One with our Heavenly Friends
Description to come…
One with our Heavenly Friends
Description to come…
Christians and Jews in God’s Plan
In our first reading at Mass today, St. Paul shows clearly that he never saw himself as having given up being a Jew to be a Christian. Similarly, to be a good Christian today, you really have to understand our Jewish history. As Pope Pius XII once said, “Spiritually, we are all Semites.” In our Catholic liturgy, we continue pray for and revere our Jewish brothers and sisters as “the first to hear the word of God.” Jesus came to fulfill all the the law and prophets foretold, but God did not begin some radical new story with Jesus. Jesus come right in the middle of a story that God had been writing for a very long time. The New Testament is not so much a new story as the next chapter in a very old story.
In light of this, Christians should do all we can first to learn the story of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Secondly, we should could continue to have great respect for the Jewish people. Sometimes, people wrongly try to blame “Jews” for killing Jesus. This is ridiculous. Not all Jews at the time of Jesus and certainly none of the Jews living today had anything to do with the death of Jesus. Jesus was killed because of our sins. There is no place for anti-Semitism among Christians.
Finally, in our modern world, it is important that we keep separate the religious notion of God’s chosen people Israel and the man-made political state of Israel. Too often, Christians are guilty of supporting the state of Israel in anything it does, no matter how unjust, in a false notion that somehow these are “God’s chosen people.” If it helps, consider that 75% of the “Jews” living in Israel don’t even believe in God yet alone practice their faith; they call themselves “secular Jews.” Then remember that all of the Christians in the Holy Land are Palestinians! While the United States might have good reason to support Israel politically, the religious reasons are far less solid.
St. Paul struggles to maintain both his Jewish and Christian identity. As Christians, we could do well to get in touch with our roots and realize our own Jewishness.
The Virtue of Hope
The theological virtue of hope is the virtue that causes us to desire heaven. St. Paul reminds us that no one hopes for something that he already has. Hope keeps us constantly looking forward toward the life to come. This is especially important when life is difficult and we might be tempted toward despair. This life is not all there is and thank God for that. Why do we often struggle so much with lack of hope, with a lack of desire for heaven. Pope Benedict observed in his second encyclical on hope that we often tend to think of heaven as merely a continuation of this present life going on forever. Who would hope for that! Heaven is infinitely greater than anything we can conceive of in this life. Let us ask God to give us an increase in the virtue of hope that we may have a great desire for heaven.
Keeping Holy the Sabbath
There is a lot of debate about the Sabbath in Scripture as we see in today’s readings. Today, we have almost lost the concept of the Sabbath rest. Why should we rest? Well, the point of the rest was always to remind us of why we work. If we continue to work every day and just do different kinds of work on Sunday, we will soon forget what the work is all about. We will come to think that the work that we do here on earth is our primary goal. Yet, our primary goal is really heaven. When we take a day off from work, we remind ourselves that this world is not what we are working for. This world is passing away. We work in this world with our eyes fixed on the world to come. The Sabbath rest should help us keep this balance right if we practice it faithfully.
Blindness to the Members of God’s Family
After a long exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah brings good news to the Israelites in our first reading today. It’s was time to go back to the promised land! However, he says something very interesting. He says that they were going to be taking the blind, the lame, mothers and women pregnant with children along with them. The journey back to the holy land was a long a difficult one and it would have been tempting to leave the blind and the lame and pregnant women behind. After all, they would just slow everyone else down. God reminds the people that all of these people, especially these marginalized people, were part of his family. God would not allow anyone to be left behind, no matter how much of a “burden” people might have wrongly considered them to be.
A similar thing happens in our Gospel today. Notice where we find the blind man…on the side of the road. He is calling out and the people try to get him to be quiet. They just want him to stay in his place on the side of the road, on the margin. Jesus breaks in as is typical in the Gospel and shows that this blind man is part of his mission and part of his family. Jesus will not allow anyone to be marginalized from the family of God, especially not those who society considers not to have much value.
We continue to do the same things today. We tend to value people more for their use to us and what they can contribute to society. We fail to recognize the dignity of every human person that comes from their being created by God. How often do we hear a child conceived unexpectedly referred to as “unwanted” or a “burden” who is just getting in the way of someone else’s plans. We are currently hearing a lot about how old people at the end of their lives are costing us too much money for all their expensive health care. We make them feel that they are burdens and ask if maybe we couldn’t just leave them behind and “let them die” so we can more easily get on to where it is we think we need to be.
It’s not hard to imagine how Jesus feels about this. To show how important human dignity is, Jesus took on our own human nature. He became one of us and had a special care for those that society considered useless or burdensome. He continues to do so today. He asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” If Jesus, who is God, can have the humility to ask this question, then perhaps we too can find some people by the side of the road in our life and ask them the same question.
In order to help foster a better understanding and commitment to stewardship of God’s many gifts, the Hayden High School media club helped produce a video featuring many of the local Topeka priests (even me!) talking about stewardship. All the parishes in Topeka are doing our annual stewardship commitment renewal at the same time this year and the theme “Revealing God’s Presence in Topeka” has been chosen for this effort. At the heart of stewardship is a spirit of thanksgiving. Everything we have is a gift from God. Many thanks to the students at Hayden who helped create the video and to the priests, principals and others featured. May God bless our parishes with a spirit of thankfulness and generosity through this effort.
Living with a Longing to See God
In our struggle to do good and avoid evil as we go through life, we can sometimes start to think that God is keeping track of all the bad we do in some kind of accounting system. We act as though the goal is to try to have enough good things in the book to balance out all the bad so that, hopefully in the end, everything comes close to zero. This we think will then earn us entrance into heaven. This creates a big problem. We’ve got to remember that God is not our accountant…he is our Father.
If we try to make everything “balance out” in life in a strict legalistic kind of way, we will never make it and we will be miserable. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus has won freedom for us. We are no longer slaves of the law and he reminds us that we need not live as slaves to our passions, what he calls “the flesh.” Rather we should live in the freedom of “the spirit.” The psalm from today best sums up the attitude we should have as we go through life in this freedom, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”
Heaven is not about accounting and reward, but about relationship. On earth we should live with a longing to be in relationship with God, to grow in love with God. If we live with this longing, even though we may not be perfect, we will get what we desire. We will see the face of God forever in heaven. That adds up pretty well in my book.
Thanks for all the many kind wishes on my birthday. I’m 33 today…which is the same age at which Jesus was crucified. Who knows what this year could hold?
I’m away from the blog this week while on vacation in Colorado. I’m enjoying what might be called my first actual vacation since starting my assignment as a priest. My parents and I have so far enjoyed the beauty of Colorado Springs and yesterday drove north to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way we stopped at the St. Francis Xavier Cabrini shrine in Denver and Camp St. Malo near Estes Park where John Paul II stayed and hiked when he was here in 1993. It may be a potential retreat location for me in the future. As I write today, it is a beautiful morning looking out the window as the sun is rising on the snow-covered Rockies. It’s cold but beautiful. We’re off to do some hiking and chase some elk.
Why King Wenceslas Was Good
St. Wenceslas died a martyr in the early 10th century, being killed by his own brother. Wenceslas used his authority as king of Bohemia to ensure that the poor were taken care of. He also very openly practiced his Christian faith, even though this brought him into danger with pagan members of his court and even his own family. Eventually his strong Christian witness would cost him his life. His love for the poor is memorialized in the famous Christmas carol about him. Though written in the 19th century, the full song tells an appropriate story fitting to the life of the saint:
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather
“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing