Category Archives: Catholic

Finding the King in the poorest

Dear Folks,
We finish off the liturgical year by celebrating Christ the King, the ultimate victory feast.
Our Gospel reading is the final word of Jesus’ public teaching in the Gospel of Matthew,
and it is about the Last Judgment. Jesus first refers to Himself by the title “Son of Man,”
then compares Himself to a shepherd, then refers to Himself as “king.”
“As the visions in the night continued, I saw come with the clouds of heaven One like a son
of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, he received
dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, people and tongue will serve him. His
dominion will not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-
14).” The term “son of man” is in contrast to the horrible beasts that rule before Him
(Daniel 7 is quite a chapter).
Our first reading is from Ezekiel 34, and that entire chapter is about the image of the
shepherd. It is also worth reading. There is another well-known image of God as shepherd
in Isaiah: “Here he comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm; here is
his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his
arms he gathers the lambs, leading the ewes with care (Isaiah 40:10-11).” We remember the
greatest king of Israel in the Old Testament was David, and he started out as a shepherd.
The first two parables had main actors who were regular folks: a “bridegroom” and a
“man.” This time He is pulling out all the stops to get us to be fully aware and conscious of
His glory, power, grandeur, and importance. This should get our best attention. If we are
going to get anything right, we need to get this right.
In those days, when a king came to power and reached the throne, it was common to settle
accounts. If you had been a faithful supporter, life was good. If you had undermined him,
not so good. See Luke 19:11-27 for a familiar example.
The disciples would have known the Old Testament, and all of these images would have
been evoked in their minds when Jesus told this story. They would all seem fitting and
proper for the One for whom they had been waiting. The surprising thing was how the king
defines the sheep and the goats. The Old Testament, of course, spoke about concern for the
poor and those in need. That was a concept that most of the world did not recognize, but it
was familiar in the nation of Israel. Jesus, however, ups the ante: to care for those in need
is to care for Him personally. We are told to look for the highest and most exalted in the
people who are lowliest. This is a new thing. This is revolutionary. Throughout the
Gospels, the more clearly we see Jesus’ glory, the greater His emphasis on the cross and
servitude. Caring for those in need in not just a nice thing that Jesus encourages, but it is
responding directly to Him.
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and Father is this: to care for orphans and
widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).”
This is an essential component of how we practice our faith, and an essential component of
how we proclaim the faith. I rejoice that our community does so many things to help those
in need. Now the question is do we have room to grow? Are there ways we can draw more
people into this work? Given how many people have drifted away from the Catholic
Church, is there a way we can show more powerfully that the love of Jesus is at work here?
Would it make Jesus happy if we grew in this area? Many people would like to be more
involved but don’t know how they can do it with their circumstances. My fond hope is that
we can make it more possible for people to be more connected in 2021. I ask everyone to
pray for this, and to be attentive whenever there is a call for help: is Jesus calling us?
Blessings
Fr Jim

Keeping our Lamps Lit

Dear Folks,
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ public teaching closes with three parables about the Last
Judgement, and we will be reading them from now until Advent. It would probably be a
good thing to think about the Last Day on a regular basis given that is where we are all
headed, and this is the most pivotal day of our existence. If we have a good day on that
day, none of our bad days will matter. If it is a bad day, none of our good days will
matter. Reading through the New Testament leaves me with a strong sense that we can’t
take this day for granted; we are not called to live in fear, but neither can we be complacent
(see, for example, Matthew 7: 13-14, 21-23; I Corinthians 9:27).
Our Gospel today speaks of bridesmaids who are phronimos (wise /shrew /prudent /clever/
cunning/crafty) and bring extra oil for their oil lamps. This echoes Jesus’ teaching that a
man who is phronimos will build his house on rock rather than sand (Matthew 7:24-27) in
the Sermon on the Mount. Both speak of the importance of enduring. It is one thing to start
out with enthusiasm. It is quite another to continue through obstacles, persecutions,
disappointments, failures, and all the things that come with being a disciple. In Matthew
chapter 10, Jesus warns that there will be persecution, sometimes from the people closest to
us, but the one who “holds out to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22).”
Last Friday we did the Gospel reading about the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-13).” He
finagled himself a severance package by using (misusing?) his power as steward. Jesus said
that the master commended him for being phronimos, and said, “For the children of this
world are more phronimos in dealing with their own generation than the children of light
(see Luke: 16:8).” As we read on, we see Him calling us to use our resources well for the
sake of the Kingdom, knowing that we will not always have the chance to do so.
There are countless stories of people who have left the practice of the faith because they
were mad at the Pope, the bishop, the pastor, other parishioners, etc. Others left the practice
of the faith because they did not believe Church teaching, or someone had sat down with
them and showed them some Bible verses that convinced them that the teaching of the
Church was wrong. I would suggest that in each of these cases, they did not have enough oil
for their lamps; they did not build their houses on a firm enough foundation. We were
warned there would be challenges of all kinds, coming from the world or the faith
community, and we are called to navigate these treacherous waters.
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus sends the disciples forth and tells them not to bring “gold or
silver, or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or
walking stick (see Matt 10:9-10).” Extra oil for our lamps, then, would not necessarily
mean material supplies. “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be
phronimos as serpents and simple as doves (Matthew 10:16).”
Lately, many have expressed frustration about things that are happening in the Church and
things that are happening in the government. Some are tempted to despair or panic. It
would suggest reflecting on these texts, as well as the whole of Matthew 10 and then Luke
14:25-33. These suggest we were warned from the beginning that our journey as disciples
could entail all sorts of trials (all sorts!). That does not make it easy, but it does tell us that
this is part of what it means to be Christian, and our faithfulness now is more important
than anything that happens around us.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

It’s Not Fair

Dear Folks,We have all been told that life is not fair. This phrase has been used in various ways. Some say it to say they don’t care that your rights and your dignity are getting violated. It can alsobe an acceptance of the complexity of life. There are many factors that affect our lives that we did not choose, and it seems that sometimes we get handed the dirty end of the stick. Other people seem to have it easier, and we see people giving them slack like they don’t seem to give us. Ever had that feeling?Our Gospel today (Matthew 20:1-16a) deals with the issue of envy, and people who seem to be handed a better deal. This is a common problem in life, and in the early Christian community there was the issue of pagans who became Christian. Some of the Jewish Christians were perhaps thinking, “We have been doing the hard work of trying to follow God’s commandments for generations while these people have been worshipping false gods and practicing drunken, perverted debauchery all this time, and now in the Church they are equal to us? What gives?” You know how we human beings get. St. Paul was dealing with that question in Romans, and he said, “But who indeed are you, ahuman being to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, ‘Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the samelump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one (Romans 9:20-21)?” St. Paul is remembering the text “Yet, Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you ourpotter: we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:7).”
But how we perceive things doesn’t give the whole picture. I think life is like running an obstacle course with a backpack. We can feel how heavy our own backpack is, but we don’tknow how heavy everyone else’s is. We can perhaps make an educated guess by how they look, but we might be horribly wrong. At the end of the course we get to see how heavyeveryone’s backpack is, and there could be some surprises. We might find out that some people we thought weren’t trying very hard were actually carrying a much heavier load, andwere actually working harder than we were, even though they did not get as far as fast. Perhaps some people we envied for their situation were carrying a much heavier load thanwe thought. We might have thought that ours was one of the heaviest but find out that many had heavier. On the other hand, we might find that ours was heavier than a great manypeople’s, and we accomplished greater things than we thought.We know that sometimes it is a journey to accept that, and that can mean asking the very questions of God why He is doing what seems so wrong. Intellectually, we know He isright (always), but parts of our minds have not yet accepted that. We turn to the great school of prayer, the Psalms. We see “I will say to God, my rock: ‘Why do you forget me? Why must I go about mourning with the enemy oppressing me?’(Psalm 42:10).”Of course, the journey is to go from there to recognizing and rejoicing in God’s wisdom andprovidence. I suggest a meditation on Psalm 73 to follow that journey.The goal is to move more and more to embrace the situation we are given, and from here to do what we can to make things better, to be as faithful to God’s call as possible. The morewe are focused on that, the less and less we will worry about how our situation compares with others’ situations. That will save us time and energy. Growing in faith means realizing more and more that God knows what He is doing.Blessings,Fr. Jim

