Friday, October 9, 2015

Prayer on a Friday morning

This morning after serving at Mass and doing my diaconal duty, which I love, of purifying and carefully putting away the sacred vessels and straightening up the sanctuary, I found myself alone in church with the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. Not knowing when else over the course of the day I would have the opportunity to pray the Rosary, I stayed and prayed.

After praying up to the first Sorrowful mystery, instead remaining in place sitting or kneeling, I decided to pray while walking in a circle around the church looking at the stained glass windows, which I love, and, more particularly, the Stations of the Cross. The parish church where I now serve is a contemporary church building. It was built in the late 1960s. I have no doubt many of my fellow Catholics would find it either ugly or nondescript and unappealing. I do not think that at all. In fact, I quite like it. 

Confessional St Olaf's Catholic Church Bountiful, Utah

As I was making my way around the Church for the first time I stopped and stood looking at the Station that shows Jesus falling for the second time. As I did so it occurred to me that the Stations of the Cross are like a long meditation on the fourth and fifth of the Sorrowful mysteries (i.e., Jesus carrying the Cross and His Crucifixion). Then I was struck by the thought that perhaps, like integers, the "space" between each mystery of the Rosary is infinite. There can be no end of meditating on and contemplating the mysteries of our Lord's birth, life, passion and death, and resurrection, on the great Paschal mystery we celebrate all the time, the very mystery that God in His goodness is always at work drawing us more deeply into.

As I continued my walking and praying I ventured into one confessional and then into the other before winding up kneeling before the altar to finish my prayer. Apart from what I shared above, my experience this morning was indescribable. As I was praying in our parish church, which is located in the heart of our city, I think I experienced something very much like what Henri Nouwen must've had in mind when he wrote: "The spiritual life does not remove us from the world but leads us deeper into it."

Year I Twenty-seventh Friday in Ordinary Time

Readings Joel 1:13-15. 2:1-2; Ps 9:2-3.8(16).8-9; Luke 11:15-26

Today’s first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Joel, sounds a little scary. In this passage Joel, who was a prophet in Israel before the time of Jesus, is calling the priests of Israel to repentance, to return to God, to be faithful to their covenant with God.

A covenant is simply a solemn, binding, and formal agreement entered into by two parties. The covenant between God and Israel is simple: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Ex 6:7). God said to Israel through another prophet, Jeremiah, “Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (Jer 7:23). Through Joel, God is only asking Israel to keep their end of the covenant.

You entered into God’s covenant when you were baptized. You entered into this covenant with God through Jesus Christ. This covenant was ratified, or made official, by the Holy Spirit. This is true even if you were baptized when you were a baby. If you were baptized as a baby your parents and godparents made very solemn promises to do everything in their power to raise you to practice our Christian faith and to “keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.” This covenant is renewed when you are confirmed and, not just at your First Holy Communion, but every time you receive communion, including this morning.

In Holy Communion the Lord gives Himself to us whole and entire. In return, He invites us to offer ourselves to Him completely. When we say “Amen” before we receive Christ's Body and Blood we are telling the Lord that we are for Him, not against Him, that we are committed to do His will in loving response to His great love for us, which He poured out on the Cross.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we recognize that we sometimes, perhaps even often, fail to keep our part of the covenant. Confession is where you go to repent in just the way Joel is calling on the priests of Israel to repent in our first reading. You may be saying, “I am not a priest. Why does that apply to me?” It applies to everyone who is baptized because, by our baptism, we are made members of God’s prophetic, royal, and priestly people.

In today’s Gospel Jesus explains that it is impossible to cast out evil spirits in the name of the devil. He reasons that if the devil casts out demons by his own power he would undermine his on-going efforts to separate people and the world from God. Jesus tells those who question His power, “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20). We know that Jesus did what He did by the power of God because Jesus is God and so the Kingdom of God is now at hand. Christ’s continues His presence in the world by means of the Church, which includes us.

In the creed, which we recite every Sunday and on solemnities, we say of Jesus that “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” This is an article of our faith. In St John’s Gospel Jesus says something very much like what God said through Jeremiah: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus gave us two great commandments- to love God with all your heart, might, mind, and strength; to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matt 22:37-40; Luke 10:27). This is how we are for Jesus and not against Him.

When we’re sent forth at the end of this Mass we are sent forth to keep these commandments, but we do so, not because we are scared of God, but because we know God loves us and we want to love Him in return. Jesus is the proof of God’s love. There is no way Jesus loves us more than by giving Himself to us in Holy Communion. This morning let us come forward and renew our covenant with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

"You never told me about the fire"

The end of September and the beginning of October have been very slow here on Καθολικός διάκονος. I have had several commitments that have prevented from posting regularly. I hope to resume writing here more regularly. My lack of posting certainly hasn't been the result of lack of things happening in the Church and in the world. I suppose the three biggest stories are Russia's involvement in Syria, the on-going Planned Parenthood pettifoggery, and the Ordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family now taking place in Rome.

I followed last year's Extraordinary Synod very closely and have maintained contact with the issues that arose from it. It has since occurred to me, however, that Synods produce documents. The definitive document a Synod produces is a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation. Let's face it, documents don't necessarily produce results, especially ones that only seek to exhort.

Probably the two best known post-synodal exhortations since Bl Pope Paul VI inaugurated the Synod of Bishops after the Second Vatican Council are Pope Francis' Evangelii gaudium, which was the exhortation after the Synod on the New Evangelization, which took place while Benedict XVI was still pope, and Pope St John Paul II's Familiaris consortio, the exhortation following the 1980 Synod on the family. In any case, I am very doubtful that the exhortation following these synods will improve on Familiaris consortio, but we'll see.

The dirty little secret is that in many dioceses and parishes marriage preparation is minimal to non-existent and ministry to married couples with children is pretty rare, at least in my experience. But, hey, it's only the future of the Church in each place we're talking about. I suppose we can always just hang our hats on the Lord's promise not to abandon the Church. But we should be well-aware that there are places where Christianity formerly thrived that the Church now either exists only very minimally or does not exist at all, even as the Church Universal remains. It seems to me that every diocese in the United States should be taking pastoral challenges to marriage and family very seriously.

Family Life, by Vincent Evans- City & County of Swansea: Glynn Vivian Art Gallery Collection

It would be nice if this year's Synod was not dominated by discussions and debates about further weakening the bonds of holy matrimony and other issues that only fall tangentially within the scope of the Synod. I read where on Canadian bishop took the opportunity to make an intervention on ordaining women deacons. He's a bishop who was invited to participate and so I guess he can speak about whatever he wants. I will grant that in the lineamenta, the preparatory document for the Synod, women in ministry was mentioned. Now I am not saying that what His Excellency brought up isn't a topic worthy of discussion, it is. But it struck me as a bit beside the point given the enormity of the challenge that needs to be addressed.

In a recent interview with Billboard Stevie Nicks confirmed that her song "Sara" was about aborting the child she conceived with Don Henley. She said that if she had married Henley and given birth to a girl she would've named the child Sara. I am pretty sure that one of the ways women who have had abortions are encouraged to heal is by naming the child. So, I hope this song was something that helped her heal from her abortion. Women are told a lot of lies about abortion and many who believe them wind up crushed.

Our traditio this week is Fleetwood Mac's "Sara"-

Sara, you’re the poet in my heart
Never change, never stop
And now it’s gone
All I ever wanted
Was to know that you were dreaming
(There’s a heartbeat
And it never really died)

Thursday, October 8, 2015

God is love and loves you, no matter what

This morning I read Mark 14:43-52, which tells of Judas leading "a crowd with swords and clubs who had come from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders" (43). Judas' purpose was to identify Jesus and see that He was arrested. The signal by which Judas let the crowd, or mob, know it was Jesus was by kissing Him.

It's easy for us project our thoughts and feelings about Judas onto Jesus in that moment. I think it's important to remember that Jesus' disposition towards Judas did not change, even then. Jesus loved Judas, even in that critical moment no more and no less than He loved him previously. Why do I mention this? Because I think we are prone to doubt our Savior's love for us when we have sinned. I realize that this may be a case of me projecting my thoughts and feelings onto you.

God is not fickle, like us. God, who is a communion of love- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- is always at work through the circumstances of our lives bringing about our greatest good. What is our greatest good? Union with Him, to participate, even now, the divine life of the thrice holy God, who is love. It is never a question whether of whether God love us. God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. Yes, sometimes knowing this is excruciating. The relevant question is always, Do you love God?

All sins are not the same. Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, "It is not the sins of weakness, but the sins of strength that matter." I think this is true. Sometimes we fail because we're weak. But sometimes we sin in quite deliberate ways, like Judas in his betrayal.

In the Act of Contrition we confess to God, "I have sinned against You, whom I should love above all things." It is so vitally important that we grasp this simple fact: Your failure to love God never, ever causes God, who is our Father because of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, to stop, cease, or temporarily take a break from loving you.

In St Matthew's Gospel we read that after betraying the Lord, realizing what he had done, Judas flung the 30 pieces of silver into the temple and went out and hanged himself (27:5). Think about how different things would've been, if, instead of hanging himself, Judas had flung the money into the temple and beat feet to find Jesus and express his sorrow, instead of deciding to take his own life, which decision was far more fatal than his decision to betray Jesus. I can only surmise that Judas concluded, in the wake of his betrayal, that Jesus stopped loving him. All we need to do to verify this is look at how differently Peter's denial turned out. It's easy to imagine Peter slinking away from the courtyard that night and never being heard from again.

Brennan Manning, that ol' ragamuffin, once that said that he believed the only question Christ will ask us on judgment day is, "Did you believe that I really loved you?" Knowing you are loved no matter what is the only foundation on which to build a happy life.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Thoroughly wash away my guilt"

It's been refreshing to remind myself over the past week that even if I don't blog about events they still happen. There is so much going on in the world right now that it's difficult to keep up, let alone process. Beginning this evening and extending to mid-day Sunday I will be leading the annual retreat for my brother deacons of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. I would appreciate any prayers you might be willing to offer that God will bless our time together. Our specific focus will be on the various aspects of what constitute diaconal spirituality. To that end, we'll discuss Christian spirituality in general and diaconal spirituality in particular. We'll consider prayer, specifically praying Morning and Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We'll also discuss the importance of immersing ourselves in Scripture as well penitential practices and the centrality of the Eucharist. Each of these take their origin from what deacons do in the liturgy: lead the prayers of the faithful, read the Gospel and preach, lead the penitential litany, set the table of the Lord and dismiss the faithful.

Anyway, it's Friday, a day of penance during which we remember what our Lord Jesus Christ did on the Cross. It is a cliché to note that we all have our crosses to bear, but we do. We never need go looking for suffering because it has no trouble finding us. It is the Cross of Christ that can keep our suffering from being meaningless. By implying that suffering can be meaningful and even put at the service of God in His on-going mission to reconcile the world to Himself, I don't mean to imply that we will know the specific reasons why we suffer. By and large human suffering is mysterious, made even more so by our Christian belief that God is all-loving, all-good, and all-powerful. In reality, a good portion of my own suffering is simply the result of the choices I make, not all of them bad choices. We can suffer for doing what is right and good.

Because there is so much manifest suffering in the world right now it seems fitting to have as our Friday traditio the Choir of New College Oxford singing Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, Deus:

"Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions" (v 1).

Sunday, September 27, 2015

There is power in the name of Jesus

Readings: Num 11:25-29; Ps 19:8.10.12-14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43.45.47-48

There is a great temptation when preaching or commenting on today's Gospel to say or write something that is religiously indifferent, to imply or even insist that, in the end, it really doesn't matter, just do good things. While I think there are some ecumenical implications in Jesus' response to the man casting out demons in His name in today's Gospel, I don't think there is anything in the least indifferent in what Jesus' conveyed to John in light of the beloved apostle's complaint.

Think about casting out demons in the name of Jesus: it was something the Twelve failed to do in a previous passage from Mark chapter 9. After coming down the mountain from His Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus encounters His disciples arguing with the scribes. Upon seeing Jesus, the whole crowd, which had gathered for the dispute, ran to Him. He asks His disciples, "What are you arguing about with them?" Before His disciples had the chance to answer, a man from the crowd told Jesus, "Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so" (Mark 9:17-18). Jesus then cast out the demon from the afflicted boy. Afterwards, when the Twelve were alone with Him, they asked the Lord, "Why could we not drive it out?" To which He replied, "This kind can only come out through prayer." Some manuscripts add "and fasting" after the word "prayer".

Perhaps what the disciples find so vexing about seeing a man who did not belong to their group casting demons in the name of Jesus (this is important) was it highlighted their failure to do so in the previous incident. My friends, there is power in the name of Jesus. It is a power given us in Baptism, in and through which you were constituted as a member of God's priestly, prophetic, and royal people. Too often we fail to recognize and so fail to leverage the power given us in this fundamental sacrament. As Catholics we recognize the Christianity of all who have been validly baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. When baptized Christians seek to come into full communion with the Church we do not re-baptize them. In fact, it's important that we don't!

Just yesterday I read a wonderful article by Fr Robert Hart in Touchstone magazine on what all Christian clergy can learn from the life, ministry, and preaching of Dr Billy Graham Billy: "Graham is a Baptist, and very clearly of the best in the Baptist tradition. But he has had ecumenical appeal and been admired by Christians from all denominations. A friend of Pope John Paul II in later years, and of many well-known figures in Anglicanism and various other Protestant denominations, he really did preach 'mere Christianity.'"

In the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism (i.e., the relations between Catholic and non-Catholic Christians), Unitatis reintegratio, the Council fathers asserted,
For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church - whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church - do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church (par 3)
Constituted by Baptism as God's people we can apply the words of Moses: "If only all the people of the LORD were prophets! If only the LORD would bestow his spirit on them" (Num 11:29).

Jesus casting out demons

In what Jesus teaches in today's Gospel with reference to our second reading from the the Letter of James, we see that acting in the name of Jesus is not limited to spectacular things, like casting out demons. Acting in the name of Jesus more frequently takes the form of serving those in need. In his encyclical letter Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI put it this way:
The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son. The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man's sufferings and his needs, including material needs (par 19)
Indeed, they will know that we are Christians, that we belong to Christ, that we follow Christ, by our love made manifest in service to those in need. Jesus also points out that any one who does good to us because we belong to Him "will surely not lose his reward" (Mark 9:41).

We live life with our bodies. We are not spirits trapped in bodies awaiting release or liberation, but fulfillment and satisfaction, which will come for the saints in the resurrection. This is something God's Incarnation in Christ Jesus shows in the most profound way imaginable. While sin may originate in our hearts, we do what is wrong, what does not lead to our flourishing or flourishing of others, with our bodies. Jesus' stark warning about the seriousness of sin and its eternal consequences cannot be ignored. In this passage our Lord uses what is called hyperbole. To employ hyperbole is to exaggerate for effect in order to make a point. Jesus' here is not literally calling on us to maim ourselves for the sake of purity in order to go to heaven. After all, we don't see the Twelve, whose sins and failings are made manifest throughout the Gospels, maiming themselves. But seeking to mortify, that is, kill our sinful habits and tendencies is something Christians have done for 2,000 years.

Sin is the mortal disease of the soul, as Jesus clearly tells us in this passage from St Mark. About Dr Graham's manner of life, even when on the road, Fr Hart observed, "He was humble enough to see himself as inherently no better than other men, as a sinner who needed, for his own sake, to remain focused on Jesus Christ." Mortification, rightly practiced, enables us to overcome temptations to sin by inducing the will to accept hardships, however great. Mortifying practices, like all spiritual disciplines, are not ends in themselves, but means to an end. The end is being one with God in Christ through the Spirit. So, we need to remain always focused on Jesus Christ, keeping the Lord between us and circumstances and not allowing circumstances to obscure our focus on Him.

Seeking to put life's hardships, large and small, in the Lord's service is what gave rise to the Catholic phrase "offer it up." Sadly, these days, this phrase is almost always used in jest in response to some minor complaint uttered out loud. But the reality is, we can offer up our sufferings and afflictions and engage in practices, like fasting, that allow us to participate in God's reconciling the world to Himself in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. One way we do this is not by complaining out loud, but quietly offering up to God our hardships and suffering, large or small. To some extent, mortification is obligatory on all Christians. It doesn't take too much self-examination for us discover sinful tendencies and habits to which we are prone. These can be overcome, even if slowly and in fits and starts, by God's grace. We must be mindful that grace builds on nature, which means that we need to freely cooperate with what God is doing, which is bringing about our sanctification.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Brief reflections on Pope Francis' visit

I suppose I will have my membership card as a Catholic blogger pulled if I don't post something on Pope Francis' Apostolic Journey to these United States. It seems that his visit is going swimmingly. It looks and sounds as if he is hitting all the right notes. I won't bore you with my run-down of his public appearances and or provide editorial commentary on his various addresses, except to say that I liked his U.N. address much better than I liked his speech to Congress and that I liked what he said at St Patrick's Church in Washington, DC, right after his address to Congress and just before joining the homeless for lunch, best of all.

Like every one else in my Catholic/Christian bubble, I am engaging (reacting to?) the papal visit on Facebook and other social media quite extensively. The older I get the more I understand that the papacy in the modern Catholic Church, while indispensable (it is one of the reasons I became and remain a Catholic), has taken on an exaggerated importance.

Last night and today, courtesy of something Rod Dreher posted on his blog over at The American Conservative, a piece that asks "Is America Post-Christian?", I have been pondering the pope's visit and hoopla surrounding papal visits in general. I happen to be of the opinion that the U.S. was conceived as and remains a secular nation. So, at least from my perspective, the United States, in a very real sense, has been a post-Christian nation since its inception, albeit one that relies on a belief in the transcendental nature of human being, deliberately left undefined, which is an ambiguity Christians often to try to exploit, sometimes in the best sense of that word (i.e., exploit) and sometimes in the worst sense.

I am content that the papal visit is taking place on the East coast, far from where I live. Further and unapologetically I felt no impetus to travel there. This is no knock on those who wanted to go and so went.

Pool/Getty Image

Dreher's post directed me to two other pieces that I found most useful: Ross Douthat's "Pope Francis and the Not-Quite-Secular West" and Mollie Hemingway's more-to-the-point "The Pope Francis Effect: Enthusiasm, But To What End?" I will not endeavor to summarize either article. If you wanted to read one and not the other I recommend Hemingway's. I will say that her piece brought out my intermittent desire to be an Anglo-Catholic, one that I expressed with yesterday's traditio.

Many years ago, during a late night undergraduate "deep" conversation, a close and I tried to describe what the normal, everyday, facial expressions of people we knew seemed to convey. Inevitably we wound up sharing what each of us thought the default facial expression of the other expressed. My friend said mine was ambivalence. If that's true, I think it's accurate.

For me, hope is the space that exists between pessimism and optimism. This insight helps me in my ambivalence. Ambivalence, in this context, understood as "simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action."

Friday, September 25, 2015

"My days are like a shadow that declineth"

I fancy myself as something of an Anglo-Catholic. One thing for certain, I love Anglican choral psalmody. Psalm 102, known as Domine, exaudi )"Lord, hear me") is our Friday traditio for this week.

A rough outline of Psalm 102 goes something like this: a sorrowful complaint of great afflictions; (1-11) Encouragement by expecting the performances of God's promises; (12-22) The unchangeableness of God. (23-28). Verse one from the King James Version: "(A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the LORD.) Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.

"For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down" (Psalm 102:9-10).

Today, my oldest daughter turns 19.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Year B Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 2:12.17-20; Ps 54:3-6.1; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

The late Fr Benedict Groeschel used to point out regularly that the world usually mocks holiness. In our first reading this Sunday taken from the Book of Wisdom we hear a good example of what Fr Groeschel meant. The sacred author puts on the lips of the wicked, those who act contrary to God, harsh words against the “just one.” The wicked find the just, or righteous, man “obnoxious” because “he sets himself against” their wicked actions and “reproaches” them for their wickedness (Wis 2:12). This comes in the first verse of our first reading after which we skip 5 verses from the second chapter of Wisdom, jumping from verse 12 to verse 17. Those five verses carry on in the same manner as verse 12, reciting all the ways the wicked people find the just man, the righteous man, obnoxious to them. In verse 15, for example, it is noted that the life of the righteous man “is not like that of others,” noting that “different are his ways” (Wis 2:15). As a saying typically attributed to Flannery O’Connor goes, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.”

Despite being obnoxious, the righteous man has clearly pricked the conscience of the wicked, which is why the wicked, in order to determine whether or not the righteous “one is the son of God” (Wis 2:18), or truly righteous, proposes to persecute him “with violence and torture,” even going so far as to “condemn him to a shameful death” (Wis 2:20). The wicked put the righteous one to the test in order to see if in the face of violence, torture, and even death he will remain steadfast in “gentleness” and “patience” (Wis 2:19). You see, the righteous person does not threaten the wicked by vehemently denouncing their wickedness, but by confidently living the truth, contra mundi (against the world), that is, peacefully and gently, for all to see. This is how Christians bear witness to what is beautiful. What is truly beautiful is so because it is also true and good. It is by living for God that we reproach wickedness. To reproach is to express disapproval or disappointment

We read and interpret Scripture too glibly if we jump from our first reading immediately to the life and witness of our Lord Jesus Christ, even though, clearly, these words are fully realized in His passion, and death. The corollary to this in our own time ought to be obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. If we are truly living for God, which means rejecting political ideologies whether of the right or the left, we run the risk of being seen as somewhat politically incoherent because our politics, as such, do not derive from the platforms of political parties, but from the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in Sacred Scripture and Tradition as set forth by the magisterium of the Church.

Hence, when it comes to matters of life and death- whether confronting the evils of abortion or physician-assisted suicide, which, time and again, has proven only to lead to euthanasia, or the myriad of other ways society disregards and seeks to simply dispose of vulnerable human beings that a truly just society would protect and not kill- we must take a stand. We must be willing to be courageous when it comes to conscientiously bearing witness to the truth about the nature and purpose of marriage, which, for a Catholic, cannot be reduced to a matter of personal opinion, as well as the growing confusion about sexuality that is the result of a cultural mindset that sees this life as all there is. We also must be peacemakers, especially when it seems we have become so callously bellicose, one result of which is the current flood of refugees into Europe from the Middle East, a region destroyed by wars waged by Western powers. Neither can we remain neutral about the growing economic inequality in which more and more wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

Our second reading from the Letter of St James sets forth the roots of wickedness, not just in the world, but even among ourselves, the followers of Christ. “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice” (Jas 3:16), James tells us. Last week we heard the Lord Himself lay down the conditions of discipleship, of following Him: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). If you wish to save your life you must lose it for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the Gospel.

Jesus reiterates His call to selfless service in our Gospel today when, after the twelve tell Him what they had been arguing about on their way back to Capernaum, which was their home-base. What they had been arguing about was which of them, besides Jesus, was the greatest among them. By the mere fact they were having this argument it is clear that they didn’t yet understand who Jesus is. Clearly some, if not all, of the twelve were holding onto a mistaken idea of the Messiah, even after Jesus’ stern rebuke of St Peter in last week’s Gospel. In other words, what they expected was waiting for them in Jerusalem, to which they would start making their way after this stopover in Capernaum, were thrones and not the Cross.

The Cross is a difficult message, it is not the message of the purveyors of the false Gospel, propounded by people like Joel Osteen, which is so popular in our day that bids us follow Jesus and all will be well in this world, we will be healthy and wealthy. This is why it bears repeating what Jesus repeated to those who, after His resurrection, He would send as apostles to preach the Gospel and to build up His Church. We know He repeated it because in our Gospel today we hear that Jesus, after first telling them what was to happen to Him while on the road to Caesarea-Philippi, “was teaching his disciples and telling them, The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise” (Mark 9:31). Often it seems that this is no big deal to us because we live on the other side of the resurrection, but it should be a big deal to us in light of Jesus telling us, as His followers, to take up our cross and sacrifice ourselves for Him.

Just as in the early centuries of the Church, today the martyrs show us what Jesus meant by taking up the cross, by losing our lives in order to save them, which is the central paradox of our Christian faith. This paradox is only resolved by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Therefore, our take away for today comes from the Letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2)
Jesus beckons us to where He is, but the only way there is through the Cross.

Friday, September 18, 2015

"‘Cause right now I need a little hope"

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God" (Rom 5:1-2). I am feeling hopeful on this Friday, which is also a Fall Ember Day. Nonetheless, we live in a very lonely society, which is why, my brothers and sisters, we're called to community and to invite those who don't belong to belong.

This week's traditio will keep us in the realm of Contemporary Christian Music. It's Sidewalk Prophets with "Save My Life."

Tell me what I need to hear
Tell me that I’m not forgotten
Show me there’s a God
Who can be more than all I’ve ever wanted
‘Cause right now I need a little hope
I need to know that I’m not alone
Maybe God is calling you tonight
To tell me something
That might save my life