At Epiphany Herod speaks to us, today

Herod“Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.” Gospel reading for the Epiphany.

A major problem we have today is that we read the nativity story as an idyll,  a romantic/nostalgic story of the past  with no bearing for today. We forget how Our Blessed Virgin was a mother who conceived her first child out of wedlock, and found herself homeless, looking for a place to give birth to her first born.

Herod sums things up in our Gospel account for Epiphany, but not for the wise men. He does it for us. A pun works in the Aramaic of our story. “Bethlehem,” means, “House of Bread.” “Beth/House,” “Lehem/Bread.” “Judah” comes from the root, “Yad/Hand,” and means, “Thanksgiving.” Genesis 29:35 gives the definition. A month ago, we celebrated our Thanksgiving as Americans. Each Sunday we celebrate Thanksgiving for what Jesus did for us. We go to the house of bread each Sunday, in the land of thanksgiving, Mass, and we find Jesus in a feeding trough, the ciborium the Eucharistic/Thanksgiving minister holds as he distributes the host/victim.

Thanksgiving“Go and search diligently for the child.” This has a four-fold meaning. We come early to Mass and we meditate upon what we see around us, the mural in front of us; the Stations of the Cross; the statues and the paintings we see around us. Secondly, we go and search diligently for Jesus in the tabernacle, and look to see Jesus in the bread and wine, now body and blood of Jesus. Finally, we go and search diligently for Jesus in the Liturgy of the Word, in the Sacred tradition, the writings of the Church Fathers, and more importantly, in the Sacred Scriptures.

As we go and search diligently, we find our passage defines leadership. The wise men bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and Myrrh. Using the Aramaic, we find gold, Lebanon, and Myrrh. These are the gifts of kingly power, Lebanon, or liturgy, and the gift of Myrrh. We are all prophets. Indeed, the Aramaic for King is the same word as Angel, or messenger. Our Psalm for today is Psalm 72:

To Solomon/Peace

384309_549304955086309_357628736_nGive your judgment to the king; your justice to the king’s son; to govern your people with justice/charity, your oppressed with right judgment/from the lips. This is so that the mountains will yield their bounty for the people, and the hills great abundance, to defend the oppressed among the people, save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor… May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him. He rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He shows pity to the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. From extortion and violence, he redeems them. Precious is their blood in his sight. The end of the psalms of David.

8919_1243228163516_2601477_nThis Psalm is only about Jesus? Using an old form of argument called “Typology,” this passage refers to Jesus. The primary reference is, “To Solomon,” and the passage ends with “The end of the psalms of David.” This is one earthly king talking to his replacement and is about leadership, in private enterprise, in government, and in civic groups. The role of king includes, but is not limited to, being a rudder (a governor is a type of rudder) for the people. Leaders are to bring justice to the oppressed. Leaders in private enterprise, in government, and in civic groups are to defend the oppressed among the people, save the children of the poor, and crush their oppressors. They are to rescue the poor when they cry out, and the oppressed with none to help. They are to show pity on the needy and save the lives of the poor.

Some point to the king’s sword. The Shema, Jesus’ Great Commandment is, “Here Israel, the NAME is Almighty, the NAME is One. Love God with all our hearts, all our animate being, and with all of our measure.” How do we love God? How do we love someone who already literally already has everything? We guard and keep what is his, in particular what is made in his image. That is each other, friend and foe. Any attack on any living person, no matter how deserving, and no matter how defended, is an attack upon the image of God in that person.

It is only then that God will look at our fancy liturgies, in Greek and Latin, with our fine songs. It is only then that we can focus on the final cause of all creation, and that God will look upon the sacrifices of our lives. It is only then, God will see our Lebanon and our myrrh.

Three Queens Given to us to Teach Somethinng

saints loveMary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” “Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

“In her heart.” This phrase appears three times in the New Testament. The first two are in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel. The last time is Revelation 18:7. The context of the third is interesting as it makes a striking contrast to the first two.

Entering Reno

“Fallen, is Babylon the great…To the measure of her boasting and depravity repay her in torment and grief; for she said in her heart, ‘I sit enthroned as queen; I am no widow, and I will never know grief.” Chapter 12 adds of this antithesis of Babylonian queen, “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.…. The dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus.”

