July 1st, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I am happy that we are back with excerpts from St. Mark’s Gospel. His is the shortest Gospel and the style is brief and cryptic. He doesn’t mince words and you have a very clear understanding of what he means.
When we are reading any one of the four Gospels, we need to use our imagination. Don’t just read the words. Try to visualize what is happening and it makes it far more interesting. The story, of course, is one that we have known since we were children. Jesus brings the daughter of Jairus back to life. Jesus was responding to a plea from the girl’s father to come and help with the sick daughter and the text says, “A large crowd followed pushing against him.” Think about that large crowd, the jostling and the shoving. Then when Jesus announces that the child is not dead, the crowd begins to ridicule him and Mark gives us one simple sentence. HE PUT THEM ALL OUT.
Don’t let that sentence pass by without trying to visualize it. It is a crowd and Jesus is alone and he is irritated at their disbelief and he cleans house. They are out! The story itself is wonderful but it is also necessary to draw other means from it. We sometimes think of Jesus as ever so meek and mild. He was but can he be firm and determined? Absolutely! HE PUT THEM ALL OUT!
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How many times have you been in an awkward situation and in order to get out of it, you’ve used the expression “I’ll have to rob Peter to pay Paul.” That humorous description grows out of an ancient tradition that closely unites these two of the most important of the apostles. Peter, of course, is first. Jesus Himself described Peter as a rock- a foundation- or, in modern English, a slab on which the Church was to be built. While Paul is not one of the original twelve, he is certainly the most important after Peter (and shyly conferred the title “apostle” upon himself, and no one has challenged it since!)
These two men stand head and shoulders above anyone else in that first generation of believers. They were both missionaries. Peter moved across the middle East and worked his way to Rome. His decision to locate in Rome has had an extraordinary influence on the Church for the next 2000 years. Rome is the “capitol” of the church because Peter was there. Peter presided over that small community and would die in the first persecution which broke out in the year 64 A.D. Paul would be caught up in that same persecution and he also would be executed, but not until after completing an amazing series of missionary journeys, most of which centered on what we call modern day Turkey. Both men are authors in the New Testament. Peter will write a few short and meaningful booklets, but Paul will practically produce a library with thirteen books credited to him for authorship (though some is controverted with the scripture scholars.)
These men have so much in common, but they were also so different. They were magnificent and helped the church get off to a strong start.
I am drawn more to Peter than to Paul. In his writings, Paul comes through as supremely confident and judgmental, whereas Peter, as we see him both in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, suffered humiliation after humiliation, giving him a real insight into his own frailty and limitations.
Let’s hear it for both men! Happy Feast Day to St. Peter and St. Paul!
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We all know that good communication is a never-ending struggle. For most of us, the word, written and oral, is the most common tool of communications. In addition to the word (which is itself a symbol!), there are other tools to assist in moving an idea from one person’s brain to that of another. On that list of alternate forms are symbols. In the Medieval world before widespread literacy came among us various shops and trades would have their own symbol placed over the door and visible from the street. The barber pole, the three balls over the pawn shop. These instruments were devised and understood by the general public.
The Catholic Church has always understood the importance and value of symbols and used them from the very first generation of Catholicism. One of the earliest and most common was the Greek word ichthus, which means fish. It was taken from the first letters of the expression “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Early Christians would mark their houses with the symbol of a fish indicating that Christians lived here and telling the Roman authorities nothing. The use of the fish as a symbol of the follower of Jesus fits in very well with some of the bible scenes relating to the Sea of Galilee – these are abundant monumental and literary witnesses to the popularity of this formula. With the passage of time and the cessation of persecution, this particular symbolism is seldom seen today.
Naturally, the most widespread Christian symbol is the cross. It dominates almost everything we do. We cross ourselves on entering the church. We cross ourselves when beginning or ending prayer. It is marked on our buildings – on our bodies. We are constantly adverting to the cross and it is, of course, the symbol of our redemption. It provides us with an opportunity to continually recommitting ourselves to Jesus.
We walk into a church, tip our fingers into a bowl of holy water, a symbol reminding us of our baptism. We should try to remember to say in a meaningful way, “I am here in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. If we are conscious of that, it provides us with a constant recommitting of ourselves to our faith, to our Lord, to our coming salvation.
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Catholicism sees itself as an enormous family of faith. I mentioned in an earlier blog that one of the things that I love about day-to-day Catholicism is our firm belief in the Communion of Saints; that those of us here on earth, and those who have gone before us and are with God, can be united by prayer and the saints assist us by their intercession before the throne of God, and by the example that they had given to us while they were among us. Through this firm belief about an interaction between heaven and earth, there has developed a secondary belief or practice; namely, that saints with whom we feel a special relationship, either because they are our patron or they did the same type of work that we did, are concerned about and respond to our requests that they join their prayers to ours as we worship the infinite God. St. Thomas More is the patron of lawyers. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine are patrons of scholars. Black teenagers have St. Charles Lwanga. It is interesting – it is almost like having a lobbyist in heaven!
The above facts are going to affect the way the liturgy manifests itself in the next few months. Pentecost and several of the major Christological feasts are behind us and we are going into that second half of the year, which simply passes by the rather bland title, “Ordinary Time.” We say it is ordinary because the exciting seasons that centered on the coming of Jesus, his saving work, his resurrection and return to his heavenly Father are all behind us. The mood of these seasons will not appear again until December. However, the Church doesn’t want us to fall asleep so it scatters into the liturgy the lives of wonderful men and women who have gone before us and the Church asks us to look at them, to use their example, to attempt to walk in their footsteps the way that they walked in the footsteps of Jesus, and to live lives that are based on faith.
A joint feast, marking two of the most extraordinarily lives, is soon coming up. I am talking about the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, which we will celebrate on June 29th.
Peter and Paul – the Catholic Church always puts them together. They are the basic rocks, bricks, slabs, foundation on which the Church of the first century would be built. Peter would work in the Jerusalem area and then move on to Rome while Paul would cover a great deal of the eastern half of the Mediterranean. They laid a marvelous foundation and they brought the message of Jesus to the people of that period and ultimately both of them would die for their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul would be decapitated and, tradition has it, that Peter would be executed upside down, as he did not feel worthy to die in the same way as his Lord.
How blessed we were to have them among us and how much we need men and women today to imitate their burning desire to tell the world the joyous news of Jesus of Nazareth.
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During the average workweek, do you get many chances to enjoy solitude? I say “enjoy” because for many people, struggling in this complex world and its hectic days, solitude is a rarity. Yes, we crawl under the covers at the end of the day and sleep but that is not solitude. Solitude is the luxury of not being busy, not doing work, not reading or cooking, not doing anything except for being conscious of your own individuality and the beautiful and complex relationships that exist in conjunction with the reality of your soul. At that period, you are able to become more clearly conscious of God’s existence, his love for each one of us and the need that we have to improve ourselves as mature followers of Jesus Christ.
Regretfully, there are some people that are truly fearful of being alone. They can’t stand the idea of solitude. We also have others who suffer by a terrible forced aloneness; for example, prisoners locked up 24 hours a day in agonizing isolation. That is really torture and if it goes too long, can result in insanity.
However, a certain amount of solitude each day and each week is truly a spiritual gift. I don’t mean that we are just not working. I mean that we are not doing anything except communing with our souls, allowing our intellect to roam back over the years of our lives and to allow our will to reach out towards God and the people around us that we love and also love us. When you are racing down IH-35 at 70 mph planning that next meeting that you are going to have your office, your mind is too cluttered, the tension too great, to really see the reality of clear objectivity.
So solitude is a gift for every aspect of our lives. It not only helps us grow spiritually, but it helps us to perform more effectively in our day-to-day obligations when we finally get back to them. Be alone, be happy.
Enjoy being alone occasionally. It is a blessing!
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Usually, when a Church story is taken out of the religion section and makes it to the front page it does not last to the second day. Well, the story of the Vatican concern about Catholic nuns in the United States is still going strong after two weeks and it is doing a great deal of damage. There is nothing wrong with differences of opinion within the Church. The Vatican has a very real duty to struggle to maintain doctrinal purity across the planet. In so doing, the Holy See should make every effort to make sure that people understand what action they are taking and why they are doing it. This story is making the Church leadership look insensitive and indifferent.
No doubt, Church leadership has the responsibility for Christian correction but they have a corresponding responsibility to carry it out gently and lovingly. When bishops are perceived to be harsh and chauvinistic by a large segment of the population, it is the bishops who are being hurt. That is very much what is going on right now.
Either the Holy See knew that their decision on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious would create a bombshell of bad publicity or they did not care. If they anticipated the obvious reaction, they should have been much more careful in their approach, much more gentle. If they did not anticipate it, then they have a different problem; namely, that they are out of touch with the world to which they are sent.
Onward through the fog.
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June 24th, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel excerpt always has great meaning for any follower of Jesus and committed member of the Church. However, in my opinion, it has very special meaning for today’s Church. The text describes that wonderful excerpt from the 4th chapter of Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus and the apostles are crossing to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A bad squall comes up and the boat is really getting bounced around. The waves are rolling over the sides and where is Jesus? Sound asleep! The apostles are terrified and awaken the Lord in awe that he seems so unconcerned. Then the text says that he awoke and rebuked the wind and then said to the sea, “Quiet. Be still.” And what happened? The wind became quiet and the sea became still. Even though our Lord had saved the situation, he nevertheless rebuked his disciples reminding them that he was in charge and that they had no concern to be frightened or fearful.
Whether we are dealing with crises in the Church across the world or whether we are terribly upset about real, concrete problems in our family or individual lives we should remember that JESUS IS IN CHARGE. Ultimately, all of our problems will pass. We need to have calm confidence in his presence with us and that our purpose in life is not to panic in this crisis or that difficulty, but to calmly move on to eternal life.
Let’s turn to Jesus in our prayers and hear him say about the issue, “Be quiet. Be still.”
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The election for our new President and Commander-in-Chief is still more than four months away. Four months! If you put that in the context on the Republican side, then at least the process is well over a year old. It is at times like this that I envy the British system being able to change a Prime Minister in a matter of a couple of days.
As I look at the two parties in this country, I am fascinated by the difference. There is really powerful unity in the Republican Party. Its strongest areas are the center of the country from Texas to the Upper Midwest and can safely count on strong majority among white males across the country. The Democrats are very diverse divided into various groups and sometimes are in conflict among themselves. Remember when Will Rogers said famously, “I don’t belong to an organized party. I am a Democrat!”
The great success of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 was that he pulled those diverse groups together and kept them united for a number of years. That included southern farmers, blacks, unionized workers, ethnic groups and academia. For a brief time and under his inspiration, they were able to see that they were all suffering terribly from the Depression and they had to cooperate.
Today, the Democratic Party is still divided but you can add several other special groups that weren’t so obvious in 1932. I am thinking of women, Hispanics and the gay community. Catholics, of course, were overwhelmingly Democratic during the Roosevelt years but prosperity and the abortion issue has caused millions of Catholics to become Republicans.
It will all be over in another four months but each day watching the evening news we will have to listen to the charges and the countercharges, the accusations and the denials. We pay a price for democracy.
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Throughout human history, women, living in the various societies of the planet, have held second-rate status as best. That condition haled from the time we were huddled around fires in caves until the early part of the 20th century. There are a number of sociological reasons, one of which was the fact that women were primarily seen as the bearers and nurturers of children. While this fact is true, of course, virtually every society develops structures that would confine women to that area alone.
This situation continued until early modern times when greater resources and greater flexibility in family organizations began to gradually give women freedom to look at other options. Gradually the education of women increased and they began early on to enter into the world of literature and art, and then later into economics and politics. Today, throughout most of the Western world, women are close to being on a par with their male counterparts. I say close but we are a long way from actual equality.
In the nearly 250 years of our country, only one woman was ever a candidate for the presidency. That says a lot. There has been progress, wonderful progress, and it continues apace. While Asia, Africa and South America continue to lag behind Europe and North America, progress can be measured there too.
What about the Church? The subject of women in the Church is very much in the foreground, both in the Catholic world and the secular press. Let’s take a look at it over the next week or so.
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Several times in my blog, I have commented, respectfully and positively, about the long delayed but gradually improving Church’s response to the sexual scandal of the last 10 to 15 years. Back in February, there was an important meeting in Rome on the subject and one of the speakers was Monsignor Charles Scicluna. Monsignor Scicluna is important because he is the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the man responsible for dealing with these tragic abuse cases. In his speak to the symposium, he compared the “ecclesiastical cover up” with the Mafia bosses who enforce secrecy of their own criminal actions. He pointed out that the failure of the Church to ensure justice for the victims is no less a scandal than the abuse itself.
“It was a crime in canon law to show malicious or fraudulent negligence in the exercise of one’s duty,” Msgr. Scicluna said, indicating that bishops could be deposed from their sees for falling down in their duty in this respect.
Writing in the February 11th issue of the London Tablet, in my opinion, the most thoughtful Catholic publication in the English language, Robert Mickens states that, “Unfortunately the event has revealed a dark side. And that is the sad fact that there are still powerful men in the Roman Curia and the hierarchy who continue to downplay the seriousness of clergy sexual abuse. This is reflected by the fact that the symposium was not “sponsored” by the Holy See and took place more than a mile away on the other side of the Tiber.”
Onward through the fog.
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