Gift of Self

gift of self

Dear Folks,
Our second reading today is an immensely powerful text from Romans. When we hear Scripture, the danger is that we will hear it as something that sounds beautiful, but is very distant from our lives. If we really hear what St. Paul is saying it is about as fierce a demand as it can be.
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God , to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).” He is encouraging us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus when He talked about suffering and dying in our Gospel today (Matthew 16:21-27). This is Jesus’ first mention of His passion in the Gospel, and Peter objects. This is contrary to all his expectations, and did not fit at all with what he was expecting of “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matt 16:16).” Jesus responds harshly, “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do (v. 23).” This echoes His words in the desert talking to the real Satan (Matt 4:10).” I expect this was a severe test for Jesus’ will: He would not have been any more anxious to get crucified than you or I would, and He was sharing this secret with His closest friends hoping they would get it and support Him, but He was disappointed. He had floated a similar concept before in chapter 10 while talking about the trials disciples would face “and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matt 10:38-39).” Very likely the saying floated right over their heads, seeming distant, perhaps a figure of speech, and was lost. When it got up close and personal it was a no go.
Notice Jesus talking about how God thinks and about how human beings do. This echoes St. Paul’s concern to be transformed by renewal of our minds so as not to be conformed to this age.
Here is the key: the mindset of the world, living according to the flesh tends to think about clinging to what we have, and perhaps acquiring more. God’s thinking is about giving ourselves away. Many people want to reduce Christianity to a call to be a little nicer and a little kinder. It is really about giving ourselves completely to God, and we are only able to do it because He giving Himself completely to us.
This is reflected in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World “Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one…as we are one” (Jn. 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason. For He implied a certain Likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and in the union of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self (G.S. 24).”Throughout the Bible is the notion of sacrifice, a form of worship involving a gift to God. In the Old Testament there were animal and grain offering. Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice, offering Himself once for all (Hebrews 9:12; see Her 7:27). Romans 12:1-2 says that we are to offer ourselves (see also Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 2:4-5; Ephesians 5:1-2). We do not add to His sacrifice, but become participants in it.
This is done sacramentally in the Eucharist and in action as we live the Christian life, Christian service, and at the proper time, Christian death. The Second Vatican Council’s document on the Liturgy says, “The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a proper appreciation of the rites and prayers they should participate knowingly, devoutly, and actively. They should be instructed by God’s word and be refreshed at the table of the Lord’s body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands go the priest, but also with him, they should learn to offer themselves too. Through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever closer union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all (S.C. 48).”
Can we hear the full weight of this call?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Rocky Truth

Dear Folks,
Today we read a Gospel about which there is much disagreement. Jesus says, “You are rock, and on this rock I will build my church (Matt 16:18).” Catholics tend to see this as Jesus giving Peter and his successors a unique role in the Church. Others view it differently, and there has been much conversation about that in the last 500 years.
I want to broaden the frame of the question a bit.
The context is first about God’s truth vs. popular opinion. Jesus starts the conversation with “Who do people say the Son of Man is? (Mat 16:13).” Lots of people had opinions, and
these opinions were wrong. Peter comes up with the right answer, and it came from God the Father (v. 17).
We tend to go by our experience, but our experience can lead us astray.
Holding to the truth has been a problem from the beginning. We see St. Paul, “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by the grace of Christ for a
different gospel (not that there is another). But there are some who are disturbing you and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach
to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed! (Galatians 1:6-8).”
From the beginning, it was held that Christianity is not only good and beautiful but true, in fact, the fullness of truth about God, and there was no new, improved truth coming later.
Throughout history, holding to the truth was a constant battle. In the early Church, there were voices claiming that Jesus is not God, but more like a super angel (Arians), while
others claimed the Jesus is divine, but never really became human (Docetists). In case that doesn’t get your head spinning, there was a group that said Christ is God and Jesus is human, but they are two different people, and the Christ came into Jesus at baptism and left before the agony in the garden (Nestorians). Each of these groups had arguments for their positions, and could point to different Scripture texts that they were sure supported that position. Each of these positions would have weakened the message of God’s love beyond our imagining, by which He came and paid the ultimate price for our salvation, with nothing to gain for Himself. This makes Christianity unique, but it is hard to swallow that God would be so loving and give such a gift, for it calls for a unique level of gratitude and challenges us to a unique standard of loving God and neighbor (think about it; it is mindstretching).
This has often lead to standing against what was accepted in society. In the 18th century, the Catholic Church forbade dueling, like the kind where Alexander Hamilton was shot. People said the teaching was ridiculous and unrealistic because a man had to defend his honor. In the early twentieth century, there was a push for eugenics, and the Catholic Church’s vocal opposition was called against science and destructive to the good of the human race. Fashions of thought come and go, but the truth remains.
We humans tend to start from our experience and our perceptions. The trouble is our thinking falls way, way short of God’s thinking. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways – oracle of the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts (Isaiah
55:8-9).”
Another problem is that we humans tend to believe that our point of view is obvious to those who would only look. This can lead to underestimating what it takes to teach the faith in a compelling way. Then people reject the truths of the faith because they find them unreasonable, when in fact, there is much more reason behind them, but they did not learn enough of it. As a result, many who call themselves Catholics will often give more weight to what society believes than to the Catholic faith.
This is why I’m such a fanatic for encouraging Catholics to learn more about their faith. It is such a wonderful treasure, and there are so many resources to help.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