Who is this queen? The Babylonian queen sits on a throne as queen. She brags how she is no widow and knows no grief. She is rich with the wealth of the world.

Our Lady

Compare this with the second queen. She clothes herself with the son, and has the moon as a footstool. She has twelve stars, the twelve apostles. She gives birth to one child who is to rule all the nations. This woman is Mary. She suffers greatly in childbirth and in the death of this son. She is a widow, Joseph now being gone. She is in every way the opposite of the Babylonian queen. Mary has none of the wealth of this world.

Even though Mary only has one child, Jesus, the last verse speaks of all of her offspring, those who keep God’s commandments and bear witness to Jesus. If we are going to heaven, if we are going to be her children, we must keep all of God’s commandments, and bear witness to Jesus. How does Mary understand these commandments? Back in chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, she gives Elizabeth the Magnificat

One ugly kid 2In the Our Father, we pray that things be done on earth as they are in heaven. In Hebrew, prayers is a reflective verb. It is not sitting down and asking God for things. It is meditating upon how God as the rest of us are going to do his will, together. Mary starts with praise of God, Jesus as Jesus does in his prayer and as we should in our prayers. Then she relates the reason for praise.

We look to God because he shows the strength of his arm. We should be the strength of his arm. We should disperse the arrogant of mind and heart. We should throw down rulers from their thrones when they do not life up the lowly. We should lift up the lowly. We should fill the lowly with nobility. Everyone has the image of God. We should help the lowly find this image, and become a light reflector, helping them show that nobility to the world. We should show the rich how the king is naked, as the child’s story goes. The last appeal is to tradition. Judaism and America has tradition. This gives cause to ponder a third queen:

Statue of liberty and lightning

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Do we do this? Do we put aside pomp? Do we bring in the immigrant seeking refuge from was and famine in his own land? Do we look for the huddled masses yearning for freedom, and bring them here? Do we look for those tossed by the tempests of life? Do we do what it takes to end their suffering? Is this our tradition? If not, is the Blessed Virgin really our mother? Watch the consequences of the choice.

Jesus the Lamb and the word, the Light and the Life


Our Gospel for New Year’s Eve begins, “In the beginning was the Word/Omar/lamb. The Word/Omar/Lamb was with God, and the Word/Word/Lamb was God. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5. At the end of the section we read, “As John watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb/Omar/Word of God.”

Four CausesThe Gospel writer, John, loves to use double meanings. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the one who sacrifices himself for others. He is also the Word of God. When Jews speak, of Torah, they have three things in mind. The first is the first five books of Moses. The second is the Old Testament. We must understand the Greek concept of the four causes. These are the formal, efficient, material and final. The efficient cause is the active agent, what actually causes things. The material cause is the acted upon. The final cause is the final product. The formal cause is the underlying structure that holds what we see of the object, together. The third understanding Torah is the formal cause of the world.

When John speaks of the Word, he speaks of Torah incarnate. John speaks of “Word,” using Jewish, not Stoic concepts. The word, “Messiah,” only appears twice in the New Testament, both in John’s Gospel. “Cephas” for Peter only appears in John, in Corinthians, and in Galatians. John seems to have the better knowledge of region and language. John tells us, “The true light enlightens everyone, and was coming into the cosmos… To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling in us…”

Gerard van Honthorst Anbetung der HirtenGod dwells in us,” also has a double meaning. God dwells in a community in the same sense you the reader dwells in the community. John has a second meaning in mind, also. He dwells in each of us who partake of the Eucharist. We become children of God. When God indwells in us, the essence of Christ dwells in us and enlightens us. We treat each other as family. We treat our planet as fellow parts of the same creation. The Aramaic for “Truth,” is “Ameth.” This is the “Alpha,” the middle letter of the Aramaic alphabet, and the last letter, which is in the shape of a cross. When we have the truth in us, we realize we are part of this grander whole.

CosmeticsJohn uses “Cosmos,” for the world. “Cosmos,” has the same root as, “cosmetics.” “Cosmos,” is the ordered world, the put together world we see when woman put that stuff on. When we realize we are part of God’s ordered world, we strive to guard and to keep it, as Genesis says. Jesus enlightens the world, and we enlighten the world by bring Jesus who dwells in us to it.

CosmosJohn tells us, “Come and see.” He does not say, “Come with your bibles and show people Gospel quotes. When Philip says, “Come and see,” neither has a bible with them. Philip has a light within him, which came from seeing Jesus. Nathanael responds to the light within Philip. Enlightening the world means having that indwelling spirit within us, and showing that light by being children of God, and extending life to others. Jesus is the life of the world, not darkness and death. Jesus is Torah, the formal cause of the world, not black splotches on pieces of paper bound together with cardboard. Jesus is light and life. When others see our light and ask where it comes from we say, Come and see.” When they come to Mass, we they come to Mass, do we show them light and life? Let our “Come and See,” be light and life for all this New Year! Le Chaim!

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and our Parish Family

habitOur first reading, Colossians 3:12-17 speaks to how we should behave as a parish. “Put on,” speaks to Aristotle’s influence in the writings of our church fathers. We have habits and the priests at our Cathedral wear habits. A habit is something we put on, as much as it something a religious puts on. St. Paul calls us to develop the listed habits. The Greek for “Heartfelt Compassion,” has “Womb,” as its root. The corresponding Semitic word, reaches out and is the root for their word, “Mercy,” mercy coming from the gut.

flames“Kindness,” in the Greek, comes from a root meaning, “Oh!” It is being so filled with feeling we cannot help but express it. “Humility,” comes from “Humus,” of the dirt. “To dust you came, and to dust you will return.” “Forgive one another,” the usual translation of this passage, and then “admonish,’ one another.” The original Greek goes further concerning how to behave than “Forgive.” St. Paul describes a community far removed from the congregations of churches, Protestant and Catholic, we see today.

The Cappadocian Fathers, describe community as participating in Perichoresis. This is the divine dance of the Trinity and between the Trinity and the church community. It is the dance of flames as the indwell in one another, then separate, but always having the same source. Lastly, it means the communal dance of the parish community. St. Paul speaks of a community that is mutually pleasing one another.

Words of InstitutionWe keep one another in mind, knowing the names, the needs, the hopes, and the desires of the other members of our community. Doing this, Christ indwells in us, as part of this Perichoresis. Emile Durkheim wrote one of the first books on Sociology. Catholics were far less likely to commit suicide than Protestants. The reasons, the Protestant Work Ethic, and Rugged Individualism.

Catholics had a support network, family and Church. We kept each other in mind, gathered, sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in our hearts, in perichoresis with God. We found one another jobs, fought harassment in the workplace, and fought to protect our environment, in conformity with Genesis 2. We fought to make sure hearth and home, work and market were all safe places to be. We did this in God’s name, seeing in the Eucharist, the Physical Presence of God.

Zechariah and ElezabethIn our second reading we also find, “Wives, stand under your husbands, as is proper in Kyrie. Husbands love your wives; avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, listen to your parents in everything…. The Greek for “Stand Under,” calls to mind the formation of an army in combat array. The Greek father was the commanding officer of his ship. His spouse was the executive officer. The wife’s role was as a helper, not a subordinate. View her as being as competent as her husband is. The children listened to their parents.

551675_464823303552020_718388587_nThis entails, “When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” He told them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know, I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke tells us he stood under his parents, the same word St. Paul uses for how the wife stands under her husband.

We read of the typical Brooklyn Jewish community of a century ago. Jesus is brash with his mother, to the point of insolence in the Anglo-Saxon family of then, and the middle-class family today. Our Blessed Virgin confronts her son, and he confronts her back. There is a dance going on here, and we are wise to see how the dance plays out. At its heart is a mercy reaching from Our Blessed Virgin’s womb, through Jesus, and into us. At rock bottom, there is the divine dance of community. Do we have it?

The events in Paris and the stories of Cain and Abel, and the flood

BloodbathAbel/Mist became a herder of flocks, Cain/Acquisition, a tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought an offering to the NAME from the fruit of the ground, Abel, brought the fatty portion of the firstlings of his flock. The NAME looked with favor on Abel and his offering. On Cain and his offering, he did not look with favor. Cain was very angry and dejected. The NAME told Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; if not, deviation lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

The sheep of his flockCain told his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. The NAME asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God replied, “What have you done? My bloods of your brother cries out to me from the ground/Adam!” Genesis 4:1-10

German-Shepherd-Dog-Alsatian-snarlingThe earth was bent in the view of God and full of passionate violence. When God saw how bent the earth had become, since all mortals had bent their ways on earth, God told Noah: I see that the end of all mortals has come, for the earth is full of passionate violence because of them. I am going to destroy them with the earth. Genesis 6:11-13

As the Shepherd herdsDeviation lies at the door. As we read about the terrible events in Paris, deviation lies at the door. Cain is angry, not with his brother Abel, but with God. There is a difference between the gifts of Abel and Cain. Cain brings the first fruits of his flock. The Hebrew word used is also the word for “Morning.” It is the early of the flock. Torah does not say the same of Cain’s flock. He brings the whatever. He is already angry with God and he shows this with his choice of gifts.

Abel is not part of this argument, but the recipient of the anger. We are our brother’s keeper. We are all God’s property. Cain tries to get even with God by attacking Abel. Whoever did the terrible events of Paris, 9-11, and elsewhere in the world, are angry with someone. They are angry with their lot in life. They are angry their traditions are not respected, so they strike out at Abel to vent their anger. The victims of 9-11, and of Paris are not part of the grander argument facing our world. They are only the recipients of misplaced anger. The victims of what is to come are not part of the argument, only recipients of the generating anger.

flamesThere is a moral in the story, which Genesis 6 tries to relate. The word used for “Violence,” has “Heat,” at its root. Jewish definitions of the term take this heat to mean passion, and from passion, violence. There will be retaliation for this terrible event. Most of the people participating in the Paris violence are already dead, or soon will be. They leave France in boxes.

Jesus criesElie Wiesel was right, God cries when he sees the violence perpetrated against the people of 9-11 and Paris. God cries when he sees the violence perpetrated against the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. He does not cry because they are Christian, or Muslim, religious, or non-religious. God cries when he sees young men in their 20’s, Muslim first, and then Jew and Christian, brainwashed with the lies of violence, turned into machines of death.

The violence will not end in France. We will isYear of mercyolate the people who funded these people and when we do, we will seek revenge. The rockets and drones will fly, and we will get even with the Arabs who did this. Most of the victims of this vengeance do not know this violence happened. Many do not know that Paris, or even France, New York, or even America exist. They are like us, trying to get from conception to the grave in one piece, and no more. We are all made in God’s image. God cries when he sees his image vandalized in his name.

Like those Punching contestwho died in Paris, all the victims are Abel in other men’s battles. Of course, they will have to get even, and we will continue our punching match. Genesis 6 gives our warning. God does not like violence, and if we persist in this violence, God will take the lot of us out to the woodshed, as he did with Noah. Hear is the warning, the choice is clear, violence or mercy. Take your pick.

We are made in God’s image. God goes through the same stages of grief humans do. First, he is in shock at the violence. Then he cries. He becomes angry. Watch this stage. His only bargain is, get it right or face the woodshed. He will only accept this planet when we are a people of peace. Pray for peace. Pray for all the victims, past, present, and future.


What gets remembered, at Jesus’ birth and today

One ugly kid 2I remember once, I must have been about five, when I asked dad, if he turned a right hand turn and went half a block, if a cop, knowing the right was red on the new street he was on could write him a ticket. I was ignored in the question, dad shrugging it off as a silly question, and I remember it to this day.

Bend OreThe angel told them, “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God, “Importance to God in the highest and on earth peace to those of noble thought.” Gospel reading for Christmas Mass at midnight.

Most people think the sign was the heavenly host as they appeared in the sky. This is not what Luke says. “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Period! The sign is something very mundane. The sign is a baby who looks just like any other newborn, laying in the most humble of places.

Statue of Liberty 3Mark has the “Clouds of heaven,” at Jesus’ trial. Nobody in the room thinks this refers to an event two thousand years into the future. Tell the world on September 10 of 2001 that the Twin Towers will fall, and you get a good laugh. Tell the same people the same thing today, and… The Romans had come marching through Israel, many times in the first century before Christ, and the century of Christ. Everyone knew what happened when the Romans came through. They tended to do much the same things. What upsets the Sanhedrin so much is not the brash prediction, as that all knew it was only a matter of time before it happened again. This kind of destruction had become almost mundane.

This brings us to the importance of Christmas. Do not look for God in the great War horseevents of history. He is there.  One of the great quotes of the Civil War is Robert E. Lee telling his Maj. Gen. Richard Ewell to take the heights, “If practicable.” Gen. Ewell did not feel it was practicable, so did not take the heights. That decision may have cost Lee Gettysburg, and the south the war. But for such a little phrase, the south might still have slavery today. God is in the little things.

Christmas in Incline Village NevadaJesus is better found in the manger, in the crèche, in the little moments of life. He is found in the person next to us, in depression, or hungry, or lying in tight clothes, either because there is not adequate funds for proper bundling, or because of the cold of the night, there being no money for adequate heating of the home. God is in the sad little boy who asks the silly question about how the cop knows dad made the turn at a green light and not a red one. Let us pay attention to all that is around us, because we never know what will be remembered; we never know when the smallest of things will come back and bite.


The Franciscan Spirit of Christmas; it is not what you think

John the Baptist“John heralded his coming, proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” Second Reading, Christmas Vigil

As we look at our priests this Christmas Vigil, see what habit they wear before vesting. It is that of the Franciscan Order. What does our order say about penance?

United by their vocation as brothers and sisters of penance, and motivated by the dynamic power of the gospel, let them conform their thoughts and deeds to those of Christ by means of that radical interior change which the gospel itself calls conversion. Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily. Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order Chapter 2 Section 7.

ST. FrancisThis same rule tells us, “The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people… Secular Franciscans should devote themselves to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to the gospel.” “Secular Franciscans, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity.” Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order Chapter 2 Section 4.

AnnaThis begins with John the Baptist and penance.Luke has John quote Isaiah, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of Kyrie, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

John was talking about the poor who are the economic valleys. He talks of the mountains of cash in the hands of the rich. The crooked people will find alternatives to their crooked ways. The rough, the scrub cattle of the human race, will no longer have to put on a tough facade to survive. All flesh, not just humans, will see the salvation/Joshua/Jesus, of God.

In Luke 2:36 Luke tells of Anna the Navy/ prophet. “Anna,” the female version of John or “Gracious,” is the daughter of Phanuel of Asher’s tribe. Asher means “Happiness.”

Phanuel is one of the four archangels listed in Enoch 40:8-9. Penance is throughout the nativity story. The Aramaic for Penance means a turning back to God. Penance is turning and Phanuelliving the Franciscan life through careful living from the Gospel to life and from life to the Gospel. This means encounter the living and active person of Christ in our brothers and sisters. Saint Francis speaks of Brother Son and Sister Moon. Everything and everyone around us is our brother and sister, regardless of anything they may have said or done, in the past, or in the future.

The sign from heaven is not up there, but down here.Franciscan tradition speaks of another John, according to Brother Thomas of Celano in, “The Lives of St. Francis of Assisi. “I would make memorial of that Child born in Bethlehem, and in some sort behold with bodily eyes His infant hardships; how He lay in a manger on the hay, with the ox and the ass standing by. When the good and faithful John heard it, he rushed and prepared all the things the Saint had told him of.”

Christmas in Incline Village NevadaThe Franciscan way of life is of Poverty, and Penance. What is poverty? Look at the crèche. George Foremen, the boxer, heard his children complain they lived in poverty because they could not have that new pair of Nike. He took them to the abject poverty of the Fifth Street Ward in Houston, and said, “That is poverty.” Look at the crèche; this is poverty, no romantic nostalgia here. A middle class home without the extras is not poverty.

As we look at the crèche, ask, are we people of penance, always comparing ourselves with the kindness and compassion of Christ? Do we act on what we see? Are we people of compassion, seeing, and acting on behalf of the Child, Jesus Christ, in all those who suffer? If not, let us ask again, “Are we penitential people?”

Reciting lengthy prayers, yesteryear, and today, and the widow’s mite

8919_1243228163516_2601477_nThe grammarians, who were the leadership of Jerusalem, recite lengthy prayers for our Gospel for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time. The prayers recited are still in use today. The Jewish community refers to the first as the Shema, which constitutes Jesus’ Great Commandment, and is in Deuteronomy 6:1-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-31. The Jewish community calls the second of these the Amidah or Standing Prayer of 18 Benedictions. It forms the heart of the Jewish liturgy performed three times per day by observant Jews.

Words of Institution 3Nothing in any of the benedictions is offensive to Christianity. The first three blessings of the Amidah are the Blessing of God as Father, God as Strength, and God as Holy. The next blessings are requests for: Knowledge, Return To God’s Way, Forgiveness, Redemption, Healing, Blessing Of God, Gathering Of The Exiles, Return Of Justice, Blessing Of The Charitable/Just, Request For God’s Return To Jerusalem, Return Of David’s Kingdom, A Request That Our Prayers Be Heard, A Request For The Return Of Temple Service As He Would Desire It, Thanks To God, And A Request For A Return Of Peace.

The leadership believed God would see their piety and answer their prayers. To the degree, these men did think others would see their piety; it was so they would follow their example.APTOPIX ICELAND VOLCANO

This condemnation of the leadership fur using lengthy prayers serves as a warning, for us. We would agree with any one of these prayers/blessings. Jesus quotes them as his Great Commandment. The problem is in their length, when combined into one liturgy. Shema is a public prayer, for the congregation.

Courtesy Holy Land Pilgrimage Synagogue of MagdalaAmidah is the silent prayer, one recites in the liturgy, silently. The temptation is to rush through this prayer so we finish when the rest of the congregation finishes. Because it is silent, we do not know when everyone else will finish. Do it fast, and do not meditate upon the words. When the emphasis is upon speed and not meditation, God cannot hear our prayer because there is nothing to here.

Think of those who pride themselves on reciting the rosary, with speed, and not contemplation. Think of  those who pride themselves on hearing the Mass in Latin, because it is the church’s language. In the first century the emphasis was upon reading in Hebrew, when the colloquial language was Aramaic. God cannot hear these words because there is nothing to hear. There is only the babble of words, and in the case of Latin, words in a foreign language. For context, the Greek word Matthew uses in this passage for the villains is “Grammarian.” “Scribe,” is a Latin word.

The devouring the houses of widows, followed by the example of the poor widow’s small coins provides context. The article, “Why does the poor widow give her mite?” asks what motivates the widows in this Sunday’s readings. It also asks, “Can the grammarians, the leadership of the upper middle-class understand what it means to be poor. The answer is a very strong, “No!” The article concludes the poor widow gives more because she understands what it is like to be poor. The widow in the first reading also understands poverty, so is more willing to give.

We have our warning. We need to be like the widows in our stories for this Sunday. The great warning in our reading is not about dropping liturgy, but in listening to the words and acting upon what we hear. We need to understand the lot of the poor and how they poor see their world. Then, we need to act upon what we see.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent and the meaning of liturgy

LectionaryThere are no unnecessary words in Torah or Gospel. For the first reading in the Fourth Sunday of Advent we read, “You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.” “Bethlehem,” often appears without the Ephrathah qualifier. Why is it here?

figOne dictionary explains how the root of the word is “Fruit.” “Fruit,” is a word of Semitic origin. Another dictionary, Jastrow’s explains how it comes from the same root as “Euphrates,” a river that divides as one travels north and west. Let us look how the passage changes if we assume the latter. “The Name will give them up.” The reference is to the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles. The people are divided and sent to foreign lands. “ “His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” His greatness divides as we reach out in diaspora to the ends of the earth.

wonderbreadThe Didache reads, “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.” After partaking of the Eucharist we read, “Remember, Kyrie, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for your kingdom which you have prepared for it…” Our church/House of Kyrie/God, is our Parish home. “Parish,” is also Greek, as is “Parochial,” for travelers with God. We are fellow travelers who pray that God will make us one.

Baby Jesus is not lifeless and plasticLiturgy divides many churches today. Should we sing the old songs or come up with new ones. Should we revert to Latin, or stay with English. Our second reading answers: God does not desire sacrifices. God is not that interested in liturgy. Liturgy is when we gather from the four winds, and dedicate ourselves to God, coming to do his will. If we do not understand the words of liturgy, how can liturgy teach us his will? “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard from their many words.” Matthew 6:7. If God listens to the heartfelt meaning of the words, and the words mean nothing, there is nothing for God to hear. God wants us to be simple as sheep, with simple liturgy, speaking to the heart. He wants people coming as the crumbs of bread from the four winds to do his will. What is his will?

Gerard van Honthorst Anbetung der Hirten“My animate being proclaims the greatness of the NAME; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. He looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” He wants a nation, a people born of common heritage who rejoice in his presence. This includes songs, hymns, and spiritual songs. Ephesians 5:19

It takes leadership and organization to feed a multitude. So, where is the leadership?“His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly” This is his will. We wants us dispersing those of arrogant of mind, who do not feel they have to listen to others. These people make unilateral decision on behalf of their charges and do not listen to those with different opinions than their own. They already know the truth. There is no need to listen. God wants who listen. “The hungry he filled with nobility; the rich he sent away empty.” God’s will is for us to do something about the wide and growing income gap between the rich and poor. “He helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham (E Pluribus Unum) and to his descendants forever.” He wants us to be a people of heritage, remembering where we came from, and making sure this does not happen to others.

Of War Horses, War Donkeys, a Just Society, and Just War

Donkey Jenny and foulHow many of you readers have ever heard of a war donkey? One site on the topic wrote, “When a donkey senses danger, his reaction is to freeze in place and assess the situation. In most cases, he will not move a step until he figures out the safest action. His habit of stopping and thinking, rather than running, is one of his survival means. This is what makes a donkey a trustworthy mount, especially on precarious trails. A tumbling rock or skittering snake makes him stop and think. The warhorse will bolt. ‘Better an ass rode than from a horse thrown.”

SupertrampThe donkey is stupid because it comes to different conclusions from the crowd. The donkey does not know the importance behind yellow stones. How many humans have died fighting over yellow stones. Are people really stupid because they do not think the same as we do? Numbers 22:22-40 has Balaam’s talking donkey. After Balaam beats his donkey three times he learns the donkey was right, not him. Is it wrong to learn from those we think are stupid? Sometimes they are the smart ones.

Donkeys and horsesDonkey’s and horses are peaceful animals. The horse will charge when commanded. The donkey will say, “No thanks! They have spears and stuff over there. You can go if you want, but I think I will sit this one out.” The horse, blindly follows the herd. The donkey thinks. The donkey therefore makes a terrible war animal.

In his City of God, Book 4, Chapter 15 St. Augustine asks if it is proper to wish to have a large kingdom/nation. His answer is, “No!” He reasons from the just war doctrine. The first criteria for a just war is damage inflicted by an aggressor on the nation or community of nations that is lasting, grave, and certain. How evil must a nati0n be, he argues, to wish our neighbors to do such a thing. It is far better to trust pack animals such as the donkey, than animals domesticated mainly for war. Then comes this wisdom, “If you have something against your brother, rest assured, he has something against you.” A just society does not wish for its neighbors to become evil. A just society is a penitential society always looking at itself, trying to see what its neighbors might have against it.

War horseIn Mark’s Triumphal Entry account, verse 10 continues, “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow he will banish, and proclaim peace to the nations.” When all people serve the One True God, putting him first, then strive to see the points of view of each other, war and violence will depart, but not before then.

war donkeyJesus chooses a donkey. He does not choose the proud warhorse, a creature following the herd, even to death. When a donkey senses danger, it thinks first. It refuses to move until it is sure if there is danger, where it is, and how to avoid it. If you want to get into the kingdom, you will be a person who thinks for yourself, and not follow the crowd. You will also be a person of peace, humbling yourself as the donkey, looking for the wooden beam in your own eye before seeing splinter in your neighbor’s. Do you want to be a person Jesus wants to choose? Do you want glory now, or glory later?