Category Archives: Religion

Behold the Lamb of God

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:

  1. The huge number of victims, tens of millions, many times that of any genocide that I
    know of.
  2. 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).
  3. 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

The Baptism Changes Everything

Dear Folks,

Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. If I understand correctly, the Feast of
Epiphany used to mark the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord, and the miracle at
Cana, and that marked the end of the Christmas season. It was apparently decided that the
Baptism needed its own feast, and this marks the end of the Christmas season, so tomorrow
we begin good old Ordinary Time.
When Jesus was baptized, He was not, of course, repenting of sin. He was sanctifying
baptism and it will be by the power of His pascal mystery that Christians will be born again
in baptism. It begins His saving work: His life as a manual laborer is over, and now He is
beginning the journey that leads to the Cross. He will refer to His death as a baptism (Mark
10:38; Luke 12:50) (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #536).
John 3:5 says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without
being born of water and Spirit.” The Church has always understood this to refer to baptism.
Baptism has never been treated as a detail, and it is not an option or a matter of
preference. In Jesus’ final commissioning of His disciples at the end of the Gospels of
Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ very concise instructions include baptizing as a core part of the
work (Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16).
This leads to a question: what about those who are sincere but were not baptized. What
about children who died before baptism? This led to a theological theory called
limbo. Although the Baltimore catechism taught limbo as if it were a fact, limbo has never
been the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict finally laid it to rest and
said it is not a part of the Catholic faith. We now understand John 3:5 to be a mandate on
us but not a restriction on God. The God we have gotten to know in the New Testament is
not about keeping people out of heaven because of something they couldn’t control of have
not been properly taught. Unfortunately, in the meantime, many Catholics have come to see
getting sacraments as the ultimate end of the faith (sometimes literally the end, when they
drop out after getting confirmed because they are “done”). They have come to see the
practice of the faith as a pale shadow of what it is meant to be. The great danger is of people
being sacramentalized but not evangelized. They have helped convince a lot of other people
that Catholicism is superficial, mechanical and legalistic. Seeing the fruits of this is one of
the most heart-breaking things about being a priest.
How should we look at sacraments? St. Paul sees baptism as something we must live out.
“What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not!
How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized
into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through
baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the
Father, we might live in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).”
Our belonging to Jesus is meant to make all the difference. It is as drastic as dying. It is
meant to be the controlling, defining reality in our lives, by which all other things find their
meaning. We hand God our lives and invite Him to do whatever He chooses with us,
holding nothing back. Our faith and our response to God is, of course, imperfect, but if our
faith is real, our goal is nothing less than being completely His. Peter Kreeft’s book Jesus
Shock gets deep into this.
A question for 2021 is, “How are we living our baptism?”
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

From His Family to Us All

Dear Folks,
In these two weeks we celebrate the Holy Family and the Epiphany, and they touch on the
root of God’s whole work. We see a pattern where God makes family, and when it falls
apart, to bring things together.
It begins in Genesis, with the story of Adam and Eve. In this story, God makes Adam and
Eve and calls them to be the beginning of family. Then things fall apart. The story of the
Tower of Babel is a story of God’s people being dispersed and alienated from each other
because they tried to do things their way instead of God’s way. Noah and the ark is a story
about trying again. God picks a family, not a village, not a nation, but a family. From there
comes the new beginning.
God’s plan to gather His people together as one reaches a new phase with the beginning of
the nation of Israel. When God begins the nation of Israel, he starts with a family, the
family of Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah). From them will come a people from
whom the plan will unfold. Everything is laying the groundwork for the Gospel. The
people of Israel get scattered, and Isaiah prophecies God gathering them together (see, for
example Isaiah 60:4), and also starts talking about the gathering of all the nations (see
Isaiah 2:2-5). The Gospel Story begins with a family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy
Family.
The Magi represent the nations, those beyond the nation of Israel, who are called to be part
of God’s people. They were drawn by the star because they were open to goodness, beauty
and truth. (Herod wasn’t.) We the Church, God’s family, are meant to be light to draw the
nations. If we do our job right, those who are open to goodness, beauty and truth will be
drawn to Jesus by our light. In short, we are called to be stars.
Family is key. It is in family we are meant to learn empathy, responsibility, and what it
means to be part of something larger than ourselves. That is where we need to learn to
manage our emotions and be aware of how we affect one another. We are meant to learn
the difference between right and wrong and taught in practice to put our own will in second
place for a greater good. These are the sorts of virtues that enable a civilization to thrive.
Everything I’m hearing and reading says that we as a society are experiencing a decline in
all these things, and an increase in violence. If we want to turn that around, one place to
start, perhaps the place to start, is to strengthen the family.
For several generations in the western world, the understanding of family has diminished
until it is seen as just a lifestyle choice based on personal desires. The current arguments
about what is marriage and what is family are just the latest symptoms. How to begin to
rebuild it? There are three resources that I’ve encountered this year:
“The First Society,” a book by Scott Hahn unpacks what this is about and what it is
not about (for example, it is not about nostalgia for “Leave it to Beaver”).
“Defending Marriage” is a book by Anthony Esolen. His approach is more literary,
and rather than making rock-solid arguments for each of his positions, he weaves
together a vision for us to imbibe, and lets us consider if this speaks to us. He is not
concerned at all with using politically correct language, so let the reader beware.
For those who have access to Formed.org there is a very good one hour talk by Trent Horn
called “How to Talk about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions.” He lays out what would be
the basis of any productive discussion on the issue.
The human project is filled with striving for ideals that we cannot completely fulfill in this
life. If we lose sight of those ideals and we are left to follow our feelings and preferences,
then civilization crumbles. If we strengthen our sense of our highest ideals and strive to live
up to them as best as we can, we will be a light to all who seek.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Getting our Plans Changed

Dear Folks,
We have plans. God has better plans. The message is not to forbid making our plans, but
to be ready for something different without warning.
David wanted to build a temple to the Lord.
We are not told anything in the Bible about what Mary did before the Angel Gabriel came
to her, except that she was a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David
and that she was in Nazareth (Luke 1:26-27). We can probably expect she would have had
hopes and dreams for the future. She certainly would not have expected what
happened. She said yes without knowing what was involved but having a good idea it
would not be easy.
Throughout the Bible, we see God calling people, and it generally comes as a surprise.
Whatever plans they had needed to change drastically. Very often, they didn’t think it was a
good idea at first, but responding in obedience, they would go on to greatness.
Look at the call of Abram, later called Abraham (Genesis 12). We know almost nothing
about Abram before he is called. We don’t know what his understanding of God was, or
what he was like as a person, only that he and his wife Sarai had no children (Gen 11). He
is called to go to a place he has never seen. He is promised a land, a people and a
blessing. He packs up and goes, just like that. He will demonstrate heroic faithfulness to
God and be rewarded. It will not, however, be a smooth trip, and he will make mistakes
along the way.
Moses is called to go back to Egypt after escaping from there, running for his life. (Exodus
3 and 4). He doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and he figures he is not the right man for the
job. He doesn’t think Pharaoh has any reason to listen to him (not an unreasonable concern,
although when you are talking to a flaming bush, that sort of reframes your sense of
“reasonable”). The Pharaoh is a difficult customer, but his far greater hardship comes from
the people of Israel, even as he is saving them.
Gideon (Judges 6) is called to lead the fight against Midian, but he thinks he’s the last one
for the job.
David (1 Samuel 16 and 17) is called in stages. He is anointed by Samuel, and then
becomes harpist for King Saul, then armor-bearer. He volunteers against all expectations to
fight Goliath, and then there’s a long story and he becomes king. He will get a lot of
earthly reward, but also a lot of hardship. He will fail God very badly but will come back
from that failure to be a great part of God’s plan.
Isaiah (Isaiah 6) is unusual in the group in that he responds eagerly.
Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1) really doesn’t want the job and doesn’t think he’s ready but
responds. He has a very hard time and suffers much for his faithfulness.
Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13) is one nobody would have expected, but he comes along
readily.
Saul, later called Paul (Acts 9) was even more unlikely than Matthew. He is a mighty force
but going in the wrong direction. He gets knocked to the ground and blinded, but he does a
hundred- and eighty-degree turn.
All of these people find hardship, danger, frustration and hostility in the course of their
work. They have one other thing in common: their sacrifice mattered; it made a
difference. We rejoice gratefully for the gifts they have given to us, the parts they played in
God’s plan.
It is beyond cliché that 2020 has messed up a lot of people’s plans. In the light of this
reflection, can we see ways God has called us? What might He be calling us to do
now? What might He be calling us to learn?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Two Tasks of a Prophet

Dear Folks,
It has been said that the task of a prophet is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable.” Reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, we see he can start with some fierce
“get your act together” talk, and then switches. Starting around chapter 40, he is talking to a
people in exile who are beaten down and discouraged and telling them wonderful things about
the tender love of God. Isaiah has some of the most beautiful and moving language in the
Bible about the tender love of God, and much of the imagery will be picked up in the New
Testament.
God loves us very much, and in that love calls us to be the best we can be, what we were
created to be, and sometimes that means we need to hear things that are hard to hear.
Some people are alienated from the Church because they received hard sayings when they
needed comfort, and they were beaten down and fell into despair. We can try hard to avoid
that, but it is going to happen sometime.
There are others who are mad at the Church because they needed to hear something hard but
believed they should only receive comfort. Jesus was not shy about saying fierce things when
it was appropriate (see Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 23; Matthew 25:41-45, John 6, etc.).
Some have drifted away from the Church because they have only received happy messages
and have never been challenged (how long would you keep going to a gym that had
Styrofoam weights that took no effort to lift? It would be more comfortable but wouldn’t
accomplish anything worthwhile). Eventually people decide they have better things to do
with their time.
A pivotal question for all of us, then, would be: How ready are we to hear and respond to hard
sayings? This question is trickier than it sounds.
Some people want more “fire and brimstone,” but are quite sure that it should all be directed
to other people. Some people spend a lot of time talking about what terrible people they are,
but if you point out a specific behavior that perhaps they should examine and change, they get
very defensive.
M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled” talked about some people who were
neurotic and believed that everything was their fault, and some people with a character
disorder who believed that nothing was their fault. There will always be people who tell us
we are wrong, and there will always be people who tell us we are right. If we are too afraid to
stand by our beliefs and decisions we will be paralyzed, and if we are too certain we are right,
we will never learn anything new. Discernment and balance is needed. If, when we were
younger, we received harsh and unproductive criticism, we will find it extremely painful to
learn that we are wrong, and the temptation will be strong to rationalize our position and reject
any negative feedback. If learning we are wrong is not an occasion for great agony, but
opportunity to learn and grow, we can be much more open. Jesus was very patient and gentle
with those who were willing to look at themselves honestly and change their ways, no matter
how bad their sins had been. His anger was for those who were sure they didn’t need to
change, but only other people.
How is God calling us to learn from our current situation? How is God calling us to respond?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Who’s In Charge”

28 Jan 2000, Sedgwick, Maine, USA — Potter Manipulating Clay on Wheel — Image by © Françoise Gervais/CORBIS

Dear Folks,
Now we begin Advent, and advent is about waiting for something that is coming. One of the
things Christians wait for is surrendering more completely to God. Someone once said that the
Christian journey is essentially the gradual realization which one of us is God and which one of
us isn’t.
One of the big issues in the Bible, perhaps the big issue is: who’s in charge. We are quick to say
God is in charge, but human beings (you know how we get), can be almost as quick to try to keep
control, to do it our way and not God’s.
There is a fierce ban on idolatry. It is not because God hates statues (we see He doesn’t in the
mandate to have two gold cherubim made for the ark of the covenant in Exodus 25:18-20 and in
the command to make a bronze serpent in Numbers 21:7-9). Idolatry was about having something
one could possess and control. If one had this statue, one believed he possessed the god and had
a certain power over him. This would not work with the God of Israel.
It is not just about statues. It became a problem with the temple. We see the people thought they
would be protected because the temple was in Jerusalem. “Do not put your trust in these
deceptive words: ‘The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!’
Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deed; if each of you deals justly with your
neighbor; if you no longer oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed
innocent blood in this place or follow after other gods to your harm, only then will I let you
continue to dwell in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors long ago and forever (Jeremiah
7:4-7).”
The Scriptures corrected people for attempting to bribe God. We see in Psalm 50 and Isaiah 1, for
example, people thought if they offered sacrifices, they could live how they wanted without
concern for how God wanted to correct them. The temptation is to think that we decide what we
will do for God, and we are therefore entitled to get certain things our way in return. In “The
Screwtape Letters” the devil teaches his nephew a trick, to encourage a person to think that if he
sacrifices for a time, he is entitled to have things go his way next time, and when that doesn’t
happen, to feel cheated, betrayed by God. Then he falls into despair. There have always been
people who take Bible texts and try to figure out when Jesus is coming again and when all this
will end. This gives them a sense that we only need to deal with this a little longer, and then
everything will be fine. This, in spite of that fact that Jesus tells us very clearly in our Gospel that
we will not know, and must be ready at any time (Mark 13:32-37). People often say, “Things
have to turn around soon” and “We can’t take much more of this.” We don’t know what we can
take until it happens. We don’t know when things will change. I’m hoping as fiercely as anybody
for the current troubles to be over, but we don’t know what the future will bring, and Jesus warns
us against that illusion. He tells the story of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. A man has
accumulated a lot of wealth, and thinks he is going to live how he wants to live for a good while,
and he is in control. Then the hammer drops: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of
you; and these things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus it will be with
someone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” It is good to
be prudent, to save money and manage it intelligently, but we remember that is not our ultimate
security. It can be lost in an instant. Our ultimate security is our relationship with God.
As we face the challenges of life, there are always two questions to focus on: “What does God
want me to learn from this?” and “How is God calling me to respond?”
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

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

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