Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 31, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 8:21-30

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going you cannot come.” So the Jews said, “He is not going to kill himself, is he, because he said, ‘Where I am going you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above. You belong to this world, but I do not belong to this world. That is why I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “What I told you from the beginning. I have much to say about you in condemnation. But the one who sent me is true, and what I heard from him I tell the world.” They did not realize that he was speaking to them of the Father.

So Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

Reflection on the gospel: In today’s gospel, Jesus twice uses the words, I AM, to describe himself. The discussion of what God said to Moses when Moses asked God for God’s name is a little complicated, but what the Jews understood God to have said is, “I AM,” and in today’s gospel, Jesus uses those very same words about himself. In other words, Jesus in the gospel passage is making a very strong claim about his own identity. Jesus tells his listeners that when they lift the Son of Man up, they will know this is the truth about Jesus, that, as Jesus says later in John’s gospel, “The Father and I are One.” Being “lifted up” in today’s passage, of course, refers to Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross. Jesus is telling us that it is in his suffering that we will come to recognize his glory. Today’s gospel goes once again to the paradox of Christianity, that there is in suffering, the revelation of God’s glory. And what is true about Jesus, that God reveals Godself in suffering, is true also about us, who have been baptized into him. Our suffering is not empty: God sees it and fills it with God’s own infinite meaning.

Saint of the day: Saint Benjamin was a deacon martyred in about 424 in Persia. He was executed during a period of persecution of Christians that lasted forty years and through the reign of two Persian kings: Isdegerd I, who died in 421, and his son and successor, Varanes V. King Varanes carried on the persecution with such great fury, that Christians were submitted to the most cruel tortures.

Benjamin was imprisoned a year for his Christian Faith and later released with the condition that he abandon preaching or speaking of his religion. His release was obtained by the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II through an ambassador. However, St. Benjamin declared that it was his duty to preach Christ and that he could not be silent. As a consequence, St. Benjamin was tortured mercilessly until his death in the year 424.

Spiritual reading: Do not seek the perfection of the law in human virtues, for it is not found perfect in them. Its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ. (St. Mark the Ascetic)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, ethics, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 30, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 8:1-11

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle. They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Again he bent down and wrote on the ground. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him. Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Even many of the most conservative scholars accept the evidence that this passage in John’s gospel was not written by the evangelist John’s hand. It seems to have been a short story floating around in the ancient world, one with the ring of great authenticity, that editors decided to fix inside one of the four gospels. Though editors chose to insert the passage into John’s gospel at the start of what is now chapter 8, there are many scholars who believe it might have been a better insert for Luke’s gospel. Luke’s writing betrays his preoccupation with Jesus’ compassion, and this story certainly points to Jesus’ tenderness.

I think the story touches us for many reasons. We all are aware that human sexuality is a place of particular vulnerability in the human psyche. Any of us can reflect on her or his sexual behavior at different points in our lives and wonder, “Where did that come from?” This narrative demonstrates Jesus’ understanding and compassion for this area of weakness, and there is a hint, in his advice to the scribes and pharisees, that Jesus recognized it was a universal weakness. The narrative indicates that Jesus believed there were ideals for this arena of our behavior, and we should strive to live up to them, but it also suggests that Jesus recognized that rigid legalism around sexual mores, including punitive attitudes, is an inadequate response to such profound human weakness. I think it is fair to say that only those among us who are without failure in this area of our lives ought to be quick to condemn those whose failure unfortunately becomes public. Hypocrisy, not adultery, seems to be the sin that preoccupied Jesus when the woman caught in adultery was presented to him.

Saint of the day: Born March 5, 1904 in Freiburg, Germany, Karl Rahner, S.J. was one of the most influential Roman Catholic theologians of the 20th century. His theology influenced the Second Vatican Council and is ground-breaking for a modern understanding of Catholic faith. Written near the end of his life, Rahner’s Foundations of Christian Faith (Grundkurs des Glaubens), is the most developed and systematic of his work, most of which was published in the form of theological essays. Rahner wrote over 4,000 articles and books.

The basis for Rahner’s theology is that all human beings have a latent (“unthematic”) experience of God in any experiences of meaning or “transcendental experience.” It is only because of this proto-revelation that recognizing a specifically special revelation (such as the Christian gospel) is possible.

The philosophical sources for Rahner’s theology include Thomas Aquinas, read from the aspect of contemporary continental philosophy. Rahner attended lectures by Heidegger in Freiburg. He died of natural causes in Innsbruck, Austria on March 30, 1984.

Spiritual reading: Only in love can I find You, my God. In love the gates of my soul spring open, allowing me to breath a new air of freedom and forget my own petty self. In love my whole being streams forth out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion, which make me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness.

In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward You, wanting never more to return, but to lose themselves completely in You, since by Your love You are the inmost center of my heart, closer to me than I am to myself. (Encounters with Silence by Karl Rahner)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 29, 2009

Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday in Lent:

John 12:20-33

Some Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover Feast came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat;

but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me.

“I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

He said this indicating the kind of death he would die.

Reflection on today’s gospel reading: Jesus articulates in today’s gospel the great paradox of Christian life, that through death comes life, that through failure comes success, that through defeat comes victory. In speaking of the consequence of his own suffering and death, Jesus speaks of God’s power to transform our deaths, our failures, and our defeats into life, success, and victory.

The words are not empty but go to the crux of our hope: that the dead ends we encounter in our existence which have the appearance of personal ruin and failure are opportunities for something brand new and far greater than what we have lost. To all outward appearances, the life of Jesus should have been considered a failure: after a ministry to lepers and the poor of backwater Galilean towns in a remote part of the Roman Empire that ended in ignominious execution on trumped up charges, the world should never have heard anything more of Jesus of Nazareth, yet a life that ended in defeat on the cross has transformed the world and given immense hope to many nations. So it is that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

Spiritual reading of the day: A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them. For a humble man is not afraid of failure.

In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle. Humility is the surest sign of strength. (Seeds by Thomas Merton)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 28, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 7:40-53

Some in the crowd who heard these words of Jesus said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But others said, “The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not Scripture say that the Christ will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of him. Some of them even wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

So the guards went to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not bring him?” The guards answered, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

So the Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.” Nicodemus, one of their members who had come to him earlier, said to them, “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?” They answered and said to him, “You are not from Galilee also, are you? Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” Then each went to his own house.

Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, the controversy about Jesus’ identity that has dominated the readings over the last several days continues. What Jesus does and what Jesus says make many believe that he is the messiah, but some raise the objection that Jesus is a Galilean, either ignorant or inattentive to the facts that, as Matthew and Luke make clear, Jesus was from David’s line, born in Bethlehem of Judea. Each of us labors under a burden of bias. Our biases are not entirely bad; they help us to navigate common experiences without a lot of reflection. But sometimes, we are so stuck in our stories that we are unable to accept new data that challenges the way we have conceptualized something. We, too, like the Pharisees can be so convinced that we know who Jesus is that we are unable to move beyond our stories to embrace new evidence. For this reason, we need to pray to be open to the movements of the Spirit, the evidence of the scriptures, and experiences we encounter as members of our parish communities, for the evidence of Jesus as Jesus is in all these things.

Saint of the day: Tutilo was born in Ireland in about 850. A large, powerfully built man, he was educated at Saint Gall’s monastery in Switzerland where he stayed to become a Benedictine monk. A renaissance man before the term was coined, Tutilo was an excellent student who became a sought after teacher at the abbey school. A noted speaker, poet, and hymnist, nearly all of his work unfortunately has been lost. An architect, painter, sculptor, metal worker, and mechanic, some of his art continues to grace galleries and monasteries around Europe. A composer and musician, he played several instruments, including the harp. No matter his talents or works, he preferred the solitude and prayers of his beloved monastery. He died about 915 at Saint Gall’s monastery, Switzerland.

Spiritual reading: Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honor your patience. (St. John of the Ladder)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 27, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel in Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret.

Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, “Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.” So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him, because his hour had not yet come.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Today’s gospel goes to the question of who Jesus is. All of us who spend our time reflecting on this question recognize that the person of Jesus creates confusion for many people. In today’s gospel, for instance, the people know that their religious leaders seek to arrest and kill Jesus, yet they see that Jesus freely goes where he will and says what he wants. We Christians believe that Jesus is the Word of God; Jesus would not be Jesus were he not to speak. In the gospel, Jesus says, “I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” In speaking this way, Jesus causes his listeners to become angry, but the gospel tells us they could not arrest him. God had a plan, and Jesus’ time was not yet. In this time of Lent, let us renew our attention to this question of who it is that we serve and pray to God that we may enter ever more deeply into a knowledge and love of the very image of the Father in whose name we have been baptized.

Saint of the day: Born sometime in the seventh century after the birth and explosive expansion of Islam, Saint John Damascene spent most of his life in the monastery of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem, and all of his life under Muslim rule, indeed, protected by it. He was born in Damascus, received a classical and theological education, and followed his father in a government position under the Arabs. After a few years he resigned and went to the monastery of St. Sabas.

He is famous in three areas. First, he is known for his writings against the iconoclasts, who opposed the veneration of images. Paradoxically, it was the Eastern Christian emperor Leo who forbade the practice, and it was because John lived in Muslim territory that his enemies could not silence him. Second, he is famous for his treatise, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, a summary of the Greek Fathers (of which he became the last.) It is said that this book is to Eastern schools what the Summa of Aquinas became to the West. Thirdly, he is known as a poet, one of the two greatest of the Eastern Church, the other being Romanus the Melodist. His devotion to the Blessed Mother and his sermons on her feasts are well known. He died probably about 749.

Spiritual reading: The terrible thing about our time is precisely the ease with which theories can be put into practice. The more perfect, the more idealistic the theories, the more dreadful is their realization. We are at last beginning to rediscover what perhaps men knew better in very ancient times, in primitive times before utopias were thought of: that liberty is bound up with imperfection, and that limitations, imperfections, errors are not only unavoidable but also salutary.

The bet is not the ideal. Where what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good. The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 26, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews: “If I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is not true. But there is another who testifies on my behalf, and I know that the testimony he gives on my behalf is true. You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth. I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. Moreover, the Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.

“I do not accept human praise; moreover, I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I came in the name of my Father, but you do not accept me; yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that God witnesses to Jesus’ ministry through the testimony of John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, the Father’s own testimony, and the words of Scripture. The Baptist’s testimony and the record of Jesus’ life call us to believe in the Christ that the Father reveals to us in the Scriptures. It is easy for us to project our hopes and ideas onto Jesus like some giant Rorschach test, but perhaps we should ask ourselves whether we are open to the Jesus whose radical presence was nothing of the peace of amiable indifference, the Christ not of our invention, but the Lord has truly he reveals himself to us.

Saint of the day: Born in 1556 as Margaret Middleton at York, England, Margaret Clitherow was the daughter of Thomas and Jane Middleton, a candle maker and the Sheriff of York for two years. Raised Anglican, she married John Clitherow, a wealthy butcher and chamberlain of the city of York, in July 1571. She converted to Catholicism around 1574.

She was imprisoned several times for her conversion, sheltering priests (including her husband’s brother), and permitting the celebration of clandestine Masses on her property. During her trial in Tyburn in March 1586, she refused to answer any of the charges for fear of incriminating her servants and children; both her sons became priests, and her daughter became a nun. She was pressed to death on Good Friday, March 25, 1586 at York, England. She is one of the Forty English Martyrs.

Spiritural reading: I did not lead a life. I worked, wrote, taught, tried to do my duty and earn my living.

I tried in this ordinary way to serve God – that’s it. (Karl Rahner, S.J. on his life)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 25, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Reflection on the gospel reading: I often have reflected over the years that the Church might have done well to call this feast we celebrate today, “the Feast of the Incarnation,” and not that of the Annunciation. In a way, this feast is a greater occasion than Christmas and perhaps only second to the events of Holy Week and Easter. In fact, the feast we celebrate today makes Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter the mysteries that they are. The child would not have been born if he had not first been conceived. The infinite meaning of his suffering, death, and resurrection results from the fact that God threw God’s own life into God’s creation.

Faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation are two of the central tenants that define our Christian faith. It was at the Annunciation that the Incarnation began to become a reality. It was at this moment that “the Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Today should be a special day of praise and thanksgiving for all of us.

The Feast of the Annunciation: The annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she was to be the Mother of God (Luke, 1), the Word being made fiesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. The feast of the Annunciation, called also in old calendars the feast of the Incarnation, is celebrated 25 March. It probably originated about the time of the Council of Ephesus, c.431, and is first mentioned in the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius (died 496). The Annunciation is represented in art by many masters, among them Fra Angelico, Hubert Van Eyck, Jan Van Eyck, Ghirlandajo, Holbein the Elder, Lippi, Pinturicchio, and Del Sarto.

Spiritual reading: What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility, and thus are displeasing to the Trinity? Esoteric words neither make us holy nor righteous; only a virtuous life makes us beloved of God. I would rather experience repentance in my soul than know how to define it. (The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 20, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Reflection on the gospel: At the center of Jesus’ teaching is his proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God. In today’s gospel, Jesus links a total love of God to a love of our neighbor and love for ourselves. By telling the scribe that he is not far from the kingdom of God when the scribe connects love of the kingdom and love of neighbor, Jesus tells us that the reign of God is near when we move toward God through our love of our neighbor.

Saint of the day: Saint Jósef Bilczewski was born in what is now the Ukraine in 1860. The eldest of nine children in a peasant family, he was a seminarian at Krakow, Poland. Ordained on 6 July 1884, he became a doctor of theology at the University of Vienna in 1886 and studied dogmatic theology and Christian archaeology in Rome and Paris.

He became a professor of theology at the University of Lviv in 1891 and archbishop of Leopoli in 1900. He often intervened with civil authorities on behalf of Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. He guided his flock during World War I, the Polish-Ukrainian War, the Bolshevik invasion, and the anti-Catholic terror started by the Communists. Between 1918 and 1921, his archdiocese lost about 120 priests. He fought to protect everyone in his see, regardless of race or religion. He died of natural causes on March 20, 1923.

Spiritual reading: I am planted in Christ and am Christ’s daily toil. (Letter by Paulinus of Nola)

Personal note: I am traveling to go and visit my mother, and I won’t be back until later on Tuesday. I won’t have access to the Internet, so I won’t be able to publish for a few days. I hope you will forgive my absence and return when I return on March 25. In the meantime, I thought this was quite beautiful when I heard it:

May the angels watch over you as you make your way.

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 19, 2009

Feast of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Reflection on the gospel: The synoptic gospels make clear that throughout the early church people knew that Mary was the name of Jesus’ mother and Joseph was the name of Mary’s husband. They also make clear that Joseph practiced carpentry, though the carpentry he practiced was a little more specialized than our word for it suggests. He worked on door jams; we don’t have a word for this kind of specialized woodcraft, but we do know that it was a labor that received a subsistence wage.

Many of the stories that come to us about Joseph result from the apocryphal gospels written in the first several centuries after the Lord’s birth. These writings are highly suspicious and fanciful works, so it it hard to know whether they contain any traditions that had survived for centuries, or whether they were the products of the veritable Graham Greenes of ancient times. One second century story is the gospel of James which suggests that Joseph was an older widower who brought to his relationship with Mary children from his first marriage.

The picture that emerges from the gospels was that Joseph was an honorable man, that he was not Jesus’ natural father but that he did everything he could to protect and nurture the child his wife bore, and that he placed his trust that God was at work in the child’s life. What he understood of the boy’s mission is impossible to know, but we can be sure that the man Jesus became was in good measure a reflection of the basic decency he experienced in Joseph, a man whom Jesus called, “Father.”

Saint of the day: St. Joseph was a descendant of the house of David. A carpenter, he was the husband of Mary and the foster and adoptive father of Jesus Christ. A visionary who was visited by angels, he was noted for his willingness to immediately get up and do what God told him.

He is the patron against doubt; against hesitation; of the Americas; Austria; Belgium; Bohemia; bursars; cabinetmakers; Canada; Carinthia; carpenters; China; Church; confectioners; craftsmen; the Croatian people; dying people; emigrants; engineers; expectant mothers; families; fathers; Florence, Italy; happy death; holy death; house hunters; immigrants; interior souls; Korea; laborers; married people; Mexico; New France; New World; Oblates of Saint Joseph; people in doubt; people who fight Communism; Peru; pioneers; pregnant women; protection of the Church; social justice; Styria, Austria; travelers; Turin, Italy; Tyrol, Austria; unborn children; Universal Church; Viet Nam; wheelwrights; workers; and working people.

Spiritual reading: There is a general rule concerning all special graces granted to any human being. Whenever the divine favor chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a lofty vocation, God adorns the person chosen with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfill the task at hand. This general rule is especially verified in the case of Saint Joseph, the foster-father of our Lord, and the husband of the Queen of our world, enthroned above the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying “Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” Remember us, Saint Joseph, and plead for us to your foster child. Ask your most holy bride, the Virgin Mary, to look kindly upon us, since she is the mother of him who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally. Amen. (Sermon by Bernardine of Siena)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 18, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Scripture scholars believe that a Jewish scribe or a group of Jewish scribes who converted to Christianity wrote the gospel of Matthew. The evangelist’s preoccupation is to show the connection of Jesus to the tradition of Israel, and we see evidence of this intention in today’s gospel reading. Jesus tells us in this passage that he has not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He seeks not break away from the tradition but to transcend it through a deeper understanding of the law’s implications for our inner lives. The law is a danger to us if we follow only its letter; it must radiate through our thoughts and actions, and we must be prepared even to break its letter when it is necessary to fulfill its spirit.

Saint of the day: Fra Angelico was a famous painter of the Florentine school, born near Castello di Vicchio in the province of Mugello, Tuscany, 1387, he died at Rome, 1455. He was christened Guido, and his father’s name being Pietro, he was known as Guido, or Guidolino, di Pietro, but his full appellation today is that of “Blessed Fra Angelico Giovanni da Fiesole.” He and his supposed younger brother, Fra Benedetto da Fiesole, or da Mugello, joined the order of Preachers in 1407, entering the Dominican convent at Fiesole.

Fra Angelico was twenty years old at the time the brothers began their art careers as illustrators of manuscripts, and Fra Benedetto, who had considerable talent as an illuminator and miniaturist, is supposed to have assisted his more celebrated brother in his famous frescoes in the convent of San Marco in Florence. Fra Benedetto was superior at San Dominico at Fiesole for some years before his death in 1448. Fra Angelico, who during a residence at Foligno had come under the influence of Giotto whose work at Assisi was within easy reach, soon graduated from the illumination of missals and choir books into a remarkably naive and inspiring maker of religious paintings, who glorified the quaint naturalness of his types with a peculiarly pious mysticism. He was convinced that to picture Christ perfectly one must need be Christlike, and Vasari says that he prefaced his paintings by prayer. His technical equipment was somewhat slender, as was natural for an artist with his beginnings, his work being rather thin dry and hard.

His spirit, however, glorified his paintings. His noble holy figures, his beautiful angels, human but in form, robed with the hues of the sunrise and sunset, and his supremely earnest saints and martyrs are permeated with the sincerest of religious feeling. His early training in miniature and illumination had its influence in his more important works, with their robes of golden embroidery, their decorative arrangements and details, and pure, brilliant colors. As for the early studies in art of Fra Angelico, nothing is known. His painting shows the influence of the Siennese school, and it is thought he may have studied under Gherardo, Starnina, or Lorenzo Monaco.

Spiritual reading: Do not forget that holiness consists not in extraordinary actions,

but in performing your duties towards God, yourself, and others well. (Text for the Assumption by Maximilian Kolbe, 1940)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 17, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus in today’s gospel calls on us to be limitless in our forgiveness, and he ties God’s forgiveness of us to our forgiveness of one another. We fail often and repeatedly in our lives, and over and over again, we turn to God begging God’s forgiveness. If we who are so dependent on God’s forgiveness can ask over and over again that God not heed our transgressions, can we do less for each other, no matter how hard it may be to bend our heart to each other in our injury and hurt? The gospel is not for the feint of heart. It tells us that though we sin big, we must love just as strongly. It is a continual cycle of renewal that moves between God, ourselves, and the people in our lives.

Saint of the day: Being Irish, today has an especial meaning to me. The immigration of the Irish throughout the world has brought about a wide recognition of the name of Patrick, whose feast we celebrate this day. Patrick is also my brother’s name, and I remember him fondly today on his patron’s feast.

Saint Patrick was born between 387 and 390 in Scotland as Maewyn Succat. He was kidnapped from the British island around age 16 and shipped to Ireland as a slave and sent to the mountains as a shepherd. Tending the flocks, he spent his time in prayer. After six years of this life, he received a dream in which he received a command to return to Britain. Seeing it as a sign, he escaped. He studied in continental monasteries, became a priest and then a bishop.

He was sent to evangelize England and then Ireland. During this time, his chariot driver was Saint Odran, and Saint Jarlath was one of his spiritual students. In 33 years he effectively converted Ireland to Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Ireland became known as the Land of Saints, and during the Dark Ages its monasteries were the great repositories of learning in Europe, all a consequence of Patrick’s ministry. Patrick died 461-464 at Saul, County Down, Ireland.

Spiritual reading of the day:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
(St. Patrick)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 16, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 4:24-30

Jesus said to the people in the synagogue at Nazareth: “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus’ life is a challenge. It confronts us in our own presuppositions about our existence. When we listen honestly to the gospel, it should make us uncomfortable, because Jesus is neither meek nor mild. The Lord is stiff in his opinions and inflammatory in his language. No one in the gospels accuses this man of being a bore. In fact, over and over again in the gospels, just as we see in today’s reading, the ones who hear the Lord’s message not just challenge what he says but actually rise up to do him injury. If when we listen to the gospels, we do not feel uneasy, it is quite possible we’re not paying attention.

Saint of the day: Born about 296 at Edessa, Mesopotamia, Abraham Kidunaia was the son of a wealthy family. Forced into an arranged marriage at an early age, he fled during the wedding festivities. He walled himself up in a nearby building, leaving a small hole through which his family could send in food and water, and by which he could explain his desire for a religious life. His family relented, the marriage was called off, and he spent the next ten years in his cell.

After a decade of this life, the bishop of Edessa ordered him from his cell. Against Abraham’s wishes, the bishop ordained him, and sent him as a missionary priest to the intransigently pagan village of Beth-Kiduna. He built a church, smashed idols, suffered abuse and violence, set a good example, and succeeded in converting the entire village. After a year, he prayed that God would send the village a better pastor than he, and he returned to his cell. It is from his success in Kiduna that he became known as Kidunaia.

He left the cell only twice more. Once a niece, Saint Mary of Edessa, was living a wild and misspent life. Abraham disguised himself as a soldier, which he knew would get her attention, and went to her home. Over supper he convinced her of the error of her ways; she converted and changed her life, and he returned to his cell. His final trip out was his funeral, attended by a large, loving throng of mourners. His biography was written by his friend Saint Ephrem. He died about 366 of natural causes.

Spiritual reading: There can be no doubt, no compromise, in my decision to be completely faithful to God’s will and truth, and hence I must seek always and in everything to act for His will and in His truth, and thus to seek

with His grace to be ‘a saint.’ . . . The thing is to cling to God’s will and truth in their purity and try to be sincere and to act in all things out of genuine love, in so far as I can. (A Year with Thomas Merton)

Gospel reading and homily at Sunday’s Mass at the Church for All People

Posted in Christianity, church events, inspirational, scripture by Mike on March 16, 2009

Fr. Joe unlocks the mystery of Sunday’s gospel reading:

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 15, 2009

Gospel reading for the third Sunday in Lent:

John 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.

At this the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.

Reflection on the gospel: The cleansing in the temple in Matthew, Mark, and Luke occurs at the beginning of the last week of Jesus’ life. For various theological and literary purposes that emphasize the intertwined nature of the Law, the Temple, and Jesus’ ministry, John places this incident at the start of Jesus’ ministry immediately after the Lord changes water into wine at the Wedding Feast at Cana. Scripture scholars, however, tend to believe that the Synoptic gospels get it right, that the event was close to the Lord’s passion and death and probably was the immediate cause of the Lord’s arrest, trial, conviction, and execution.

The two pillars of Judaism’s religious practice in the early first century at the time of the Lord’s life were the Law of Moses and worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. Over and over during the Lord’s ministry, Jesus spoke of the emptiness of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ strict and superficial adherence to the Law. Here in this passage, the Lord takes symbolic action against the Temple itself. Jesus’ ministry was a challenge against the hair-splitting formalism of Israel’s religious practice, and the people who were responsible for overseeing that system must have felt threatened by both what Jesus was saying and doing.

Jesus, for his part however, was constructing meaning through his words and actions, constructing meaning on multiple levels. What he said and what he did not only challenged the existing framework but also addressed the deepest transformation of the framework through his death and resurrection.

In our own existence, then, we can ask how we achieve the ever so human mission of creating meaning. Are we people who go along to get along, never reflecting on our actions, never endeavoring to fill our lives with deep, rich, and universal stories? Or are we people who seek to fashion narratives that explain the trajectories of our lives in light of the Lord’s presence in both the mundane and transcendent moments of our existence. Jesus’ actions in today’s gospel cry out to us to be people whose lives are filled with the deepest meaning.

Spiritual reading: Stand fast, therefore, in this conduct and follow the example of the Lord, ‘firm and unchangeable in faith, lovers of the brotherhood, loving each other, united in truth,’ helping each other with the mildness of the Lord, despising no man. (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 14, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable. “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.'” So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’

He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The Parable of the Prodigal Son appears but once in the four gospels, here, in the Gospel of Luke, sometimes called by scripture scholars, the gospel of compassion. The parable is a clear reply to the criticism of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus was mixing and eating with sinners. They simply did not understand the mind of God as revealed in Jesus’ behavior, but we can ask ourselves, “How well do we understand the mind of God revealed in Jesus’ behavior?” The two clear lessons from this gospel for today are these:

1. We can be absolutely certain of God’s mercy and forgiveness provided we turn back to God in true sorrow.

2. We need to have the same attitude of compassion with people who offend us. We must be ready to forgive and reconcile to those whom we have injured. We cannot refuse to love someone that God loves.

There are three people in this story, and we can identify with all of them:

1. The son who went far from his Father and followed his own way until it finished in the son’s complete ruin.

2. The son who thought he was good and faithful but, deep down, did not possess anything of his Father’s mind. He kept the commandments and all the rules, but he could not understand his brother’s weakness and felt no compassion for him.

3. The Father whose love never changes no matter what his children do and is ready to accept them back every time without exception.

Which of these three most represents me? Which one would I want to be like? Many say they identify most with the elder son, which, of course, is the point of the story. They are the real sinners, who shut their hearts against God’s compassionate love.

Saint of the day: Giacomo Cusmano was born in Palermo on March 15, 1834. Orphaned of his mother at three years of age, his older sister Vincenzina raised him. At 21, he finished advanced studies to the Maximo Colleggio of the Jesuits, enrolled in the faculty of medicine and the surgery. He became the “doctor of poor” for his generosity and self-denial.

But the voice of God, more and more urgently pushed the young doctor to a life of priestly service and he became a priest in December 1860. In 1867, he created a society of clergy and lay people to service the poor. He founded religious congregations dedicated to serving the poor, the abandoned, and the orphans. He came to be known as the Father of the Poor One. He died March 14, 1888 with a reputation for holiness. He was widely mourned by the rich and poor alike as well as by persons across the ideological spectrum.

Spiritual reading: He mine by gift, I His by debt, thus each to other due.

First friend He was, best friend He is, all times will try Him true.
Though young yet wise, though small yet strong; though man yet God He is;

As wise He knows, as strong He can, as God He loves to bless.
His knowledge rules, His strength defends, His love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, His life our light, His death our end of thrall. (Robert Southwell, S.J.)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on March 12, 2009

Gospel reading of the day:

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.

Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'”

Reflection on the gospel: Jesus tells a parable about a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man lives a life of comfort, and he ignores the sufferings of Lazarus. We know this because Jesus tells us that Lazarus would have eaten the scraps from the rich man’s table, a condition the passage makes clear was contrary to fact: Lazarus would have eaten the scraps, but he did not. When the poor man dies, he goes to Abraham’s bosom. But when the rich man dies, he goes to a place of suffering.

The rest of the passage is particularly telling about the attitudes that afflict the rich man. Even in death, even in a place of consequences for his lack of concern, the rich man treats Lazarus like he is servant. He cries out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.” The rich man does not deign to speak to Lazarus but instead addresses his plea to Abraham, and even as he sees that Lazarus now enjoys the better part and the higher position, the rich man treats the poor one like he is a servant.

The gospel makes unambiguously clear that the poor have a privileged position in the eyes of God. We fail to show them mercy at our own peril. We treat them like our inferiors and show them no respect only with the most terrible consequences for ourselves. Our salvation, our claim to God’s mercy, directly ties to our concern for the poor. If I lack for compassion, I need to pray that God will give me a sense of compassion, for without it, I am lost.

Saint of the day: Born in Italy in June 1872, Luigi Orione joined the Franciscans at Voghera, Italy as a young man, but developed severe health problems and returned to his family. He studied under Saint John Bosco at Turin, Italy, was present at Saint John’s death, and was cured of his illness during Saint John’s funeral.

He studied at the seminary in Tortona, Italy. While still a layman and student, he opened San Luigi House at San Bernardino in 1893, a home for the poor, homeless and abandoned. He was ordained in April 1895.

He founded the Hermits of Divine Providence congregation, the Ladies of Divine Providence, and an orphanage in Rome in 1899. He also founded the Little Missionaries of Charity. He constructed the Marian shrine at Tortona, a site that became a rallying point for people during times of political unrest. To administer the houses of his congregations, Luigi traveled the world, visiting houses in Wales, Brazil, the United States, and throughout Italy. He died March 12, 1940 at San Remo, Imperia, Italy of natural causes.

Spiritual reading: At the same time as I saw this sight of the head bleeding, our good Lord showed a spiritual sight of his familiar love. I saw that he is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help.

He is our clothing, who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love, which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand. (Revelations of Divine Love by Dame Juliana of Norwich)