Distant Promises

The daily readings are never meant to be a Bible Study per se, but unless one has a sense of the book or scroll from which it is taken, I think people unfamiliar with, e.g. the prophet Jeremiah, easily are lost as the reading is proclaimed. It just becomes words, strange sounding names and places, and a storyline that is not clear. Perhaps particularly true this week.

  • Monday’s reading has a prophet Hananiah proclaiming all will be well. Sure, the Babylonians are at the gates, but God will rescue – He always does. The problem is that the Lord’s prophet, Jeremiah, has been preaching the conditions of rescue – return to the Covenant and live as God’s own people. Judah and Jerusalem have already revolted against Babylon and now they are in revolt against God. It won’t go well.
  • Tuesday’s reading has the judgment of God given against Judah and Jerusalem: “Incurable is your wound, grievous your bruise; There is none to plead your cause, no remedy for your running sore, no healing for you. All your lovers have forgotten you…” (Jer 30:12-14a) Destruction is imminent.
  • Today’s reading reveals that even in the face of revolt, even though judgment will result, God does not give up on his covenant or his people. “With age-old love I have loved you; so I have kept my mercy toward you. Again I will restore you, and you shall be rebuilt,” (Jer 31:3-4a)

Restored, yes! But for what purpose? As Monday’s gospel admonished, to be salt of the earth and a light to the nations – even the ancient enemies now gone, Babylon, and the enemies still present, the Canaanites. As with the Canaanite woman of great faith, so too the path to reconciliation and restoration begins with faith. That is the leaven and the light to come be a member of the family of God.

Fallen stones from 70 AD Temple Mount destruction in Jerusalem by Romans, Jerusalem Archaeological Garden and Davidson Center” by Following Hadrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Who must listen?

This coming weekend is the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we looked at the virtue of preparedness as integral to the true spirit of discipleship. Since the beginning of Luke 12 Jesus has been admonishing and encouraging discipleship, but there seems to be some confusion as to the intended audience. In v.41: Then Peter said, “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Peter perhaps speaks for all the apostles when he asks about the parable. Continue reading

Holidays you shouldn’t miss…

…or maybe it is totally fine to take a pass on some of the more quirky “holidays” out there. Here is a sample for this week:

  • August 1, Monday – National Mustard Day
  • August 2, Tuesday – National Ice Cream Sandwich Day
  • August 3, Wednesday – National Watermelon Day
  • August 4, Thursday – National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day
  • August 5, Friday – National Oyster Day
  • August 6, Saturday – National Root Beer Float Day

I am pretty sure there is no “National Holiday Board” that screen these things – and these are just some of the holidays proclaimed on the days above (I went with the food theme). Since there is no official screening agency, I hereby declare:

  • August 7, Sunday – National Friar Musings Day

….y’all have a good day!

Memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori

St. Alphonsus is the patron saint of moral theologians. In his day, Alphonsus strove to free the Church from a moral theology that was ever more influenced by something called Jansenism.

What is Jansenism? You could spend a whole day tracking its roots from Tertullian and Augustine to the teachings of 18th century Catholic Bishop Jansen, here is the short form: John Calvin was on the right track in his thoughts about the depravity of human nature, hard predestination, the separation of grace and human freedom, and more – but Calvin was too soft. Jansenism was more Calvin than Calvin.

Rather than deep dive into moral theology, in the simplest of explanations, Jansenism led to a legalism and rigidity in pastors and confessors in which the faithful were expected to pray, pay and obey – and follow the rules. Bishop Jansen did not write out his moral viewpoint until the last years of this life – and the writings were instantly condemned. But the damage was done. Jansenism was already the primary world view taught in French seminaries of a generation or more.  The English had closed all the seminaries in Ireland. All Irish priests were trained in French Jansenists seminaries. When the Irish seminaries were reopened, the teachers were Jansenists in thought. Jansenism was deeply rooted in the formation of priests, especially in Ireland.

The net effect of all this was generations of Catholic priests that were not hyper-Jansenists theologically, but were in the pastoral sense: unbeding, condemning, certain of the depravity of humanity, enforcer of rules and piety, and more. I could go on, but we who are old enough remember such priests from our youth and these days we are witness to rise in neo-Jansenism.

Is this historical legacy important? Consider Ireland. The influence of Catholicism in Ireland has been waning long before the sex abuse scandal because of the “the joyless quasi-Jansenist character of the Irish Church.” (Damien Thompson, Spectator). A Catholic culture shaped by Jansenism distorts our understanding of the human person and society, produces poor theology and worse pastoral practice and can wreak havoc even if the institutional forms of the Church endure for a time. But ultimately they will not endure.

In the first reading today, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, there is a lexicon of words that would have spoken to the heart of St. Alphonsus: condemnation, law, freedom, weakened flesh, and righteousness in Christ – all topics of moral theology. Aphonsus wrote from his experience as a pastor and confessor and the light of the harm done by Jansenism. His was a moral theology of Joy in which God’s grace overflowed proposing and not imposing salvation – and human will was free to accept the proposal with a faith response…or not. It was a model of moderation and gentleness because Alphonsus understood “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, we are “freed you from the law of sin and death,” saved by the redeeming death of Christ “so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us.

We are given the grace to be drawn and understand the proposal and the free will to accept the great gift – such is the simple basis of the moral theology of St. Alphonsus Liguori.

