Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pentecost

pentecost

Dear Folks,
This is the Solemnity of Pentecost the great feast of the Holy Spirit, the birthday of the Catholic
Church, one of the three biggest celebrations of the Church year. The story of Pentecost is in Acts
chapter 2, but the other readings in the lectionary give us a lot to flesh out the story.
We have a lot of choices for the first reading on the Vigil, but the most well-known one is the story
of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. It starts with people united, but then trying to attain heaven
by their own power (similar to the sin of Adam and Eve). Their pride winds up dividing them.
Their languages got confused and they couldn’t communicate anymore, so they dispersed. Such is
the power of sin. This is undone by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which allowed
people of all different languages to understand each other. The Holy Spirit unites and heals
division. Such isthe power of the Holy Spirit.
There is more.
The other possible first readings for the vigil include Exodus 19, which shows God revealing
Himself in thunder and lightning, smoke and fire. Ezekiel 37 is the story of Ezekiel preaching to
the dried bones that came together, were covered with flesh and sinews, then came back to life.
This was a sign that the people of Israel, scattered by the exile, were considered dead as a people,
and God was going to bring them back home. Joel 3 talks about God pouring out His spirit “upon
all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young
men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids, in those days, I will pour out my
spirit.” No one is too humble to receive this gift. There is a sense that God is going to do great
things, greater than people would expect or imagine.
The second reading is Romans 8:22:27. St. Paul speaks of creation “groaning in labor pains (an
image used a number of times in the Bible, for example Romans 13:8 and John 16:21).” This
encouragement says to people that are going through overwhelmingly difficult times that the gift of
God will make it worth it.
The Gospel for the vigil is John 7:37-39, in which Jesus calls those who thirst to come to Him and
drink, and He will make rivers of living water flow from us (remember the conversation with the
woman at the well in John 4), and we are reminded that this refers to the Holy Spirit, which will
only be given after Jesus has been glorified. To a desert culture (in contrast to a dessert culture),
water was very powerfully seen as the power of life where there is otherwise death. Notice that this
speaks of us not only receiving this living water, but being a source of it for the world.
On Pentecost Sunday, the first reading is, of course, the story of Pentecost. The second reading is
the image of the Church being the Body of Christ, and we members of the Church are parts of this
body. We are connected, and share common traits (like needing a compatible blood type), but
must also be very different. It is very good that feet and livers are different. I’m not a biologist, but
I know they are not interchangeable. We, members of the Church, have all been given gifts from
God, and these gifts, though different, are all needed and valuable. Such is the power of the Holy
Spirit.
Finally, the Gospel is John 20:19-23, in which the Risen Jesus give the disciples the Holy Spirit to
enable them to forgive sins. I can’t imagine unity in the body without forgiveness. The Spirit that
unites us and makes us one is the one at work to heal sin and division. One of the signs that the
Holy Spirit is at work in our community is our ability to come together, work together, and get
along with each other. One of the signs that the community is not open to the work of the Holy Spirit is factions and divisions between people.
This should give us much food for thought on Pentecost, and I highly recommend taking some
time with some of these Scriptures. I also recommend Dove Bars.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim
And two extra notes:
With all that is happening now, I need to say that if people use others’ bad behavior to excuse their own bad behavior, things will not get better. We need them to get better. This is a time to build up and not tear down. Remember, two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights make an airplane. Let us do what is Wright.
I am willing to learn from anyone who says something I find worth learning. I never expected to learn something prophetic from Wesley (no, not John Wesley, but Wesley from the Princess Bride): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HnvQM465zM

We are All Brothers and Sisters

races

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines racism as: “Unjust discrimination on the basis of a person’s race; a violation of human dignity, and a sin against justice (See section #1935).” A glance at history makes eminently clear that racism has caused huge amounts of harm for a very long time. The Catholic faith teaches (and modern science affirms) that we are all brothers and sisters.

I approach this topic with trepidation. There will be a lot of things that need to be said that I will not say, first because there is so much and I can only fit in a bit. More importantly, I don’t have the expertise or the experience. Much will have to be done by people who know much more than I. I do believe I should share a couple of thoughts for reflection. As with so many conversations these days, there seem to be people talking past each other, and I don’t see that we are moving toward making things better.

There has been some recent cases of white men killing black men, and their actions, so far as I know, have been universally condemned.  This has ripped open a lot of pain and anger that people have about violence, especially in connection to law enforcement.

