Archive for the ‘Wisdom’ Category

Perspective for Our Times

August 9, 2016

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Our time is a mixture of good things and bad. In some ways we’re progressing, while in others we’re in decline. Some despair, but the trials of past generations were far worse than ours. As St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) observed:

“Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bears comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors–would we not still hear them complaining?  You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.”

There has been no perfect “Golden Age” since Eden. We learn from the New Testament that even the first-century Christian communities had controversies within and persecutions from without. Yet pining for a romanticized past pairs with an opposite, pervasive error today: thinking that “old things” have nothing to teach or offer us. C.S. Lewis noted this modern disposition in 1955:

“…Chronological snobbery [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also ‘a period,’ and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”

The ignorant dismissal of the past leads to foolishness today. All advocate for change, but not all change is progress. For example, naively tearing down the wrong fences can permit evils to get in. G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1929:

“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

We live in a time filled with serious problems and great blessings. We have grave reasons for concern, such as the present threats to religious liberty and the persistent Culture of Death, but we should not despair. Not only do we know Who wins in the end, but even today’s broken world has good things to offer. Computers are facilitating new technologies and improved communications. Healthcare advances are saving and enhancing lives. International economic development is helping billions rise from poverty. Imagine how these modern-day advances in communication, healthcare, economic wealth, and other fields could be utilized for the Kingdom of God. Jesus once asked his disciples:

“Do you understand all these things?” They answered, “Yes.” And he replied, “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

To keep proper perspective today we must be neither naive nor despondent. We should be conscious of both the dangers and the opportunities around us. These present times will surely try us, but there has yet to be an era of the Church that has not tested the saints. Our generation is called to be faithful witnesses to Christ’s Church and Sacred Tradition. As Scripture says:

Anyone who is so ‘progressive’ as not to remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God; [but] whoever remains in the teaching has the Father and the Son.”  (2nd John 1:9)

The world may refuse to heed us as it recklessly marches on but we can still benefit ourselves, for this life and the next, by holding on to  timeless truths. Our Church has persevered through controversies and persecutions from its beginning. It challenged the Roman culture while making use of the best things it had to offer to introduce and spread the Kingdom of God on earth. That Kingdom endures to our day. By keeping what is good and rejecting what is evil, let us remain ever-faithful to Jesus Christ in our times.

O Jerusalem by Greg Olsen

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Heeding Our Earthly Mother & Heavenly Father — 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 5, 2014

Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9,11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

A Wall Across the Road

Imagine an wall built across a road which has stood for as long as anyone can remember. The Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton suggested that when confronted by such a peculiar sight:

The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

It is said that human history has been constantly repeating two phases, summed up in two concise phrases:

First, “What could it hurt?
And second, “How were we supposed to know?

All of us are children of the same holy Mother, the Church. And she is united with God, our loving Father. Moms and dads sometimes tell us, “Don’t touch that–it will hurt. I know it glows enticingly, but it will burn you. We’re not saying this in order to control you or to make you miserable, but because we love you. We want you to be safe and happy.

Red_Hot_Coiled_Stove_Burner_3_by_FantasyStockWe then have three options in how we respond: Either we can touch the forbidden thing for ourselves and experience the pain firsthand. Or we can observe others who have touched the thing and learn from them (though they sometimes hide their pain and tears, even from themselves.) Or, and this is the best response, we can trust in the words of our Mother and Father and never get burned.

Sometimes the wise and the learned of this world refuse to see the truth, but to the little ones, to the childlike, the truth is revealed and they welcome it. In our first reading from Zechariah we find a prophesy about the Messiah. The Savior is not coming on a warhorse, but on a donkey—not as a conqueror imposing his will upon the earth by force, but meekly, inviting us to trust in him and freely embrace his will.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

This week’s Supreme Court’s verdict in the Hobby Lobby case comes as good news for religious liberty. However, we must keep praying. Though the five-to-four decision is a positive sign, religiously affiliated non-profit groups are not safely out of the legal woods yet. Many people of goodwill support Catholic institutions in their conscientious refusal to facilitate things they consider gravely immoral, but I wonder how many observers understand why Catholics have any objection to contraception and sterilization to begin with?

People fail to realize that contraception is not something new. For thousands of years, people have used various barriers, chemicals, and techniques to prevent the marital embrace from being fruitful. And most have never heard that before 1930 all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching in condemning contraception as sinful. Most people have not realized what could be wrong with putting asunder what God has joined in the marital act; separating love-making from an openness to life. And though few recognize the harmful impact that contraception has on families and society, its consequences were not entirely unforeseen.

Pope Paul VI

In 1968, in the midst of a sexual revolution made possible by the birth control pill, some believed the Catholic Church would “update” its consistent teaching on contraception. (“What could it hurt?”) Instead, Pope Paul VI shocked the world with orthodoxy. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae or “Of Human Life,” was one of the most controversial documents of the twentieth century, yet the pope’s four predictions of what would happen if contraceptives gained widespread use have proven true:

  1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society.
  2. A rise in infidelity.
  3. A lessening of respect for women by men.
  4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

What is more, a contraceptive mentality has so pervaded our culture that healthy fertility is treated like a disease and conceived children are treated like a cancer. Because of procured abortion, in any room of people under 40 years old, there is on average one person missing for every three people you see. This is the fruit of a contraceptive mentality. (“How were we supposed to know?”)

Whether the Catholic Church teaches on indecent images, fornication, cohabitation, same-sex relations, divorce and remarriage without annulment, in-vitro fertilization, abortion, drug use and drunkenness, euthanasia or suicide; for every “no” in her teachings the Church proclaims a greater, more foundational “Yes” to love and life and true happiness. As St. Paul tells us:

“Brothers and sisters, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Will we be childlike enough to listen to our Father in heaven and our Mother on earth? Learn from Christ and take his yoke upon you, for according to his promise you will receive rest. His ways require sacrifice, yet compared to the yoke of sin and death which comes with the ways of the world, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light.

St. Augustine on the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 21, 2013

Why did the Lord Jesus Christ present this parable to us? He surely did not approve of that cheat of a servant who cheated his master, stole from him and did not make it up from his own pocket. On top of that, he also did some extra pilfering. He caused his master further loss, in order to prepare a little nest of quiet and security for himself after he lost his job.

Why did the Lord set this before us? It is not because that servant cheated but because he exercised foresight for the future. When even a cheat is praised for his ingenuity, Christians who make no such provision blush. I mean, this is what he added, “Behold, the children of this age are more prudent than the children of light.” They perpetrate frauds in order to secure their future.

In what life, after all, did that steward insure himself like that? What one was he going to quit when he bowed to his master’s decision? He was insuring himself for a life that was going to end. Would you not insure yourself for eternal life?

St. Benedict & The Pharoah — Monday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

July 11, 2011

Today we recall two lawgiving rulers, one Egyptian and one Italian, one who was wicked and one who is good. This morning we hear of Pharaoh, who oppressed the Israelites, and we celebrate St. Benedict, who is called the founder of Western monasticism.

When Pharaoh saw the growing demographics of the children of Israel, he saw them as a threat and devised a new social strategy. Pharaoh had the Israelites enslaved and ordered that their male babies be sacrificed to Hapy, the fertility god of the River Nile. This would then force Israeli young women to take Egyptian husbands. In this way, if everything went according to plan, after a few generations of cultural assimilation, the children of Israel would be effectively no more.

St. Benedict, for his part, also established new laws over those he governed. His “Rule of St. Benedict” has directed the spirituality and administration of Benedictine monastic life for more than fifteen hundred years. Both Benedict and Pharaoh were shrewd men, clever and astute about practical matters like human behavior, but Pharaoh’s strategy was evil and failed while St. Benedict’s was good and still endures. Both men had intelligence, but only one had wisdom.

Pharaoh and St. Benedict demonstrate that intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom, that being clever is not the same thing as being good. Just because we know how to do something doesn’t mean we should. We see this in science, which teaches us how to do certain things, but which (of itself) cannot tell us whether we should. Governments can pass new laws, but that does not mean that all laws are just or serve the common good. Intelligence without wisdom is almost a curse. The devil is a brilliant creature, but he is without wisdom.

Where do we find wisdom? We find it in Jesus Christ, who presents Himself as the definitive prophet and righteous man, who presents His life as our pattern to follow. Whoever receives Him receives wisdom, and will receive wisdom’s reward.

3 Mountains / 3 Montañas — 2nd Sunday in Lent—Year A

March 20, 2011
In the life of Jesus, he climbs three significant mountains; The mountain of the sermon on the mount, the mountain of Transfiguration (in today’s reading) and the mountain of the crucifixion. In the Christian life, we must also visit these three mountains. 
 
The three mountains are united. The wisdom of the sermon on the mount, on the first mountain, brings the pleasures and pains of the other mountains. The life of the Gospel brings the joys of the light and the suffering of the cross. Wisdom, glory and sacrifice; the three are a trio here on this earth. Our glories without sacrifice pass quickly. Our sacrifices without wisdom we regret quickly. And our wisdom will be without glory forever if we do not follow Christ in sacrifice. Which mountain should visit more this season of Lent?
 
Do you lack wisdom? Do you not know well that Jesus and his Church teaches? Go to the first mountain to learn, like the disciples at the Sermon on the Mount, with the Bible, or the Catechism or many popular resources available in audio or visual forms.
 
Do you need consolation? Do you not feel well that Jesus is your beloved friend? Go to the second mountain, to feel like Jesus and his disciples at the Transfiguration, through time in a quiet place with God.
 
Do you need perfection in your love? Do you not carry the cross well? Go to the last mountain to practice it, like Jesus at the crucifixion, through good works for others.
 
Jesus climbed the mountains of wisdom, glory and sacrifice. To be with him, we must climb these also.
 

En la vida de Jesús, él sube tres montañas notables. La montaña del sermón del monte, la montaña de la transfiguración (en la lectura de hoy) y la montaña de la crucifixión. En la vida cristiana, debemos visitar estas tres montañas también.

Las tres montañas están unidas. La sabiduría del sermón del monte, de la primera montaña, trae los placeres y dolores de las otras montañas. La vida del Evangelio trae las alegrías de la luz y los sufrimientos de la cruz.  Sabiduría, gloria y sacrificio; los tres son un trío unido en esta tierra.

Nuestras glorias sin sacrificio pasan rápidamente. Nuestros sacrificios sin sabiduría lamentamos rápidamente. Y nuestra sabiduría será sin gloria para siempre si no nos siga a Cristo en sacrificio. ¿Qué montaña deben visitar más esta temporada de Cuaresma?

¿Faltas de sabiduría? ¿No sabes bien lo que Jesús y su Iglesia enseñan? Vaya a la primera montaña para aprender como los discípulos al sermón del monte, con la Biblia, o el catecismo o muchos recursos populares disponibles en formularios visuales o de audio.

¿Necesitas consuelo? ¿No te sientes bien que Jesús es tu amigo amado? Vaya a la segunda montaña para sentirlo como Jesús y sus discípulos a la transfiguración, con tiempo con Dios en un lugar tranquilo.

¿Necesitas perfección en tu amor? ¿No llevas bien la cruz? Vaya a la última montaña para practicarlo como Jesús a la crucifixión, con buenas obras para otros.

Jesús subió las montañas de sabiduría, de gloria y de sacrificio. Para estar con él, debemos subir estas también.

Be Catholic Americans — 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 5, 2010

I would like to begin by posing you a little riddle. Let’s see if you can get it:

What human possession do people always carry with them? Another clue: while we tend to hold on to these things dearly, we are also willing to share them with others, sometimes without them even asking. And the final clue: these things are something that we can always make more of, even out of thin air, if we want to.

The human possession I’m thinking of… is our own opinions. We always carry them with us. We tend to hold them dearly and share them with others, and we can form them out of nothing. Human opinions are abundant, but wisdom is scarce.

As our first reading reminds us, ‘rarely do human beings guess the things on earth; and what is within our intellectual grasp we only find with difficulty.’ The Book of Wisdom observes, ‘Who has ever known God’s counsel except when God has given the wisdom and sent His Holy Spirit from on high? Only in this way, with the help of God, are the paths of those on earth made straight.’

Whenever I stand here before you, I pray that I may never preach to you what is merely my own opinion. If I do that, I will do you no great or lasting good, and Jesus Christ will not be pleased with my efforts. The words that I speak must be His teachings, which come to us through the Scriptures and His Church, by the working of the Holy Spirit. Any personal views that I may have must be conformed to Jesus’ true perspective of things.

I feel this especially as a preacher, but the same goes for each of us here who claims to be Jesus’ student, or disciple. As Jesus says in the Gospel, ‘Anyone who would not renounce all of his or her possessions (including one’s own opinions) cannot be His disciple.’ We must conform our views to Jesus’ teaching; for human opinions are abundant, but wisdom (which comes from Christ) is scarce.

It’s important for us to live according to Christ’s view in all times, but I mention it this time of year because we are entering an important season for our country—election season. The Wisconsin primaries are the Tuesday after next, September 14th, and the general election nationwide is November 2nd , the first Tuesday in November.

There are more than sixty-eight million registered Roman Catholics in the United States. These elections will see them break into three different groups: some who will not vote, some who will vote as American Catholics, and some who will vote as Catholic Americans.

Some will choose to stay home from the polls, squandering the right to vote that other Americans died to give them and ignoring Christ’s call to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the transformers of culture. And some will vote as American Catholics, based upon mere opinions molded by the prevailing, secular culture.

But some will vote as Catholic Americans, as I urge you to do, with a worldview formed by Christ and His Spirit-led Church. As Catholic Christians, our first citizenship is in Heaven, but we are also called to be a leaven of goodness on earth. Be Catholic Americans, for our country’s sake.

As we see it over and again in the Scriptures, when a people turns away from God and His path of life their nation declines and falls. We have no guarantee that these United States will endure for a hundred, fifty, or even twenty-five more years, but we have it on Christ’s authority that His Church, history’s oldest institution, shall not perish from the earth. But if we love America and wish it to endure for generations to come, we need to live, speak, and vote as Catholic Christians.

If we conform ourselves to Christ’s teaching, and promote a republic and a culture of life, we can save this nation from becoming an abandoned, unfinished tower. As Catholic Americans, we can transform our country in Christ, and God will surely bless America.

The Rich Fool — 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

August 12, 2010

I regret to inform you that you are going to die. Perhaps not today, but someday, and it could be very soon. We should ask ourselves, “Am I ready? How can I prepare?”

The Gospel relates the story of a man who was not ready, a man God calls a “fool.” Jesus offers Him as an anti-role model; a person whose example we should learn from, but not imitate. Yes, he is a fool for hoarding his possessions. The old saying is true, “You can’t take it with you.” But there are more subtle lessons we can learn from his bad example. This morning I would like to present three things this rich man has to teach us:

The first lesson comes from what he does when his land produces a bountiful harvest. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” There is nothing wrong with this question in itself, but he is a fool in the way he asks it. The rich man asks himself, and only himself, “What shall I do?” He does not consult with God, in either his conscience or in prayer, to learn what His will is.

What is the lesson here for us?  Let us remember to listen to the Lord as He speaks in our conscience, through prayer, the Scriptures, and the people He has placed in our lives. We should listen for God’s direction every day, and throughout each day.

A second cautionary lesson is found in the rich man’s plan for solving his storage problem. He says, “This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.” What was wrong with the older barns? They were not large enough to hold everything, but why tear them down? The rich man has plenty of land. Why did he want to replace his perfectly good barns?

Vanity of vanities, he wanted his storehouses to be the newest, the biggest, and the best. Though the rich man was not very concerned about other people, he was very concerned about their high opinion of him. Even in those days, people were tempted to consumerism.

Consumerism seems to consist in two phantom promises: that having just a little more will truly give me lasting happiness, and that others will regard, accept, and love me when they notice the things that I have. These are phantom promises, for as soon as one reaches to grasp them they prove empty, illusory, receding further out of reach.

The fact is that the people who are happiest in life are not the wealthiest. (By that measure, pretty much every American should be among the happiest people in the world.) The happiest people tend to be those who share the most or give the most away. The person who recognizes they have enough, that life does not consist in possessions, is content and secure enough to share. Some people try to get the most out of life as possible, but what we appreciate most in our lives is the ways in which we have given of ourselves for others.

Our third cautionary lesson is heard in God’s rebuke of the man: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” When we think of the things the rich man has prepared, we think of his harvest and goods.  One of the things he has ill-prepared… is his soul, which this night will be demanded of him. And now, to whom will it belong?

The lesson here for us?  As focused as we are upon our possessions, we must be more attentive to our souls. Someday, we are going to die. In the meantime, then, let us put to death, the parts of you that are earthly, as St. Paul said: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.

What lessons does the rich man teach us? Reject the false promises of the consumer cult, for life does not consist in possessions. (Self-gift is the meaning of life) Turn your heart to your spiritual well-being, for your life and this world shall pass away.  And to frequently ask Jesus, everyday, “What shall I do?” Let us begin today, before it is too late for us to begin living wisely.

Signs of the Times — Thursday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

August 5, 2010

The Chicago Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, [reportedly] recently remarked, “I expect to die in my bed. I expect my successor to die in prison and his successor to die a martyr’s death.” An overly-dark prediction? Perhaps. But there are threatening signs for the Catholic Church’s future in America.

Yesterday a federal judge overturned Proposition 8, California’s Marriage Protection Act. He ruled same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. About two years from now, the issue will reach the Supreme Court, where most anticipate a 5-4 decision to go one way or the other. A poor decision, enshrining a national right to gay marriage, could drive Catholic organizations out of many charitable efforts, such as adoption services.

This year in Wisconsin, the legislature came close to removing the statute of limitation for all child sexual abuse cases. This would have allowed civil suits, no matter how old, to be brought against alleged perpetrators and their employers. (Government institutions, like public schools, were exempted.)

What’s wrong with a law like this? Consider the difficulty of gathering facts, witnesses, and accurate testimony for events twenty, thirty, or even forty years ago. This is why statute of limitation laws exist. How does one question a dead priest or a dead bishop to assess their response to an allegation or their knowledge of an incident? Merely responding to a handful of these new-old cases in litigation would cost Wisconsin dioceses immensely. The legislation died this year in committee, but its supporters intend to reintroduce it next year.

The President’s recent health insurance overhaul will intertwine the federal government into medicine more than ever before. What will this mean down the line for the work of Catholic hospitals? That remains to be seen.

So what shall do? We will pray. As St. John Vianney told us yesterday, ‘God commands us to pray, but He forbids us to worry.’ We shall continue to love, for love is what changes hearts. We should vote, because we live in a democracy where the government is made in the image of those who vote.

And finally, we shall be faithful, no matter what. Even if, God forbid, churches are confiscated and sold off… even if Catholic charities and hospitals have to close their doors… even if priests and bishops go to jail for things they say or things they are unwilling to do… we will be faithful and unafraid. For Jesus promises us, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against the Church.”

We shall not deny Jesus Christ, nor His teachings, before the world. We, the Church, will be faithful to Christ and His teachings. We shall be His people, and He shall be our God.

Mary and Pilate — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

February 14, 2010

In a few moments, after this homily, we will recite our creed, the summary of our faith. Every Sunday, we profess, in union with the Christians who came before us, our belief in these truths and our resolve to live our lives according to them. This morning we will look at just one rich aspect of our creed and consider its implications for our lives.

Have you ever noticed that in the entire creed, only two non-divine persons are mentioned by name? These are the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate.

“By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died and was buried.”

Now many other figures from the Old and New Testaments could have justifiably been included in our creed; such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, and many others. Yet, only Mary and Pilate get mentioned. So why is this? There seems to be two very good reasons. The first of these reasons I will give now—and the second I will save for the end.

The first reason why Mary and Pilate receive special mention is that they ground Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in our real history. Jesus was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and on the third day, He rose again.’ Now other pre-Christian religions sometimes had stories about dying gods who came to life again, but those stories were always said to have happened ‘once upon a time,’ in some remote and mythic past. But with Jesus Christ, this ancient intuition and longing of humanity is actually realized. The inclusion of Mary and Pilate in the creed witness to this: that God became man, died, and rose for us, in this world and in real history.

Some people try to be too sophisticated by saying it doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead, or even if He lived at all, because His teachings are what’s important. But St. Paul blows this idea out of the water. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” and “we are the most pitiable people of all.” Without Jesus Christ and His resurrection there is no Gospel, there is no Good News.

Just like Jesus Christ, Mary His Mother and Pontius Pilate His executioner are not fictional characters made up for some story. They are real people, from a time not that much different from our own. Our styles and technologies may have changed, but human beings themselves remain much the same. When we look at Mary and Pilate we can see ourselves in these two people whom Christ encountered twenty centuries ago.

Pilate is the secular Man of the World.
Mary is the devoted Disciple of Christ.

Pilate seeks the glory of men.
Mary seeks the glory of God.

Pilate knows worldly wisdom, he is clever and cunning.
But Mary knows God’s wisdom, and she is truly wise.

Pilate thinks he knows how the world works and the pragmatic way to get things done. For Pilate, our world is totally shaped by of power, money, and influence, with some blind luck thrown into the mix. When Jesus stands silent before him, Pilate says, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and I have the power to crucify you?” Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above.”

Pilate is a very post-modern man.  He’s a moral relativist. When he asks Jesus, “What is truth,” he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer from Truth Himself. That’s because Pilate thinks that the ‘truth’ cannot be known except for the ‘truths’ which we choose for ourselves or impose upon others.

The Gospels show that Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, or at least that he poses no real threat to society, yet Pilate is willing to have this innocent man whipped and even crucified when that becomes the most expedient thing to do. The crowd threatens Pilate, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar,” and he quickly caves and hands Jesus over.

Pilate washes his hands of responsibility, and extends Christ’s arms on the cross. Mary had extended her arms declaring, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” and lovingly held the infant savior in her hands.

Pilate, despite all his power, is ruled by fear.
Mary, despite her weaknesses, is freed from it.

Governor Pilate is rich in wealth and power and yet he has no peace.
Mary, the poor widow, has peace and everything she needs from God.

Pilate has no faith in the God of Israel. He says, “I am not Jew, am I?” But for Mary, God is her rock and this makes all the difference in the world. Mary is defined by her faith, hope and love.

Mary never attends an academy, but she is profoundly wise because she reflects in her heart on the words and deeds of God and because she lives by her own advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows that we do not manufacture the truth for ourselves, we receive it, ultimately from God. We love it, we defend it, and we share it with others. “Blessed [is she],” as Elizabeth said, “who believed that what was spoken to [her] by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary trusted and believed, for she saw the evidence through history that God “has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation,” that “He scatters the proud in their pride, and casts down the mighty from their throwns, but He lifts up the lowly.”

Mary’s life was full, but was not free from trials. When Mary consents to be found with child through the Holy Spirit she is uncertain of what will happen to her, but she trusts in God. She does not know how she and her husband will get by as poor immigrants in foreign country, but she continues to trust. Mary’s response to every trial in life, even to the death of her son, is to trust in God. Despite men’s sins, she trusts in God as the Lord of history, that He casts down the proud and mighty from their throwns and raises up the lowly.

Pilate is indifferent to Christ, and he consents to sending Him to the cross, but Mary is wholly devoted to Christ, and she consents to share in His Passion. Pilate’s heart is hardened despite Christ’s Passion, while Mary’s heart is pierced by it.

Governor Pilate was once the most powerful man in Judea, but where is he now? Mary, the poor widow, is now our glorious queen, the most beautiful and powerful woman in heaven or earth, and through her reign she draws millions to Christ our king.

She is the one who wept and now laughs.
He is the one who laughed and now weeps.

He was rich in the world and now he is poor.
She was poor in the world and now the kingdom is hers.

He took root in the desert, he was barren and uprooted.
But she was planted beside the flowing waters, she endured and bore much fruit.

So what do all of these reflections about Mary and Pilate have to do with us? I promised you at the beginning a second good reason why Mary and Pilate are mentioned in the creed; and here it is: Mary and Pilate represent us. They stand as archetypes, models or patterns, for every person.

The faithful one and the faithless one.

The one who serves God and the one who serves himself.

The one who gives Christ life and the one who puts him to death.

We live our daily lives as either Mary or Pilate, with shades of the other thrown in. As we come to the season of Lent, let us examine and discern who we are. “How am I Pilate, and how am I Mary?” And at this Eucharist, let us ask Jesus to exchange in us the ways of Pilate for the ways of Mary, for hers is the way of Christ.

The Fool’s Blindness — Tuesday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 9, 2010

Some priests like to begin their homilies with jokes. Today I’m going begin by telling you a few jokes—some very, very old jokes. In fact, they come from the oldest joke book in the world, a collection of 265 jokes from the 4th century A.D. entitled The Philogelos, or (in English) The Laugh-Addict.

One day an intellectual bumped into a friend and said to him, “I heard you were dead.” “Well,” said the friend, “As you can see, I am very much alive.” “Yes,” [replied the other,] “but the person who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you.”

[On another occasion,] A doctor stole the lamp of a man whom he was treating for inflammation of the eyes. A few days later, the doctor asked the patient how his eyes were. “It’s a funny thing, [Doctor,] ever since you treated them I haven’t been able to see my lamp.”

[And finally,] An intellectual was [once] on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. ‘Don’t cry,’ he consoled them, ‘I have freed you all in my will.’”

Now these three jokes have something in common, besides being very old. They all share the have comedic device: a foolish person who focuses on the wrong thing, like the patient who mistrusts his eyes more than his doctor. This is called majoring in the minors, or as Jesus would say, “straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.” In the Gospel today, Jesus really takes it to the scribes and Pharisees for doing this sort of thing: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition. … This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me…”

So do we focus on small details of our faith and neglect what’s really important? For instance, next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and during Lent we usually give up something we enjoy as a form of penance until the joyful celebration of Easter. Now keeping a Lenten penance is a good tradition, because penance helps us to shed old sins and to grow in our ability to do good and to be happy. But… if we give up pop, cookies, candy, or ice cream, while we neglect to go to Sunday Mass, we are keeping a human tradition while we neglect God’s command: keep holy the Lord’s day. Instead of doing neither this Lent, please do both.  Take a penance and go to Mass every weekend for the love of God.

Maybe your family doesn’t go to Mass on weekends, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t. If you love God enough to ask your parents’ permission to go by yourself or with a friend this Sunday, I doubt you will need to go alone a second time. For you will provide your parents with a needed reminder about God’s important in our lives, and I bet you that at least one of them, if not the whole family, will come with you every week after.

So let us keep first things first, and not be stupid, like the man who was swimming when it started to rain; and dove to the bottom, to keep from getting wet. This Lent, let us keep the Lord’s Day, every Lord’s Day, holy. The reason the Lord calls you out is to call you to Himself.

Treasure the Gift — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 26, 2009

It’s Christmas, and today we hear one of the most familiar passages in the Gospel, the nativity scene in Bethlehem.  Is there anything that we can learn out of such a familiar text?  Yes, very much indeed. For example, have you ever wondered: what are swaddling clothes anyways?  ‘Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’

When I was young I thought swaddling clothes were just dirty pajamas, but in fact swaddling refers to an ancient custom. They would use tightly bound cloths to wrap-in an infants’ arms and legs to their bodies (they thought this was important for promoting proper posture.) This practice was called “swaddling.” Was it cruel to confine the babies like this? No, the babies liked this. It reminded them of their many months, warm and snug, within their mothers’ wombs. Another thing I’ve learned since the time I was a kid was what a manger really was.  A manger is not a stable. It’s a feeding trough.  Mary wrapped Jesus up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a feeding trough.

Even if you knew all that stuff before, there remains the question of why St. Luke included these details in his Gospel. Why is it important?  Not only does it show the poverty and humility of the Christ, it also points to Jesus’ future. This is not the last time that His mother would wrap Him in tight cloths and lay His body down. And baby Jesus is laid in a feeding trough because when He is grown He will say to His disciples, as you will her Him say to you here, “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you.” The swaddling cloths point to Jesus burial cloth, and laying in the manger points to His Eucharist, where which He offers us His whole self, His body, blood, soul, and divinity as food.

So you see, whether we are a talking about the Sacred Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ’s Bride (our Mother, the Church,)  our Catholic faith is not a half-cut orange whose richness you can drain out with one or two squeezes and then toss away. A lifetime of discovery will not exhaust what all that our Catholic Faith contains.

When I was a kid I might have looked at this manger scene and though that some people were missing.  “Where are the Magi, the wise men (or astrologers) from the East?”  They’re over there, hiding among the poinsettias. Maybe they are journeying through the forests, or maybe they haven’t even left home yet, but one thing we do know is that they were not there on Christmas night.  When they arrive in Jerusalem they ask King Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Days, weeks, or even months have passed since Christmas, and when they do arrive in Bethlehem they do not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph living in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

So who was there that first Christmas night? The shepherds were there. The angel said to them in the fields, ‘I declare to you news of great joy! A savior who is Christ and Lord is born for you in Bethlehem.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The shepherds look at each other and say, “Hey, we’ve gotta check this out.” Who wouldn’t turn out for that first Christmas after an angelic invitation like that?

The shepherds came to the stable and find the infant Christ just as the angel described. From there, Luke’s Gospel says, they returned rejoicing and spread the word about what had happened to all. The shepherds probably knew everybody from Bethlehem, since they were locals (“from that region”) and within walking distance from the stable.

Yet there is a question which I would like us to consider, a question which the Gospels do not answer, and it is this: After that first Christmas, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family again? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than Joseph and Mary, so I sure that any guest was welcome in their home, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them again? The Magi had to travel hundreds of miles just to see Jesus once, but the shepherds were only a short distance away. 

Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these two holy saints of God? Did they ever take time come back to adore Jesus, to consider what the birth of this Child meant for their lives, and to praise and thank God for all the blessings they had received? If they had merely spent a single hour each week in the Christ child’s presence, imagine what difference it would have made for their relationships, their work, and their lives in general? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after that first Christmas, but if they didn’t, then they were foolish and they really missed out.

This Christmas Jesus Christ invites you come back and see Him again, to visit this house of Joseph and Mary, where He is always present to be adored. He wants to bless you through His saints, His teachings, His sacraments, and His Real Presence here, the whole year round. You may be receiving many gifts this Christmas, but make sure that you do not return this one.

Thursday, 29th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 28, 2009

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the British Catholic writer, lived one hundred years ago, but his writings are still witty, insightful, and relevant today. Once he wrote in answer to the question, “Why I am a Catholic.”  Chesterton explained, “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, ‘It is the only thing that…’”  One of the examples of this he gave was that Catholicism “is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Why is it that after so many centuries we remain divided, three against two and two against three, on so many important matters?  We may be far more technologically advanced than they were in Jesus’ time, but every generation seems to repeat falling into the same, or slightly differing, forms of foolishness.  While science and technology is cumulative, part of every generation thinks they have to rediscover wisdom from scratch.  That’s why we still have ethical debates about questions that Jesus has settled.

Can we do evil in the hopes that good will come of it? [This is Ethics 101.  St. Paul teaches about this to the Romans, “And why not say—as we are accused and as some claim we say—that we should do evil that good may come of it? Their penalty is what they deserve.”] What if we’re [almost] certain that really good things will come from the evil we do? [Even if the evil does result in some good, what does freely-choosing evil make us?] Should we let the progress of science be bogged down by questions of morality? Should morality and private conscience have a place in politics and public life? [If not, then what will science, public life and policy be guided by beyond base desires and power?] Is it really always wrong to intentionally kill the innocent? What if intentionally killing 100,000 civilians will end a war?

If this is how things are when the wood is green in our country, then what will it be like when the wood is brown, dry, and dead, as it may well be in years ahead? What is the Christian to do?  Remain closely rooted to Christ, the source of our wisdom and waters of life. To borrow the words from the psalmist today:

The Christian “is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.”

Even if he is martyred, whatever the faithful Christian does prospers; for he is not a child and a slave of his age, but a child of the age to come.

Thursday, 28th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

October 15, 2009

Have you ever noticed how unpopular the  prophets are? That’s because it’s usually the prophet’s job to point out peoples’ sins to them and to tell them they have to change. Some people, particularly the arrogant and the wicked, respond very badly to this, like the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel.  When Jesus left the home of the Pharisee, after having criticized them strongly but in private, they

“began to act with hostility toward him and to interrogate him about many things, for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.”

These scribes and Pharisees, whose fathers had hated and killed the prophets of old, would go on to bring all that blood upon themselves by killing the Wisdom of the prophets Himself.

The question I would like you to consider today is how you respond to criticism or correction directed at you.

The book of Proverbs teaches,

“Reprove not an arrogant man, lest he hate you; [but] reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”

And a translation of Psalm 141 says,

“If a good man strikes or reproves me it is kindness.”

 A wise man does not respond to correction angrily. He knows that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God,” so he is not threatened by the suggestion that he is not perfect yet, that he still has areas for improvement.

The wise man evaluates correction with detachment. If the criticism is valid, or at least well intended, he receives it as a loving act and is grateful for it. And when the criticism is nonsense, the wise man doesn’t let it get to him. Why should the ungrounded opinions of foolish, fickle people have power over us, to rile us up, or provoke us to the sin of personal hatred?

Let us ask Jesus for the grace to receive valid criticism with humility, and for the grace to be merciful with those who criticize us unjustly.

Friday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 12, 2009

Jesus says, “No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.” And Saint Paul says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man…” So this raises the question, who was St. Paul’s teacher?

From the book of Acts we learn that Paul ‘was thoroughly trained in the law at the feet of the Master Teacher Gamaliel, a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin respected by all the people.’ (Acts 22:3, 5:34) In fact, some of Gamaliel’s wisdom even appears in Scripture.

In the early days of the Church, the apostles were arrested and interrogated by the Sanhedrin for the signs and wonders they were doing near the temple. When they spoke out boldly about Christ, some in the council wanted to put them to death, but Gamaliel ordered the apostles to be put outside for a short time.

“Fellow Israelites,” Gamaliel said to the council, “be careful what you are about to do to these men. …If this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  The Council was persuaded by him to spare the apostles’ lives. (Notice that Gamaliel’s wisdom was in admitting the possibility that a wooden beam might be lodged in the Sanhedrin’s eyes, obscuring their vision toward the new religious movement.)

By all accounts, both Jewish and Christian, Gamaliel was a good and wise man. Some legends even say that he went on to become a Christian and a saint. So how can it be that St. Paul was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man” if he was this good man’s disciple?     The answer must be that St. Paul had not yet been fully trained by Gamaliel, for every disciple when fully trained is like his teacher.

The same could be said for us as the disciples of Christ. How can it be that we commit the acts of arrogance, the offences, and the blasphemies we do if we are Christ’s disciples? The answer must be that we have not yet been fully trained by Christ, for every disciple when fully trained is like his teacher.

So take comfort in the fact that we have not yet exhausted the wisdom which Christ has to teach us. If we do not abandon his training, the Master Teacher Christ will ‘show us the path to life, the fullness of joys in His presence, and happiness at His right hand forever.’

August 24 – St. Bartholomew (or Nathaniel), Mass for the Catholic School System

August 24, 2009

Before entering seminary, I had never attended, a single, full day, in any Catholic school. I had kindergarten and all 12 grades in public school, followed by four years at a Wisconsin state university. So, out of this poverty of first-hand experience regarding Catholic schools, I will not claim that I have a perfect vision of how our Marshfield area Catholic schools should be. I’m the definitely the new guy here, and I don’t know all the answers. But I do think I know the big question; the question that every Catholic school needs to answer: Why do we have Catholic schools?

It’s certainly not for the money. The bishops of Catholic dioceses are just happy to see the Catholic schools break even. And it’s not only so our kids can learn reading, writing and arithmetic, along with the humanities, sports, and all the rest. The public schools can provide all that without us. And it’s not only so we can give our kids religion classes. Catholic kids attending public school have CCD like I did, or after-school Religious Education classes. So… why do we have Catholic schools?

What is it that we have uniquely to offer that the public schools don’t? I think the answer to these questions may be discovered through another question: What is the difference between an American and a faithful Catholic American?

If we think the difference is merely one of Mass attendance, then simply incorporating a Mass and a religion class into our curriculum would be sufficient to make our schools “Catholic.” But if a Mass and a religion class are the only things more that our Catholic schools have to offer, then why not sell off our schools or close them down? We could hand over all the headaches and liabilities of education systems to others, and still have our kids go to Mass before school and to a religious class after. But, if the difference in being faithfully Catholic (or Christian) means more than just going to church, if it extends to all aspects of our lives, in a way that makes us stand-out in a crowd, then we as Catholic school educators have something unique to offer.

What do we have to offer? Catholic schools promote the highest ideals and moral excellence.  These are fruits of our faith that we can pass on, but these are not the heart or the root of our faith. As Pope Benedict says, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Having a friendship with Jesus Christ, a personal relationship with Him in His Church, uniquely transforms how we see the world and live our lives. If we are formed and empowered by our relationship with Christ, then we can share with our students what we have received. We begin with the love of Christ, which directs and touches everything, including Catholic education.

For example, alongside the study of history, our Catholic faith delivers us from the blind slavery of being a child of our age.

With the study of world cultures and languages, our faith takes us beyond our own particular nationality to identify ourselves as belonging to a worldwide family in Christ, made up of every race and nation.

In politics and current events, our Catholic faith enlightens us to be informed Christians who happen to be Americans, instead of Americans who only happen to be Christians.

In literature and writing, our faith teaches us that the truth is good, that the truth is richer than my own narrow experience, and that the truth is what is to be honored and shared, instead of my cherished prejudices.

In music and art, our Catholic faith affirms the conviction that to behold beauty is not an illusion, or merely a human fancy; beauty reflects what is most real.

In biology and ecology, our faith teaches us that living creatures, and all Creation, merit our reverence as God’s handiwork and gift.

With mathematics, physics and chemistry, our faith unmasks the Logos, the order and reason, within and behind our universe. Scientific knowledge leads to wonder; and with faith, wonder leads to praise.

We must not merely teach knowledge. All academic study yields knowledge, and knowledge is power, but power without wisdom can and will easily turn to selfish and harmful ends. Catholic schools must teach knowledge and wisdom, and not just knowledge alone.

What is our mission? One can say it other ways, but we, are in the work, of forming and educating, saints, for the lives that they will lead. Like St. Bartholomew (or Nathaniel) Christ is calling us to follow Him closely. He calls us to show others the City of God, in all its splendor.