Image: Stained glass window of Saint Alphonse Liguori | Carlow Cathedral | Franz Mayer & Co. (Mayer & Co. of Munich). Photo credit: Andreas F. Borchert, CC-BY-SA

From gospel to gospel

This coming weekend is the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Year C. Last weekend our gospel was the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21). You might have noticed that the gospel then jumps ahead to Luke 12:58. What about the passage in between (vv.22-34)? It is not used for a Sunday gospel – yet it carries an important context for our passage and serves as a bridge between the lesson of the rich fool and our text which seems to speak of the second coming of the Son of Man and the judgment that awaits. Continue reading

Filling the storehouse

Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly:  immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry” – such is St Paul’s advice to the believers in Colossae.  (Colossians 3:5) There is a part of me that always wants to hear that proclaimed in rhythms and tones of the Southern tent revival preacher. I want to hear the fire and brimstone and feel the steely-eyed glare that I know is aimed at my heart, ready to reveal to all the world that I am but another idolater whose hidden life is contemptible and condemnable. It’s an acquired taste. …not one to likely carry the day at our Mass this morning. As I said: an acquired taste, but there are nonetheless the deadly sins that need to be put to death lest they lead to our eternal death.

In our gospel we have the one known as the rich fool held up to us for our consideration. Jesus’ central warning is: “Take care to guard against all greed for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Jesus does not condemn the complex realities of aspiration, wealth, growth, inheritance, success, profit, but warns these are potential portals for greed to plant itself in the human heart. The author of our first reading understood that as he wrote: “The covetous are never satisfied with money, nor lovers of wealth with their gain; so this too is vanity” (Ecc 5:9). Such is the bitter irony of greed: it can’t deliver what it promises. As the monk John Cassian noted in the 4th century: “When money increases, the frenzy of covetousness intensifies.” Greed is insatiable. It always wants more. How much more? As John D. Rockefeller admitted, the seductive “just a little bit more.”

Greed is the desire to possess more than we need. We normally associate greed with money, but we can be greedy for many things — for food, fame, sex, or power. Christians have always identified greed or avarice as one of the seven deadly sins. New Testament Greek scholar William Barclay describes greed as an “accursed love of having,” which “will pursue its own interests with complete disregard for the rights of others, and even for the considerations of common humanity.” He labels it an aggressive vice that operates in three spheres of life:

  • In the material sphere it involves “grasping at money and goods, regardless of honor and honesty.”
  • In the ethical sphere it is “the ambition which tramples on others to gain something which is not properly meant for it.”
  • In the moral sphere, it is “the unbridled lust which takes its pleasure where it has no right to take.”

Greed. Avarice. It is out there. No one is immune to its grasp. And still we are left to grapple with the complex realities of aspiration, wealth, growth, inheritance, success, and profit – all of which can be good – and in their right proportion have been praised by popes in their social justice encyclicals. But greed persists – and it has its consequences.

The wages of the deadly sin of greed is death as the rich fool will find out that very evening. “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.

What might be the counterpoint, a vaccination against greed? I am not a big fan of “Lord please help me to not be greedy.” The problem might be that it only leaves a void – and nature abhors a void. That void will fill up with something,

I wish today’s second reading had included the next two verses where St. Paul answers the gospel question of what matters to God:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.” (Col 3:12-14)

These are the riches that matter to God. If we make our heart a storehouse of this treasure, then we will be truly rich not only in this life, but in the life to come.

In prayer ask God to send the Spirit of holy reminders to begin each day with, “Lord, on this day, help me to recognize the moments when I can be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, and forgiving – even if I am not necessarily feeling those virtues.” Being mindful allows you to practice the virtues anway. Practice becomes the way you think, the way you act, the words you use, the character you develop and the person you become.

It fills up your spiritual storehouse with what matters to God – and then you are truly rich.


Image: “The First Circle of Hell: Greed” by Great Beyond is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Small town post offices

Back in the 80s and early 90s I lived in a small hamlet in Norther Virginia. My house was two wrong turns off the main road into the hamlet. I used “main road” as a descriptor only because it was larger than all other other roads. The hamlet was small with less than 40 houses, still we did not have mail delivery. But we did have a post office. It was attached to the side of one of the houses, but it was an official postal office with a full time Postmaster – or as she preferred, Postmistress. I usually gathered up the mail once a week on Saturday mornings. In addition to the mail, other services were available: weather forecasts, local news, political updates, friendly chatter, health updates on neighbors, and whatever else was being offered on the front porch of the post office. Lest you think it was an image of small town America, think smaller. The post office was it. If you wanted coffee on the front porch, you brought your own. In the village, neighbors were important. They watched your house when you were gone. They challenged strangers that might be hanging about. It is a fine balance between watchful and nosey.  From time to time I think about Saturdays at the post office and wonder about all that is being lost in our modern world.

Making a fuss

If you read this blog often enough you know that I am always interested in words, especially their etymological origins. But sometimes words are just fun and have fun “cousins” – the far less technical term for synonyms.  The “Word of the Day” from Merriam Webster on this day is one of those “fun family” of words, beginning with “brouhaha” meaning “a noisy confusion of sound” or “state of commotion.”  And now for the cousins: uproar, hubbub, williwaw, hullabaloo, bobbery, and kerfuffle. Some are more fun than others to use in a sentence. And there is no need to make a foofaraw about which might be more fun.