I’m currently listening to the book With All Due Respect by Nikki Haley. She tells the story of the Charleston Church shooting in 2015, and the pain that followed.  The killer was arrested and convicted. It was found that he had expressed tremendous racial hatred. There was so much anger and pain after that. Haley tells of the challenge of bringing healing to the state and not let it be torn apart.  Part what she did was remove the Confederate flag from the state capital. She said she knew a lot of people who proudly flew the Confederate flag that did not match the stereotype associated with it, but the flag was a great source of pain to a lot of people, and had to be dealt with. There were many legislators that opposed that move fervently, and she persuaded enough of them by sharing her own experience. She still carries some raw pain because as a little girl she had seen her father being humiliated because he was an immigrant from India and wore a turban. There is nothing like hearing someone’s experience and the pain it causes.

One of the most important things we can do for people is to hear their story of their pain and take it seriously.  We don’t have to agree with their interpretation of what is happening, nor accept what they thing needs to be done, in order to hear their pain and take it seriously. We can disagree with a lot of things they think, but their pain is their pain, and it is real. I don’t think any progress can be made if people don’t have a sense that their pain is being heard and taken seriously. There have been many stories of people being humiliated because of their race, and even having their lives put at risk. It doesn’t have to happen very often to change the way they look at things. They have talked about being afraid for their children. An incident in the news can carry a lot more weight when they are already carrying this burden.

Where to go from there?  Perhaps we can look more deeply at the way the human brain works.  I would recommend two books by Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a fascinating book called Blink. It is about how our brain makes some decisions without us being aware of it, much less how. Psychologists have known for decades that we are not completely objective, but Gladwell really drills down on it.  One issue is how there is a test that shows how people will more easily associate goodness with one race and badness with another race, and we don’t even know it. We want to be on the watch for how we make some bad decisions based on this unconscious bias. Gladwell also wrote a book called Talking to Strangers in which he unpacks the complexity of forming perceptions about people we are meeting. He wraps the study in the story of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was on her way to a new and promising career and was stopped for a minor traffic violation. The conversation with the officer gradually deteriorated, and she was taken into custody. She committed suicide in jail.  Gladwell’s book forms a basis for doing some analysis of what happened and why, as well as implications for training police, setting policy, and forming relationships between the law enforcement and the community.  This sets a different tone for the discussion and gives some solid ideas to work with.

I want to live in a world where everyone’s dignity is respected and everyone feels safe and is safe.  I’m hoping people who know more than I do and who are better positioned to act can do things that move us closer to there.

I can also pray.

Preserving Us in Truth

gifts of Holy Spirit

Dear Folks,
Jesus speaks of sending another Advocate. The word is Paraclete, meaning comforter or
advocate.
We find in Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
Looking in the Greek, we find it says that they will be paracleted. However, Bible scholars
say in the text here in John, the meaning is an advocate, one who speaks for another, as a
prophet speaks for God. Jesus, of course, was speaking about the will of the Father (in the
Gospel of John, we see very strongly that Jesus was about doing the will of the Father), and
so He speaks about sending another Advocate who will keep them (and us) on track with
His teaching.
There is a very powerful reason to believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Catholic
Church: If you look at our history, it is very clear that there have been times of deep
corruption, terrible leadership, and awful decisions. Reading Karl Adam’s book The Roots
of the Reformation, a short book with a lot of information, we see a very bad situation at the
end of the Middle Ages. If the Holy Spirit weren’t keeping the Church together, the Church
would have shut down centuries ago. It probably wouldn’t even have lasted ten years. In
Acts 5:34-39, a respected rabbi named Gamaliel gives some provocative thoughts along
those lines. Lots of folks tried to start movements, but it’s not that easy to keep them going
for millennia, especially when so many things go wrong.
The fullness of truth about God, and the meaning of what it is to be human, was revealed in
Jesus. We believe it makes no sense that God would give such a gift at one moment in time
and then allow it to be lost by human error and corruption. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to
preserve the truth in the Church. Given the messy history, how that is done is not simple.
First, there is arguing, lots of it. We see that in the first century there was a huge dispute
about whether justification (being in right relationship with God) comes from following the
Law of Moses or from faithfulness to Jesus. This was decided in the Council of Jerusalem
(see Acts 15), which laid the pattern for later councils that clarified teaching (think of the
Council of Nicea in 325, which gave us the bulk of the Nicean Creed). The Holy Spirit does
not make things neat and tidy, but keeps us from going off track.
Secondly, doctrine develops over time. The word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. The Canon
of Scripture is not listed in the inspired text in the Bible (the footnotes, table of contents,
and the like are not part of the inspired text). This has led to much confusion, with some
thinking that if it’s not explicit in the Bible it can’t be true and others thinking that we can
change whatever we want when fashion of thought changes. G. K. Chesterton talks about
development in these terms: “when we say that a puppy develops into a dog, we do not
mean that his growth is a gradual compromise with a cat; we mean that he becomes more
doggy and not less. Development is the expansion of all the possibilities and implications of
a doctrine, as there is time to distinguish them and draw them out…(from his book on
Thomas Aquinas).” The Second Vatican council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation puts it
a bit differently: “This tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with
the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the
words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study
made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (cf. Lk. 2:19; 51), through the
intimate understanding of spiritual things they experience, and through the preaching of
those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the
centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of
divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (Dei Verbum 8).”
G. K. Chesterton was asked why he became Catholic. His answer was simple: “Because it’s
true.” That’s my reason for remaining Catholic. Others might have different starting points,
but for me, everything else follows from that.
As we await Pentecost, let us ponder the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in our work,
and in our history.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Rebuilding

