Too strange to not be true

Fair warning, this is not my usual fare for posting. As it happens I am in my office waiting for a parishioner when I came across this article. Here is the setup.  Do you remember the chewing gum chiclets (it has its own Wiki page)? The brand was introduced in 1900 by the American Chicle Company, a company founded by Thomas Adams. Do you remember the Alamo? The Mexican general at the Alamo was General Antonio López de Santa Anna – or as he in know, General Santa Anna, later in his life he was a next door neighbor to Adams on Staten Island. Chicle was a native product in Santa Anna’s home territory. He thought it would be a great alternative to rubber. That did not work out, but chewing gum did. You can read the “too strange not to be true” story here.

Lord of All

christ-dancing-christianLife can be breathless. Sometimes we need to take a breath and see how far we have come; to ponder our successes, our failings, all the hurdles we jumped, disasters we dodged, and things that we accomplished. As strange as it might seem, the Easter Season can be a time to think about Lent. At the beginning of Lent the classic refrain  is “What are you giving up?” One parishioner who loves chocolate gave it up entirely for Lent. I asked, “Did that bring you closer to God?” The response was, “Not really. I just end up being cranky and miserable for all of Lent.” I am pretty sure that was not the hoped-for result. Within the tradition of prayer, alms giving, and fasting, there needs to be a path that makes room in your life for our God who is ever close to us. Continue reading

Fantastic fishing

Even after a fruitless night of fishing, tired and ready to “call it a night”, the disciples dutifully cast the nets again. On their own they had caught nothing, but in response to Jesus’ command, there is a fantastic catch of fish (cf. 4:50, 53; 5:8; 11:43). The mention of precisely 153 fish (v. 11) has led to symbolic interpretations of all kinds. And indeed, there must be symbolism involved (unless one assumes that the disciples took time out to make a count).

Saint Jerome believed that the zoology of his time taught that there were 153 different kinds of fish; and the number, as a result, reflected universality. Jerome was probably incorrect about the zoologists of his own day, but his idea about universal symbolism was probably correct. Augustine of Hippo argued that the significance lay in the fact that 153 is the sum of the first 17 integers with 17 representing the combination of divine grace (the 7 gifts of the Spirit) and law (the Ten Commandments). Augustine goes farther and notes that “153” is the “triangular number.” He arrives at this conclusion noting that 153=1!+2!+3!+4!+5! (math refresher: factorials). When the factorials are arranged (see diagram), one sees an image of the Trinity.  (Sorry: I was an undergraduate math major , and just had to include this…!)

Over time there have been a host of theories, but the scholar D. A. Carson discusses this and other interpretations and concludes “If the Evangelist has some symbolism in mind connected with the number 153, he has hidden it well.” Perhaps we can let Carson have the last word.

Futile fishing

FISHERS-OF-MEN1 After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. 2 Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. [from today’s gospel]

Many quickly pass over the beginning of this passage to move to the miraculous catch signaling the presence of Jesus on the shoreline. But to do so would be to miss the “apostolic roll call.”

Continue reading

Push and Pull

immigration-people“The Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church with a long history of embracing diverse newcomers and providing assistance and pastoral care to immigrants, migrants, refugees, and people on the move.  Our Church has responded to Christ’s call for us to “welcome the stranger among us,” for in this encounter with the immigrant, the migrant, and the refugee in our midst, we encounter Christ” so writes the US Catholic Conference of Bishops. As well, in these days one walks into a political maelstrom that echoes the deep political divide. One only need read the news to read about the events unfolding at our southern border – and depending on the source you use you will get a certain slant on the events as “crisis”, “humanitarian disaster”, with blame assigned to past or current administrations. Continue reading

Growing in faith

he_qi_road_to_emmausIn the Lucan recounting of the events of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, our story occurs on the evening of Easter Sunday. The women have found the tomb empty, there have been encounters with the Resurrected Jesus, and the news is spreading among the small group of faithful. But not all have heard – not the two disciples on the “Road to Emmaus” (24:17) – yesterday’s gospel. The first verse of today’s gospel more traditionally belongs to the story of the disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Let us pick up the ending of that story: Continue reading

Our presence at table

In the gospel of Luke, what is the most important city? If the number of times mentioned is the criteria, then Jerusalem is the answer, being mentioned more than 90 times in the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. I imagine there are all kinds of “what is Luke’s favorite…” questions, but an insightful one come from Fr. Bill McConville OFM. Fr. Bill has a daily podcast on Soundcloud that you can subscribe to and be very much enlightened by his insights:  So… what is Luke’s favorite piece of furniture? 

The dining room table. Throughout the Gospel, Luke’s narrative features Jesus at table. At table with the high born and low, with the Pharisees and the sinners, with the socially connected and the socially outcast – all manner of people. Death and Resurrection does not discontinue meeting Jesus as the table setting – consider the account on the Road to EmmausAnd it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31)

Perhaps pointedly so in this time of pandemic, we should consider the importance that we place on presence at the table. The pandemic makes us no less busy and in fact may have already increased the amount of time together as people work from home, children are virtually at school, and more. Does the family still gather at the table? Is there blessing, not just in the formal prayer of blessing, but is the conversation edifying, constructive, hopeful, help to build relationships, and continue the fellowship of the gathering.

The table was likely Jesus’ favorite piece of furniture. It was a place where people could encounter the person and fellowship of Jesus. Do our tables provide the same gateway?

Seeking understanding

Women-Tomb-RunningThis is the year in which we primarily read from the Gospel of Mark – at least on Sundays. But since it is the shortest of the gospels, we supplement it with a lot from the other three gospels. Like this morning, when read the traditional Johannine scene of Mary Magdalene mistaking Jesus for the gardener. We get to encounter the risen Jesus, the first witness, some next steps, and all quickly moving to proclamation “I have seen the Lord.”

Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

Continue reading