Dear Folks, As we continue to celebrate Easter, we are reading a lot from the Acts of the Apostles. It is a continuation of the story of the Gospel of Luke, and the story of the early Church, and a wonderful picture of how to be an Easter people. This is what the first Christians did as a response to the resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit. In our first reading this week we see the early Church worked together as one body. They each cared, not just for themselves, but for the good of all the members of the Church. Soon we will see Christians helping others who were not members of their faith community. This was not something people did in the ancient world, and it made Christians stand out as different. It is one of the reasons many people decided they wanted to learn more about Christianity. It is a way of proclaiming the Gospel that not only gets people’s attention but earns a good deal of credibility. Right now, as I understand it, the Catholic Church does more to help those in need that any other organization. However, could we agree there is room to grow? As a rough guess, what would you figure is the proportion of our church’s resources that are dedicated to keeping the church itself going? Now, what proportion do you think is dedicated to helping people in need beyond our church? What proportion would Jesus want, if the church worked the way He would like it? Imagine a central database of opportunities to help those in need, so that everyone could find some need that would match their gifts, abilities, and circumstances. Some can do more, and some can do less, but if all one can do is a teeny amount, if it is done with love, it is huge in God’s eyes (Mark 12:41- 44; Luke 21:1-4). This will accomplish three things:
It will make Jesus happy (do we need another reason?)
It will proclaim the Gospel in a way that connects to people who are not impressed with institutions or rituals (at least, not impressed yet).
We will encounter Jesus personally in the people we serve (Matthew 25:31-46). We are called to do two things: encounter Jesus and share Jesus. The more we do those two things, the more we will flourish as church, the more we will flourish as disciples, and the more we will flourish as human beings. For the past year we have been playing defense. It is time for that to change. We will revisit the survey that had been taken. I will share the work that has been done as a result, some mistakes that I made and what is to be done in the future. One of the things that needs to improve is messaging. I am determined to do better with that myself, and everyone can play a role in making that happen. I believe there is much reason to approach the coming year with hope. Blessings, Fr. Jim
I have never thought it proper for me to use my position to endorse a particular politician. I have focused on teaching principles of Catholic social teaching, and thought that was not only more correct, but more effective. However, I do not believe that any faithful Catholic could object to this, and I think we all agree, there are many politicians who need prayer. Some people might get together and pray regularly for certain public officials who especially need it. Who knows what might happen. God clearly loves to take terrible sinners and make them great saints. https://www.catholic365.com/article/9502/6-sinnersturnedsaints-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them.html
Dear Folks, Today Jesus heals lepers. I’m always in favor of physical healing, but I would suggest that when Jesus heals, He is also teaching something deeper. We do not look at someone suffering and conclude they are being punished by God. Jesus closed that door (John 9:3). However, leprosy does teach us some things about the effects of sin. Our foundational teaching about sin is the infamous Fruit Incident in Genesis 3. After sinning, they were alienated from their own selves/their bodies (v. 7), from God (v. 8), from one another (v. 12) and from nature/the earth/work (vv. 16-19). A leper experiences similar alienations. Their bodies became their enemies. They were not able to enter the temple or the synagogue, and so were cut off from much of the practice of their religion. They could not be with their families, friends or community. They could not engage in any trade to earn a living and couldn’t even draw water from a well. When Jesus healed a leper, He not only cured the disease, He restored their lives. They could reenter the Temple and the synagogue. They could reconnect with friends and family, with the community. They could earn a living again. Their bodies became home again and not a prison. When people go to heaven, God glorifies their bodies (1Corinthians 15:35-49; Philippians 3:21). People of every tribe and tongue and nation will be gathered around the divine throne (Revelation 7:9). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). We shall know God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). The challenge now is to live like people longing for that future. In a couple of days, we start Lent. It is a time for examining ourselves and repenting of our sins. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we shall have a chance to see ourselves in a clearer way. We seek to know our sinfulness so that we can better repent and follow Jesus more faithfully. It is a time to grow in our desire to become more like what God made us to be. It would be good to consider the four areas of healing: • Relationship with God: Do we treat God at least as well as our best friend? Where do we need to grow in trust? Is He welcome in every aspect of our lives? • With others: Where do our relationships need healing? Is there something we can do? Are there situations where the other person will not try, and we just need to keep ourselves as safe as we can, pray for them, and avoid giving into hate? • With nature and labor: Balance between work and rest? Care for the environment? How are we focused on leaving the world better than it would have been without us? • With ourselves: Are we growing in chastity? Are there times we look upon others as objects rather than beloved children of God? Do we treat our bodies with at least the care and respect we give our smart phone or our car? Do we engage in destructive self-talk? When we fail or make a mistake, do we spend time and energy berating ourselves, or do we learn from it and strategize how to do better? Obviously, these questions are not a complete list, but just a few examples. What might God be calling us to become in the four aspects of ourselves? How can we better receive God’s gift of Himself, and better give ourselves as gift to Him? Blessings, Fr. Jim
Dear Folks, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/ crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler? But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit
4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The
scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys, but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they considered themselves so good. Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20 reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew 23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He went to work. In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus. After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future. There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away. That may be the greatest tragedy of all. I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves. Blessings, Fr. Jim
Dear Folks, This is Sanctity of Life Sunday. The biggest life issue now is, of course, the killing of unborn children. This stands out for three reasons:
The huge number of victims, tens of millions, many times that of any genocide that I know of.
It is direct killing of the innocent. That is different in kind from capital punishment, from killing in a just war, or from the indirect killing that accompanies many activities (driving carelessly is wrong, and has resulted in deaths, but it is not the same as directly intending to kill).
Proponents have set apart a group they classify as untermenchen (a term used in Germany in the early 20 th century, it referred to humans they consider lesser, and therefore not as entitled to protection). This has been done in the past to Native Americans, to Jews, to African Americans, and other groups. It is a tool used for the greatest human atrocities. Some have even referred to unborn children as “non-living fetal tissue.” Where is the science behind that? That said, it is essential that we not neglect other areas where the sanctity of life needs to be affirmed. Many see the lives of the elderly, the disabled and the infirm to be of less value, and advocate for euthanasia. We must recognize that their lives are precious, and not only protect them from being killed, but make sure they are not marginalized or forgotten. We have a constant need to care for the hungry, the homeless, and those trapped in poverty. There is room to disagree about how, but no room to say that it is not our problem. We must do something about human trafficking. I don’t know what, but we must do something. The Catholic Church has long accepted capital punishment as a proper tool of law enforcement, but, starting with Pope Saint John Paul II and continuing with Pope Francis, there has been a movement away. There is a strong body of thought that suggests it does not help deter crime, and with proper incarceration, it would not be necessary to protect people. I suggest we can be a better society if we hold precious even the lives of vicious murderers. That said, I have a very hard time being patient with those who say it is contradictory to oppose abortion and favor capital punishment. How come I never hear people saying that if we favor incarcerating criminals, we must therefore favor the legalization of kidnapping? Honestly. I recently listened to Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence. He speaks of the “thingification” of other people, in which they are considered not in terms of their dignity, their needs, their thoughts or their feelings, but only how they affect us. They are seen not as people, but as things, as objects. Celeste Headlee in her excellent book We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter, mentions that studies show that empathy is on the decline. It is easy to figure that the widespread use of social media rather than personal contact makes things worse. The enormous use of pornography has to be a huge factor. I see a lot of conversation showing contempt for people who disagree. That can’t help. How do we build empathy in our society? Final thought: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” -Edmund Burke Blessings, Fr. Jim