• When people want to talk at length about what the Pope or the bishop should be doing about it, or what should have been done differently in the past, it would be useful to redirect the conversation toward how we can better be salt and light.

• This is not about us. It is about drawing people to Jesus. It is God’s work, and He is calling us to cooperate.

• The best-case scenario involves things getting worse before they get better. The New Testament continually calls us to persistence and not getting discouraged. If we are faithful during this time, we can boldly hope for a glorious future.


Fr. Jim