rebuilding the temple

Rebuilding

The Israelites had been in exile, slaves in a foreign land, slaves first to the Babylonians and later to the Persians who came to power. Cyrus, king of Persian (no relation to Billy Ray Cyrus) allowed them to come back to Israel and gave them assistance to rebuild their temple, thus healing their acky-breaky hearts (apologies if you have already heard that one more than once).  We can read about it in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Although this was good news, they had some big challenges. They had a huge task, not only rebuilding the temple, but much of Israel. This meant not just the buildings, but the connections.  Businesses would try to restart. People would have to plant and hope to get harvest before they ran out of supplies. Not everyone was in agreement about what to do. Not everyone thought they would succeed. Not everyone was equally enthusiastic about rebuilding the temple, and decided they were doing fine without it. The book of Haggai was calling out those who were not getting on board, and he tried to inspire them “Greater will be the glory of this house the latter more than the former – says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give you peace – oracle of the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:9).” To believe in God is to be a people of hope.

David set up Solomon with a lot of material to work with when he builds the temple (1 Chronicles 22:11-19). Solomon had a very wealthy and successful empire, that gave him the ability to do a lot.  The new temple would not be as magnificent as the temple of Solomon. Some were very sad that it was not like what they remembered from long ago, but others were happy that something good was happening. “Many of the priests, Levites, and heads of ancestral houses, who were old enough to have seen the former house, cried out in sorrow as they watched the foundation of the present house being laid. Many others, however, lifted up their voices in shouts of joy (Ezra 3:12).”

Many had lost a lot. Many had lost everything. Many had died.  Some would be struggling very hard just to survive, and others were doing better. I expect that there were some hard feelings about things that had happened during exile, and not everyone responded the same. There were definitely disagreements about a lot of things.

They moved forward and got things done.

Now, we are talking more and more about opening up and starting to rebuild. What in our community needs to be rebuilt? What in our lives? What should be done differently? There will be so many things. There will be much disagreement about what to do and when and how to do it. There are some hard feelings about things that have happened. Some have lost loved ones. Some have lost their life’s work.  Some are struggling to get bills paid and get enough food for their families.  Some are doing better. We shall need to be aware of the many realities that people are facing. Who will need extra attention?  Who will be able to help a lot?  Who can help only a teeny bit (We remember that in Gospel perspective, those who can only do the tiniest bit, but do it with great love are great in God’s eyes [Luke 21:1-4])?

What we do can lay a foundation for our future, and others can build on it.  When future generations look back on our time, how will they remember what we did?

Living Stones

livingstones

In our Gospel today, Jesus begins His farewell discourse, His last talk to the disciples
before he goes to be crucified. This will take chapters 14-16, and then there will be the
Great Priestly Prayer of chapter 17, in which He consecrates His Church. He starts with
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” and then says something strange. It is so familiar that I
didn’t think until recently how strange it is. When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there
are many dwelling places…and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again
and take you to myself, so that here I am you also may be (See John 14:1-3).” It leads to the
question, “Prepare how? Does heaven need work? What does He have to prepare?” Of
course, He will be preparing us. There is something else going on. Brant Pitre, in his book,
Jesus the Bridegroom, points out that this is what a bridegroom does. He gets betrothed,
then he goes and prepares a home for them (usually on his father’s estate), and then comes
and takes the bride to live there.
In the Gospel of John, we see John the Baptist introducing Jesus, and he uses two images to
describe Him: the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom, and there will be subtle references to
these roles throughout the Gospel. John the Evangelist will bring these two together at the
end of the Book of Revelation in the Wedding of the Bride (the Church) and the Lamb.
Between the time when Jesus Ascends into heaven and the time when He comes back to get
us, to bring the relationship to its fullness, we are being prepared. That brings us to our
second reading, where St. Peter talks about us being living stones being built into a spiritual
house. The more familiar image is members of the Church being members of the Body of
Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12 and Ephesians 4), so we can take this opportunity to
linger over St. Peter’s image. “Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but
chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into
a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God
through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).”
In the course of doing church work, I’ve learned that some bricks are stronger and more
durable than others, and if you are unfortunate enough to have a church with low quality
bricks they will crumble relatively easily. I do believe that some stones are stronger than
others, and sandstone is not nearly as durable as granite. If we want our Church to be
durable, the first step is to be stronger stones, and that happens by deepening our
relationship with Christ. Any time we want to make a better world, the first step is always
to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. We can get so focused on things that need to be
done around us that we can forget that part, and we can become like sandstone that takes
itself for granite. We also remember that each stone is a small part of the building, so it is
less about us than about the purpose of the building.
This building is not just to sit there, but “offer spiritual sacrifices” and we are called to be a
“holy priesthood.” It is worth looking at this alongside a text from St. Paul: “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).” According to our baptismal
priesthood we are called to offer sacrifice. Since there is only one sacrifice, the sacrifice of
Jesus on the cross that occurred once in history but whose power is eternal, our sacrifices
must be a participation in that action. This is done in the sacrifice of the Mass, and in the
sacrifice of our lives, as we give ourselves to service.
We see the call to service in the first reading from Acts 6, and call of the first deacons (the
word “deacon” comes from the Greek word for “servant”). This house becomes more of
what it is meant to be when no one in need is neglected, and when everyone’s gifts are fully
brought to service. Sometimes we do this better than others, but it is what we are always
seeking.
Much to do to prepare for the final celebration.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Getting Things Sheep Shape

shepherd

Dear Folks,
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we have cause to feel sheepish.
In John 10, Jesus tells us He is the good shepherd. This chapter is well worth reading
completely. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Some have pointed to this
text and suggested that priests should not be participating in the lockdown, but facing the
danger. It would be a different thing if we were just putting ourselves in danger, but if we
kept visiting people, we could be unknowingly infecting others. That is the truly dangerous
factor, how long we can be asymptomatic and contagious. There can (and will) be a lot of
conversation about where to draw that line, but it is not simple. Let us reflect on shepherds:
We all know Psalm 23, the great psalm about the Lord our shepherd. Reflecting on that
short text can give us a sense of what Jesus was talking about, what He does for us.
Isaiah 40:11 Tells of the shepherd’s tender care for the sheep as an image of God’s tender
care for His people (just what you would expect from Isaiah): “Like a shepherd he feeds his
flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with
care.”
Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 3:15; 23:4; 50:6 talk about bad leaders of the Israelites who were
like bad shepherds, but the big example of that is in Ezekiel 34. It is worth reading in
entirety. If you only look up one of my references besides John 10, this would be the one to
read. In the Office of Readings (of the Liturgy of the Hours) there is a section in the fall
where we go for days with a chunk of this chapter as the first reading, and a message from
St. Augustine developing the concept further. Neither one pulls any punches. It usually
comes up pretty close to when we have the priests’ conference for the diocese (I think God
did that on purpose). It is a challenge for anyone in a leadership position.
One can also read: Luke 15:1-7 Parable of the lost sheep; John 21:15-19 Mandate to Peter:
if you love me, feed my lambs tend my sheep; Acts 20:25-35: St. Paul talking to the priests
of the church of Ephesus.
The image of the Lord as shepherd goes deep in the scriptures, and it is very apt. In ancient
Israel, shepherds were very common, and everyone was familiar with the concept.
Shepherds lead the sheep to food, water and shelter, and protect them from predators. The
sheep, left to themselves would tend to wander off and get in trouble.
We may pride ourselves on our independence and our common sense, but we need help and
we do tend to wander from what is good for us. In our better moments, we all know this to
be true.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “A thief comes only to steal and laughter and destroy; I came so
that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Those who seek to lead us into sin
(and that includes the voice of temptation within us) regularly tell us that to obey God is to
accept a diminished life, and sin will give us a fuller life. This is one of the most horrible
lies in the history of lies, and yet, it is so easy to believe. We tend to wander from the very
things that will make us the happiest. Sin leaves us with a life so much less than what it
could be and in the cruelest of prisons. That is what gives us cause to feel sheepish. Jesus
leads us to the fullest, most abundant life. We will see this image taken up again most
powerfully in Revelation 7:9-15.
Jesus said the sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd, and that He will lead them and
they will find pasture. We can get to know His voice better by reading the Scriptures, by
spending time in His presence (including time spent with the Blessed Sacrament), and by
seeking His face in those in need.
We need a shepherd. Let us take some time to listen to His voice.
Blessings,
Fr Jim

Know by the Fruits

fruitsof the Spirit

We are coming up on Pentecost, one of the three biggest celebrations of our liturgical year.

We are told there is an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, but for now we have been given the Holy Spirit as a “first installment” (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5). So what does it mean that we have been given the Holy Spirit?

I want to emphasize that the answer must not be primarily about feelings. I have heard many people who talk about “feeling close to God” as their primary test for their practice of the faith. This is dangerous.  I would suggest our Scribe and Pharisee friends in the Gospels got into trouble when they confused feeling holy with being holy. Daniel Mattson in his book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay shares a lesson his father taught him: “In the planetarium where he worked, I would often sit next to him as he gave presentations to visiting school children.  My favorite part of every program was the moment when he made the star projector spin speedily, round and round, making it feel as if all of us in the auditorium were spinning. The dome of the planetarium filled our vision, and though we knew we were seated firmly in our chairs, it felt as if we were dizzily careening through space. As the gathered children enjoyed the experience, my father would use the moment to teach them about Nicolas Copernicus’ revolutionary discovery that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around, as most men had believed throughout history. ‘Feeling are important,’ he would say, ‘but they don’t always tell us the truth.’”

What should we look for as a sign that the Spirit is working in our lives?  It is always a good thing to start with Jesus, who said, “So by their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:20; see Luke 6:43-46).”

What are the fruits of the Holy Spirit? St. Paul teaches they are “love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, and memorizing that list would not be a bad thing).”  If the Holy Spirit is at work in us and if we are cooperating with that work, we should demonstrate an increase in those qualities.  We all fall short, but we can be headed in the right direction.

However, it would be a grievous error to focus our faith life only on our personal development. I suggest that what Jesus said about fruit and harvesting has more to do with gathering people to Him as He has commanded us to do.  If we read the following texts from that lens I think they will make the most sense: “At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborer are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Matthew 9:36-37).’” “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest in abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves (Luke 10:1-3).’” We see in John 4:35-36 Jesus talks about seeing the fields ripe for the harvest and that “one sows and another reaps.” In John 15: 1-17 He talks about us being branches on the vine and remaining on Him in order to bear fruit that will remain.

Acts of the Apostles has been called “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”  We see the work of the Spirit most memorably in the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. The celebration of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar was the feast of first fruits. That will wait for a future article.

Charitable Discussion

venn diagram

Right now there’s some really important conversation going on, and I am distressed that it is not being done well in many corners. There are three concerns: the spread of the virus, the destruction of the economy, and the deterioration of civil liberties.  They are all huge, and how we navigate the current situation is going to be enormous for human well-being in the future.

We must work together and follow proper procedures to defeat this virus.  It is only with the cooperation and sacrifices of all of us that this can be dealt with.  We remember that our actions impact many other people we cannot see.

Poverty kills. We cannot keep food coming without an economy. We cannot keep our healthcare system going without an economy.  When people bring up the economy, some will accused them of prioritizing money over human lives and being willing to kill people for their greed.  Wait a minute here. Think of how we usually work. Can there be any doubt that if we made all cars so they couldn’t go faster than 25 miles per hour that would save lives? Think of how many terrible accidents would be avoided.  It would inconvenience us and slowly reduce productivity, but it would save lives. Why haven’t people made the same case?  Life does have some risk, and absolute security does not exist on this planet.  We can have the discussion of how we balance the risks and the harms of the decisions involved. We don’t have to rule the discussion off limits.

If we are going to destroy someone’s life’s work, hope and dreams, and reduce them to poverty, they are going to want to ask if the particular rules that do it are necessary for our safety, or if they were just put together arbitrarily. When people think that rules are made that are inconsistent to the point of being capricious, that concern needs to be addressed. When someone says, “You are just being inconvenienced” they are demonstrating a lack of awareness and sensitivity. Some people are being inconvenienced. Some people’s lives are being destroyed.

I’m not a historian, but as I understand it, totalitarian governments often start during a crisis, and, of course take extraordinary steps to deal with it (so far so good).  But then, there continue to be more and more authoritarian decisions that seem less and less necessary to deal with the crisis, but if you question them, you are immediately attacked for being unconcerned about the crisis and the well-being of the nation. It is the nature of human beings that people in power tend to think they should have more power. Our country was founded on limited government with checks and balances to keep this in check, and many countries that did not do this fell into totalitarianism. This was dramatized in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. If it ever becomes out of bounds to challenge government practices, we are in dangerous territory.

That said, I cannot overemphasize the importance of being responsible when challenging. When people who are protesting details of the lockdown leave their cars and gather close together closely without masks, they are making their opponents’ case for them. When someone says, “If you are afraid you can stay inside, but don’t make everyone else do it.” They are not taking into account that they are affecting more than themselves and risking more than themselves.  They are risking other people they come into contact with. We think of the people who work in grocery stores who can’t control who they come into contact with. We think of the health care workers who have been working long hours and who have not been seeing their families for fear of infecting them.  These are unprecedented times, and strong action is called for, so it would be good to be careful about assuming the worst too easily about our elected officials.

How we deal with this time will have deep and lasting effects on our future. The conversations we have are essential to that.  If we want others to take our concerns seriously, it would help to take their concerns seriously. If we want them to give our motives the benefit of the doubt, it would help to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. May charity rule our hearts.

 

Something New on Earth

Resurrection

Dear Folks,

Today is Easter and the Lord has risen!  He has risen indeed!

Yes, we are still on lockdown, and we are still dealing with the pandemic, but that cannot stop Easter. We remember what when Jesus rose, the Romans still ruled in Israel, and they were just as nasty as they were before.  We remember the chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees that Jesus had encountered in the Gospels were just as stubborn as they were before. When the disciples encountered the risen Jesus, he would forgive them for their failures on Good Friday, but they would still have to forgive themselves, and many of us find that the hard part.  They were still facing a very dangerous future, one that would call them to deal with many kinds of suffering and death.

But Jesus had risen.  Because they encountered the risen Jesus, nothing the world could throw at them could defeat them.  No pain or deprivation could kill their joy.

Jesus doesn’t really do much that’s new, but the power of being in His presence is what makes the difference.  He demonstrates that He is real, and explains that He had to suffer and die. He also sends them on mission.

Brant Pitre in his (excellent) book The Case for Jesus mentions there are three things we know about the resurrected Jesus: He has a body and is not a ghost, that He has the same body (still has wounds, but they seem not to hurt), and that it is a transformed body.  It is clear that He is not just like He was before, but has become something more. In 1Corinthians 15, St. Paul talks about the resurrection of the body, and compares the difference between the earthly and resurrected bodies as being like the difference between the seed and the full grown plant. In any case, He was not just resuscitated like Lazarus, but was (and is) more amazing than they could put into words. This experience was powerful enough to change everything.

It was only when Jesus appeared to them and explained why things happened as they did that they understood, at least somewhat.  He had, of course, explained a good deal before but they didn’t get it. I find that I’m often going through things that make no sense at the time, but later on I can see how God was at work, and how this served a greater purpose. Often things have been explained to me but I still did not understand until later.  The Risen Jesus helped them see the bigger picture.

They were not yet ready to go out to the world and transform it.  They still awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Once again, even though Jesus had explained it, I figure they really didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like. Until then, they continued to hide, to keep to themselves, to gather carefully.

We are, of course, immensely frustrated with the current situation, with cancellation of liturgies extended through the end of April. Some people believe that is the wrong decision. Some people believe it is the right decision, but are still ready to tear their hair out.  Whatever happens, two things are absolutely true: First Jesus is risen.  Second, wherever we are at, whatever our circumstances, this is where we are called to serve God.  No power on earth can take either of those away.

We are a people of the resurrection. Let us rejoice and let us answer Jesus’ call.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim