Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Our Annual Festival of All Hallows and All Souls*

Halloween was brought into being by the ancient Celts who lived in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Brittany. The celebration precedes their conversion to Christianity. For the ancient ones, 1 November marked the beginning of a new year and the coming of winter.

Showing the requisite Celtic spirit, the night before the new year, the Celts celebrated the festival of Samhain, who, in their mythology, was lord of the dead. They believed that during this festival the souls of the dead—including ghosts, goblins, and witches—returned to mingle with the living. To scare away the ghosts, goblins, and witches, they would don masks and light bonfires and, in true Celtic form, drink fermented grain and distilled grain bevies (i.e., beer and whiskey).

When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to Samhain. These customs included making centerpieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona, the Roman goddess of the orchards, bobbing for apples and drinking (hard) cider. So, where, you might ask, does the Christian aspect of the holiday begin?

In AD 835, likely as the result of the widespread nature of what began as a Celtic custom, Pope Gregory IV moved the celebration for all martyrs (later all saints) from 13 May to 1 November. For most Eastern Christians, All Saints is still observed in the late Spring or early Summer (the Sunday following Pentecost). Eventually, the night before All Saints became known as All Hallows Eve. In time the name was shortened to Halloween.

The custom of setting apart a day to intercede for our faithful departed dates to the eleventh century. It was begun at the Benedictine monastery of Cluny, France. In particular, it was the fifth abbot of the abbey, St. Odilo of Cluny, who started All Souls Day. Given the influence of Cluny, this custom spread to other Benedictine communities associated with Cluny. Before long commemorating the faithful departed on 2 November was practiced in several dioceses in France before spreading throughout the Western Church. It was quite late coming to Rome, where it was accepted in the fourteenth century.

All Souls Day brings to an end our annual three-day festival of the communio sanctorum, which was centuries in the making. This festival is just the beginning of the month during which we remember our beloved dead. Our month of remembrance ends with the observance of the feast of Christ the King. On this feast, the Church celebrates the end of time, when Christ will return to judge the living and the dead.

That's it for October. I am glad I started blogging again in earnest.

* This post first appeared yesterday on The Boy Monk blog.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Year A Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 22:20-26; Ps 2-4.47.51; 1 Thess 1:5c-10; Matt 22:34-40

What is morality? Simply stated, morality is doing what is good and avoiding what is evil. In today’s Gospel, Jesus defines morality: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39). These ways of defining morality prompt two questions. The first question is, “What is good and what is evil?”

It’s evident that we are often capable of discerning what is are good and what is evil, but good and evil are not clear to us in every instance, far from it. Our first reading from Exodus gives us three examples of things that are good, which means they are not only are things we ought to do but, as Christians, things we must do.

The first of these is how we are to treat aliens among us, be they immigrants or refugees. Many Catholics, despite the clear teaching of Scripture and the consistent teaching of the Church’s magisterium, be it the Pope, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or our own bishop, see this as a matter of prudential judgment, by which they take it to be optional.

I have heard people who should know better insisting that welcoming immigrants and refugees is not biblical. Jesus recapitulated in his own life the history of Israel so that he could do for Israel what the chosen people were not willing or able to for themselves. Hence, along with Joseph and the Blessed Virgin, he was a refugee in Egypt, fleeing Herod’s terror. As the Church, we are God’s Pilgrim People, making our pilgrimage through time to the new Jerusalem.

In this context, it is important to note that the word “Hebrew” means foreigner. If Israel is made up of Hebrews and the Church is the new and true Israel, then we, like Israel of old, are aliens, a people on the way. It would difficult to find something more biblical than welcoming immigrants and refugees.

In addition to political refugees, our country now has many economic refugees. Economic refugees are people who come to our country, like most of our ancestors did, seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Whether it refers to the Italians, the Irish, or to people from Mexico and the rest of Latin America, in the United States there has always been a discernible strain of anti-Catholicism in the rhetoric and action of so-called nativists.

Secondly, our first reading points out the importance of caring for widows and orphans. This is the biblical language for caring for those in need. Doing this is imperative for Christians. It is false to say there was no social safety net in ancient Israel. The social safety net was to be society itself. Israelite society was supposed to be the kingdom of God, but it was often deformed into something else entirely. This is why time and again Israel was rebuked by God through the prophets for not doing this. If Scripture is a reliable guide, perhaps more than anything, the refusal to care for those in need kindles God’s wrath.

In God’s eyes, the greatness of a nation is not its wealth or military might. From the divine perspective, a nation’s greatness lies in how it cares for the young, the elderly, the ill, the disadvantaged, and the immigrant. Our reading from Exodus tells us what it is that gets in the way of caring for those in need: greed. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins. Greed is when you put your excess before the needs of others.

Original sin was humanity’s desire to displace God in order to determine for ourselves what is good and evil. Even when we concede that in determining for ourselves what is good and evil we will not necessarily always choose evil, odds are sooner rather than later we will get it wrong. Nonetheless, God permits us the freedom to attempt to dethrone him and enthrone ourselves. God does not launch lightning bolts from the sky when we choose evil, either knowingly or in the mistaken belief that it is good. Why? Because God loves us and so he would not cause us to live under such an imminent threat, which would practically force us to be good out of fear, not love.

Christ showed us that the only criterion by which to make moral judgments is love. God is love (1 John 4:8.16). It is because God is love that Christ became incarnate. Holiness consists in nothing other than loving perfectly, like Christ.

The second question that arises from Jesus’s definition of morality is- Who is my neighbor? In St. Luke’s parallel account of today’s Gospel, when Jesus was asked the same question immediately after defining morality as love, his response was to teach the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). The take-away from that parable is- my neighbor is not my fellow Israelite (or Catholic), not the person most like me; my neighbor is the person in need, the one I can help.

We are beggars. Acknowledging our poverty is what brings us to this table. Coming together makes us companions. “Companion” literally means “bread fellow.” Companions are those who share bread. After sharing the bread from this table, we are sent forth to share it with those who are hungry.

Morality cannot be reduced to mere “personal morality.” Adherents of such a morality hold, either explicitly or implicitly, that it is possible to achieve holiness without reference to or regard for their neighbor. This is an anti-Christian morality. Our Gospel today is a further fleshing out of something Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, namely the Golden Rule, which bids us “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you” (Matt 7:12). What connects these two teachings in Matthew's Gospel is how Jesus ends them. He ends them by saying to observe these is to obey the law and the prophets. The chapter of 1 John in which we twice read “God is love,” ends with these words:
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:20-21)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The narrow path of wisdom and wonder

I read a post this morning in which the author, who I gather is something of a post-Christian Christian, writes about taking an apophatic approach to God as if nobody in the past 2,000+ years has ever conceived of such an approach. What does "apophatic" mean? Simply stated, an apophatic spirituality, as it were, is one that seeks God by way of negation. Some of our standard ways of talking about God are apophatic. For instance, when we say, "God is infinite," we're saying something negative about God. The prefix in is a negative one, meaning something like "without finitude." To say that "God is infinite" is to say that God is not bound by space. We say this now with knowing the universe, or space is expanding.

What I appreciate about post-Christian Christians, however, is their rejection of pious platitudes and smug certainties that comprise much popular Christian discourse, especially on social media. But many post-Christian Christians tend towards another kind of smugness, which I can only describe as "I've got it figured out by not having it figured out." Understood as something like, "The more I learn, the less I know," I have no problem with it. I certainly find this approach more attractive than its opposite. Very often implied in this kind of assertion is the belief that nothing can be figured out. In other words, such an approach can be too skeptical. I use "too skeptical" because I think we need to develop and maintain a healthy skepticism.

What the skepticism often exhibited by adherents to the school of "I've got it figured out by not having it figured out" has in common with the smug certainty of having it all figured out, is that its adherents labor under a confining set of preconceptions. In short, it is foolish to insist that there is no discoverable wisdom and perhaps even more foolish to think yourself possessed of it, especially in toto. To think you have it all greased is a sure sign you've reduced the Mystery to your own measure.

Loch and awe? Loch Awe in Scotland

The human existential condition is one of tension. This is why Christian orthodoxy primarily consists of maintaining the tension between two seemingly disparate things. At a fundamental level, the best example of this is one and three, as in one God in three divine persons; each person distinct from the other and yet together are one God, not three. The next most fundamental example would be one in two, as in one person in two natures, one human and one divine.

Something that appears to be self-contradictory but is understandable in a way that is not is called a paradox. Because it has to do with the Mystery of God-made-man-for-us, Christianity is inescapably a religion of paradox. It seems to me the central paradox of Christianity, existentially-speaking, is dying in order to live forever. Dying in order to live requires a rather heavy dose of apophaticism.

It is critically important to never lose one's capacity for wonder. Wonder is maintained by not smugly giving into skepticism on one hand and not settling for smug certainty on the other. Put in very bad poetic terms: the path of wonder that leads to wisdom winds between the Scylla of skepticism and the Charybdis of smug certainty.

Since I was too busy to post a Friday traditio yesterday, I am posting "The Eternal" by Joy Division:

Stood by the gate at the foot of the garden,
Watching them pass like clouds in the sky,
Try to cry out in the heat of the moment,
Possessed by a fury that burns from inside

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Make an Appoinment with God*

Below are four basic points about prayer.

Being a Christian means being a person who prays.

In his book The Art of Praying, Romano Guardini, whose cause for sainthood will formally begin in Munich this December, averred that prayer is as important for the spiritual life of a Christian as breathing is for the biological life of every human being. If you can’t breathe, you die.

Prayer includes both speaking and listening.

I strongly believe it is as important to talk to God at least as much as you talk about God. If it’s important to talk to God at least as much as you talk about God, then it is as important to listen to God at least as much as you talk to God.

Prayer takes time.

Sure, we can and should pray “on-the-fly,” but we need to set aside time each day to spend with God. In a very short book, Appointment with God, published thirty years ago, Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. urged all Christians to make a daily appointment with God. Making time each day for God is what it means to practice prayer as a discipline.

I run across far too many people who insist that it isn’t possible to have a personal relationship with God. Relationships cannot even begin, let alone grow, if those involved don’t spend time together.

Prayer is important.

People who believe it isn’t possible to have a personal relationship with God tend to make God an intellectual problem, a mental construct, or an indifferent, benevolent, perhaps even malevolent force in the universe, depending on how things are going today. All of these are attempts, even if some are highly complex and sophisticated ones, to reduce God to human measure.

In baptism, God called you by name. God also called you by name when your baptismal identity was confirmed. Grace refers to God – Father, Son, and Spirit – sharing divine life with you. God is love (1 John 4:8.16). In short, God knows you and wants to be known by you.

In Christ, the Word became flesh. After his Ascension, specifically on the first Christian Pentecost, the Lord sent his Spirit in order to remain present not just among us, but in us and by taking up his dwelling in us to make himself present to others through us.

The English word “spirit,” as in “the Holy Spirit,” is a translation of the Greek word pneuma. Pneuma means breath. Prayer is the breath of Christian life. This is why each and very Christian needs to become a pray-er.

*This post originally appeared on The Boy Monk blog. It is expanded to include links to the books and reference to Guardini's cause for sainthood.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lessons from the Lectionary: You are Christ's

Readings: Isa 45:1.4-6; Ps 96:1.3-5.7-10. 1 Thess 1:1-5b; Matt 22:15-21

The way the Order of Readings for Mass, more popularly known as "the Lectionary," is designed for Sundays in Ordinary Time (note that is Sundays in, not of, Ordinary Time) is that we read in a semi-continuous manner from the Synoptic Gospel on which we focus during any given year of the three-year cycle. This year being Year A, we focus on St. Matthew's Gospel. On Sundays in Ordinary Time, the Old Testament reading is chosen to harmonize with the Gospel.

In case you're curious, for the New Testament readings for Sundays in Ordinary Time, we read through the Letters of the New Testament also in a semi-continuous manner. Last week ended four consecutive weeks during which we read from St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians. Reading from Philippians came on the heels of reading from the Apostle's Letter to the Romans for 12 weeks. These twelve weeks were interrupted by the Feast of the Transfiguration on 6 August. During Year A, we are slated to read from Romans for sixteen consecutive weeks (Sundays 9-24 in Ordinary Time). This is always interrupted by Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi. In addition to the Transfiguration falling on Sunday this year (it is a fixed feast, celebrated on 6 August- it trumps the Sunday in Ordinary Time on years it falls on a Sunday), there was no Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time this year because the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which ends Christmas for Roman Catholics in the U.S., fell on a Monday. We celebrated Trinity and Corpus Christi on what were the Tenth and Eleventh Sundays in Ordinary Time. This accounts for why 12 rather than 16. We will read from 1 Thessalonians from now through the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical year. Each liturgical year ends with The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

While there was some effort made to harmonize the New Testament readings with the Old Testament and Gospel readings for Sundays in Ordinary Time, the main focus is on reading through the New Testament letters of St. Paul, St. James, and the Letter to the Hebrews in a semi-continuous manner. We read in a similar way from 1 Peter, 1 John, and Revelation during the Sundays of Easter in Years, A, B, & C respectively.

Okay, that's what you get when your faithful blogger spends a month preparing a class on the Lectionary for the Deacon Candidates of his diocese.

Without a doubt rendering to God what is God's is more difficult than rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's. How so? Well, in the end, nothing belongs to Caesar and everything belongs to God. This is made clear in our first reading. Our first reading is taken from the section of the Book of Isaiah known as Deutero-Isaiah. The Book of Isaiah, as we possess it now, consists of three books from the same prophetic school. These three books are cleverly referred to as First, Second, and Third Isaiah. More impressively, we call them Proto-, Deutero-, and Trito-Isaiah. Proto-Isaiah, which consists of words from Isaiah ben-Amoz, the prophet Isaiah himself, consists of the first thirty-nine chapters of the book and date from before the Babylonian exile of Israel. This exile spanned from ~597-538 B.C. Deutero-Isaiah, in the prophetic "school" of Isaiah, consists of chapters 40-55 and was likely written during the exile, but towards its end. Trito-Isaiah (chapters 56-66) are post-exilic, dating from after this exile.

Our first reading for today sits comfortably in Deutero-Isaiah. Cyrus the Great, the king of an expansive empire, is the ruler referred to in today's reading as God's "anointed," which means Messiah. Cyrus is the only non-Jew in the Bible referred to as God's anointed. By all accounts, judged by the standards of the ancient Near East, he was a benevolent ruler. What this reading, when harmonized with today's Gospel, is meant to show us is that God works his design even through those, like Cyrus, who do not know him. Those who do not know God do not worship him or seek to self-consciously follow his commandments. Stated more succinctly, Cyrus (and Caesar) is subject to God whether they acknowledge God or not. This reading ends with the statement, made by God through his prophet: "I am the LORD, there is no other" (Isa 45:6). Or, as our responsorial Psalm puts it: "For all the gods of the nations are things of nought" (Ps 96).

I think our New Testament reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians can be harmonized with our reading from Isaiah, our Psalm, and the Gospel. Further, I believe it can be harmonized in a way that is most relevant to us now. Our point of departure is rendering to God what is God's. As much as everything belonging to God, everyone belongs to God. A Christian is a person who not only understands she belongs to God, but who willingly acknowledges this and submits herself to God out of love for God, which extends to love of neighbor. In our first reading, the prophet tells us Israel was chosen by God. The Church, which, according St. Paul and her own self-understanding, is the new and true Israel, is chosen by God. This is what the Apostle meant when he wrote: "knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen" (1 Thess 1:4).

St. Paul reminded the Church in ancient Thessaloniki that the Gospel is not mere words or even conviction, but come in power and in the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Gospel is spread by witness, not by words. Another word for witness is martyr.

Rendering to God what is God's means giving ourselves to God for service to others in imitation of Christ regardless of circumstances or consequences. When we talk about participating in Mass we tend to focus on what we receive, which is nothing less than Christ himself whole and entire- body, blood, soul, and divinity. as we like to phrase it. We need to also be attuned to what we give in return- ourselves whole and entire- body, blood, soul, and humanity. In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father takes our nothingness and makes it a powerful force- the force of love, which is neither a force of violence nor of political coercion.

Some early Christians who chose to be brutally martyred rather than put a pinch of incense on coals as an act of worship to the emperor understood well what the Lord taught in today's Gospel: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. As the Apostle wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, which is the only one of his letters we read during each of the years of the Sunday lectionary cycle:
So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you, Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or the present or the future: all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God (1 Cor. 3:21-23)

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Don't turn your back now I'm talking to you"

As I mention quite frequently, traditionally (and for many of us contemporaneously) Friday is a day of penance for Christians. Morning Prayer for Friday, regardless of which week of psalter (Weeks I-IV), begins with Psalm 51, known as the Miserere. The Psalm begins-

Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin

I don't really have anything to add about Harvey Weinstein. I really don't want to weigh on the many inconsequential dramas that rage these days. I do want to say a word about the #MeToo campaign in light of today being a day of penance. As James Simpson wrote in his article "Men: Women Spoke Up. How Will We Respond?"- "As a man, I am responsible for this. At worst, I have actively engaged in this behavior, and at best I have stood passively by as I watched it happen." I have stood by or remained silent when I should've stood up and stepped in. To my shame, I have objectified and demeaned women.

Sadly, hostility towards women seems as prevalent now as it's ever been, at least since I've been socially aware. Our Lord Jesus Christ was revolutionary in how he related to women and how he included them.

I find something that priest and theologian Addison Hodges Hart noted very disheartening:
What I have found curious is how many self-identifying "conservative" (and even "Christian") men have reacted negatively to the #MeToo testimonies. Now that popular culture is reacting against our pornified, licentious, and abusive society, shouldn't there be some gratification on their part in knowing that the pendulum is swinging in another, possibly better direction? But there is, in too many instances, a knee-jerk reaction to anything perceived as "liberal" or -- and here's the real deal -- in opposition to hyper-masculine phoniness and "male privilege" (a phrase that rankles males who have apparently never quite achieved genuine adult manhood)
I have seen that this week first-hand. It bothers me and I have not let it go unchallenged. The response we need, my brothers in Christ, is not more sentimental pseudo-chivalrous nonsense, which itself is rather sexist. Let's face it, how can we offer to protect women when men are who they need protection against? As Catholic writer Rebecca Bratten-Weiss put it: it's like a mafia protection racket. Sounds about right to me.

If you're serious, start by reading this: "Men, you want to treat women better? Here's a list to start with."

Our Friday traditio is Patti Smith singing "Pissing in a River." It isn't particularly related to the theme of this post. But Patti is such a great artist. She is so comfortable in her own skin.

As Addision further noted: "There's nothing wrong with admitting complicity and practicing repentance." Since this week, the Twenty-eight in Ordinary Time, we are in Week IV, our reading for Evening Prayer was Romans 8:1-2: "There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the spirit, the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, had freed you from the law of sin and death."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Year A Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Isa 25:6-10a; Ps 23:1-6; Phil 4:12-14.19-20; Matt 22:1-14

If God promised us a banquet then why does it seem we so often experience famine? In light of today’s readings, we can discern two reasons for this. First, based on our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, it is rooted in the fact that this life is incomplete. The second reason arises from the refusal to accept, or perhaps even realize, this fact and so refuse what God so graciously gives us, which is nothing less than himself, nothing less than hope.

Writing to the Church in Philippi, St. Paul, who at that time was a prisoner, either in Rome, Ephesus, or Caesarea, told them he had “learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry” (Phil 4:12). Judging by this passage, the secret of living a life not tied to material wealth or ease of circumstances, is trusting God completely to supply “whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19).

In this passage, Paul described what can only be verified in reality through experience, something that can’t be systematized, something to which many saints bore witness: in Christ, you can experience a famine as a feast. Traditionally, fasting, one of the core spiritual disciplines taught to us by the Lord himself, a discipline that has practically vanished among Christians in wealthy countries, was practiced to help Christians experience this for themselves.

Our reading from Philippians chapter four skips from verse 14 to verse 19. In verses 15-18 the Apostle lauded the Church in Philippi for coming to his aid during his imprisonment. While he thanked them for their help, he was primarily grateful for how their charity toward him accrued to their account and not to his. Remember, he was fine going without. Because he was the one who brought them the Gospel, he referred to their charity towards him and towards each other his as “full payment” (Phil 4:18). The aid they sent to Paul was brought to him by a man named Epaphroditus. In receiving what Epaphroditus brought, he received “a ‘fragrant aroma,’ an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb to state that what Paul found so pleasing about the aid the Church in Philippi sent him was that they sent it at great sacrifice to themselves. He was moved by their willingness to go without in order to help someone in need. Whenever we do this, it is a fragrant aroma, a sacrifice acceptable to God.

Turning to our Gospel, it is important whenever Jesus begins a parable with the words “The kingdom of heaven is like,” or, as in our reading today, “The kingdom of God may be likened to,” we need to pay close attention. We also need to attend to the context.

As with last week’s Gospel, the Parable of the Vineyard, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet is addressed to the elders and chief priests. We must also keep in mind that Matthew’s Gospel was written in and for a largely, but likely not exclusively, Jewish Christian community, what can rightly be referred to as a Christian synagogue.

Adoration of the Lamb: Ghent Altar Piece, by Jan Van Eyck, between 1425-1429

Like the Parable of the Vineyard, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet is an allegory. God the Father is the King. His son for whom the wedding feast is thrown is Jesus. His servants, once again, are the prophets.

The invited guests are the Israelites, God’s chosen people. The Church, which is comprised of people from everywhere, Jews and Gentiles alike, are those whom the servants are sent forth to round up when the invited guests were too busy to come to the banquet and so were vanquished by the king.

By no means is it pushing things too far to extend this parable from Israel to the Church, which St. Paul conceived of as the new and true Israel. The banquet is nothing other than the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Who is the bride? Christ’s Bride is the Church. Without a bride there can be no wedding. In the end, the Church, Christ’s Bride, to mix metaphors, is comprised not of those who were invited to the banquet, but those who come.

Every week Christ issues you an invitation to the banquet of the Eucharist. Our participation in Mass, at least to some extent, is a participation in the feast to come, but, living as we do between the already and the not-yet, it is not a full participation, but an anticipation.

What about the guy not wearing a wedding garment? Pope St. Gregory the Great, in a sermon on this passage, likened the wedding garment to the white garment we received when we were baptized. We are presented the garment with the exhortation to bring it unstained into the kingdom of heaven. Given our propensity to sin, how do we do keep our white garment unstained? The truth of the matter is, we can’t do it on our own. We need God’s help. The help God gives us we call grace. In fact, we can only perform the works of charity for which St. Paul commended the Philippians because of God’s grace. How do we receive the grace we need? We receive God’s grace through the sacraments. Hence, going to confession regularly and participating in Mass frequently are not just important, but necessary.

If you are too busy doing other things to accept God’s gracious invitation now, what makes you think that, unlike those in the parable, you will be ready when the Bridegroom returns? This prompts the question; how did Paul receive the strength from God he needed to live the often-difficult circumstances his apostolic ministry caused him to face?

Mass connects the already of God’s kingdom to the not-yet we live each day, especially those difficult circumstances that constitute our crosses. Participating in Mass allows us to face up to the incompleteness of this life and to experience the goodness God has in store for those who love him enough to accept his invitation, which goodness is described so beautifully in our reading from Isaiah and in Psalm 23, our responsorial today.

“Mass” comes from the Latin word missa as found in the words of the Latin dismissal, said at the end of the liturgy: Ite, missa est (“Go, the dismissal is made, or, more colloquially, “Go, you’re dismissed”). At the end of Mass, you are dismissed, sent forth, to make Christ, not only known, but present wherever you go and in whatever circumstances you find yourself.

We receive the strength we need from God to live our circumstances by gathering together for Eucharist, which means “to give thanks.” We are strengthened by our fellowship, our listening to God’s word, and receiving Christ together in Holy Communion. It is our participation in Mass that makes our sacrificial service outside of Mass a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice to God and allows us to be Christ’s co-workers in the redemption of the world. It is how we live the already in the not-yet. It gives us hope, especially when we are tempted to despair. Christ is our hope.

Friday, October 13, 2017

"Save me from tomorrow"

Last night I found myself stranded somewhere between amusement and frustration - a place I find myself often these days (daze?). As a result of finding myself in this weird place, I posted on Facebook: "I think it is important to live one's life in such a way that one is spring-loaded to lose one's shit when there is any news with which one disagrees either from the realm of the sacred or secular.

"I am pretty sure such an existential stance flows directly from the writings of the desert fathers."

Every day the world keeps turning, history keeps happening. Understandably this generates a lot of fear for a lot of people. It occurred to me, yet again, that Jesus is either the Lord of the here and now or he is not Lord at all. At one point in St. Luke's Gospel, Jesus asked: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Luke 18:8)

Faith and hope go together. I find it useful to think about hope as the flower of faith and charity as their fruit. My point here is, without hope there is no faith. Faith overcomes fear by means of hope. Though he wrote it with reference to the fear generated by the death of the first generation of Christians in ancient Thessaloniki, whose passing caused the surviving Christians there to question whether the Lord was going to return, I think St. Paul words apply to our current predicament: we should "not grieve like the rest, who have no hope" (1 Thes 4:13).

Our Friday traditio is World Party's "Ship of Fools."

To wit: we're not saved from tomorrow, or today, or yesterday, but we're saved through each day.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

More on Luther and the Holy See

Whose work informs my views on Luther, his theses and Cardinal Cajetan? Well, that of many scholars both Protestant and Catholic. Most recently, Dr Seymour House, who teaches at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, introduced me to the work of Fr. Jared Wicks, SJ. Fr. Wicks's doctoral dissertation, directed by none other than one Joseph Ratzinger, was on Luther. Published back in the 1980s, it was revolutionary for Catholic Reformation scholarship. Here's the best thing I could find on Fr. Wicks to pass along on short notice: "An Interview with Jared Wicks, S.J., Catholic scholar of Luther."

As far as Martin Luther and Cardinal Thomas Cajetan- they encountered each other from 12-18 October 1518 in Augsburg, Germany. Cajetan was sent on a mission: to get the troublesome Augustinian to recant what had been deemed heretical in his 95 Theses and his other public pronouncements, particularly his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, up until that time. This was not an academic disputatio, but an inquisition. Luther approached it as such, which is to say ready to fight.

Suffice it to say, when it comes to Luther, theological reasoning did not win the day, which was hardly surprising given the politics and the sorry state of the Church at the time. To state that Leo X's interpretation of Luther's teaching as set forth in 41 condemned theses in Exsurge Domine leave something to be desired is merely to re-state a widely held scholarly view. While Exsurge dealt with more of Luther's teachings than those found in his 95 theses, it is not controversial to assert that the bull did not do a good job in of capturing Luther's theological concerns and so did not adequately deal with them. This, in turn, calls into question at least some of the grounds on which he was condemned as a heretic.

Prior to his 95 Theses, Luther had published nothing. This was not usual for professors of the day. The printing press was still relatively new and the printing business would only find its economic footing as the result of Martin Luther's prolific efforts and his deep involvement in the layout and publication of his works. While printers made a lot of money off Luther's writings, as an author he did not.

Between the publication of his theses and his encounter with Cardinal Cajetan, Luther had only published his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace in March 1518. Between October 1518 and the promulgation of Exsurge Domine there was only the disputation in Leipzig at which Luther spoke.

I suppose an example is in order. So, below are the first two of Luther's 95 theses:

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent" (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance

This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy

Luther preaching in Wittenberg

In Exurge Domine, Pope Leo X clearly had no problem with thesis 1. Keeping in mind Luther was first and foremost a Bible scholar, who knew Koine Greek and was highly proficient in Hebrew, his assertions in both theses likely seemed reasonable not only to him but some other Catholic theologians of the day as well. But at the very beginning of his Sermon on Indulgences and Grace, Luther, a Biblical humanist who took his cue from St. Bernard of Clairvaux (a must read for anyone who wants to grasp Luther's Catholicism is Franz Posset's Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux), took the scholastics to task when he stated:
First, you should know that some new teachers, such as the Master of Sentences, St. Thomas [Aquinas], and their disciples, divide [the Sacrament of] Penance into three parts: contrition, confession, and satisfaction. And, although this distinction and opinion of theirs is scarcely or not at all to be found based in Holy Scripture or in the ancient holy Christian teachers, nevertheless we will pass over this for now and speak using their categories
This is what likely led to this condemnation, the fifth one, found in Exsurge Domine:

That there are three parts to penance: contrition, confession, and satisfaction, has no foundation in Sacred Scripture nor in the ancient sacred Christian doctors

In his work On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, published in October 1520, not only after the promulgation of Exsurge, but after the 60 days the bull gave him to recant, along with Baptism and Eucharist, Luther affirmed Penance as a sacrament. Now, Luther's view as to how the sacrament is efficacious in light of his Sermon certainly prompts questions. But to assert that penance conceived of as contrition, confession, and satisfaction is not scriptural or even all that traditional is not necessarily to deny these elements are consistent with revelation. In fact, Luther did not deny the first two at all. He unequivocally held that one should be sorry for one's sins and confess them. The issue, therefore, became that of satisfaction. Luther's problem with satisfaction arose from how indulgences were sold. Indulgences were marketed as doing away with the need for satisfaction. It is fair to say he also had a problem with how satisfaction was conceived of by the schoolmen: performing good works in order to be forgiven.

By focusing on the importance of contrition for sin, Luther held that being truly sorry for one's sins led one to do good works, that is, pray, fast, and give alms. Here is what Luther said in his Sermon:
No one can defend the position with any passage from Scripture that God’s righteousness desires or demands any punishment or satisfaction from sinners except for their heartfelt and true contrition or conversion alone—with the condition that from that moment on they bear the cross of Christ and practice the aforementioned works (but not as imposed by anyone)
For this Bible scholar, what else could Jesus's call to metanoia mean except to be sorry for one's sins, to have a change of mind and heart, to be contrite and be converted? In essence, what Luther's attempted reform was about was the conversion of Christians, the interior movement of the Spirit as opposed to merely external observances.

It must be admitted that Luther's temperament after Augsburg and Leipzig was such that when challenged he was prone to take his positions to their extremes. One can see this in his disputation with Erasmus concerning Christian freedom.

One might also explore Luther's condemnation in Exsurge (condemnation 2) on the ground that he held infants, after Baptism, still suffered the effects of original sin in light of the Catholic Church's teaching on concupiscence, which also seeks to explain why Christians continue to sin after Baptism.

With that, apart from my remarks for my presentation in November on What the Catholic Church Learned from the Reformation, I have done my due diligence as a Catholic blogger to observe the 500th anniversary of the publication of Luther's 95 Theses.

Luther's 95 theses: the Holy See's reaction

Toward the end of my last post on Luther (see "Luther and fraternal correction of the Pope") I wrote: "Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he found nothing heretical." This prompted someone to post in response a link to Pope Leo X's Exsurge Domine, a papal bull he promulgated on 15 June 1520. In logical terms, posting this as an argument is something of a petitio principii, more commonly known as begging the question. Begging the question refers to assuming the truth of the conclusion of one's argument.

Rather than content myself with a logical refutation, I think it is important to note that in Exsurge Domine, Leo indeed condemned 41 of Luther's 95 theses. Leo did not excommunicate Luther with the promulgation of this bull, however. He gave the Augustinian friar and professor six days to recant. What I find to be somewhere between amusing and annoying is that the response was given as if I had no knowledge of Exsurge Domine. I suppose I should not have assumed all my readers would know that some of Luther's theses were condemned by the Holy See. Given that many Catholics think all 95 theses were condemned, rather than the 43% that were, it is clear I should not have made that assumption.

Cardinal Cajetan examines Martin Luther and his writings in Augsburg, Germany (1518), by Ferdinand Wilhelm Pauwels (1830-1904)

Maybe a more precise way of stating the matter would've been to write: "Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he did not find anything in the theses to be necessarily heretical. Certain questions arose and certain theses needed to be clarified in order to understand what Luther meant."

So, in helping to connect the dots: asking these questions and seeking clarification as to some of Luther's theses would've lent themselves nicely to an academic disputatio, which is what Luther sought in the first place. This should also help clarify what I meant by writing "the Holy See totally tubed its response to Luther..." Responses are thoughtful. Reactions are not.

Between the end of 1517 and the middles of 1520 there was also some political water under the bridge that influenced the Holy See's reaction.

Are you bearing fruit for God's kingdom?

Readings: Isa 5:1-7; Ps 80:9.12-16.19-20; Phil 4:6-9; Matt 21:33-43

As the Lectionary does during Ordinary Time, the Gospel reading is harmonized with the Old Testament reading. In fact, one can be quite certain that the inspired author of St. Matthew's Gospel had Isaiah's "Song of the Vineyard," as Isaiah 5:1-7 is known, very much in mind, while composing the pericope that serves as today's Gospel reading. I think it is also helpful to keep in mind that Matthew's Gospel was written in and for a largely, but likely not exclusively, Jewish Christian community. Without exaggerating, one can say Matthew's community was a Christian synagogue. Of course, Jesus himself is Jewish and spent the entirety of his life in Israel interacting primarily, but not exclusively, with his fellow Israelites. In one of his most dramatic interactions with a non-Jewish person, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).

It is important to grasp a little background in order to understand the full impact of Jesus's words, which, in context, are addressed to "the chief priests and elders of the people." The Parable of the Tenants is quite easy to understand. God is the landowner. The nation of Israel is the tenants. The servants are the prophets, whose vocation was to call Israel back to fidelity with the covenant. The son, of course, is Jesus, Son of God. The takeaway is that God will take away his kingdom from the Israelites and give it to people who will produce fruit for God.

Sadly, this Parable lends itself to a smug Christian reading. The people to whom God will give his kingdom is the Church, of course, which is nothing but Israel extended. But we need to reflect a bit on the nature of the Church. Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest Catholic theologians of the last century, wrote a treatise on the Church: Casta Meretrix, which translates into English as "The chaste whore." As I noted yesterday in my post on Luther, the Church in the sixteenth century was quite whorish. It was at other times, too, as in the twelfth century, the era of that other great Church reformer, St. Francis of Assisi, who set about rebuilding Christ's Church.

In the end, the true Church consists only of the saints. The saints are those men and women who produce fruit for God's kingdom. In the end, the Church will consist of only the saints, the wheat, the fruitful. At the end of time the chaff, the fruitless, those who say "Lord, Lord" and do nothing, will be sifted and separated.

Being fruitful for God's kingdom is a constant theme throughout St. Matthew's Gospel, whether it is applied to Israel, the Church, or individual disciples. While we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, we are saved for good works, for bearing fruit for God's kingdom. Those who bear such fruit constitute the Church. This is why Leon Bloy was correct when he averred: "There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint."

What is the fruit we are to produce for God's kingdom? I think the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy serve as great guides. It seems clear to me that Jesus prioritized the Corporal Works over the Spiritual ones. What are the Corporal Works of Mercy? Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and visiting those in prison. By doing these things for the least, we do them for the greatest: Jesus Christ, who "did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28).

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Luther and fraternal correction of the Pope

The trouble with the meme below, which I've seen plastered all over FB this past week, is that in posting his 95 theses Luther was not issuing a fraternal correction to Pope Leo X. At least with regard to his personal conduct, Leo certainly could've used a correction from an austere monk, which Martin Luther was in 1517. To wit, what Luther did is not analogous to what the "fraternal correctors" of Pope Francis are doing. Luther's initial aim was much more modest. Analogy fail.

Formally, Luther addressed his theses to the local bishop. The local bishop was one Albert of Brandenburg. It was Albert who authorized the sale of indulgences in his dioceses. Dioceses plural, you may ask? Yes. Albert was simultaneously bishop of Magdeburg and archbishop of Mainz. He purchased both these offices, which left him in debt. The chief salesman of indulgences in and around Wittenburg, the Dominican John Tetzel, was in Albert's employ. Albert kept half the proceeds of the sale of indulgences. The other half went to Rome.

What Luther sought by posting his theses was an academic disputatio, which were very common in the universities of the day. He wanted to focus on the sale, dispensing and efficacy of indulgences as well as papal authority (Did it extend beyond the grave? Nope, is the short answer). At this point and for quite a number of years afterward, he did not reject indulgences.

Let's be honest, if Leo X had been smart, he would've heeded Cardinal Cajetan's initial assessment of Luther's 95 theses: he found nothing heretical. There is a lot of gross ignorance among Catholics about how f#$*ed up the Church was at the time of the Reformation. The fact that the Holy See totally tubed its response to Luther is a story Catholics need to learn.

You can keep your Young Pope, I'll take Papa Bergoglio.

Friday, October 6, 2017

"Workin' on a mystery..."

What a week! I do not mean that in an exuberant way. What happened in Las Vegas last Sunday night still weighs heavily on my heart (to use what many would dismiss as a silly Christian expression). I am sure the massacre (what else can you call the shooting of more than 500 people?) weighs heavier still on those who were wounded, on the survivors, and those who lost loved ones in that indescribably terrible attack. One of the things that gives me hope when catastrophe strikes, whether it is a natural disaster or an unnatural act of terror, is how selflessly many people respond. Reading and hearing about how remarkably many people responded in Vegas when the shooting started made me think that we should not wait until we're in the middle of a catastrophe to start helping those in need.

In the wake of the most recent and faraway the worst mass shooting in the United States, it is bad enough to assert that we are powerless in the face of the epidemic of firearms violence. But it is unconscionable to insist there is nothing we should do to further regulate and restrict the sale, purchase, and possession of firearms and certain deadly accessories. My full response to what happened in Las Vegas is on The Boy Monk blog: "Mercy Provokes Us."

It seems more important than ever to remind everyone that October is the month of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I invite all who read this to commit praying 31 rosaries this month. A "Rosary" consists or praying one complete set (five) of any of the four sets of Mysteries (Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, Glorious). So, if you haven't started, please begin today. Tomorrow we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Iraqi Catholics (Chaldean Rite) praying the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From my perspective, our opening event for the six-part ecumenical series in observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation went well. It took place this past Wednesday at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sandy, Utah. It just so happens that our opening event was on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I mention my brother deacon Francis because he was a great Church reformer in his own right, one who had many of the same concerns the sixteenth century reformers had. I posted my opening remarks: "On the Reformation."

Here's something I did not include in my remarks, but kinda wished I had:
If Dean Wormer of Faber College had been dean of the College of Cardinals in the late-15th, early-16th century, he could've told newly elected popes what he told the members of Delta Tau Chi:

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." The course of what we call Western Civilization might've been much different
Finally, Tom Petty passed away this week at the way-too-young age of 66. Writing for the The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich had the best tribute to Petty: "An Appreciation of Tom Petty."
... I’m fairly certain Petty knew how it felt to be us. He wrote with deep restraint and concision, which is why his songs always feel airborne, but what kills me are his articulations of ordinary, 3 P.M.-on-a-weekday business. Petty understood how to address the liminal, not-quite-discernible feelings that a person might experience in her lifetime (that’s in addition to all the big, collapsing ones—your loves and losses and yearnings)
When I was in college when a friend of mine and I took a road trip to Southern Utah. This was long before satellite radio and so for a good portion of the trip we had no radio reception. We only had a few cassette tapes with us. One of those was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Full Moon Fever. On our drive home, we listened to this album several times. I still know the words to all the songs from Full Moon Fever. My two favorite songs from the album are "Free Fallin," which was our Friday traditio way back on 27 November 2009, and "Runnin' Down a Dream," which is our Friday tradito for today:

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On the Reformation

Below is my presentation for the first of six evenings we are discussing the Reformation. I gave this as a member of a collaborative panel that included, in addition to myself, clergy members from the Lutheran, Episcopalian, and Methodist communions. The subject the panel addressed was "Socio-Economic Conditions Provoking Religious Reformation." The nature of these discussions is not academic, but popular, pastoral, and ecumenical.


While it was by no means the only event that led to the split of the Western Church in the sixteenth century, the sale of indulgences can, I think, be identified as the efficient cause of the Reformation. Given that Luther was not excommunicated until 1521 along with his protection by Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, who never converted to the Protestant cause, we can infer that there were other social, economic and political reasons that led to the schisms within the Western Church. It can be credibly argued that Luther’s reaction to the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg was the spark that ignited the accumulating socio-economic tinder.

In the years leading up to 1517, reform of the Church had been a matter of debate and discussion throughout Europe. Given that Europe at this time was a “Christendom,” the corruption of the Church must be considered as one of the main socio-economic factors underlying the Reformation. This assertion does not mean the Reformation was primarily, let alone exclusively, the result of theological disputes. Two of the most prominent exponents of Church reform in the first quarter of the sixteenth century were Erasmus of Rotterdam, who famously engaged in public debate with Luther, and Thomas More of England. More is best known, however, for dying as a Catholic martyr under Henry VIII. Prior to the English Reformation, More was a public critic of the Church and a proponent of major ecclesiastical reforms.

Upon his selection as pope in 1503, Julius II swore an oath to convoke a reforming Church council. In 1512, he called the Fifth Lateran Council. He died in 1513. The Council continued under his successor, Leo X. Leo was a member of the powerful de ‘Medici family of Florence. It was Pope Leo X who said about becoming Pontiff: “Let us enjoy the papacy which God has chosen to give us.” In other words, he bore none of the hallmarks of a pope willing to make the needed reforms. The council concluded in 1517. Leo X died in 1521, but not before excommunicating Luther.

Pope Leo X

The Church Leo inherited from his predecessor made it so that he needed to constantly raise revenue. In addition to finishing the new St. Peter’s Basilica, there were wars with France, which required men for papal armies. Like his predecessor, who patronized Michelangelo among other well-known artists, Leo was a lavish patron of the arts. In addition to wars with France, there was the Turkish threat to Christian Europe. Pope Leo was created a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church at age 13. He lived the Renaissance high life. It is worth noting that his papal inauguration cost 100,000 ducats, which is estimated to be about one-seventh of the Holy See’s treasury at the time. His extravagant lifestyle, in addition to the wars and the construction of the new St. Peter’s Basilica, put a lot of pressure on Rome’s finances. At one point, Leo had to borrow money from bankers, who charged him an estimated 40% interest. Selling church offices was one way he raised money. In 1517 alone, Leo X created 30 new cardinals, all of whom paid princely sums to be Princes of the Church. This is believed to have netted around $500,000 ducats.

Archbishop Albert of Brandenburg, who simultaneously held the see of Magdeburg and the metropolitan see of Mainz, and to whom Luther addressed his 95 theses, acquired both episcopal offices by paying handsomely for them, leaving him in debt. It was Albert who authorized the selling of indulgences in Wittenberg and environs. Half of the funds obtained by selling indulgences were sent to Rome and Albert kept half for himself. John Tetzel was in the employ of Albert.

Some of the decrees of the Fifth Lateran Council that have bearing on the socio-economic conditions underlying the Reformation were the sanctioning of something called the monti di pietà, which were highly controversial ecclesiastical payday lender establishments that provided loans to the needy; dealing with the relatively new invention, the printing press (the internet of its day, despite the printing business’s shaky start), which was making books widely available, requiring the local bishop to grant permission before a new book was printed (beginning of the current system of issuing nihil obstats and the office of censor liborum); confirmed the Concordat of Bologna- an agreement between the Holy See and the Kingdom of France, by which the French king agreed to the abrogation of the Pragmatic Sanction of Bourges, issued in 1438, which, among other things, called for a General Council with an authority greater than the pope’s (the rise of Gallicanism- a specifically French form of conciliarism, which persisted until Vatican I in 1870); the Concordat of Bologna allowed the Holy See to collect all the income that the Church made in France, it also permitted the King of France to tithe the clergy; called for a Crusade against the Turks, to be funded by three years of increased taxes and would have required troops from the independent kingdoms and from the principalities that constituted the Holy Roman Empire.

Despite the council, the papacy’s power continued to diminish as France, Spain and England asserted themselves as kingdoms, or, in more modern parlance, nascent nation-states, seeking increased independence from the Church. The internal politics of the Holy Empire also tended to undermine papal authority and made levies on these entities a cause of political resentment. Luther’s protest against the sale of indulgences consolidated these resentments. Last but certainly not least among the socio-economic factors contributing to the Reformation was the chaos and uncertainty that resulted from outbreaks of the Black Death.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Fairness, justice and God's mercy

Readings: Ezk 18:25-28; Ps 25:4-9; Phil 2:1-11; Matt 21:28-32

Fairness and justice, are they the synonymous, or is there a distinction to be made between these two concepts?

One way of answering this question is to say that fairness sees to it that everyone receives the same. We have six children. Three of them are boys aged 12, 8, and 6. When it comes to dividing up a cake, a pizza, dishing up ice cream or distributing freshly baked cookies, at least one of my boys will complain that one or both of his brothers received more. In an effort to nip such complaints in the bud, I usually do the dishing or dividing right in front of them, deliberately giving myself the smallest slice, the least-filled dish, or the smallest cookie, sometimes even going without, to my disappointment. Once in a while, this tactic works, but most of the time there is a complaint. My fallback position is, "Be grateful for what you have, not envious of what you don't have." Okay, I am done with the hagiography of my own parenting prowess.

Justice, on the other hand, has to do, at least at first glance, with receiving what you deserve. What I deserve likely differs from what somebody else deserves. For example, I could give the biggest piece of pizza, more ice cream or the largest cookie to the boy who, at least in my estimation, had been best behaved that day, who has finished chores, homework, and had a good attitude. But I am pretty sure this would be a massive failure in the minds of my sons as well as not a great way to parent. It is not a great way to parent because it makes my relationship with my children one of exchange, a situation in which love and approval are earned, which has a huge impact someone's self-worth.

Justice must be tempered by mercy. God will forgive anyone who repents at any hour, even in the final hour. Who knows, maybe Hugh Hefner, who had a very strict Christian upbringing, repented this past week as he passed from this world to the next? The person who truly repents will receive God's mercy, even Hugh Hefner. This is what Jesus meant when he told the elders and chief priests "tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you." Why? Because upon encountering the Good News, understanding their lack of righteousness, they repented. This is why something very much like this part of the prayer of the great deacon, St Ephrem the Syrian, should never be far from heart and lips of anyone who considers herself a Christian: "Yes, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, since you are blessed to the ages of ages."

What about justice? I think Pope Benedict XVI addressed this well in his second encyclical letter, Spe salvi, on the theological virtue of hope:
Both these things—justice and grace—must be seen in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value. Dostoevsky, for example, was right to protest against this kind of Heaven and this kind of grace in his novel The Brothers Karamazov. Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened (par 44)
Human justice frequently misses the mark precisely because it is very often not tempered by mercy, or, to use Pope Benedict's word, "grace." Quite often, human-administered justice turns into vengeance, into revenge, it disintegrates into the lex talonis, demanding an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth. In the end, only God is just. Just, or righteous, people in the Bible, like St. Joseph, are considered to be just because they are merciful.

St. Paul's so-called "kenotic hymn," which is found in the longer version of today's second reading, is harmonious with both our Old Testament reading from the prophet Ezekiel and today's Gospel by St. Matthew. Being in the form of God, Jesus did not come to receive the largest portion. On the contrary, he came to receive the least portion or, really, no portion at all. He came to give, not to take. What he came to give is nothing less than himself. Self-giving, self-donation is God's very nature. Greatness in the Kingdom of God is the reverse of worldly greatness. Jesus submitted himself to injustice for the sake of mercy out of love. The name of God is mercy because "God is love" (1 John 4:8.16).

In addition to the harmony found in all three readings for today, the message from God's word is congruent with the Little Way of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose liturgical memorial falls on 1 October.

Over and above being fair and just, God is merciful, gracious, even gratuitous. Let the words of our Psalm response be our prayer: "Remember your mercies, O Lord."

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hosea 2:16.17c.18.21-22; Ps 145:2-9; Matthew 9:18-26 Our Gospel today is Saint Matthew’s version of events first written about ...