Monthly Archives: August 2019

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years later.

Paul’s letters illustrate his practice of going first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Before his conversion to Christianity, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now members of the Pharisaic movement sharply confront him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel would lead you to think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees, like Nicodemus and Paul himself, became his most important followers, The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to Jesus in his lifetime; he was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message, but he didn’t see them as mortal, eternal enemies.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written; It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

What lesson can we learn from learn from readings like these? Don’t demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring to God all of creation, not just a part of it. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

The Passion of John the Baptist

IMG_1460

August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Saint Augustine

Augustine baptism
Augustine’s Baptism, Gozzoli

August 28, Feast of St. Augustine

His feast comes the day after we honor his mother Monica, Augustine was changed by encountering the mystery of God. It was not his brilliant mind or human gifts that created the encounter; it was God’s grace, which we all look for.

Yet, look at the scene of his baptism, above. There’s Monica standing behind St. Ambrose. A mother’s prayers had something to do with it too.

Here’s Augustine himself on his conversion: “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.” 

And God became his Light.

“O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me’”.

The Light was Christ.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!,

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (Confessions)

Here’s a biography of Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI

Here’s a wealth of material on Augustine from Villanova University

From a Wedding to “Deep Time”

From a family wedding last weekend where the bride and groom gave us a love story, a cousin of mine took me to Washington, DC, to visit the “Deep Time” exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It’s been a panoramic few days.

The wedding itself, in the words of our Irish visitors, was “grand.” Young kids and old people, two big families and their friends were there. They were all at the Mass in church and then ate and danced through the night and then most came back the next day for a splendid brunch in a garden filled with flowers and a new litter of dogs. A celebration.

It lasted almost as long as the Marriage Feast of Cana, I think. The words used about that feast could be said for this one:

”But you shall be called ‘ My delight’ and your land ‘espoused’

for the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse.” (Isaiah 62)

The land stretched out at the “Deep Time” exhibit, which takes you back 4.5 billion years to the origin of our earth

Deep Time Exhibit, Smithsonian

The exhibit itself is an attempt to foster the broad thinking we need to face the future by understanding the past. It’s hard to think big. That applies to both the world of science as well as the world of religion, but we need big thinking today.

One wonderful presentation at the exhibit asks you to see how you are connected with 4.5 billion years ago. We just didn’t happen. 

And doesn’t it go beyond that? Science only goes so far.

Monica

Monica augustine

We remember a mother and her son this week, St. Monica and her son St. Augustine. A song I heard long ago said: “A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing.” Augustine could have sung that song.

In his “Confessions,” he praised God for bringing him “late” to a faith he found beautiful, but he also acknowledges a mother’s tears and prayers helped bring him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who, as she brought her dead son to be buried, met Jesus who saw her tears and stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

Like many women of her time, we don’t know much about Monica. She married a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids, but Augustine was special; she followed him, hoping be would be the person she knew he could be. Above all, she wanted him to have faith.

He was a hard son to deal with, smart, well educated, hooked on the “lovely things” about him, deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she followed him anyway, convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish

Doesn’t she sound like many today? How many today love their kids, or their husbands or their wives or their friends, but worry they’ll get mixed up in the wrong things–not going to church, deaf to the gospel? But they stick by them anyway.

That’s not easy to do and so it’s good to remember Monica and the moving words to God Augustine wrote in his Confessions. Did he ever show them to her, I wonder?

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Fittingly, the church celebrates Monica’s feast on August 27th,  the day before her son’s.

Blessed Dominic Barberi

img-Blessed-Dominic-Barberi

August 26th,  the Passionists remember one of their great missionaries, Blessed Dominic Barberi, born in Viterbo, Italy, in 1792. Early on, God inspired him to be a missionary to England.

The desire to work for Christian unity grew after Dominic entered the Passionist community, where he taught theology and was a spiritual director. In 1842 he went to England hoping to bring the English church and the Roman Catholic church together as one. Initially,  he tried to engage the leading religious scholars at Oxford in dialogue.

The Industrial Revolution was changing that country, however, and thousands of poor Catholic immigrants from Ireland were flocking to the great English factory towns, fleeing famine and looking for work. Priests were needed and Dominic, though he never spoke English well, tirelessly preached and ministered to them.

Dominic never got his wish to engage the learned scholars of England as a lecturer at Oxford, but he was noticed by them all the same. One of  England’s greatest intellectuals, John Henry Newman, was attracted to Dominic, not by the religious tracts he sent to him, but by his zeal and humility. Newman was looking for those qualities in the Roman church at the time.

“If they want to convert England,” Newman wrote earlier, “let them go barefoot into our manufacturing towns, let them preach to the people like St Francis Xavier–let them be pelted and trampled on, and I will own they do what we cannot…Let them use the proper arms of the Church and they will prove they are the Church.”

Dominic, humble, zealous and faithful, used “the proper arms of the Church.” When Newman decided to enter the Catholic Church, he asked for Father Dominic Barberi to receive him.

“All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event,” Dominic wrote later, “ I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.”

And they have been.

Longer biography here:

Writings of Blessed Dominic can be found here.

Blessed Dominic is buried here.