Thursday, September 28, 2006

Advice to seminarians

I've noticed, along with the explosion of blogs of every sort, a number by seminarians discerning the priesthood. I've visited some of them, have some linked at your right, and seen posts from them, linked at other Catholic blogs.

Many of those seminarians visit here, and I'm delighted to have you.

But may I offer you gentlemen some advice?

Be careful about blogging!

This may seem obvious, however -- what you blog is visible to the world, including anyone in your diocese . . . including anyone who may have an agenda in your diocese . . .

I've seen blogging seminarians who boast how orthodox they are; who make it very clear they are traditional and conservative. I just visited a blog where the young man talked about heresy in one of the parishes he was involved with.

Be careful, gentlemen! You're asking for trouble...

Now, some might protest: "Shouldn't I speak up?"

Well, that depends. What did the Scripture say today: "a time for all things." There are times when you must speak up, as a seminarian; but there are many times when one feels one must -- but, on reflection, one needn't; and one might have done better to hold back. It happens to everyone of us, including seminarians with admirable zeal.

Do remember, my friends, that it is very unlikely you will face battles or choices, as a seminarian, that you won't be able to re-visit, and fight with more "heft," as a priest. In the meantime, you will learn a great many things that will not make you any less zealous, but certainly more prudent.

I don't want you to be false. Never say something you don't believe; never do something on your own initiative that you do not believe to be right.

On the other hand, there are times when you may have to remain silent; and while that can be galling, it is not necessarily a sell out. After all, in most situations, you will be acting under someone else's authority; so obeying that authority is legitimate. If that authority wants you to say something that is true, but perhaps incomplete, that need not be selling out -- and if you persevere, the time will come when you will have the authority to do it better. Then it will be your turn.

Seek out a priest -- or any friend -- who, regardless of whether you and he agree in all matters, you do hold to be a man of integrity, to be truly wise, and to have your best interests at heart, and to love the Church. He should be someone outside the seminary system. And confide in him. Let him be the one who cools you down when needed, or confirms you and gives you advice in prudence when you need to act.

Here's the thing.

Priests need to have quite a variety of gifts, including zeal, including holiness, including firmness and boldness, including orthodoxy and commitment to the Faith. But that is not the end of the list. We also need to be "gentle but ardent shepherds," as one of the collects in the Missal says; we need to be prudent, sensible, patient. We need to be able to choose our battles, because you will not be able to fight them all, at least not all at once. We need priests who can build bridges ("pontifex") to all we can. If I can find a way to proclaim the message faithfully, and keep that person who disagrees from walking out? I think that's the right way to be "pastoral."

You see, there are many temptations, and the most perilous ones are not obvious -- they are disguised as "angels of light." The temptation to be more certain than you really have right to be (I don't mean about the big things, but about more subtle matters, or about application rather than principle), the temptation to make the present situation more urgent and more unique than it is, the temptation to overestimate ones own importance (you will learn that when you've preached awhile: many listen well; but many will break your heart!)

Also, remember -- this was important to me -- that your primary task as a seminarian, is to learn and prepare. It's not your turn yet to lead. So wherever they send you: learn first; fix later. No matter how much good you do, you won't fix the whole Church -- learn to accept that fact.

Also, no matter what experiences you go through, at the seminary or anywhere else, they won't keep you from being the good, holy priest you aim to be!

If -- and please God, when -- you are a priest, you'll discover most of the faithful aren't fighting these theo-political battles. They have their own battles to fight, and whether they are conservative or liberal, what they want and will honor with extraordinary generosity and faith, are priests who lead, teach and sanctify them.

You will find, when you are a priest, that doing these "basic" things will occupy and satisfy you, with no compromise.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The pope's grand strategy?

Here is a fascinating, and I think very plausible, explanation of the pope's comments on faith, reason and violence that so stirred up certain peace-loving adherents of Islam.

Biretta tip to Sacramentum Vitae.

Meanwhile, Dennis Prager scores a direct hit on the pope's critics: Pius attacked for not confronting evil, Benedict attacked for confronting evil.

Biretta tip: Domenico Bettinelli.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Cruelty to roaches?

Other than being utterly revolting, will someone please explain the objection to this?

(Once again proves my thesis that in some sectors, parody must work extremely hard to stay ahead of straight-faced reality.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Control--or the Cross? (Sunday homily)

A lot of folks struggle with anger and impatience.
They wonder where it comes from.
It’s this (the remote-control): control.

I don’t know about you,
but I am one of those people
who always has to have this remote control,
when I watch TV.

In truth, this “clicker” is only the illusion of control.

You point the remote—and nothing happens:
Do you feel frustration?
You surf through all the channels—ten times!—
only to complain, “there’s nothing on!”

As a recovering remote-hog, let me tell you a secret: those of us, who covet that remote, if we don’t have it,
we have a little twitch in our fingers—all the time!

You know why?
Because we wish we had a remote for everything!
And, in a lot of life’s events,
we point the remote we wished we had at things,
yet nothing happens…
And that’s when we get angry.

If you think this is only “a man thing,” it’s not.
Women and men both have ways of seeking control.

Either way, St. James’ message is the same:
You covet, but we do not possess:
Stop coveting control, if you want peace!

Admitting we are powerless is extremely hard.

This is the crucial, first step in AA
and other 12-Step programs.
And it is what holds many back.

How often we cling to the illusion we are in control
when in fact something is controlling us—
alcohol, drugs, food, work, pornography—
and we let everything fall apart around us,
before we admit we are pushing buttons to no effect!

On the other hand, we have the Cross.

The first reading, written 100 years before Jesus came,
describes what he would face;
and what you and I can expect by following him.

So don’t be surprised…

When our pope courageously identifies two problems:
In the West, we disconnect reason from faith;
In Islam, too many connect faith with violence…

No surprise when almost everyone cries out:
“Let us beset the just one,
because he is obnoxious to us”?

So don’t be surprised when
you speak out against the death penalty,
or call for compassion, when others demand blood…
and you get the same response.

It will happen on the playground—at work—
out with your friends on Friday or Saturday night—
And you speak a truth that is unwelcome.

Do you realize, the Just One—Jesus Christ—
is the only one who truly had a choice
between the remote and the Cross?

As God, he really has an all-purpose remote.
But God knows what you and I discover painfully:
This clicker kind of power won’t satisfy.

In our family, or workplace, we might pull it off:
we might achieve being the dictator,
or the puppet-master.

But it’s not so wonderful when
your spouse is beaten down,
your family walks on eggshells around you, and
your friends won’t tell you what you need to hear.

That may be power—but it’s not love.
And that’s why God put down his remote-control,
and took up the Cross!

When you and I face the great problems of our world,
We reach for that elusive remote-control.
Sometimes we do have to fight;
most of the time, we don’t have all the answers.

With all respect for our president—
he has a tough job, and we want him to succeed—
but does it ever seem
he’s just pointing that remote at Iraq,
and pressing the same buttons over and over?

Meanwhile, consider our holy father:
You know why he’s so fearless?
He’s not afraid of the Cross—he has nothing to lose!

The remote, and the Cross, are before us.
This is what our baptism means:
choosing the Cross, instead of the remote.

Confession is where
we put the remote back down again.
That’s why frequent confession is so helpful.

And in the Eucharist,
we discover that however alone we think we are,
we are not alone: Jesus—the Just One—
is honored to share our cross with us,
whatever it is.

In the Eucharist, we draw strength from him
who was fearless before the Cross.
The battles we face, the darkness we fear,
are certainly bigger than we are—
But they are certainly not bigger than He is!

This is the last week we’ll talk about stewardship.
Our basic act of stewardship is of ourselves—
our most basic choice in life.

What will it be? Control—or the Cross?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Has Canada no honour?

This morning, on NPR, I heard dispiriting news: our Canadian neighbors, and NATO allies, are questioning their commitment to completing the mission in Afghanistan. Of course, we've heard similiar things from other NATO allies.

Have they no honor?

May I remind all concerned that Afghanistan did attack the United States on September 11, 2001 -- that is to say, it provided a safe haven for those who did, and that does make it responsible.

On September 11, 2001, the NATO treaty was invoked, for the first time ever: "an attack upon one is an attack upon all."

I fully understand many of our allies are queasy about the war in Iraq. Many Americans, were and are, queasy about it as well. But Afghanistan was "the good war"--the war fully justified under classic moral principles; the Holy See agreed.

So responding to the aggression that was launched from the territory and with the connivance of Afghanistan was not only morally justified, for those who gave their word by treaty, it was morally necessary! I repeat: morally necessary!

A little refresher for those who don't know this...

For its entire history to now, the United States provided the major "heft" of the NATO alliance. NATO was formed out of the ashes of the Second World War, with the Atlantic alliance at its core; the need arose because of the rapid assertion of Soviet tyranny over roughly half of Europe. And for 35 years, NATO stood guard against any further Soviet aggression. The vast majority of the conventional forces, on the line, were American. To defend Europe--and the West.

I know, that may sound quaint to some; but it was a real threat for several decades.

For good or ill, the NATO allies did not consistently mobilize enough to match Soviet conventional forces, poised along the East-West German frontier. So the policy was--and this was fully public, everyone knew this--that if the outnumbered NATO forces could not contain a Soviet thrust, NATO would respond with theater nuclear weapons to stop the advance. That meant the Germans consented to their homeland being nuked.

But everyone understood that would almost certainly mean escalation--meaning nuclear attacks against both Russia and the U.S.

Realize what that means: for 35 years, the American people not only bore the burden of collective, conventional defense of the West, they also put their entire homeland on the line. (In fairness, as did the Germans, and likely the British. Did anyone else in NATO face risk similar destruction?)

And, like or not, it worked: NATO succeeded, and won the Cold War without firing a shot. Success by definition.

So as far as NATO is concerned, the American people gave their part.

When, at long last, an attack on a NATO ally came, and the treaty was invoked, it came not in Europe -- but here, in the U.S.

I submit that our allies have a debt of honor to help vanguish the Taliban, and rebuild Afghanistan--and that means more than holding the coats of Americans while they bleed and die.

I can't help recalling the scene in The Lord of the Rings, when the men of Rohan were called to assist Gondor, and Eomer cried:

"Now is the hour, Riders of Rohan! Oaths you have taken: now fulfill them all, for lord and for land!"

As the vastly outnumbered men of the west trembled before the gates of Mordor, Aragorn said:

"I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship...but it is not this day... this day we fight!"

Has the courage of Canada failed? So it would seem. -- OK, based on a commenter's point, let me rephrase my last line:

Has the courage of Canada failed? We shall see.

Our Lady of Victory, Pray for us!

In case you missed it, Our Lady's team just won in a stunning upset. The fans at Michigan State -- who nonetheless saw quite a game -- are still staring blankly at the field in disbelief. The Irish trailed the entire game, got several improbable breaks and turnovers, stormed back with 19 points to win 40-37.

Still here...

If you saw my desk, and my calendar, you'd know why I haven't blogged all week.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Not 'Success' but Faithfulness (Sunday homily)

Are these hard times? So it seems.
Our local community faces difficult times;
our nation and our world
faces so much uncertainty.

And it is difficult to be Catholic.
You have had leaders who failed to lead;
priests who failed to be holy.
I am very sorry about that.

Difficult times for all of us—
the values of our culture
are not Christian values!

The lust for vengeance and wrath
is not a Christian value;

Measuring our worth by material success
is not a Christian value.
In fact, the very idea of “success,” itself…
is not a Christian value!

What do we mean by “success”?
How do we measure it? With numbers!
Attendance goes up, dollars go up,
more programs, more people—
that’s our idea of success.

Notice, Jesus Christ didn’t operate that way!
The Apostles counted heads—
remember, they counted
how many ate bread and fish?

They were the first pastors.
We count: how many came to Mass!
But look again at the episode in today’s Gospel.
This was a decisive moment
for Peter and the Apostles.

Peter made his profession of faith:
“You are the Christ.”

As the leader, he led the Apostles
to this act of faith;

but there was another step,
and that’s where he stumbled:
on the worldly notion of “success.”

When the Lord revealed what would happen—
he would suffer and die—
Peter was embarrassed and confused
because that didn’t sound like success.

The Lord spun on him and called him Satan—
not to condemn him,
but it was like throwing cold water on him—
to shock him into realizing how off-track he was.

“You aren’t seeing as God sees.”
The supreme moment of success for the Lord wasn’t…

· When he had thousands of people
come to him for miracles and healings;
· When he drove the money-changers from the Temple;
· When he won arguments with his opponents;
· Nor, even when he gained converts!

No, the supreme moment of his success
was on the Cross. Only then did he say “It is finished!”

So, instead of “success,” the goal is faithfulness.

Jesus was faithful to the plan of salvation
he and the Father had made before time began.
He was faithful to the Apostles,
with them every day,

and his goal was to enable them to be faithful
when their turn came.

So don’t look for the secret of success,
but rather, the secret of faithfulness.

And how did Jesus do it?
He walked with the Apostles, day-by-day.
The “secret” is a deep, living relationship
with Jesus Christ!

That was his “leadership program” for the Apostles;
what he said was important, but secondary;
their being with him was primary.
Everything else flowed from that.

And, of course, union with him would, ultimately,
mean sharing his suffering and death—
because it meant sharing his purpose:
the salvation of the world!
And you don’t get that,
you don’t care enough about that,

unless you spend time with him—
and know Jesus personally.

Unless you know him…

Ø Not as a “wise teacher”
Ø Not as “a prophet”
Ø Not as a philosophy or a lifestyle…

But as he truly is: true God, the source of all life,
come in our midst to save us!

Then it makes sense, even the Cross!
We all face it; knowing him deeply,
we dare to embrace it!

Yes, these are difficult times.
So many things drawing us away.

And we are tempted to be discouraged;
but remember—
you and I have no right to be discouraged!
That is the trap Peter fell into:
seeing with human values, not God’s.

One of the reasons we need the Cross
is that all of those worldly ways of thinking—
all our notions of success,
all our attraction to what is passing away,
all our pride that is offended by not being “successful”—
it all has to nailed to the cross!

Then only one thing is left:
our heart, joined to the heart of God: Jesus Christ!

We’ve been talking about “stewardship”:
truly appreciating what we have,
and being truly free to share it, give it away.

Stewardship is about the right priorities:
are we about success in this world?
Or do we fix our eyes on the far horizon:
success as God measures it,
even if this world calls it “failure”?

Making our goal, not “success,” but faithfulness;
Letting him crucify all our worldly expectations,
Having what the Apostles had: being with Jesus,
day-by-day, allowing him
to nourish our lives with his life,
his Holy Spirit—deep reservoirs of his life in us…

Then, we won’t find the times and challenges difficult;
We’ll find them thrilling.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The true history of the spread of Islam

Sadly, all was peaceful and a garden of delights for the peaceful prophet and his followers until suddenly, one day in the 7th century, the armies of Byzantium, led by the pope, landed at Acre and marched to Arabia, and at the point of the sword, demanded the prophet (blessed be he!) comply to their outrageous demands. The peaceloving followers of the great prophet gathered around to witness the shocking scene:

"You are the prophet of Islam?"


"We demand that you invade our lands; form armies and sweep across North Africa; then we will gladly renounce our faith and become Muslim," bellowed Pope Leo the Great.

"Oh, but that would be intolerable . . . I wish only to pray here, seeking inner purity and peace with the Almighty..."

"Then you shall die, and all your contemptible, peace-loving people," threatened the Emperor Constantine.

"Oh, no, that is horrible!"

"Then you must comply: conquer us, and we shall happily convert."

"Oh, goodness, what shall I do? North Africa, you say?"

"And the Levant -- it is intolerable that you would fail to invade the land of Jesus' life, death and resurrection," insisted Emperor Justinian.

"Oh, the insolence! Anything else, you wicked intruders?"

"Yes--you must also then seek to destroy the Christian power of Constantinople, and conquer it. You must desecrate the Hagia Sophia..."

"Oh, no! No! I will not listen to this! It is unspeakable!"

"You will listen," growled General Belisarius. "You will conquer the Empire--and then, you will invade Europe..."

"But, but I could never do that--it would take so long..."


"This is intolerable. Kill me if you must; I cannot embrace any violence."

"Very well; and when we have slain you, we shall slay all around you--to the last--unless you comply with our demands," Charlemagne decreed, as Baldwin, Louis and Richard all nodded vigorously.

The prophet (peace be upon him!) contemplated, not his own terrible fate, but that of the tens of thousands around him, who knew no violence, nor even the use of a weapon. For they were but like children, innocent and unknowing any evil desire. But under the intense, cruel pressure of the Christian invaders, he allowed them to guide his people in the fashioning and mastering of weapons.

And so it was, some months later, that large groupings of peace-loving Muslims were marched--at the point of Crusader swords --out of Arabia, to sweep across the Levant, North Africa, and into Asia Minor. Behold the tragic scene! These reluctant warriors, weeping as they went, scandalized that the wicked Christians forced them to invade and conquer!

Even more terrible was the sight of Christians, as the coerced invaders were marched westward, who approached the conscripts, and actually threw themselves upon the scimitars. "No, don't do this! Islam is about peace! Let us set up an information center, and then we can go home!"

"Fa! Shut up, infidels! Do not prevent us from self-destruction!" And so it was, in city after city, Christians died by the scimitar, the wretched, peace-loving Islamic armies unwilling participants, and out of compassion for the misguided Christians, decided to stay.

They asked for talk on the Synoptic Gospels...

These are exerpts of a talk I gave today about the Synoptic Gospels, at a religious education event.

Why are the first three Gospels called "synoptic"?

Because they "are so similar at many points when viewed together, particularly when arranged in parallel columns or lines, that they are called ‘synoptic,’ the Greek work for such a general view. The fourth Gospel…often differs significantly from the synoptics in outline and approach" (Catholic Study Bible, NT, p. 2).

While this is a valid observation, there are downsides to viewing the Gospels this way, too -- because in emphasizing how they are similar, what's distinctive about each may get lost.

Since there’s no way -- in an hour! -- I can do much in-depth examination of the Gospels themselves, I’ve chosen to give you some general pointers and suggestions for when you are dealing with these texts.

And the first thing I’d like to suggest is, be careful when dealing with "scholarship."

When I was in the seminary, I had a course in principles of religious education, taught by Father Ron Nuzzi, who some of you may have heard speak from time to time. And he had a saying that he drilled into our heads: "If you don’t know the language, don’t use the language!" It’s tempting to cite words in Spanish, or Latin, or Greek or Hebrew, and so forth—but if you aren’t really conversant in that language, you can’t know if you’re even pronouncing it right! So his advice is stay away from the foreign language, and stick to what you know.

Well, I’d apply that to the scholarship that is associated with Biblical studies.

We all know there’s a lot of scholarship associated with Scripture. But the problem is, it’s changing all the time.

For example: Who can tell me which Gospel was written first?

Most scholars argue that Mark was written first. And I am in no position to contest that. But who was aware that many serious scholars do challenge that? Who’s right? I don’t know; and for most of my purposes, as a priest, I don’t need to know! Is it an interesting question? Yes. Does it have real implications? Yes—it bears on the question of who composed Matthew—because if Matthew was composed after Mark, and drew heavily on Mark, the reasonable question, why would the Apostle Matthew need to rely on Mark?

This is what is called "the synoptic problem." How did these three Gospels, similar in so many ways, come into being—which came first, how did they influence each other, etc.?

This is the sort of thing that might keep scholars up late at night—but I don’t see why it should keep me or you up late! Or those you are teaching!

We believe they are the Word of God. We believe what the Second Vatican Council said in Dei Verbum:

The Church has always and everywhere held and continues to hold that the four Gospels are of apostolic origin. For what the Apostles preached in fulfillment of the commission of Christ, afterwards they themselves and apostolic men, under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, handed on to us in writing: the foundation of faith, namely, the fourfold Gospel, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (18)


Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day He was taken up into heaven (see Acts 1:1). . . . The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who "themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word" we might know "the truth" concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4). (Dei Verbum, 19.)

So, there are legitimate scholarly questions about who actually wrote the Gospels—did Matthew himself write his Gospel, or did someone else put on paper what originated from him?

But sometimes people assert more than they know. For example—have you heard the claim that Paul didn’t write all the letters bearing his name?

It’s one thing to say, it may be that Paul didn’t write Ephesians himself; it’s quite another to assert, Paul DID NOT write Ephesians!

My point is, for most folks, this isn’t helpful. And getting into this runs the risk of becoming pseudo-scholarship—because while you or I may be familiar with part of the scholarship: "Mark came first" or "Paul didn’t write Colossians"—we may not be as familiar with the other parts: "No, Matthew really did come first" or, "maybe Paul really did write 1 & 2 Timothy"!

I make this point because, unfortunately, a lot of the materials you may be using will claim—flat out—that Peter didn’t write 2nd Peter; Paul did not write Ephesians, etc. And I’m saying, that’s more than they can know! They weren’t there! That a majority of scholars thinks something is true is significant, but that doesn’t settle the matter—if for no other reason that the scholarship is always subject to change.

Second guideline I’d offer is, be aware of presuppositions.

Any materials you use have certain presuppositions. I have my own, and if you ask me about them, I’ll do my best to identify and acknowledge them.

Here's one rule I use with Scripture:

1. Beware of the presupposition that the human authors were sloppy or inattentive.

In the Catholic Study Bible, in the note on Matthew 15:32—the account of the feeding of the four thousand, the second story in Matthew of a miraculous feeding—we read: "Most probably this story is a doublet of that of the feeding of five thousand (14:13-21). It differs from notably only [emphasis added] in that Jesus takes the initiative, not the disciples (32), and in the numbers: the crowd had been with Jesus three days (32), seven loaves are multiplied (36), seven baskets of fragments remain after the feeding (37), and four thousand men are fed (38)."

Now—what are some presuppositions in that commentary? Can you pick them out?

One is: that these differences in detail are not that big a deal: "only"! Now, this may be true; or, it could be these details are not peripheral, but very significant.

Matthew and Mark both tell of these two feedings, one shortly after the other. Let me ask you: when Matthew (or whoever wrote this Gospel) actually penned these words, and sometime after he wrote this story of the 5,000, he wrote the story of 4,000, do you think he noticed what the person who wrote that commentary noticed? Did Matthew not notice all the similarities?

Some will say, "yes, and look at Chapter 16 of Matthew": there—in vv. 5-12—Jesus refers to both feedings—and some will say, that’s how the human author "fixed" this "problem."

What’s the presupposition there?

That there is a problem!

Or, put it this way—is the problem in the text—or in the one reading the text!

Why assume the problem is with the text? There are two stories here—have to be duplication!

But if you actually look at the text, it treats them as two different episodes, and Jesus himself calls attention to them as two episodes, and highlights differences in each.

What I think is happening here is the commentator can’t figure out why this story is "told twice"—so it has to be "a doublet"!

So you get the presupposition that the human author is inattentive or sloppy. Personally, I think its more probable that the human author, who clearly worked hard on this -- and, by the way, when you read these Gospels closely, you discover just how hard they worked, how well informed they were with Scripture, because they quote it and allude to it constantly…

Anyway, I think it’s more probable the author didn’t make the mistake; but rather, the commentator makes the mistake in not figuring out why these stories are told twice.

Did it actually happen once—twice—or many times? None of us knows that.

What we have is the text presents it as two different episodes.

My presupposition is to take the text as the norm and not try to "outsmart" the text!

Let me highlight some interesting things in these two stories, and see what we might make of them:

In the first story, the crowds followed Jesus on foot.

In the second, it emphasizes they brought "the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute and many others." The first account merely says, "he cured their sick." Could be the same; or it could be, in the second occasion, they made an effort to bring folks.

In the first, we aren’t certain where he was, except he withdrew "in a boat" to a deserted place; in the second, it says, Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee"—no mention of a boat—and he went up on a mountain. Ah—a mountain!--there’s another detail not mentioned in the first story. And in Matthew, and in Mark, "up a mountain" is a significant detail: remember the "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew? Remember the transfiguration happened on a mountain?

So the first story describes Jesus alone, in a boat, crossing over—and there the people are waiting for him; the second describes him walking, and they follow him. And it emphasizes the people needing healing they brought. It also emphasizes the effect of the healing: "The crowds were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the deformed made whole, the lame walking…and they glorified the God of Israel."

Why might that reference—"God of Israel" be notable? Look at the text—where was Jesus right before this? He was in Tyre and Sidon—among Gentiles! There is yet another detail belonging to the second account, that is not specified in the first.

OK—let’s continue examining these two accounts…

In the first, as we saw, the disciples approached Jesus—why? What did they urge? Send them away.

Now—we’re considering the question, are these two separate events, or a duplication. Let’s assume, for now, it is one episode, told twice. Notice, in the second account, what comes right before it? The story of the Canaanite woman—a pagan—who encounters Jesus. Look at v. 23, and see what the disciples said there: "Send her away"! And this story, to a great extent, is about this question—will Jesus send her away? And the answer is, no—he doesn’t.

So notice how Matthew tells the story: the apostles say, at the first feeding, "dismiss them" -- send them away; then they say it again with the Canaanite woman, but the Lord actually heals her -- then at the second feeding, they don't say that.

Hmmm . . . maybe the learned a lesson?

Let’s keep comparing…

In the first episode, it’s not specified how long they’d been away from home; in the second, it does specify, "three days." Since the second also says, the Lord was concerned "they may collapse on the way"—but that’s not said in the first…

Doesn’t it seem that in the first story, they weren’t out as long? So there wasn’t an issue of fainting from hunger?

Do you notice what I see? In some of this, there seems to be a progression:


One long day------------------------Three days
The disciples say, dismiss them------They don’t say that
Jesus: Give them food (challenge)---Omitted (no need?)
setting: unstated--------------------Could be Gentile.
Loaves: 5----------------------------7
Fish: 2-------------------------------"a few"

But in other details, no progression:
People: 5,000-----------------------4,000
Baskets: 12--------------------------7*

What might the significance of the 12 baskets be, when we encounter it new? What’s most natural? Twelve baskets, twelve apostles—each gets a basket! Remember they said, "all we have" are five loaves and two fish." But when Jesus is done, they have a lot more, don’t they? They each have a basket!

So come to the second episode, perhaps the seven baskets aren’t for the Apostles? Not sure, I confess.

But if we look for progression,why isn’t every detail pointing to progress?

Well, let me ask this question: whose faith is being challenged here? In both cases, the Apostles.

So where we don't see progression, that may suggest something about the apostles' response to the opportunities the Lord is giving them to grow in faith.

I.e., "it worked with 5,000—shouldn’t it work as well with 4,000?" "Five loaves worked; shouldn’t seven, and a little more fish, work better?"

No—so what happens? They have less to show for it: not 12 baskets, but only seven!

After all, look at Chapter 16: they are still concerned about having bread! And the Lord recalls both these episodes, and Matthew, in telling the story, highlights the number of loaves, people and baskets for each. What does he say? "You of little faith"! "Why do you not comprehend"?

Now—that’s all a possible explanation of why there are two stories told. My point is, I think an "explanation" should explain! And I don’t see the "doublet" claim explaining anything. It leaves more questions, for me, than it answers.

Also, what I’m illustrating here is a possible method you can use in approaching the Gospels: focus primarily on the text itself!

Now, I promised some principles, let me get back to that.

A second principle: "they weren’t simpletons."

On this story of the feeding that we looked at, who has ever heard this explained as follows: "the real miracle was that the people were induced to share what they’d brought and that’s how everyone had enough."

Several problems with that.

1. The text gives no actual support to that. In fact, it points away from that. Why would anyone be concerned about them being hungry if they brought food? Also, how likely is it that they brought enough food to have plenty left after 3 days? Doesn’t it make more sense that after 3 days, the food was exhausted?

2. Why would anyone be so impressed with that as a miracle?
Now, it happens to be true that in Matthew, Mark and Luke, there is no hint that the people saw this as a great wonder. They eat, they were satisfied, and sent away. (It is John who, in telling the story, has the people seeing "the sign he had done," and wanting to make him king. See John 6:14-15.) After all, the people might well not have seen the miracle happen. But what the Gospel describes is the Lord passing out the food to the Apostles, and they to the people. The Apostles would have witnessed the miracle; they would know how much there was to start with. So the synoptic Gospels present this as a sign for the Apostles. So emphasizing how this changed the people doesn’t seem to follow what the Gospel itself present. How is that a lesson in faith for the apostles?

3. The stories all emphasize Jesus as the source of the food—through the hands of the apostles. But "the miracle of sharing' explanation points away from him.

My point is, this "miracle of sharing" explanation—apart from doing violence to the text itself—asks the people in the story, and the audience for whom these Gospels were written, to be "simpletons."

Just because these folks lived 2,000 years ago, doesn’t mean they couldn’t tell the difference between everyone unpacking their lunch baskets, and one man turning 5 loves into enough for 5,000-plus!

Sometimes the miracles of Scripture are "explained" as if the people in the story were dolts: Jesus didn’t walk ON water, he walked on stones, or along the shore. Riiiight! And those fishermen couldn’t tell the difference!

Before I finish, let me offer this.

I realize you want resources you can rely on—and I’ve just given you reasons to question your resources! So you might wonder if I have any recommendations?

Well, these things are tricky, because I don’t want you to hear me say that something like the Catholic Study Bible or the New Jerome Biblical Commentary or the notes in the New Jerusalem Bible aren’t any good.

Nor do I want to give any of them unqualified endorsement.

Nor am I saying, don’t use any resources—I know that isn’t helpful.

I’d say, try to be balanced in your resources—and as I said, if you aren’t fully conversant with the scholarship, I’d tread very lightly in those areas, and focus on the text itself.

A good resource to use, that might help compensate for what I see as failings of these other resources would be The Navarre Bible. There is a volume for the Gospels and Acts; and several volumes for the rest of the NT, and the Old. And, if you want even more detail, I think they publish a volume for every book of the Bible.

Ignatius Press is coming out with some study guides, put together by Scott Hahn. Now Hahn has a lot of advantages, and a lot of people get a lot out of what he offers. That doesn’t make him an oracle or anything. Keep in mind, there isn’t necessarily "one" proper interpretation of most passages: Scripture is God’s word, and it is endlessly fruitful.

So, Scott Hahn gets this from it; the early Father of the Church got other things; the editors of CSB and NJBC got what they got; I offered you my thoughts, for what they’re worth…

The goal of our use of Scripture is, after all, to lead people to faith in Christ! It isn’t Scripture for its own sake.

Maybe I’ll stop here and let you ask questions.

* I'm sorry this chart is a mess; I can't seem to get it to appear right in blogger. This is the best I can do.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Agree we're peaceful or there'll be violence!

Pope: There is a problem of violence in association with jihad.

Islamic clerics and politicians: Talk nicely about you-know-who, or else you'll get beaten up . . .

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm not dead, sick or missing...

...Just busy, and a little tired.

Monday being the anniversary of 9/11, I really didn't feel like posting. What could I say? I thought there were a lot of maudlin, self-serving "tributes" all over the blogosphere.

I could think of nothing to say that others hadn't said better; and I have no interest in "reliving" any of it. I didn't watch any of the TV coverage, because as important as it is for people to see what happened (if they didn't see it then), I have no desire to see it played over and over. Some people have a strange nostalgia; I have no nostalgia for 9/11. It was a horrible, dark, terrible day that affected me for days and weeks after. I remember the fear that gripped when I heard an airplane fly over the seminary that night; I remember the first time, after that, that I went to the airport, and feeling so strange, and nervous, around airplanes. I remember being so depressed at the prospect of what would come. And I remember feeling deep anger; I actually wished those men in hell, although I quickly repented of that and am ashamed of that wish.

Well, then Tuesday was a very full day, as it often is. When I come in the office on Tuesday, I have a lot of things waiting for me.

Today, I was up for the 8 am Mass, then went home to work on my homily. I got it done, and don't like it much; which could mean it will be rather good, you let me know! It's funny how, many times, how the homilies I don't like, many people do like.

Then, this afternoon, at the office, my cordless mouse decided to die on me. Amazing how something like that can really irritate me. Why, I had to get out my corded mouse and use that! Oh, the injustice! Just proves how often anger is caused by not having the control we think we're entitled to.

We had the pilgrim statue of Fatima at one of my parishes today; the retired priest had Mass to kick it off, and a parishioner took care of everything; I went over to pray during the last hour. Then I walked back to the other parish (1/2 mile) for Bible study; then drove back to the other parish to visit with the choir, gathering for the first time since spring; stopped in with the high school booster club and also a confirmation meeting for parents, with the last stop (before home) the Knights of St. John. Had beer and pizza with them and resisted all invitations to join the poker game, since I didn't want to stay too late.

In all this, I'm skimming over my "office work": a lot of it is simply clearing paper off my desk. A stack of messages need action, one by one; an inbox full of emails. Passing things along to my secretary to file, things to staff to act on. Writing up the Mass schedule for October and November; writing a memo to the other priests informing them about this and that going on; fielding calls; chatting with volunteers who are assembling a letter to all parishioners; and so forth. Sometimes I think, "my job is to move paper around--that's what I do all day long!"

Oh, and I pray: I had Mass at 8; I used the Roman Canon, and wondered what John Chrysostom would think of that! I was very happy to have the time to pray in the afternoon, and a little annoyed that people were chatting in the vestibule around a literature table set up about Fatima.

Anyway, there's a report on the week thus far. Tomorrow I have Mass at the nursing home at 10:30 am, so I can sleep a little later if I want.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

No homily posting today

I won't be posting my homily today (actually I had two), because I was preaching (at all six Masses) this weekend about parish finances, and asking for more financial support -- and these are not matters of broader interest.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A trip home...

Last night and this morning, I was back home in Cincinnati. I went down for a Mass this morning at Christ the King parish in Mount Lookout -- a memorial Mass for my cousin, who died recently.

When I called a brother priest, he told me he had tickets to the Reds, so a change of plans, and down to Great American Ballpark to see the Red murderize the Pirates. A great game.

Thanks to the parishioner who gave my friend the tickets, we were three rows from the field! It was gratifying to see lots of kids at the game, and to see them enjoying it just the same as always; and to see the ballplayers trot over to sign autographs.

Then to the seminary, where I got to have a beer with some of the new guys and get to know them.

This morning brought the first time I offered Mass at Christ the King parish. Some might not like it, as it's architecture is kind of a 1950s late-Art Deco (it has some similarity to St. Peter in Chains Cathedral), but it has beautiful art, elegant design, and excellent acoustics.

For those curious, the music was as follows:

Opening: Be Thou My Vision
Psalm 23
Preparation: In Paradisum
Communion: Panis Angelicus
Closing: Irish Blessing

I couldn't stay to visit with my family, unfortunately, as I had to be back here to preach at 4 pm Mass, where I will head shortly, and then over to the other parish for 5 pm Mass. (I'm preaching at all six Masses on stewardship.)

Then, after that, I'm having the other two priests for dinner.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The pope likes hats

Attentive (not to say, obsessive) readers will recall the holy father made something of a stir last winter when he wore the camauro, which was dubbed a "Santa hat":

I am all for this. This business of being rid of regalia, fringe, "needless" adornment and anything with a whiff of anachronism is dreary and deadening. (It's not as though men don't still wear hats; only now, they wear baseball caps with advertising on them. Not an improvement.)

When the holy father decides to issue his long-awaited exhortation on the Eucharist, with perhaps some "reform of the reform" elements, perhaps he will revive this mode of headgear:

(Biretta tip to The Shrine of the Holy Whapping; latter two images stolen from Dappled Things.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Lifting up the Right to Work lightning rod...

Another Labor Day; another opportunity to offer some clarity about what the rights of working people and the dignity of work entail, but which our laws don't provide for:

* Catholic teaching emphasizes the dignity of work, as a participation in God's creative and saving plan. Our work ennobles us; in our work, we realize the potential of our own gifts and talents, and our own selves; our work is a means to improve the lives of others and to make our world a better place. Work is a worthy end in itself, but not the ultimate end -- the ultimate end is union with God. So we should seek to have our work lead us and others to that end.

* Human beings, made in the image of God, and destined for salvation in Christ, have a fundamental dignity in themselves. This includes freedom in conscience, in pursuit of goodness, and in pursuit of their own vocation.

* One of the rights of working people is to act in legitimate ways to enhance their working conditions, their compensation, and their prospects. This means they can act on their own, or collectively. They have the right to form unions; but Church teaching insists that when workers affiliate with unions, they do so consistent with Church teaching.

* Catholics should not have anything to do with unions, or any other organization, that are hostile to Catholic teaching or the practice of religion, that attack private property or aim to pit people against each other, that are contrary to public order or fail to respect basic human rights.

* The right to be a part of unions is a right of individual workers -- a collectivist mode of thinking is alien to the Catholic tradition. Each of us stands before God, on judgment day, as individuals, answering for our choices.

* Solidarity is a moral obligation everyone has to see, and care for, the needs of his fellow man and the common good. But it is not a mandate to assimilate people into a Borg-like collective. It is one moral principle, in relation to others, not the overriding one.

* The Church never endorses a particular economic or political system, but she does comment on the errors or weaknesses of all political and economic systems -- and some are more erroneous than others. In his encyclical, Centesimus Annus, our late pope John Paul II, identified weaknesses in free enterprise and in statist/socialist systems, but was clear in affirming the greater (but not unalloyed) merits of free enterprise, representative government, and limited government (which accords with the principle of subsidiarity). The Church has generally taken a dim view of socialistic systems, and has explicitly condemned various features of it, such as athiesm, denial of private property and other rights, and class-based ideology.

* For all these reasons, I see nothing in Catholic teaching that gives an endorsement to current federal laws that empower union officials to coerce workers into union affiliation and representation, and to pay for that coercion to boot. Union officials and their apologists cry crocodile tears over the "burden" of representing workers who don't pay dues; but the fact is, unions don't have to accept that burden if they don't want it. But they do want it.

* Some believe that workers can't help themselves, so they have to be "helped" -- even against their will! -- by being herded into labor collectives. This would be a charitable explanation of why union bosses demand coercive power over individual workers.

* But it's also clear that these coercive powers are about the ambition of union officials and building their own kingdoms; and they are breeding grounds for all manner of corruption and abuse.

* The logic of the "coercion is for their own good" mentality is, ultimately, hostile to self-government. If workers need to be coerced, why stop there? Why shouldn't people be coerced into religion, for their own good? Why shouldn't they be subject to a fascist political system, "for their own good?" Where does it end.

These are some of the reasons I am for Right to Work.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stewardship is a way of life (Sunday homily)

During September,
Father Tom, Father Ang and I
will be talking about stewardship.

When I mention “stewardship,”
how many of you thought,
“he’s talking about money?”
Well, money is part of it.
But it’s about a lot more.

A “steward” or “stewardess” on an airplane,
doesn’t own the plane, or anything on it.
They manage someone else’s resources;
and they don’t do it
for themselves, but for others.

When you and I call ourselves stewards,
we’re acknowledging:
1. We aren’t the owners;
2. What we have, is all gift;
3. It’s not for us, but for us to share.

Flight attendants are employees of a business;
You and I belong to God—
we’re part of a Family.
See the difference?

It’s all gift, from the “Father of Lights.”
The Catechism reminds us that,
“God entrusted the earth and its resources
to the common stewardship of mankind”—
so who’s our family?
The whole human race.

Maybe we help at the Bethany Center.
St. Mary has a Mission Commission,
and its members are inviting
St. Boniface folks to join in.
Maybe in our prayers,
or in our role as citizens,
or involvement in the community—
but we find ways to extend our care
to the larger human family.

We have choices in how we do it—
But it is not optional that we do it.

See, this is why stewardship is not
a one-Sunday-a-year thing;
It’s a way of life.

Stewardship is about priorities.
And it starts with our relationship with God.
That’s where all the gifts come from;
the better we know that,
the more freely we share those gifts.

After all, the greatest gift
that we share is that relationship
with God through Jesus Christ!

What else do we have to share?
Look around:

You and I have this parish;
we have the Treasure of our Catholic Faith!

These buildings,
and all that happens here;
All the gifts we all bring in ourselves…
Our school, our outreach,
our worship together;
the 24-hour St. Clare Chapel;
Our rich history—and our bright future;
We have a lot to share!

When you look at this, and say, “mine”
—to be responsible for;
—to safeguard and make increase;
—to share with the world around us . . .

That’s stewardship.

The stewardship way of life,
and the way our culture operates,
are very different.

Our culture is individualistic—
it trains us as consumers.
So, when we come to Mass are we “consumers,” coming to get-and-go? Or, are we “owners,” partners—stewards?

John Wright, our music director,
is one of the most talented music directors
in the Archdiocese—do you realize that?
We are very blessed in him!

He and I want to fill
our church with awesome music—
how about you? Do you want that, too?

This doesn’t require money so much,
but it does require people.

Will you be part of our choir?

I am especially appealing
to men of the parish; and to all ages.

For whatever reason,
certain roles in Mass,
such as our choir,
get more women than men.

Don’t say, “I can’t sing.”
For some of you…that’s true!
But most of you sing better than you realize.
This isn’t “Star Search”;
It’s about bringing our gifts to share.

You might wonder, is this very important?

I think it is, actually.

Mass is the most important
thing we do, as Catholics,
to shape our own faith;
and it’s the most important thing we do
to draw others to the Faith.

Also: men, you and I
are leaders and role-models.
Your sons, grandsons, nephews
are learning from you,
in everything you do. You know that.
So: if when we gather at Mass,
they hear mostly female voices
and they don’t see men stepping up—
what message does that send?

I’m thankful for the women—
and we’ll take more;
But we need both, men and women,
to lead our singing.

When we talk about stewardship
of our parish,
we might talk about our school—
and are we committed to its future?
Where would we be without Catholic education?

We talk about activities like
bingo or our festival;
we always need more volunteers—
such as for the Heritage Festival this weekend,
hint, hint!

I know how hard many work—
and I thank you.
The work never falls
as evenly as it ought to.
That’s the way it is.

Ultimately, it all comes down
to how much we care:
Do we see this parish
and really call it “ours”?
Ours to be responsible for,
and to hand on better than we found it?

To put it even more bluntly:
Our parish is not growing.
What are you and I going to do about that?

The consumer way of life says,
“we can go somewhere else.”
The stewardship way of life says,
“My faith—my parish—
is a gift shared with me,
and I’m going to treasure it
and share with others!”

The Gospel points out that
what matters most for our lives
isn’t what comes into us—what we get;
but what choices, what sharing,
comes out of us:
are they worthy of us—or do they defile us?

In the end, the measure of our lives won’t be,
“what do we have?”
but, “what did we share?”