Feeding the Multitude

By , July 30, 2011 4:52 am

18th Sunday of the Year
Today’s Gospel simply gives us yet another picture of the never failing kindness that Jesus manifests to those with whom he is dealing. The story is told quite briefly here in Matthew but it will be the jumping off point in the 6th chapter of St. John, when John uses the occasion of feeding the multitude to begin to talk to his listeners about bread from heaven that will give not just the food for today but rather for eternal life.

Jesus promised his followers that he would provide them with bread from heaven. He goes on to say who and what that bread was to be, namely himself. The Lord is talking about the fact that in our spiritual journey we are on our way to become one with God, and that process begins here on earth when the use of this infinite gift of the mysterious presence of Jesus within the Eucharist. We have had God’s life within us from the day of baptism and now that life can be nourished even daily by receiving our Lord himself into our lives.

Jesus is not talking about a symbolic presence. He is talking about an actual presence. He reiterates this five or six times in John 6. When his listeners take him seriously and then pull away from him he lets them go! This is when he put that awesome question to the apostles. “Do you also want to go away?”

Our response needs to be the same as that of Peter. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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Virtues Again!

By , July 29, 2011 3:23 am

Last month, I touched on the three great THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES. They are called theological because they directly connect us with the theos, with God. They are, of course, faith, hope and charity and each of these has as its goal the drawing of us closer and closer into the inner life of God. This is made possible in our daily lives by having been baptized and then walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Actually, I think I jumped the gun by going straight to the theological virtues. I really should have started with the four key human virtues. These four virtues should play a key role in our lives and are called cardinal because all other virtues are grouped around them. They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

Would you like to be called imprudent? Of course not. We all respect horse sense. We all respect the person who has the quality of good judgment. The implicit human virtue that makes for good judgment, makes for right decisions, makes for living their lives orderly and properly in line with God’s law is the virtue of PRUDENCE. Prudence is the virtue that directs practical reason to discern true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. On the street, we also call it “horse sense.” Prudence is a wonderful asset in day-to-day living but it doesn’t fall from the sky. We have to work at it by learning to think critically of the situations in which we find ourselves, consider the various possible outcomes of various choices, and make the judgment always on what is best for everybody involved.

Let’s hear it for prudence!

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Let’s Hear It for the “Just 5″ Kids

By , July 28, 2011 3:18 am

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass for a large number of middle school kids who had taken part in a five-day mission program, “Just 5 Days.” I was impressed! I was moved! These young people had come from across the country to work in Austin through programs in the community where they could give “just five days” of service to people who have special needs. Those five days were also filled with conversation about the ultimate purpose of our life; sanctity, walking in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. They were also filled with intense study of Catholic social teaching. What a wonderful concept.

After Mass was celebrated, they returned to their respective towns and parishes. They now carry a renewed commitment to our never-ending challenge – to work for a more just and more equitable world.

All of these kids are Catholic but overwhelmingly they attend the public schools. Public schools endeavor to do a great job with the challenges that are before them, but isn’t it sad that they cannot really transfer moral and spiritual values to their students? All values are ultimately religious in one form or another and those schools are blocked from stepping into that crucially important area of life.

We need many more programs like Just Five Days!

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Our Battered Church, Our Troubled Church

By , July 27, 2011 5:07 am

Yes, the Catholic Church is certainly being battered. In the Mideast, in Africa north of the Sahara, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other places, it takes real courage to practice the Catholic faith in public. Let’s thank God for the heroism of the priests, religious and lay people in those churches who have the courage to continue in living out their commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

However, outside opposition has always been present over the last 2,000 years but there are always problems inside the Church as well. The Second Vatican Council has not been an unending success, although it attempted to effect excellent changes to bring the Church into a more effective missionary work for our day. While the Council generated great hope across the world, the sad fact is that a few Church leaders have been working with measurable success to actually roll back the Council and return us to a style of operation prior to the Second Vatican Council. In the United States, there probably are at least 15 million former Roman Catholics walking around in this country. Fifteen million! How did that happen? Why did that happen?

There are many causes for the internal troubles that face the Church. Most observers contend that the biggest single problem in Catholicism is the agonizing sex scandal in the United States and Europe, but, thanks be to God, that will soon be behind us. Actually, the biggest problem in the Church today is a question of leadership. Jesus Christ promised that the Church would endure until the end of time. He did not promise that its leaders would always be competent! Today, we are certainly living through a period of unsteady leadership.

Is there a measure of incompetence present in the leadership of the Catholic Church today? It is hard to see how anybody could doubt that. Over the last few years, the American bishops have had some conflicts with the Canon Law Society, the Catholic Theological Society, the Catholic Hospital Association, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Catholic Charities International, presidents of Catholic universities, liturgical leadership and various priests groups. These groups are not made up of troublemakers. Their members love the Church. They have given their life to the Church. But many of them are having difficulty with the upper levels of Church leadership.

Should that not give the bishops of the United States pause?

Should that not give the Vatican pause?

All of these organizations are filled with talent and dedicated people, but the common thread that runs through all of these discussions is that the bishops claim to have the final say in any discussion. The problem is much more painful when the bishops are talking in areas where they do not actually have adequate competence.

Should all of these difficulties be a temptation to one’s faith? Not at all. These are simply very human problems with dedicated, faith-filled people having different views on what is the best solution or best mode of operation. I believe that the Church is Christ present in history and it is not just the Christ of the Resurrection, the Christ of glory. It is also the Christ on the cross, the Christ of the crucifixion.

Onward through the fog.

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An Elderly Couple Remembered

By , July 26, 2011 3:05 am

Most of the information that we have about the life of Jesus of Nazareth is contained in the Gospels and, to a lesser extent, in the Epistles. But other stories exist that are firmly locked in ancient tradition. We don’t have the same confidence in them that we do with the New Testament texts but still they are worth looking at and one is the story of an elderly couple, that we call Saints Joachim and Anne, who are considered by an ancient tradition to be the parents of the Virgin Mary. Today (June 26th) is their feast day.

I am sure that Mary had parents and therefore it could very easily have been this elderly couple. I just like the idea of thinking of Mary in a very down to earth context. So often when we think of our Blessed Mother, she is a statue attached to the wall of a church with her feet four feet off the ground. I would also like to think of her peeling potatoes and chopping onions in order to make stew in the kitchen. When I think of this young girl in this manner, she becomes far more realistic to me than the statue with its eyes lifted towards heaven.

Mary was real. She lived in difficult times. She knew what it was to be a refugee, an immigrant. She saw her perfect son arrested and subjected to unbelievable torture. She stood at the foot of the cross and beside the grave. She was real and she is our adopted mother. Because of Mary, I thank God for Joachim and Anne. I am sure that they appreciated the privilege that God had given them.

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Christian Minorities are Nervous

By , July 25, 2011 5:58 am

I think it is fair to say that most Americans have been rather pleased at the general direction that the upheavals in the Near East and North Africa that have been taking place over the last few months. We are always happy to see the spread of real democracy. However, as these upheavals have occurred, the small Christian minorities in these overwhelmingly Muslim countries are a little bit nervous. They have every reason to be nervous!

The Arab Spring is not complete and while Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen have successfully removed their dictatorships, a war continues in Libya and free speech is cruelly suppressed in Syria, Bahrain and several other countries.

What will be the policy of these governments after the dust has settled? So far, so good! The three new governments in Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia are not focused on religion. They have been fighting for democracy, personal liberty and the elimination of corruption. Their protests have not focused on religious issues and there has been no call for a Sharia state. Let’s hope that this continues.

As the United States recognized the Libyan rebels as the de facto government of Libya, Secretary of State promised a major increase in support but added that it had to be tied in with a faithful commitment to the building of a just and equitable society.

Thank you Madame Secretary.

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Jesus is Still in the Fields!

By , July 23, 2011 4:47 am

17th Sunday of the Year
In today’s Gospel, our Lord is still talking to his listeners in images that they can understand. He lists two incidents where a man (one a farmer and the other a merchant) comes across the possibility of an extremely valuable treasure. In both instances, the men go and sell all of their other possessions in order to secure this one thing of awesome value.

Jesus is challenging us to see that our own salvation is that treasure in the field, is that pearl of great price. Our main challenge in living life on this earth is that this great treasure, that awesome jewel is nothing other than our own personal salvation. We must be prepared to put any threat to our salvation to one side and concentrate on our invitation to the infinite happiness of eternal life.

Keep your eye on the prize.

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Why Relics?

By , July 22, 2011 6:04 am

Sometime back, I mentioned the fact that I was going to start taking up a number of points that are either mysterious, confusing or irritating to people outside the Catholic Church. Some of these same points are also irritating to some Catholics inside the Church. I am going to take up a few more subjects because I think that many readers would find them of interest. First, let’s go to relics. I will touch on RELICS today and tomorrow because there is a strong tradition inside the life of the Church, going back to the second and third century, where the followers of Jesus took care of and safeguarded the human remains of the early martyrs who died for their faith during the period of persecution.

The early Church saw in the martyrs members of the community of faith who had come closest to actually imitating Jesus. He died – they died. So when they had some physical remains in their possession it was felt that the mortal remains of these heroic Christians linked the human to the divine.

When Mass was celebrated in the catacombs, the altar was frequently the tomb of one of the martyrs and so there developed a custom that exists to this day that when the Eucharist is celebrated it is done, whenever possible, on an altar containing relics of a saint. Catholics do not believe that such relics have any miraculous power but simply their retention offers us a way in a sense to be physically close to them. Just as we all want a picture of our deceased mother or heroic father on our mantle or some other important place in the house, so also Christians want to be close to their heroes.

Now comes wonder of wonders. The British Museum in London has just opened an exhibition showing how the veneration of the mortal reliquiae of these great saints has enabled Christians in the Middle Ages and even today to feel a bond between their own human nature and that of the divine.

The British Museum? The British Museum!!

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Religious Scandals are the Worst

By , July 21, 2011 5:56 am

Regretfully, our society is used to dealing with scandals. We have had so many of them that we have all had an opportunity to practice how to handle them and survive them. Political scandals, banking scandals, baseball scandals, medical scandals, etc., etc., etc. Because every area of activity in human life is developed and worked out by human beings, and human beings are inevitably frail and inadequate, therefore with the passage of time, you will have scandals in every aspect of life. This is a tragedy but it is certainly an obvious truth.

But not all scandals are equally harmful. Admittedly, as I said, they appear in every area of human life. Among the most destructive are those that occur and are committed within churches and religious institutions who claim as their role the right to be moral teachers on how life ought to be lived.

We are shocked and disappointed but not depressed when an accountant will cave in to the temptation to “cook the books.” We are shocked and disappointed but not depressed when a champion athlete caves in to the temptation to enhance his physical prowess with drugs. On the other hand, I think we are shocked and bitterly disappointed when one of these scandals occurs within the context of a church. Bankers and athletes should teach by good example but usually you don’t find them preaching to us as to how we ought to live. Church leaders do that! It is for this reason that scandals inside the life of the Church are so bitterly disappointing, so destructive, so damaging.

Clichés about the fact that we are all human does not lessen the pain and disappointment. Efforts by Church leaders to clean up the situation, to rectify the immorality, to correct the injustice, are all necessary and have to be utilized quickly. But once the damage is done it takes a long, long time for it to be undone. The fact that only a small percentage of people were involved is of no comfort. Ideally, no one from this group should be so involved.

All churches have experiences of this but over the last 20 years the Roman Catholic Church has had an extraordinarily bitter, disappointing and destructive failure in this regard.

Various efforts have been made to deal with this issue and I was hopeful that we could see light at the end of the tunnel until two months ago when a monumental failure on the part of the bishops reopened the wounds. So far, no bishops have been prosecuted in this saga and only one middle-level Church bureaucrat has been indicted. Maybe that needs to change so we can really learn.

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Africa – News Good and Bad

By , July 20, 2011 4:22 pm

This week, the world saw the birth of a new nation. So far, it looks like Southern Sudan is going to be allowed to go on its independent way. Citizens voted overwhelmingly for that several months ago. The results of that vote are coming to fruition this week.

All of Sudan has suffered terribly over the last 20 years with the Northern part of the country, overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim, mercilessly punishing the South, which is Black, Christian and Animist. The problem is most of Sudan’s oil potential is located in the South so it is touch and go to see how this one comes out. Let’s hear it for freedom. Shooting continues on the projected border but let’s hope that it will not develop into full-scale war.

On the negative side, under the dictator, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, the Church is really suffering and the government is treating the Church as though it was a major internal enemy. Priests are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrest and questioning and parish priests reported that even wearing a Roman collar is extremely dangerous. Peace services or any other gatherings not pleasing to the military are routinely broken up by riot police. Frequently priests are arrested at the end of Mass if their homily contained anything displeasing to the government.

Africa is making progress but it is all too slow.

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