Monthly Archives: December 2010

Winning the Lottery


I’m not up on playing the lottery, so I asked Sal the Barber, in the place where all things are discussed, what would he suggest if I wanted to send my sister some lottery tickets for her birthday? I discovered the lottery is an arcane world as he rattled off the choices, but finally Sal settled on “A Lifetime Winner” as his recommendation.

If my sister won she would get $1,000 every month for the rest of her life.

“She’s up there in age, so I don’t know if that’s a good deal,” I said to him, but he countered with a complicated solution that involved designating some young relatives to take the winnings, while my sister could benefit quietly for the rest of her years.

Too deep for me to understand, but anyway I went next store and said the code words to the man at the lottery machine and he handed me the tickets. Sal gave me $5 to get some tickets for him too. He said he was sure I was lucky today.

Who says faith is dead?


Seeing God

Here’s why I like St. Ireneaus:

“The prophets foretold that God would be seen by us; as indeed the Lord himself confirmed: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

But at the same time God is great and unspeakably glorious, so that no one shall see God and live, for God can never be completely understood. But God is loving and kind and omnipotent, and so he gives the sight of God, the greatest gift of all, to those who love him. Even this was foretold by the prophets: For those things that are humanly impossible, are possible with God.

We don’t see God by our own powers; but we see God when it pleases him that this should be so. God decides who should see him, and when, for God is powerful in all things. He was seen in the past prophetically, through the Spirit, and now by adoption through the Son; and in the kingdom of heaven he will be seen as a true father. The Spirit prepares humanity for the Son of God, the Son leads it to God, and the God gives it the gift of incorruptible eternal life, a life that everyone receives who sees God.”


We Only Hear Secular Sermons

The sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus I looked at yesterday was directed to people experiencing the barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire in the  5th century.  Notice he never mentions in his sermon the barbarians, or their leaders, or what places have been burned, or those from this village or that who had been enslaved or made hostages.

That’s all said through the images of Noah’s flood, of Abraham’s journey, of the exodus of Jews from Egypt, images forming the substance of his sermon. Through these images he offers meaning and comfort for what people of his time are experiencing.

Today it’s so different. We seem to get only the actual experiences, the bare facts of our time, the raw data of life, without the benefit of ultimate meaning and comfort. We’re flooded with facts and images about our worldwide economic, political and military disasters.  And it’s always more and more. If any interpretation is given at all by our media–the preachers of our time– it’s usually a political spin. “Liberals” or “conservatives” are responsible for it all.

We only hear secular sermons.

We’re missing God’s word offering meaning and comfort.

Later preachers after Peter Chrysologus, like St. Paul of the Cross, would tell us to make the Stations of the Cross if we want to know what’s going on. In the unjust judgment of Jesus, his falling and rising again, his meeting with his mother, his crucifixion, death and resurrection, we can find ourselves and our world. We were there. We are there now.


Love in Ruins


The playwright Stephen Sondheim in a recent interview on The Newshour said that playwrights should listen to their audience and know who they are and what kind of world they live in. Preachers have to do that too.

You can see St. Peter Chrysologus of Ravenna, in a homily today in the Office of Readings, doing that. He’s describing a fearful world falling into ruins. It’s the Roman Empire coming apart as barbarian tribes invade it in the late 5th century.

The bishop of Ravenna uses biblical images, not current events, to describe what’s happening. It’s a deluge, like that experienced by Noah in his time. But notice how he sees God working lovingly through it all:

“Thus, when the earth had grown old in evil, God sent the flood both to punish and to release it. He called Noah to be the father of a new era, urged him with gentle words, and showed his trust in him. He instructed him about the present and reassured him about the future. God did not just issue orders but shared in the work of shutting into the ark all that was to be born into the world in the future. Thus by sharing in love he took away servile fear, and he protected with shared love whatever their shared labour had saved.”

So God works lovingly, and not at a distance, but side by side with Noah as the deluge goes on, taking away his fear.

It’s a world such as Abraham experienced, unsettling, calling for change. But a loving God is also at Abraham’s side as he journeys into a strange world:

“Thus God called Abraham out of the heathen world, lengthened his name from ‘Abram’, and made him our father in faith. He accompanied him on his journeys, protected him in foreign lands, enriched him with possessions, and honoured him with victories. He made promises to him, saved him from harm, accepted his hospitality, and astonished him by giving him the offspring he had despaired of. Abraham was favoured with so many good things and drawn by God’s sweet love so that he would learn to love, not fear: love, not fear was to inspire him to worship.”

Mosaics in the ancient churches of Ravenna often feature Abraham.

The bishop of Ravenna goes on to describe Jacob wrestling with a loving God and Moses called to lead a people into a new land. The God who works in ruins and challenges does not lead to fear and despair but love and promise.

As we discover God in the deluge, on the journey, in desperate situations, we say with Moses: “If I have found favor with you, show me your face,”  the bishop says. “Love cannot accept not seeing the thing that it loves. That is why the saints counted whatever they deserved as being nothing if it did not mean that they could see the Lord.”

Experiencing the mystery of the cross, finding a loving God in our sufferings, leads us to seek the face of God.

Peter, the bishop of Ravenna , spoke golden words, that’s why he was called “Chrysologus.” The Empress Galla Placida, who had her share of suffering and exile, heard him speak and probably gave him that title. He’s one of the patrons of preachers. They say he was always afraid of boring people when he spoke. Would that we were all fearful of that!


Drink Plenty of Water

“Drink plenty of water if you want to get rid of that cold” they told me yesterday. And here’s St Ambrose, one of the doctors of the western church, saying the same thing today:

“Drink, then, from Christ, so that your voice may also be heard. Store up in your mind the water that is Christ, the water that praises the Lord. Store up water from many sources, the water that rains down from the clouds of prophecy.
Whoever gathers water from the mountains and leads it to himself or draws it from springs, is himself a source of dew like the clouds. Fill your soul, then, with this water, so that your land may not be dry, but watered by your own springs.
He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others. So Scripture says: If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.
Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that in your exhortations you may charm the ears of your people. And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership. Let your sermons be full of understanding. Solomon says: The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise; and in another place he says: Let your lips be bound with wisdom. That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out. See that your addresses and expositions do not need to invoke the authority of others, but let your words be their own defence. Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.”

Looking for a Guide?

Look to Jesus Christ, St. John of the Cross writes:

“Therefore if someone were now to ask questions of God or seek any vision or revelation, he would not only be acting foolishly but would be committing an offence against God – for he should set his eyes altogether upon Christ and seek nothing beyond Christ.

God might answer him after this manner, saying: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. I have spoken all things to you in my Word. Set your eyes on him alone, for in him I have spoken and revealed to you all things, and in him you shall find more than you ask for, even more than you want.

I descended upon him with my Spirit on Mount Tabor and said This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him. You have no reason to ask for new teaching or new answers from me because if I spoke to you in the past then it was to promise Christ. If people asked questions of me in the past then their questions were really a desire of Christ and a hope for his coming. For in him they were to find all good things, as has now been revealed in the teaching of the Evangelists and the Apostles. “ (Ascent to Mount Carmel)


Where’s John the Baptist preaching today?

Where are our John the Baptists today? I was watching Fr. Corapi on television last night on EWTN, preaching before a large appreciative audience. His talk was about Why Catholics Leave the Church. They leave because of pride, he said.

They don’t recognize the truth of the Church or the authority of the pope. By missing Mass and the sacraments they cut themselves off from sanctifying grace. Pride is their downfall.  Fr. Corapi comes down hard on “lousy” seminaries and liberal schools, Catholic and secular. His world is black and white; he doesn’t like grey.

In today’s readings, John the Baptist speaks from the wilderness and with sharp eyes looks at the world of his day. They come from Jerusalem and Judea, from everywhere to hear him. No one is excluded from his call to repent, not even himself.

He’s especially hard on the Pharisees and scribes who think they’re safely home:  “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
 coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, 
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you, 
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

When a John the Baptist preaches, no one is left out, including himself.  Try this one out as a John the Baptist sermon for today,