Problems of the human condition

Next Sunday is the 26th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle with the Gospel reading be taken from Mark 9:38-48. As in the gospel of last Sunday, this gospel also continues the teaching and preparation of the disciples. In this passage it seems clear that Jesus is pointing out some of the problems that the community will face – and many of them can be understood as problems of the human condition. The concerns of this coming Sunday’s passage are: (1) ambition among themselves (vv. 33–37); (2) envy and intolerance of others (vv. 38–41); and (3) scandalizing others (vv. 42–48).

It is good to remember that Jesus has just said to the Twelve: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.” In this Sunday’s gospel it would seem the children are still present in the scene, as Jesus says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin….” (Mt 9:42) Continue reading

Praying for Wisdom

Last week the question was “who do you say that I am?” Did you come up with an answer? Maybe some of you are thinking to yourself… “did he really expect us to think about that question?” Short answer: yes. Seems like a pretty important question, don’t ya’ think? I didn’t say it was an easy question, just an important one… perhaps the most important you will ever answer in this lifetime. It is the kind of question that calls for wisdom.

When was the last time you prayed for wisdom? Continue reading

Concrete Answers

Yesterday in our nation’s capital was a planned rally in support of people who were connected to the insurrection event of January 6, 2021 and are currently being investigated by federal authorities. Apparently the attendance was far less than expected on the part of organizers and Capitol police. As part of the news coverage, a person was interviewed about their presence and what they hoped for as an outcome. The person essentially denied there had been any unrest on January 6th that people were just entering a public building (the US Capital) and now were being persecuted and prosecuted unjustly. When shown film of the event, the storming of the building, the assaulting of police officers, the reaction was that it was just government propaganda. When it was further explained that social media was filled with clips, taken by those storming the building, and posted online – that too was waved away as a government plot. Apart from it being a very sad state of current affairs, it is also an ever present state of affairs. Did we really land on the moon? I mean…. Have you ever met someone who stepped foot on the moon? Continue reading

Francis and the Leper

There are many stories that people remember about Francis of Assisi; in my experience, most of them are from a book, the Fioretti, The Little Flowers, a collection of stories about Francis. It is the name given to the classic collection of popular legends about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and his early companions. The earliest extant copy is from 1390, some 164 years after the death of Francis. Scholars agree that it was probably written earlier, but in any case not within 120 years of Francis’ death. It is a collection of hearsay, colorful anecdotes, stories of miracles and pious examples from the life of Francis. Are the accounts in the Fioretti history? Are the pious fables? Are they just hagiography? Continue reading

Hildegard of Bingen


From the first reading from the Book of Wisdom on the Memorial celebration:

Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away

A very appropriate selection for this Rhineland saint.

Abbess, artist, author, composer, mystic, pharmacist, poet, preacher, theologian—where to begin in describing this remarkable woman? Born into a noble family, she was instructed for ten years by the holy woman Blessed Jutta. When Hildegard was 18, she became a Benedictine nun at the Monastery of Saint Disibodenberg. