Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Storm at Sea

Today's gospel is very similar to the gospel from two Sundays ago, except today is Mark's account of the calming of the storm and the other was Matthew's account.

In his sermon for the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Fr. Robert Barron spoke about the boat symbolizing the Church in history, and the crossing over from one side of the sea to the other as being the journey through time. The Church occasionally has to weather storms, be they persecutions, martyrdoms, institutional corruption, violence, or just plain stupidity. But then Fr. Barron makes a stretch. The worst storm in the history of the Catholic Church in America, he says, is right now.


I while back, my wife and I were conversing, and we concluded that no matter how bad things seem to us now, at least we don't have to deal with all the foolishness of the sixties, seventies, and early eighties. We were happily unaware children then. Maybe it's because of where we live in the northern hinterlands of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, but when you put all things in the balance, things don't seem too bad. Not that there aren't things that distress us and need to be corrected, but at least we don't have clown masses or other "alternative liturgies" (the Easter Bunny made an appearance at mass a few years ago -- thankfully, we had gone to the vigil mass).

Unless Fr. Barron's current crisis reaches back to the post-Conciliar foolishness, I'm not buying his assertion without a lot more supporting evidence.

So Long, St. Paul

One day, we're in the Jubilee Year of St. Paul, and the next, we're not. Just like that, it's over. Just like when the Jubilee Year of 2000 came to an end, suddenly, it was just another year.

That's not quite true now, though. Although we're leaving St. Paul behind, we're not really leaving him behind, and we're not entering into just another year. We're in the Year for Priests!

During the Year of St. Paul, the Catholic Church made a conscious effort to reclaim the Apostle to the Gentiles. Through the various intitiatives, conferences, Bible studies, and catechesis, Catholics have grown in the understanding and appreciation of St. Paul. What's that, you say? All of that stuff didn't happen at your parish? Well, surely you at least had a banner!

Maybe I'm being a little cheeky. Maybe the typical Catholic needed to pay careful attention (something we Catholics aren't always good at doing), or make a special effort to seek some of these things out, but at least some of us were affected, to varying degrees, by the Year of St. Paul. What we learned during this past year will stick with us. Our appetite has been whetted. And even if we are but a small fraction of the total Church, we can serve as salt to season the rest.

In closing the Pauline Year and opening the Year for Priests, Pope Benedict XVI invoked St. Paul as "a splendid model to imitate." "St. Paul is an example of a priest who was completely identified with his ministry, conscious of posessing a priceless treasure, that is, the message of salvation, but in an 'earthen vessel.'"

The Pope concluded with a theme that I suspect we will be hearing much of during the coming year: "The priest must belong totally to Christ and totally to the Church; to the latter he is called to dedicate himself with an undivided love, like a faithful husband to his bride."

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Unheard Gospel

As Catholics, we sometimes try to excuse the relative biblical illiteracy of the typical pew warmer by arguing that the three year cycle of Sunday mass readings ensures that the faithful hear almost all of the Gospel and much of the rest of the Bible every three years. The problem, though, is that some parts of the Gospel are rarely, if ever, heard on Sundays.

Take the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, for example. It was recently featured in the Lectionary for weekday masses, but only a small percentage of Catholics are inclined to attend weekday mass, and only a fraction of those so inclined are able, due to conflicting work and mass schedules. Only one passage from Matthew 7 is included in the Lectionary for a Sunday mass, and it falls on the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time during Cycle A. Most years, the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time is not even celebrated. It gets displaced by Lent, Easter, Trinity Sunday, and Corpus Christi Sunday. In twenty years, a Catholic who goes to mass every Sunday might hear seven verses from the seventh chapter of Matthew twice.

Is it any surprise then that many Catholics, when they actually take the time to read the Gospels, come across Matthew 7 and exclaim that they never knew Jesus said such hard things. What kind of hard things does he say? "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you." "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." "Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."

These are some of the verses, for me at least, that reveal a very masculine messiah. Too often, we get caught up in the images of Jesus as the radiant shepherd cradling the lamb or beckoning to the children or forgiving the woman who washed his feet with her hair, and we forget that he also drove the money changers from the temple, confronted the Pharisees, and made demands on people's loyalty before God. Yes, he forgave sinners, but with the parting words, "Go and sin no more."

His words were so radical that Matthew wrote "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes." Too many of these words that astonished the crowds are never heard by most Catholics.

Friday, June 26, 2009

He's Barack Obama!

I came across this and it was too good not to post.

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

(H/T JimmyAkin.org)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dressing Better

On my drive into work, I usually listen to NPR's Morning Edition. Recently, they had a segment about how employees are putting more time and effort into looking professional as they go about their business. Follow the link to listen to the four-minute segment.

Among other things discussed, you hear the assertion that dressing professionally helps to instill in the individual a more professional attitude. You sometimes hear the same argument made regarding school uniforms. "You feel more professional if you're not wearing the same clothes that you wear to lounge about on the sofa to watch TV in the eveings in. . . . If you dress smart, if you take a bit of time to dress, you're kind of psyching yourself into a work frame of mind." The death of casual Friday could be close behind.

If casual Friday was a disaster of an experiment, then I certainly think that casual Sunday was even more so. If how we dress for work affects are mental attitude at work, then the same would certainly hold true for how we dress for worship. We ought not be dressing for the Supper of the Lamb in the same way that we dress for the ballgame or barbeque.

5K Tour 2009 Gut Check

Those participating in the Shelby County 5K Tour are in the heart of the season. The first three races are down, and this week provides a gut check, with an evening race on Thursday in Sidney with the next race just 36 hours later in Anna on Saturday morning. For younger runners, this might not be remarkable, but I'm pushing forty, and I find that my body doesn't recover as quickly as it used to. The half-way point, race six of twelve, will be on July 4th in Fort Loramie.

The season is actually going pretty well for me, if race performance is any indication. My times on all three of the first races were significantly improved over last year, and I am well situated point-wise in the standings for my age group. However, my hip has been bothering me, so I've been hesitant to try much speed training. I find myself resorting to ibuprofen a little more frequently than I'd like (I'd like none at all!).

I'm wondering whether my shoes, which are supposed to be suited for runners with heavier frames and/or stability problems, have changed my normal stride.

At any rate, I've already registered for both the Thursday race and the Saturday race. I'm hoping that come Saturday afternoon, I'll still be able to walk!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Canticle of Zechariah

Every day, those who pray Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours recite the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79), also sometimes called the Benedictus. This is the song that the evangelist Luke attributes to the father of John the Baptist after John's birth. Zechariah was struck mute by the angel for doubting that God could give him a child in Elizabeth's old age. The gospel for today, the Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist, relates how nobody was willing to accept Elizabeth's assertion that the child be named John. Zechariah, who had been mute since the angel announced John's conception, wrote on a tablet, "His name shall be John," and his voice returned.

What I find interesting about the Canticle of Zechariah is something that I learned while reading an essay by Karl Keating in his book Nothing But the Truth. The essay was about different theories among scripture scholars regarding the dating and origins of the four canonical Gospels.

The Benedictus, the song of Zachary, is given in Luke 1:68-79. In Greek, as in English, the Benedictus seems unexceptional as poetry. There is no evidence of clever composition. But, when it is translated into Hebrew, a little marvel appears. In the phrase "to show mercy to our fathers," the expression "to show mercy" is the Hebrew verb hanan, which is the root of the name Yohanan (John). In "he remembers his holy covenant," "he remembers" is the verb zakar, which is the root of the name Zakaryah (Zachary). In "the oath which he swore to our father Abraham" is found, for "to take an oath," the verb shaba, which is the root of the name Elishaba (Elizabeth).

Keating goes on to quote from Jean Carmignac in The Birth of the Synoptics:

Hebrew has a great preference for plays on words, and it takes great pleasure in making reference to similar sounds, which facilitate the task of memorization. Another typical case is hidden in the Our Father (Matt. 6:12-13), in which the word "forgive" corresponds to the root nasa, "debts and debtors" to nashah, and "temptation" to nasah. Is this yet another case of mere chance? Isn't it reasonable to think that these words have been chosen by design in order to produce a sort of internal rhyme?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Year of St. Paul for Priests

Last Friday, June 19, the Church under Pope Benedict XVI began the Year for Priests. The date was chosen as the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the parish priest of Ars, France, and the patron saint of parish priests. However, we haven’t completed the Jubilee Year of St. Paul yet. The Jubilee year doesn’t end until June 29, when the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. There are ten days when the Year for Priests overlaps with the Year of St. Paul.

I regret that I didn’t really get into the Year of St. Paul until it was very nearly over. Once our parish Bible study on St. Paul and the sacraments started, I began searching out other material, some of which is appropriate for this overlap week. I want to try to keep more on top of things during this Year for Priests.

Pope Benedict XVI kicked off this Year for Priests with a letter encouraging priests to look to St. John Vianney as an example of a vocation to the priesthood lived to its fullest. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XV, wrote an encyclical letter of exhortation to priests, Humani generis redemptionem, in which he encouraged them to look to St. Paul as an example of what a faithful priest should be (see paragraphs 13-19). I hope to write more in future posts about both letters.

As long as we’re talking about the overlap between the Year of St. Paul and the Year for Priests, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Dr. Scott Hahn posted at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology an article entitled Paul the Priest.

Also, give a listen to this episode of Fr. Charles Connor’s series, Catholic Priesthood Through the Ages, in which Fr. Connor discusses the priesthood in the mind of St. Paul and the early Church.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Year for Priests

Not only is today the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, it's also the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the Cure of Ars and patron saint of parish priests. Pope Benedict XVI has declared a Year for Priests, beginning today.

Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus every year on the second Friday after Pentecost (that's today). Below is an informational video from the Catholic News Agency.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Corpus Christi II

Among of the responsibilities of marriage is the raising and educating of children. The education of children is not limited to secular knowledge necessary to contribute to society, but also catechesis in the faith. I was reminded of this on Corpus Christi Sunday when the homilist noted that too many young Catholics, when preparing for marriage, admit that they only attend mass “when they have time.” We need to do a better job, he continued, of teaching our children why the mass is important.

I was at mass with my nine and twelve year-old daughters. My wife was going to a later mass with our fifteen year-old son and thirteen year-old daughter. I announced when we got home that we would have a little catechesis session when they got back.

While they were gone, I went online and looked up the sequence from the liturgy for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. (Have I ever mentioned what a wonderful thing the internet is?) I printed it out and, as we all ate lunch together as a family, we went through the sequence stanza by stanza. It made for a very nice little lesson on why the mass is important and the how the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


After a couple of long and critical posts, I've been rebuked in Evening Prayer. Last night's reading was from the Letter of James.

Do not, my brothers, speak ill of one another. The one who speaks ill
of his brother or judges his brother is speaking against the law. It is
the law he judges. If, however, you judge the law you are no observer of
the law, you are its judge. There is but one Lawgiver and Judge, one who
can save and destroy. Who then are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12

I will try to be more discreet in future posts, and avoid direct criticism of individual persons (or at least those who are not in the public spotlight).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Corpus Christi I

This past Sunday was the feast of Corpus Christi. Or, as Fr. Schuwe noted before mass, it used to be called Corpus Christi, which means "Body of Christ" in Latin. Now, the celebration is called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

The term "Body of Christ" can be taken several ways. It can be taken to mean the mystical body of Christ, into which all believers are received when they are baptized. St. Paul thought of the Church in that way, expanding the analogy to different members with different spiritual gifts being different parts of the body--the eye, the hand, the foot, etc. I don't think, however, that that is the meaning assumed by the solemnity that we recently celebrated.

Consider the readings. In Cycle A, the gospel is from the Bread of Life discourse, John 6:51-58. In Cycle B, the gospel is from Mark's institution narrative, Mark 14:12-16,22-26. In Cycle C, the gospel is from Luke recounting of the multiplication of the loaves, Luke 9:11-17. Add in the other New Testament readings (1 Cor 10:16-17, Heb 9:11-15, and 1 Cor 11:23-26), and you have an even stronger emphasis on the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, when Christ took bread, blessed and broke it, and said, "This is my body."

Throw in the sequence before the gospel, and it is clear that the Church intends this solemnity to be a celebration of Christ's real presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Focusing on the members of the Church as the body of Christ is not wrong, but I think that it misses the main point and risks undermining it.

Similarly, we do well to remember that even in a poorly performed (even illicit!) liturgy, the miracle of transubstantiation takes place, leaving no longer bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ.

Fatima Prayer to the
Holy Trinity

Oh Most Holy Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
I adore Thee profoundly.
I offer Thee the most precious Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity
of Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world,
in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges and
indifferences by which He is offended.
By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg the conversion of poor sinners.


Pharisees Among Us

There are Pharisees in our parish. Our pastor allegedly made this declaration to one of his favored parishioners, and I have no reason to doubt that he said it. The parishioner to whom this was said repeated the assertion more than once, adding in a very Seinfeld sort of way, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I suspect that I might be one of the Pharisees that our pastor has in mind.

The Bible tells us that the Pharisees, with a few exceptions, rejected the Messiah, because he didn’t follow all of the rules that they believed God had mandated as being required for righteousness. John the Baptist called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers.” Jesus called them “whitened sepulchers” because of their rank hypocrisy.

That was the problem with the Pharisees. They were hypocrites, proud of their own external piety, but unaware of the deeper law of love. I should hope that it is fair to say that not all Pharisees were hypocrites, just as Gospel accounts critical of “the Jews” are not to be interpreted as referring to all Jews, but rather just the corrupted leaders.

The entry for “Pharisees” in the Catholic Encyclopedia indicates much that was admirable in the Pharisees. They were excluded from a hereditary priesthood, but they became teachers and rabbis. They are credited with creating the synagogues which the Gospels say that Christ attended. Jesus himself alluded to their authority when he stated that they occupied Moses’ seat.

The Pharisees were very egalitarian in that they believed holiness was for everybody, not just for priests and Levites. The modern-day Pharisee might be a great proponent of the universal call to holiness. However, the Pharisees believed that the essence of holiness was obeying the rules. It didn’t matter why something caused uncleanliness; all ritual uncleanliness was to be avoided. Rules for the Temple were universalized, and the way to maintain cleanliness was to maintain separation from what was unclean.

We have rules as Catholics. On the minimalist end, you might be able to argue that the only real rules that we have are the precepts of the Church—the five or six things that every Catholic is expected to do. On the other hand, you could look at the Code of Canon Law and conclude that we have more rules than the first century Jews did.

The thing is, most of our laws are very restricted and are explicitly not meant to control every aspect of our daily lives. Canon Law simply does not run our lives the way the laws observed by the Pharisees ran theirs. The Church has made it very easy to be Catholic. I say this with full recognition that it was not always so. Just 50 years ago, the rules for Friday abstinence, the Eucharistic fast, and ecumenical prayer were much stricter than they are today.

I’m sure that our pastor is aware of all of these nuances and could recite them and more if asked. I’m also aware, however, that when a Christian calls someone a Pharisee, they don’t mean it as a compliment. The implication is that the target of the epithet is a hypocrite caught up in the externals of religious piety, and they need to get over their own self-importance.

I know that the danger of falling into that mode of religious practice exists, and I try to guard against it. I admit that I sometimes think that I see it in others. Again, it is a fault that I have to guard against. But simply slapping labels on those who want their priest to “say the red and do the black” does nothing to advance a spirit of charity.

There is no dichotomy between loving our neighbors and adhering to things like Canon Law and liturgical norms – rules that have been established and promulgated by the Church. Celebrating mass that way that the Church says it should be celebrated is not an impediment to love. In fact, the rules are there to protect against a disordered love, to ensure that Christ and his sacraments are at the center of our liturgical life, so that we can maintain the proper focus and motivation after we leave the liturgy. The two are actually complementary.

So, are there Pharisees in our parish? Sure. Am I one of them? Sometimes. Anybody who takes their religion seriously is going to tend that way to varying degrees at different times. Are codified rules and norms bad? Definitely not. Is indifference to those same rules bad? I think you know my answer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Passion of Mel

One of the interesting things about the internet is that I can have a thought, do absolutely nothing with it, and nine times out of ten, somebody else will eventually write on it and say what I was thinking much more eloquently than I ever could have. That's what Brad Miner has now done with his column People v. Mel Gibson over at The Catholic Thing. If anything, the curious case of Mel has filled me with sadness.

Mel, of course, did the world a great good when he filmed the Passion of the Christ. In many ways it was an extended meditation on the Way of the Cross. The film was a very Catholic work of devotional piety that resonated deeply with much of the Christian world. Mr. Gibson's promotional tour took him to some different outlets, including the Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention and EWTN. In interviews that he gave for both the Passion and his film We Were Soldiers, one got the sense that the man was a believer--that he had undergone a conversion and embraced the truth about his metaphysical state in the world and his relationship to God, both as creator and redeemer. Based on those interviews, one (or at least I) could have concluded that his conscience was properly formed. There was the whole radical traditionalist adherence to the Latin mass, but if anything, one would expect the rad trads to be even more morally rigorous than the so-called happy clappy Catholics.

Then came the infamous drunk driving arrest, with its anti-Semitic and misogynistic rant. As disappointed as I was, I was willing to accept and forgive. Part of being an adult is recognizing and arguing down those thoughts that are not in accord with the Faith without giving voice to them. Throw alcohol onto the fire and thoughts that would normally die an appropriate death within the mind somehow find their way out. Alcohol is famous for lubricating the tongue, but it is a very dangerous thing to remove all friction.

More recently, we learned that Mel's wife was suing him for divorce. The papers were filed the day before Good Friday. Poor man, I thought. His soul must be suffering. But then he appeared with a new Russian girlfriend. That made me blink. And then it was revealed that his new girlfriend was pregnant with his child.

And so you have the context of People v. Mel Gibson.

Mel knows better, but at some point, he made a decision that was at variance with what he believed. He cut away the anchor.

It is a great scandal when somebody who knows, and can articulate, Church teaching turns his back on it. Henry VIII was a defender of the faith. He knew his doctrines. But once he broke with the Church, once he cut away the anchor, he drifted away, out of control, a slave to the currents of his own passions.

When people appeal to something that Martin Luther wrote, hoping to show that he wasn't far from the Church in what he believed, I have to ask when he wrote it. The farther that he got from his fateful break with the Church, the greater the distance between what he had previously believed.

Alberto Cutie is there now. He has cut away his anchor.

I don't bring this up because I want to pass judgment on the persons involved. That's up to God. What interests me is that, objectively speaking, knowledge of the Faith is not sufficient to ensure fidelity to the faith, and once a conscious decision is made to turn away from practicing the faith, the guilty mind rationalizes justifications that defy logical cosistency. There might be people who study and pray and struggle over doctrinal points and end up leaving the bosom of the Catholic Church because of it. But all of the high-profile apostates leave for specious reasons.

Here's the thing, though: I know less than these guys, and I am painfully aware of my own weakness. I don't usually think about the need to pray that I retain what little faith I have. Yet that is exactly what I need to do. I need to pray, with St. Joan of Arc, that if I am not in a state of grace, that God will place me there, and if I am, that He will keep me there. God gave me a human will, but that will can be acted upon by both my intellect and my senses. I pray that I might always act in accord with what I know to be true, even if I have failed to do so in the past. And please, Lord, if I fail to obey your commands, grant me the grace of true contrition, that I might never stray too far from the safe path that you have provided.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinitarians and Unitarians

Today is Trinity Sunday, which falls every year on the Sunday after Pentecost. The Trinity, of course, is a sublime mystery that none of us fully understands -- the doctrine that God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one nature. Nevertheless, it is central to our faith, and among the highest of the hierarchy of truths.

One of my favorite passages on the Trinity is from GK Chesteron's Orthodoxy (Chapter VIII, The Romance of Orthodoxy).

If we take any other doctrine that has been called old-fashioned, we shall find the case the same. It is the same, for instance, in the deep matter of the Trinity. Unitarians (a sect never to be mentioned without a special respect for their distinguished intellectual dignity and high intellectual honor) are often reformers by the accident that throws so many small sects into such an attitude. But there is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanasian Creed may be an enigma fo the intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is a mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king.

The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world. For Western religion has always felt keenly the idea "it is not well for man to be alone." The social instinct asserted itself everywhere as when the Eastern idea of hermits was practically expelled by the Western idea of monks. So, even asceticism became brotherly; and the Trappists were sociable even when they were silent.

If this love of a living complexity be our test, it is certainly healthier to have the Trinitarian religion than the Unitarian. For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. It is, indeed, a fathomless mystery of theology and, even if I were theologian enough to deal with it directly, it would not be relevant to do so here. Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is a comforting as wine and open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tobit's Charity

The non-Gospel Lectionary reading for Thursday is from Tobit, but it skips from Chapter 3 to Chapter 6. In between, in Chapter 4, you find this passage on almsgiving.

Give alms from your possessions. Do not turn your face away from any of the poor, and God's face will not be turned away from you. Son, give alms in proportion to what you own. If you have great wealth, give alms out of your abundance; if you have but little, distribute even some of that. But do not hesitate to give alms; you will be storing up a goodly treasure for yourself against the day of adversity. Almsgiving frees one from death, and keeps one from going into the dark abode. Alms are a worthy offering in the sight of the Most High for all who give them.

Tobit 4:7-11

As I read this passage, I was reminded of the article "Faith & Finance" in the May 2009 issue of First Things by Gary A. Anderson. Mr. Anderson is a professor of Old Testament at the University of Notre Dame, and he argues that, in financial terms, charitable giving in the biblical sense can be thought of as a contribution to both our eternal and our temporal retirement account. We are making a loan to God and trusting that he will repay us in our time of need. What's more, charity is a necessary action to actualize our faith.

Consider the Book of Tobit, the earliest source we have that documents the importance of giving alms to the poor. The tale begins with a description of the piety of Tobit while he resided in the land of Israel. But then the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom and took Tobit and many others into exile. He could no longer make the requisite journey to Jerusalem in order to offer sacrifices to his God. So how was Tobit to fulfill his obligation to serve his creator and redeemer?

He gave alms. If all we had was the Book of Tobit, we might conclude that the religious value of almsgiving was conditioned by one's distance from the Temple. In Israel, Tobit venerates God at the Temple; in the Eastern diaspora, he serves the poor. But another Jewish text of the time, the Book of Ben Sira, rejects this interpretation. Ben Sira was a priest who lived in Israel. Yet he contended that almsgiving was an activity that paralleled sacrifice: "He who returns a kindness offers fine flour, and he who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering."

In Tobit and Ben Sira, we witness a dramatic new turn in theology. The hand of the poor person is imagined to be a type of altar that can transmit goods from earth to heaven. The altar in Jerusalem turns the flesh of animals into a savor that was pleasing to the Lord, and the act of generosity to the poor allows one to deposit wealth into a heavenly treasury.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

New Bishop for Omaha

Surely I am not the only one who, upon hearing that George Lucas has been appointed to the Archdiocese of Omaha, thought of Star Wars.

Archbishop-Designate Lucas has selected the phrase “Grace and Mercy” as his
episcopal motto, expressing faith and trust in God’s providence to aid and
sustain us on our journey towards eternal life.

I am glad that his episcopal motto will not be "The Force is with You."

How Not to Curry Favor

President Barack Obama is trying to improve the image of the United States among the world's Muslims. He apparently thinks that the way to do this is to assert that the Muslim population of the U.S. makes it one of the world's largest Muslim countries and to emphasize that his own father was a Muslim. He also is re-introducing his middle name, Hussein, after suppressing it during the election campaign.

I can't help but compare his efforts to those of Paul and Timothy in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him on one of his missionary journeys. There was this one little problem, though. Timothy's father was a Gentile and his mother was a Jew. In keeping with the father's tradition, Timothy had never been circumcised. To avoid upsetting the Jews that they would encounter on their journey, Timothy consented to adult circumcision (ouch!). If Timothy's mother had not been Jewish, I doubt this would have been necessary.

I'm not sure that I really have any point that I'm trying to make, other than that I don't think Barry should expect to receive any slack for his Dad's professed faith. If anything, it seems that he might be viewed as an apostate Muslim.

Oh, and the world's Muslims probably won't appreciate his proclamation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

Running Like Crazy

I was at my daughter’s softball game the other night, when one of the moms turned to me and asked if I was still running like crazy. She apparently sees me running all the time.

1. Gaa! You mean people can see me when I run? I should really pay more attention to what I’m wearing!

2. I didn’t realize that there was a degree of insanity involved.

3. I know how this works. She’s probably seen me a couple of times, and that turns into “all the time.”

4. I often run after work, and I have a 4.5 mile route that I usually follow. That places me along SR 66 for about four minutes. Anybody whose daily commute takes them through Minster on SR 66 at about the same time every day is likely to think that I’m always running, even if they only see me two days out of the week.

5. If I’m always running, I really should have more to show for it

Of course, I didn’t say any of this to her. I simply replied that yes, I was still running, and no, I’m not training for anything big, just the 5K tour which, by the way, really gets going with three races in June.

The Universal Call

Occasionally, I'll hear an assertion that goes something like this: before Vatican II, we had unreasonable expectations of holiness for our priests and religious; after Vatican II, we realized that they are people too.

It makes me want to tear my hair out.

I never lived in the pre-Conciliar Church, so I can't speak at all from personal experience. I am willing to concede that the Council included an egalitarian movement, but I don't think that it was intended in any way to relax the expectations of holiness on anyone. Rather, we hear of the universal call to holiness. It's not just for priests and religious! It's for accountants, engineers, carpenters, and housewives, too!

Yes, we are all human. Yes, we are all going to experience some degree of failure. But if you shoot for Heaven and miss, you've still got Purgatory. If you shoot for Purgatory and miss, . . .

So let us strive for holiness in our own lives ("be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect"), and let us pray especially for those who, by their very public life, are examples to the rest of us. When they fall short, they need our sympathy and forgiveness, not our excuses.