A next step in the plan

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a very Catholic celebration that is often misunderstood outside Catholicism (and to be fair sometimes among Catholics). In popular culture there are lots of misconceptions about the Immaculate Conception. In TV and movies when the woman wonders how her pregnancy is possible, “it just can’t be…” there is some character who comments, “Oh, another Immaculate Conception?”  But the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Virgin Birth. In correctly-expressed Catholic theology, our celebration, the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, the one we honor with the title the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you would like to read about the development of the celebration and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, you can find that information here. Continue reading

A drop in the ocean

We get lots of advice all through our lifetime.  For example: advice on the best schools, places to live and vacation, and places to dine. If you buy a book on Amazon, watch a movie on Netflix, or do anything online, they are quick to advise you on other books to purchase, movies to watch, or what’s next in your life. Such advice might change your evening plans, but won’t change your life. John the Baptist has some advice for us all: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!Continue reading

You have to be ready

In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says that All nations shall stream toward it. Of course he is speaking about a day in the future when the light of salvation will shine from the highest mountain. If you grew up in Orlando, you could be forgiven for thinking Isaiah was referring to Space Mountain at Disney World. Based on all measures of tourism, people indeed stream toward that Magical Kingdom – that entertainment mecca that offers a respite from the imperfect, unredeemed world in which we live. Continue reading

The King of Hearts

While we as an American people might be fascinated with things of the royal family, tales of King Arthur and his Round Table, affairs of Lords and Ladies, and all manner of things of the Royal Court – we fought a revolutionary war to throw off the burden of kings in order to live free. As a political people we want no king. But what about as a people of faith? Of course, the answer is “yes” on this day we celebrate “Christ the King Sunday!” Continue reading

His Most Holy Work

In Jesus’ day when standing on the Mount of Olives there was one thing that dominated the skyline of Jerusalem – the Temple – hovering over the Old City, and visible from every balcony in the upper city. It was the great building project of King Herod the Great who enhanced the existing Temple to be a “wonder of the world.” The temple occupied a platform twice as large as the Roman Forum and four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis.  Herod reportedly used so much gold to cover the outside walls that anyone who gazed at them in bright sunlight risked blinding herself. It is no surprise that “… some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings (Luke 21:5).  And so, there are the disciples taking in the view – the Temple and all its glory. It was a structure that held religious memory, anchored an identity as a people chosen by God. It was a sign of their Covenant with God. The Temple was the sign of the one, true God, home of scriptures and the commandments. The Temple and all it promised was their desire and fulfillment of their dreams.

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The Power of the Resurrection

One of the things that has ever been true for the whole of history is that the tyrant always holds out death as the final word. They hold the power of death and depend on our fear of it. They yield the specter of death to bend us to their will. You see it in the dictatorial rule of strongarm dictators using death squads to disappear enemies and their associates. You see it in the bombing of civilian infrastructure, utilities, and housing. A reign of terror so that whoever is not killed in the onslaught, will face the terror of a Ukrainian winter without shelter or heat. As ballistic missiles continue to fall, it adds to the toll of death and despair.  The tyrant presents the such power as ultimate and the resulting death as the end. Continue reading

Room for surprise

Zacchaeus – we know him well, right? He is the chief tax collector, short of stature, wealthy, looked down upon by Romans and Jews alike. His fellow countrymen considered him a sinner – says so right there in verse 7. They know him. We know him. If you go to Jericho today, they will show you the sycamore tree in which Zacchaeus climbed just to catch a glimpse of Jesus. We know the story, right? Another sinner that Jesus has come to rescue from perdition. Says so right there in verse 10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.Continue reading

It ain’t over

The early 20th century evangelist, Billy Sunday is reported to have said once that the best thing that could happen to any person would be to reach a moment of deep conversion, to be justified, to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Savior, walk out of the revival tent, be hit by a truck, and killed instantly. There would be no backsliding, no withering under the scorching sun of modern life, and no chance to move from this one moment. Continue reading

The arc of prayer

In the epic novel The Lord of the Rings, the elves of Lothlorien admit that they are losing their forest lands. But they battle on. They describe their struggle as “fighting the long defeat.” This is the source of the comment made by Paul Farmer, who fought a “losing battle” for health care for the poor. Farmer was a physician and medical anthropologist who co-founded “Partners in Health”, an NGO committed to the idea that good public health and medicine was possible to poor areas of the world. In Tracy Kidder’s biography of Farmer (Mountains Beyond Mountains) Farmer says, “I have fought the long defeat and brought other people on to fight the long defeat, and I’m not going to stop because we keep losing… I actually think sometimes we may win… So, you fight the long defeat.” His life and work reminds me of the persistent widow. Continue reading

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened…

The Franciscan Order arose in the 13th century around the person of Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, better known to us as Saint Francis of Assisi.  The Franciscan Order was established by the verbal command of Pope Innocent the mission statement given was to follow Christ and preach penance – and the second part was a surprise to Francis. What started as an informal fraternity of Francis and three followers before his death some 20 years later grew to some 3,000 friars. The first wave of friars were formed by simply watching the example of Francis. By Francis’s death most friars had not ever met Francis – they knew stories, but had no personal experience of him. In such a milieu, it is not surprising that differences would arise “about what Francis intended” for this fraternity of religious men. Continue reading