An Uncomfortable Gospel

Canaanite woman

Dear Folks,
The Gospel for this Sunday (Matt 15:21-28) is one of the most uncomfortable readings in the Bible. This is not how we like to think about Jesus. It almost (almost?) looks like He is being mean to a woman who is desperate. If I didn’t know this story was in the Gospels, and someone told me Jesus had done this, I’m sure I would have said no, it is not possible.
And yet, here it is.
I haven’t gotten completely comfortable with it (and maybe that’s not the goal), but I do have some thoughts. I think it is helpful to see the larger context of the Gospel first being offered to the Israelites (Jews), and then to Gentile (non-Jews, in this case Greeks/Hellenists). One of the themes in the Gospels is those who should be the most open were closed tight, and some of the Gentiles were very open (like the story of the centurion’s servant Mat 8:5-:13). This lead to some tension in the early Church (see Acts 6:1 and Romans 10 and 11). Romans goes into detail about how they fit in, and neither side should be looking down on the other. The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16) talks about those who came late being made equal to those who have been serving since the beginning, and I suggest this is about the relationship between Jews and Greeks.
Let’s look at the larger narrative. Matthew 13: 54-58 shows Jesus being rejected by His home town of Nazareth. Chapter 14 we meet Herod (son of the guy who caused so much trouble in chapter 2, a story that echoed Pharaoh’s slaughter of the innocent in Exodus 1. The death of John the Baptist foreshadows the death of Jesus, the new Passover Lamb. Jesus feeds the 5000 in Jewish territory, and there are 12 baskets of fragments gathered, a symbol of the gathering of the 12 tribes of Israel. (Echo of the Passover and foreshadowing of the Last Supper). Then Jesus walks on water (doing Moses and the Red Sea one better). Then, we see the Scribes and Pharisees who insist on doing things their way rather than God’s way. Notice this section starts and ends with those who should be the most open are the most closed.
Jesus goes to Gentile territory. Now we meet the Canaanite woman and she demonstrates her faith. Those who demand things their way don’t do well. Those who recognize they are not entitled to anything do very well.
Jesus now feeds 4000 in Gentile territory, and there are seven baskets left over. This reflects the gathering of the seven Gentile nations: Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1).
Chapter 16 shows the Pharisees demanding a sign (once again, they want things done their way. They don’t get it. Jesus tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which is their teaching (See also Mark 8:14-21 ad Luke 12:1)). Leaven as a sign of sinfulness is also in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and he says, “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened, for our Pascal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed (v. 7).” In Jewish practice, there is a ritual for clearing all the leaven out of the house in preparation for Passover.
This brings me to John. In the Gospel of John we see three Passover times (2:13; 6:4; and 13:1). In the first there is the cleaning of the temple and miraculous wine. In the second there is miraculous bread and walking on water. In the third Jesus becomes the Passover Lamb. To fit this pattern, it suggests that the cleaning of the temple reflects the clearing out of the old leaven.
Perhaps Jesus testing the Canaanite woman was clearing out of spiritual leaven to draw her into the Pascal mystery. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I hope you enjoyed the ride.
Blessings, Fr. Jim

Into the Breach: a Call to Catholic Men

This is a call “Into the Breach.”

This is a call to all Catholic men.  Our families need you. Our Church needs you.  Our country needs you. This is a call to accept and exercise our manhood in the fullest and best sense.  This is a call to the rising up of men for all that is dear to us, for this is a time of crisis.

The phrase “into the breach” is from Shakespeare, but first I want to mention a very important man who “stood in the breach” and saved a nation.

“They forgot the God who was their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt, such wonders in the land of Ham, such awesome deeds at the Red Sea. For this he said he would destroy them, but Moses, the man he had chosen, stood in the breach before him, to turn back his anger from destruction (Psalm 106:21-23).” See Exodus 32:11-14

And now, Shakespeare:

“King Henry: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood…” Henry the Fifth Act 3, scene 1.

This is a call to battle, and we are being called to battle, but we must understand we are not now talking about guns or bombs.

“For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh bet are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses.  We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ… (2Corinthian 10:3-6).”

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).”

These are calls to battle, but not with physical weapons. There might be times we would have to use physical force to defend against unjust aggressors, but that is not how the big battle will be won.   These short videos are about what it means to be a Catholic man, the kind of man that our loved ones need to go into the breach.

https://www.kofc.org/en/campaigns/into-the-breach.html

 

I challenge you to watch these, think about them.  Think of one new thought they made you think. If you can, think of one new action they inspire you to do. Now share that with five other men?

Will you accept that challenge?

 

Loaves and Fishes

loavesandfish

Dear Folks,
 
Jesus multiplying 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5000 families is the only miracle that is mentioned in all four Gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:34-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-
14). Furthermore, Matthew and Mark also have the story of feeding 4000 families with seven loaves and a few fish. This sounds so familiar that it can be easy to let this slide without looking at it very closely.
But, as always with the Bible, it is worthwhile to look a little closer. It hearkens back to Exodus and manna in the desert, looks forward to the Last Supper and therefore the Cross.
This story is in Matthew 14. Chapter 13 ended with Jesus being rejected by His own people in Nazareth. Then Herod hears about Jesus. This is the son of Herod the Great, who caused
so much trouble in the beginning of Matthew. The story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew has echoes of the story of Exodus, and Herod’s slaughter of the innocents echoes Pharaoh’s
killing of the first born of the Israelites. Then we are told the story of the death of John the Baptist, which foreshadows the death of Jesus. All four gospels mention this is a deserted
place, reminding us of the desert the Israelites crossed, and where God fed them with manna. John will drive home the comparison with Moses and manna.
Matthew mentions Jesus has the people sit down in the grass. Mark mentions that it is green grass (sorry to you Blue Grass fans). John mentions “Now there was a great deal of grass in
that place (6:10).” I asked myself why, and then thought, “Who makes us recline in green pastures?” (See Psalm 23). Mark mentions that when Jesus “disembarked and saw the vast
crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd (6:34).” John will get deeper into the idea of Jesus the Good Shepherd in chapter 10. See
also Isaiah 40:11 and Ezekiel 34.
After the Passover, the Israelites flee Egypt crossing the Red Sea. After the feeding of the 5000, the next thing is the story of Jesus walking on water (Moses parts the water. Impressive. Jesus walks right over it. So there). We will get further into that next week.
As we reflect on Jesus’ mighty miracle, we consider the long stretch of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt, the Passover and Exodus, the trek into the desert, sustained by manna and
quail, and the entry into the Promised Land. Brant Petre in “The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” teaches that the Israelites’ expectation of the coming of the Messiah included an
expectation of a new Passover, a new Exodus and new manna on the way to a new Promised Land. How does that shed light on our journey?
Men, watch for something called “Into the Breach.” The Church needs good men. The
world needs good men. More on this later.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Wisdom to Find the Treasure

treasure

Dear Folks,
The Biblical notion of wisdom has a rich history. The idea started in the ancient world. Wisdom was considered a skill, like the ability to play an instrument, work with metal, or navigate a ship. Then they developed the idea that having wisdom was how to live well. They developed wisdom schools, and future leaders studied there. The Israelites would have encountered them in Egypt and Babylon. The Israelites understood that wisdom was an attribute of God and a gift of God. Traditionally, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom and Sirach are classified as wisdom books, and they have some powerful things to say on the subject. Proverbs 9 presents wisdom and folly as two competing dinner invitations. Isaiah 11:2 teaches that wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
We see that wisdom involves the ability to discern what is valuable and what is worthless. Psalm 4 says,” How long will you love what is futile and seek what is false?” Psalm 24 says “Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place? … The clean of hand and pure of heart whose soul is not set on vain things …” How much human suffering comes from seeing something worthless, even harmful, and thinking it is valuable? Heroin and pornography are extreme examples, but can we think of times we have pursued something we desired strongly, only to find out it was worthless, or worse? Wisdom helps us discern the great treasure, the pearl of great price.
St. Paul talks about how Jesus flips human wisdom upside down with the power of the cross. All truth revolves around the Pascal mystery. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of
God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside [Isaiah 29:14}.” Where is the wise one? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom, it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than the human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).” We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.
James tells of the connection between love and wisdom, the flipside of the modern proverb, “Sin makes you stupid.” “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthy, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace (James 1:13-18).” See also Philippians 1:9-11 and, of course, 1 Corinthians 13. One last point: Jesus tells us that wisdom can be found in both the new and the old. I’ve met some people who were sure that the current generation is much smarter than all previous generations, and so they have nothing to teach us (That is scary!). There are others that think the current generation has had no good insights, and we just need to get back to the way things used to be. “Do not say: ‘How is it that former times were better than these?’ For it is not out of wisdom that you ask about this (Ecclesiastes 7:10).” Nostalgia can help us forget some of the things that were really wrong back then. Jesus clearly loved the Old Testament (He quoted it so much and built on it so much there is no room for doubt), but He most certainly brought some things that were very new.
We have much to learn, much, much, much.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

All Sorts of Folks

wheat and tares

Dear Folks,
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” One of the biggest challenges in Christianity is dealing with the inconsistency between the ideals of Jesus and the behavior of fellow Church members, which varies from saintly to horrific. Church history tells us that this has always been the case.
The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) this Sunday and the parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) next Sunday make the same point. The Church has good and bad people in it, and we have to deal with it until the Last Judgment, and then God will separate them. This has a number of consequences.
We’re going to meet people in church who are not very nice. This is not a sign that the church is a fraud or that it is failing, but that it is working the way Jesus said it would.
Dealing with such folks is not preventing us from living the Christian life and being Church, but it is a part of living the Christian life and being Church, and will be until the
end of time.
We don’t get to throw people out for not being good enough. Excommunication is an extreme measure that is medicinal in purpose for the individual (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and
possibly 2 Corinthians 2:5-11). When people are approaching the sacraments improperly and they will do harm and not good, it can, under the right circumstances, be an act of charity to warn them. Postponing the celebrating of a sacrament until it can be done right can be a necessary, if painful task.
We don’t get to decide who is real and who is not. The best of us do bad things and the worst of us do good things. God knows what is in our hearts. We might decide who we are going trust, and for what. I hope you would trust me to teach the Catholic faith. I hope you would not trust me to do surgery, fix your car, or even cut your hair. We can say that some behaviors are right and some behaviors are wrong. We don’t know where people stand with God. At the end all will be made clear (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Just because we are in the Church does not automatically make us the good guys. We are not called to fear. We are called to confidence in God’s mercy and grace being able to transform us. We do not get to be complacent or relax our efforts (1 Corinthians 9:27).
There is no escaping the last judgment. We will then know everybody’s stuff and everybody will know our stuff. Does thinking about that make us want to make different decisions?
Part of being a member of the Church is dealing with each other as flawed human beings. It is in dealing with these flaws that we often grow, stretch and become more virtuous. This,
by the way, does not mean we can be lackadaisical in our struggle for virtue, so that we can be training for others. Jesus was quite fierce about that (Matthew 18:6-9; Luke 17:1-3. See
also Romans 3:8).
This means we have the challenge of striving mightily for sainthood with high standards of behavior, while reconciling ourselves to the fact that we are going to be dealing with fellow
Christians who are less than inspiring. This is part of how we give the gift of ourselves, part of how we live the Pascal Mystery. To pull this off we are going to need lots and lots of grace. For this we pray hard.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim