Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Whole Law

The Whole Law
Monday: Eighteenth Week of the Year: August 1, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 28:1-17; Psalm 119:29-102; Matthew 14:13-21

The Responsorial Psalm begs: “Teach me your laws, O Lord” (Psalm 119).

In Jeremiah 28:1-17 Jeremiah’s conflict with the prophet Hananiah reminds us of the painful truth that even among those who have taken up the loving work of ministry in the Church there can be disagreement and outright hostility. How do we know who is right?

God’s action against Hananiah teaches all of us as ministers to call our own teaching into question. The Holy Spirit’s work is unity. If we speak up against another voice in the Church, it should be with fear and reluctance, and only after the “search and research” of examining our own heart and going deeply into whatever doctrine is in question. In the Responsorial Psalm we find signs to look for in ourselves to know whether we are authentic:

1. Does God’s law give me delight? (v. 7, 11, 14, 24, 35, 74, 79, 103)

2. Do I meditate on God’s word deeply? (v. 15, 97-100, 104, 105).

3. Am I looking for boundaries or for the boundless mystery of who God is? (v. 18, 20, 27, 32-37, 41, 81, 82, 96, 120, 123).

4. Do I focus on keeping laws or on God’s “steadfast love,” seeking relationship with him? (v. 58-59, 94, 122, 124, 146).

5. Do I keep laws for approval, or do I make responsible decisions in applying law, standing up for the truth sometimes even against authorities? (v. 19, 45, 4, 134, 157, 161).

6. Do I interpret every law in the light of its goal and Jesus’ desire that we should have “life to the full”? (v. 45 bis, 50, 56, 93, 172, 175).1

7. Do I interpret laws in the context of the overall theology and tradition of the Church, being so “Catholic” that I sometimes “have more understanding than all my teachers” because I look farther back than they do? (v. 42, 44, 53, 90-91, 98-100, 111, 130, 139, 142, 143, 144).

8. Am I committed purely to truth as such, listening to people, not just for errors to condemn? (v. 68, 70, 78).

9. In my professed loyalty to Church teaching, do I “pick and choose”? e.g. by focusing on obvious moral laws and “housekeeping” rules instead of on challenging statements about social justice or wealth? (v 101, 113).

10. Do I give my primary allegiance to the truth as such, not to any “party” in the Church? (v. 63, 69 bis).

Finally, do I keep begging with humility, “Teach me your laws, O Lord”?

In Matthew 14: 13-21, when John is murdered Jesus “withdraws” with his disciples to a “lonely place where they could be by themselves.” The first way to cope with persecution is by prayer.

But the crowds follow, and Jesus follows the rule he gave us, “If you love me, feed my sheep!” This rule must govern every pastoral policy and decision. It is the touchstone of authentic ministry. 2

In this Gospel passage “feeding the sheep” is a sign of Eucharist and a preview of Christ’s triumph at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” As both the support and fruit of ministry, Eucharist is the “source and summit” of the Christian life.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Look for God in laws and see laws only in God.

1John 10:10.   
2John 21: 15-17.

Living Is Christ

Living Is Christ
The Eighteenth Sunday of The Year: July 31, 2016 (Year C)

What is life all about? What do you want out of living? Are you getting it? Is it enough? Are you in control? Are you directing your life toward what you really desire?


The Entrance Antiphon presumes we know by now that we can’t really get what we want out of life without God’s assistance: “God, come to my help!” Most of us have realized this by the time we are adults.

The Entrance Antiphon gets more specific: “You are the one who sets me free.” If we think we can acquire true freedom by changing something in our environment, or in our relationship to someone else, we do not understand ourselves. Enslavement is always an inside job. It is an interior problem of attitude and will. Jesus said, ”If you… are truly my disciples, you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin…. [But] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-33).

And that is the only way we will be free. Anyone who does not understand this is still naïve. Or in unrecognized despair.

In the Opening Prayer(s) we turn to God for help. First we recognize him for what he is: “Father of everlasting goodness.” Our “origin” — and therefore our end. The Alpha and Omega. Our “guide” — the Way, the Truth and the Life. Then we ask for the help that only he can give: “Be close to us… forgive our sins… restore us to life… keep us safe…. bring us your peace.” Bottom line: “Our life is your gift. Guide our life’s journey, for only your love makes us whole.”

That is the truth of our existence. The Responsorial (Psalm 95) tells us what to do about it: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Life-giving despair:

In Ecclesiastes 1:1 to 2:23 the Teacher basically despairs of everything life has to offer. And without Christ, without everlasting life, without grace that makes eternally “blessed the fruit of our lives,” all indeed is “vanity,” emptiness.

We may enjoy ourselves for a time; even do some good in the world, though without God it wont last. But ultimately — if we are willing to ask the hard questions — if we do not believe that Jesus has chosen us to “bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16), what is it all worth? Why spend energy painting a sinking ship? Or enhancing life in a world that is about to end? Without what Jesus came to do, everything is a short-term investment for a short-term reward. “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!

If we stop with this passage of Ecclesiastes, we end on a note of despair. But in the total picture of things, if we are open to God’s revelation, it is an act of life-giving despair. It is the despair that makes us receptive to the message of Jesus.

And so —“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Let’s get rich

In Luke 12: 13-21 When Jesus is addressed as Teacher, he picks up on the theme of Qoheleth above. Jesus was, after all, the Teacher above all teachers; in fact, the only teacher “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” He told his disciples (students) not to call anyone among them rabbi (teacher), “for you have one teacher, and you are all students” (Colossians 2:3; Matthew 23:8.).

Jesus refused to get involved in a dispute about money. Instead he taught, “Avoid greed in all its forms…. Possessions do not guarantee life.”

Then he told about a man who thought his possessions made him secure. He was looking forward to a life of enjoyment: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

These are almost the same words Qoheleth uses: “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and [be merry] find enjoyment in their toil.” But for Qoheleth this is just making the best of a bad deal; he knows it is ultimately empty: “vanity of vanities.”

Jesus, however, offers an alternative: it is to “grow rich in the sight of God.” Jesus came that we might “have life and have it to the full” — eternal life. But we don’t find it through acquiring the riches of this world. “Eternal life is this that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” The only thing that is not ultimately empty — vanity of vanities — is to spend our lives focusing on knowing, loving and serving God — especially in ministering to others.

Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift…. The gifts he gave were… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to… the measure of the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-13).

This is not vanity. Paul calls it “fruitful labor.” If we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God,” so that wherever our live bodies are, we are “sacrificed” to letting Jesus express his truth, his love in our flesh, through our physical words and actions, then we hear addressed to us the words Mary heard when she first gave flesh to the Word: “Blessed are you… and blessed is the fruit of your life” (Philippians 1:22; Romans 12:1; Luke 1:42).

We hear these words, not from a messenger of God, but from Jesus himself: “I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” This is the call to ministry. It is addressed to every one of us. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”

“Formed anew…”

In Colossians 3: 1-11 Paul puts all this into a mystical context — the mystery of our identification with Christ as his risen body on earth. We do not minister for Christ, or just “in his name,” as if we represented him. We minister as Christ. We have “become Christ,” and in us he has become what we are. “There is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, foreigner, Scythian, slave or free; but Christ is all and in all!”

This is the mystery of our redemption, the mystery of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” of the gift of God’s divine life in us. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is continuing his presence and ministry on earth in us who are his living body on earth.

We have died. We went down into the grave at Baptism — not just in symbol, but in a reality more real than what is visible to our eyes. Our real life is not what appears; “our life is hidden now with Christ in God.” And “when Christ our life appears, then we shall appear with him in glory.” Then we shall be seen as what we really are. Then we will know ourselves as God knows us, who already “sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ” (Sunday Preface VII).

This is the mystery of our life. A mystery we are called to live. We need to make it our chosen, our conscious, our intentional way of life. Paul urges:

Since you have been raised up in company with Christ, set your heart on what pertains to higher realms, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand. Be intent on things above rather than on things of earth.

Be intent! Paul is talking about intentionality, about an intentional way of life.

You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

We are not just human beings any more. We do not live for the things or concerns of this earth. We have become a “new self.”  We “have died, and our life is hidden now with Christ in God.” It is “no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us” (Galatians 2:20.).

We need to let him live!

1. We need to let Jesus act with us, in us and through us in everything we do.
2. We need to dedicate ourselves as lifelong students of his mind and will and heart.
3. We need to “give flesh to his words” in action, embodying his truth and values in our lifestyle, living in prophetic witness to the message of the Gospel.
4. We need to let him express his love through us, ministering to every person we deal with, offering our bodies, our “flesh for the life of the world,” by giving physical expression to the faith, the hope, the love that are God’s invisible, divine life within us.
5. We need to take responsibility, as stewards of his kingship, for establishing the reign of God’s love over every area and activity of human life on earth until he “comes again.”

This is what it means to live the Christian life, to adopt Christianity as our way of life, without which we have not adopted Christianity. This is what God is calling us to. Now. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”

What are you living for? Are you directing everything in your life to that end?

Initiative: Give God’s life:

Make a rule of life for yourself.

Saturday, July 30, 2016



Weekday readings: Matthew 13: 31 to 14: 12: Themes: The Church is always imperceptibly growing; there will always be forces working to corrupt the Church from within and from without; we need to be willing to trade all for All; both good and evil will co-exist within the Church until Christ comes again; we must conserve what is old and be open to what is new; familiarity with Christianity can breed contempt; being false to ourselves out of fear or desire to please others can destroy us.

To believe in the mystery of divine life working in the Church, even when it seems invisible, and in spite of the visible sins and errors in the community.

Our faith: How many of these statements do you believe? And live?

Matthew 13: 31-35: The operative element in ministry is God’s life in us.

If divine life is growing in us, we will form Christian communities in which all who seek to live the life of grace will find a home.

A Christian community is never self-enclosed, but like “leaven in the dough” works for changes within society until the whole world is transformed.

Matthew 13: 36-43: We should expect to find some sin and error, both in ministers and in those ministered to. If we try to “cast out” from the Church all who are sinners, or exclude them from ministry, we will have to reject everyone.

Jesus’ way is to let the good and the bad develop together, and to withhold judgment until time reveals the deep — and final — orientation of each one’s heart.

Matthew 13: 44-46: We can only enter into the kingdom of heaven by giving “all for All.” We do not know God as God until we give our all for the All he is. We only know what something is worth to us by what we are willing to pay for it.

Matthew 13: 47-53: The good minister must be in touch with the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, whose action we can never predict. We must constantly be discovering and communicating “what is new and what is old.”

Matthew 13: 54-58: All Christian ministry is God acting through human instruments. To make the message more acceptable, the messengers have to be as godlike as possible, but without ever refusing to minister because of our faults. Even Jesus was rejected in his home town.

Matthew 14: 1-12: It is “dying to self” to accept the vulnerability inherent in revealing our inner selves to others. We must be true, even if others reject us for it.


Be open to the Spirit of God in yourself and others.

Form community through mutual self-expression.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Answer To Fear

The Answer To Fear
 Saturday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 30, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 26:11-24; Psalm 69:15-34; Matthew 14:1-12

The Responsorial Psalm continues with Psalm 69: “Lord, in your great love, answer me.” The first reading is our last from Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 26: 11-24 opens another dimension of ministry to us: ministry to the ministers. Jeremiah “had a protector in Ahikam son of Shaphan, so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death.” We should never think everyone is opposed to our ministry.

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak…. no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people 1

We need to be aware God is moving many to support us — and also of the need all Christian ministers have for support and encouragement from people. By nature our ministry arouses opposition, because it calls everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike, to a level of thought and action that is beyond the human. Jesus said:

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world--therefore the world hates you.2

But even in the best of us something of “the world” resists the Gospel. This is why it is so important for all Christians — especially those who are trying to live out their baptismal consecration as priests through ministry — to come together “out of the world” for mutual support in community.

A Christian “community” is a “common unity” of faith and commitment that is expressed in language or symbols understood by all. To support each other, then, we must be willing to go out of our way to give expression to our faith, our hope and our love in the presence of one another. It has to be clear and unmistakable to all that they are not alone in what they believe, in the ideals they are trying to live up to, in the work they are trying to do.

The first place to do this, of course, is at Mass. We need to minister to all who are there by celebrating enthusiastically, with “full, active, conscious” participation in the mystery being expressed in words, in gestures and in song. But we also need to give more particular, personally creative expression in small-group discussions and shared prayer.

The vulnerability inherent in revealing our inner selves to others may frighten us. Matthew 14: 1-12 shows us Herod being called into a crisis of faith over John’s identity; into a crisis of hope by his fear of the crowds and of his guests’ opinions (those who trust God fear only offending him); and finally into a crisis of love when he was tempted to give murder priority over love for neighbor (and for God). He failed every test.

The perfection of ministry is found in the “perfection of love” based on faith. And there is “no greater love” than to “lay down one's life for one’s friends” with absolute hope in God’s promises.3

John’s ministry brought him death. Ours calls us to the “dying to self” involved in service and self-revelation.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Form community through mutual self-expression.

1Acts 18: 9-10.  
 2John 15:19.   
3John 15:13. See Hebrews 2:10; 1John 4:18.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Old Resists The New

The Old Resists The New
 Friday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 29, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 26:1-9; Psalm 69:5-14; Matthew 13:54-58

The Responsorial Psalm invites us to have confidence when our ministry arouses hostility: “Lord, in your great love, answer me” (Psalm 69).

In Jeremiah 26: 1-9 the prophet is threatened with death by his own people for preaching what they do not want to hear. This is something we must be on guard against, both in giving and in receiving ministry. Those who are not ready for the message will attack it and then turn on the messenger:

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.1

On July 4, 1859, Fr. Eli Lindesmith with his “catechism classes and Sunday school publicly celebrated Independence Day” near Canton, Ohio. He wrote that the non-Catholics were “astonished, and desired to hear more from me, and more about us Catholics.” They started inviting him to speak in “school houses and town halls and even Protestant churches,” which he did “on the condition that the Pastors and church authorities, school directors and town councils gave their consent.” But some Catholics, “who had lately come from Europe, and who had not yet learned what we can do and ought to do in free America” were “perplexed.” Some, “even priests,” said: “He will create disturbances, we shall be persecuted; they will burn our churches as they did in Philadelphia in 1844.” They denounced him to the bishop and spread rumors he had left the Church and “was now a Protestant preacher.” 2

Why did they do this? It was because he acted “out of the box” (which here means “as moved by the Holy Spirit”), and many people are threatened by anything new. That is why some Catholics called Vatican II “Protestant” and left the Church. And it is why some among us still resist union and shared worship with other Christians. Meanwhile the Catholic “Pharisee party” condemns with fundamentalist fervor any thought or action that is “out of the box.” Even the ministry of peace arouses conflict!

In Matthew 13: 54-58, when Jesus preached in his home town the people were “astonished” (cp. “perplexed” above). They could not adjust to accepting him as the promised “Son of David.” But by reporting their question, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Matthew is reminding us that, no, he wasn’t. In fact, because Jesus wasn’t Joseph’s son, and had no earthly father, we know he was the “Son of God.”

In asking, “Are not his brothers and sisters with us?” the people were missing the answer again. The one truly “with” them, whom they did not accept, was Jesus: “Emmanuel — God with us.” But they rejected him as Savior (“Jesus” means “God saves”) because he didn’t work the miracles they wanted. Still, by the very fact of refusing him honor “in his own country,” they previewed his mission as “Universal Lord.” The more the world rejects us as his ministers, the more they make clear who we are.

All Christian ministry is God acting through human instruments. But people will reject the message because of the messenger. To make it easier for them, we have to be as godlike as possible in word and action. Still, we must never fall into the trap of refusing to minister because of our faults.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest”: Follow the Spirit in spite of the flesh.

1Matthew 7:6.   

2The Amazing Father LindesmithChaplain in Indian Country, by James Kolp, St. Raphael Center, Canton, 2004,

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Look To The Source

Look To The Source
 Thursday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 28, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 18:1-6; Psalm 146:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us to trust in God for the fruits of ministry: “Blest are they whose help is the God of Jacob” (Psalm 146).

The fruit of Christian ministry depends on two things not under the minister’s control: grace and free will. That is why we cannot expect results to follow simply the law of cause and effect. Good ministry does not necessarily bear good fruit. We plant and water, but God makes grow — if the seed falls on good ground.1

Jeremiah 18: 1-6 focuses on grace; that is, on the action of God’s life in us on the hearts of those to whom we minister.2

Jeremiah presents God as a potter molding clay on his wheel. “Whenever the vessel he was making came out wrong… he would start afresh and work it into another vessel.” He concludes: “As the clay is in the potter's hand, so you are in mine, House of Israel.” Although what is most evident to us are the effects of human choices, the truth is that God is in control. He respects human freedom — which means he allows us to sin even when it damages us and causes suffering to others — but he is still in control, and in the end he will triumph. We acknowledge and ask for this when we pray as Jesus taught us, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” And in our ministry we seek above all to act in union with Christ within us, so that his grace might work through us.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.3

Matthew 13: 47-53 reminds us that Christian ministry is cooperation with the living Spirit of God whose action we can never predict.

What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit…. The wind blows where it chooses… but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

Christian ministry is not just teaching static doctrine or proclaiming patently explicit laws. The good minister must be in touch with the Holy Spirit at work in the Church, constantly discovering and communicating “what is new and what is old.”

This is why we cannot always judge new movements or directions in the Church. “The kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet” that brings in all kinds of things. Some things may not be clear until “at the end of time the angels separate the wicked from the just!” So in practice our rule should be: “Do not quench the Spirit.” 4

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Be open to the Spirit of God in yourself and others.

11Corinthians 3: 5-15; Matthew 13: 3-30.  
2”Grace” just means “favor.” It can mean the abiding gift of sharing in the life of God, which is salvation (habitual grace); or a momentary boost of light or strength to help us act (actual grace).   
3John 15:5.  

41Thessalonians 5:19.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In Him Alone Is Our Good

In Him Alone Is Our Good
 Wednesday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 27, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 15:10-21; Psalm 59:2-18; Matthew 13:44-46

The Responsorial Psalm gives ministers a needed foundation for hope: “God is my refuge on the day of distress” (Psalm 59).

In Jeremiah 15: 10-21 the prophet protests that he is harming no one; yet “all of them curse me.” And the reason is precisely his closeness to God: “Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord.” Closeness to God sometimes means alienation from other people: “I never took pleasure in sitting in scoffers’ company; with your hand on me I held myself aloof, since you had filled me with indignation.”

God does not promise to stop the persecution; he just assures Jeremiah it can’t hurt him: “They will fight against you but they will not overcome you, because I am with you to save you and to deliver you.” This reminds us of Jesus’ promise to the disciples he sent out on mission:

You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers… and they will put some of you to death…. But not a hair of your head will perish!

Either “perish” does not mean for Jesus what it does to us, or the disciples were all bald!1

This is the paradox of Christian ministry: the love that impels2 us to minister to others often excites the hostility that alienates us from them. But we don’t need to be accepted — or even to remain physically alive — to enjoy “life to the full.” We will all be perfectly one with each other at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” Until then, life on this earth is both an invitation and an obstacle to the perfect “peace and unity of his kingdom.” 3

Christian ministry is simultaneously a source of peace and conflict. That is why we need to keep recalling, “God is my refuge on the day of distress. 4

In Matthew 13: 44-46 Jesus tells us we can only enter into the kingdom of heaven by giving “all for All.” To buy the treasure field, we need to sell all we have. For the pearl of unique beauty we must trade every pearl in our collection. Christian ministry is free; but what our ministry offers costs more than anything on earth; in fact, it costs everything on earth, including life itself. 5

We only know how much something is worth to us by what we are willing to pay for it. We see Christ’s death as the measure of his love for us, and he made our ministry to others the measure of our love for him. We do not know God as God until we give our all for the All he is.6

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Give freely but ask all for the All you give.

1Luke 21: 16-19 and see 9: 23-27.   
22Corinthians 5:14.  
3See Revelation 19: 6-9 and the Communion Rite of the Mass.  
4See Luke 10: 5-6; 12: 51-53.   
5Matthew 10:8; Isaiah 55:1.  

6Romans 5:8; 8:32; John 14:31; 1John 3:16; John 21:17.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sin: It’s Source and Solution

Sin: It’s Source and Solution
 Tuesday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 26, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 14:17-22; Psalm 79:8-13; Matthew 13:36-43

The Responsorial Psalm focuses our hope on what God is, not on what we are: “For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us” (Psalm 79).

In Jeremiah 14: 17-22 we see the true role of the prophets. It was to confront the people with the cause of their affliction — which was their departure from the way of life God had shown them — and at the same time to give hope through the proclamation of God’s “steadfast love.”

Jeremiah prays, “Lord, we do confess our wickedness and our ancestors’ guilt: we have indeed sinned against you.” But his focus is more on what God is than on what humans have done. He continues, “For your name’s sake” — because of who you are —  “do not reject us…. Do not break your covenant with us.” Jeremiah holds out hope based on Scripture’s “virtual definition” of God as steadfast love and fidelity” — that is, on God’s nature as God has revealed himself — but also on the historical fact and event of the covenant God made with his People. “Because of what you are and because of what you have done, have mercy on us.” 1

This is the role of Christian ministers: to give expression to what God is by letting Jesus, risen and living in them, express his true self through their words and actions, and to make it evident that in and through them Jesus is continuing the ministry he performed on earth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” 2

In Matthew 13: 36-43 Jesus explains that it is not his fault or God’s that there is so much sin and error in the world. Jesus did indeed “sow good seed in his field.” There is nothing wrong with the authentic teaching of the Church. And the power of God’s life (grace) is not only still at work in her ministry and sacraments; it is even visible in the “good seed” of those who are faithful. But in the world, and even within the Church, “the enemy” comes and sows “weeds among the wheat.” We should expect to find some sin and error, both in ministers and in those ministered to. In each of us there is a mixture of good and bad, truth and falsity, sin and saintliness. If we try to “cast out” from the Church all who are sinners, or just to exclude them from ministry, we will have to reject everyone, including ourselves! Jesus’ way is to let “the weeds and the wheat” grow up together, to withhold judgment until time reveals the deep — and final — orientation of each one’s heart. In the end God’s glory will be revealed: “Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” for the glory of his name.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Let the “good seed” of grace express itself in you. 

1See Monday, week 14.  

 2Hebrews 13:8.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Feast of St. James, Apostle

Feast of St. James, Apostle
July 25

This James is named “the Greater,” or “Big James,” either because he was older, taller or called by Jesus before “James the Less” (“Little James”).

“Big James” and John were Zebedee’s sons. Jesus nicknamed them Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder.” They were chosen with Peter as special witnesses—to the raising of an apparently dead child, to the Transfiguration and to the Agony in the Garden . James, the first apostle to be martyred, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa c. 44 A.D. A tradition says he preached in Spain and that in the ninth century his body was taken from Jerusalem to Santiago de Compostella, one of the most popular pilgrimage shrines of Europe.1

Their mother’s ambition for James and John in Matthew 20:20-28 sparked Jesus’ warning to Church authorities:

You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No: anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave (Matthew 20:25-27. Cp. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, nos. 136-147).

By this radical rule Jesus divorced position from prestige in his Church. Why would he set up such a principle?
2Corinthians 4:7-15 gives us an answer. Paul, having said, “All of us, seeing the glory of the Lord… are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” adds:

We are only earthenware jars that hold this treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way….  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.

The absence of the human is the revelation of the divine. Church officials shun human marks of prestige so that people will focus on them only with the eyes of faith. We reverence bishops because of the authority they have from God. Anything that makes them look like human dignitaries is a distraction from the truth, both for us and for them.

Humans give power to those they think are smarter or more qualified. Position in the Church, however, is based on the assumption one is humbly subject to God, in touch with his Spirit and responsive toward the community. If we give Church officials the same signs of respect we give human authorities, we will inevitably see them as our “betters,” not as equals. So to counter the corruption of power, Jesus tells them to present themselves as lower than everyone else. For spiritual survival and the Church’s good, the first must insist on being last.

Initiative: Fear power and flee prestige.  They are the devil’s recipe for pride.


1Matthew 4:21, 17:1; Mark 3:17, 5:37. “Little James” was Jesus’ cousin, the son of Alpheus and of the Mary who was mother of Joses, and Salome (Mark 15:40). Though not an Apostle, he was a leader in the Jerusalem, community. His input led the council in Jerusalem not to impose the religious rules of Jewish culture on Gentile converts (Acts 15:13-20). Paul gave him special prominence along with the Apostles, consulted with him as a “pillar” of the Church along with Peter and John, and reported a special appearance to James after the resurrection (Acts  12:17, 21:18, Galatians 1:19, 2:9; 1Corinthians 15:7).  He was stoned to death A.D. 62. He, not the Apostle, is probably the author of the Letter of James.

Adhering To Christ

Adhering To Christ
 Monday: Seventeenth Week of the Year: July 25, 2016
Year II: Jeremiah 13:1-11; Responsorial: Deuteronomy 32:18-21; Matthew 13:31-35

The Responsorial asks us: “Have you forgotten God who gave you birth?” (Deuteronmy 32: 18-21).

Jeremiah 13: 1-11 tells us what the essential is for preserving our integrity, goodness, beauty of soul and usefulness in ministry: it is closeness to God: union of mind and will, coordination of heart and action with the heart of Jesus.

God had Jeremiah buy a new loincloth and wear it around his waist for a good long time. Then he told him to bury it in the ground for several days. When Jeremiah dug it out it was “spoiled, good for nothing.” Then the Lord said, “Just as a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I had intended the whole house of Judah to cling to me… to be my people, my glory, my honor and my boast. But they have not listened.”

To be the instruments of Christ in ministry to one another and to the world, the first requirement is holiness – defined here as closeness: “union with Jesus Christ,” being united with him in our understanding, desires and action. This is rooted and obvious in the mystery of grace, the mystery of our sharing in the divine life of God. We cannot minister as the body of Christ if we have forgotten God who gave us birth as his body in Baptism:

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.1

In practical terms, this means our first preoccupation in becoming or training ministers should be spiritual formation. We are ready to live a “spiritual life” from the moment we realize that something is going on between ourselves and God and decide to get involved in it. Spiritual formation shows us how.

Matthew 13: 31-35 continues to teach that the operative element in ministry is God’s life in us. A mustard seed is “the smallest of all the seeds.” All it has is life. But, allowed to develop, that life will make it a tree in which the “birds of the air come and shelter.” If divine life is growing in us, we will form Christian communities in which all who seek to live the life of grace will feel at home and find a home of shelter, nourishment, mutual inspiration and love. (A “community” is a “common unity” of commitment expressed in ways all understand).

A Christian community is never self-enclosed, but like “leaven in the dough” works for changes within society until the whole world is transformed. Christians who have not forgotten God who gave them birth act as “leaven” at home, school and work. They minister as Christ himself to everyone on earth until society is “leavened all through.”

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Constantly ask Jesus to act with, in and through you.

1John 15:5.

2See Psalms 84:3; 104:17.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Prayer, hope and ministry

Prayer, hope and ministry
The Seventeenth Sunday of The Year: July 24, 2016 (Year C)

What is the key to praying well? What should we pray for? — especially as ministers? What gives us hope that our prayers will be answered?

The Entrance Antiphon gives us hope by reminding us, first of all, that God is and that he is “holy,” different from us. “God is in his holy dwelling.” And God gives us all we need: “a home to the lonely… power and strength to his people.

The Opening Prayer(s) give us reasons to pray with hope. First they encourage us to see what God is and does: God is holiness, beauty and power. We ask God to “open our eyes” that we might “see your hand at work in the splendor of creation, in the beauty of human life.” “Touched by your hand our world is holy.” We need to remember that when things look dark.

The Opening Prayer(s) both speak about noticing God’s blessings. We “experience the joy of life” and remain aware of being “in your presence” (see last Sunday) if we “cherish the gifts that surround us,” “use wisely the blessings you have given to the world,” and share them with others. This helps us appreciate what God is and strengthens our hope when we pray.

The Responsorial Psalm urges us to remember how often God has answered our prayers. This strengthens hope: “Lord, on the day I called for help you answered me” (Psalm 138).

Why intercede?

Genesis 18: 20-32 gives us a theology of human intercession and ministry. Abraham is “bargaining” with God in a way that makes Abraham look more loving and more concerned about the people of Sodom than God is. But the purpose of the story is to show us how merciful God is. At Abraham’s request God is ready to spare a whole city full of sinners if only ten just people can be found in it. If we think for a moment about what the sins of the Sodomites were, we ourselves might not feel as inclined to ask for this as Abraham was!

Another thought that gives pause: the truth is, our country has shown itself willing to bomb into oblivion whole cities, or sections of cities, filled with innocent men, women and children for the sake of destroying one military target. In theory (which, regretfully, sometimes has meant only “for public consumption”), we try to limit “collateral damage,” but in practice our record leaves us much to mourn for.

Closer to home, how often do we still, in our legalistic approach to ministry, “wipe out” the ninety percent good that is in people because of the ten percent that brands them as sinners in our eyes? If God is like the God Abraham bargained with in this story, he is willing to tolerate the ninety percent that might be bad in people for the sake of preserving the ten percent that is good in them. Does this give us something to think about?

We sometimes ask why we should pray for people whom God loves and wants to help more than we do, The answer is that God does not want to save the human race all by himself; he wants to give us a role in our own salvation. And part of our role is to intercede for others in prayer.

If God just blesses people, he is showing them love, and they will be grateful to him. But if he inspires us to pray for people, then his gift to them comes from us as well as from God. Then we are united with God in loving the people he helps. That increases love all around. That is what God prefers.

What to pray for

In Luke 11: 1-13 when the disciples saw Jesus praying, it made them want to learn how. When they asked him to teach them, what he actually taught was a series of priorities — the priorities of his own heart. Right away this tells us that the secret to praying well is not on the level of method but of motive. If our desires are the same as Jesus’ desires, we will be able to pray! In giving us the “Lord’s prayer” Jesus told us what he prayed for so that we might focus our hearts on the same things.

Jesus’ first and greatest desire was that the Father be known and loved: “Father, hallowed be your name!”

I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world…. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:6, 26).

When we want this more than anything else in this world, we will pray well!

Jesus’ second desire was that the kingdom of God should come, and that the Father’s will should be done on earth as perfectly as in heaven. He began his ministry by announcing, “The reign of God is at hand!” And he instructed his disciples, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mark 1:15; Matthew 6:33).

Ministers who seek purely to establish the reign of God over their own hearts and to win others to do the same will be able to pray. Christ will be praying in them.

The next petition: “Give us… our daily bread” is misleading in English. The word “daily” is better translated as “future,” and it refers to the bread of heaven, Jesus himself. The Church identifies this bread with Eucharist. Jesus is telling us to set our hearts on him, the joy of the heavenly wedding banquet, and to long for his coming.1

Heaven, the “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” is characterized by total peace, in unity and love, which is the fruit of universal reconciliation. We ask God to “forgive us our offenses” as we will all be forgiving each other in heaven. So these two petitions teach us to focus our desires here and now on what will be the true joy of heaven: union with Jesus and total reconciliation with everyone on earth.

This prayer also teaches us the goal of ministry. It is to bring about on earth now — “this day” — the peace and unity of the wedding feast, with the person of Jesus as the focus and fulfillment of every heart.

The problem is, of course, that these petitions seem impossible to attain! How realistic is it to expect everyone in the world to love and honor the Father? To subordinate every area and activity of human life on earth to the reign and will of God? To forgive and forget all injuries, and accept to be one family with every other person and nation on earth?  That is where hope comes in!

Jesus followed this teaching with one on perseverance. Like the man who kept knocking, we are urged by Jesus:

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you…

sooner or later! If not before, then when Jesus comes again at the Parousia!

One thing we know for sure: we believe Jesus when he says the Father will give his children good things and “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

The sustaining prayer of ministry is the prayer: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and our hearts will be regenerated. And you will renew the face of the earth.” That is what we pray for. And we pray for it with boldness.

Unimaginable power

In Colossians 2: 12-14 Paul tells us God has already done the impossible for us. He has not just “pardoned” all our sins, but “erased the record that stood against us.” This means our sins no longer exist. They have been “taken away” by the Lamb who was slain. God has annihilated our sinful history by incorporating us through Baptism into the death of Christ. We died in Christ and rose to new life in him with no record of sin. The one who sinned died. We are a “new creation.”

In Baptism you were not only buried with him but also raised to life with him because you believe in the power of God who raised Jesus from the dead (See also 2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).

The power of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus is the power to give “life to the full,” not only to Jesus, who as God is Life itself, but to us. And if God can annihilate sins — reduce them to non-existence — in all who accept to die and rise in Jesus, then he surely has the power to overcome the sins that discourage us in the world. Jesus has already overcome them. “Take courage,” he said before he died. “I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). All Christian ministry is motivated and sustained by this.

What are the driving desires of your life? Are these what you pray for?

Initiative: Give God’s life:
Say the “Ours Father” daily, trying to make Christ’s priorities your own.


1 See “The Pater Noster As An Eschatological Prayer” in Raymond E. Brown, S.S., New Testament Essays, Bruce Publishing Company, 1965; and General Instruction on the Roman Missal, #81: “in the Lord’s Prayer, daily food is prayed for, which for Christians means preeminently the Eucharistic bread.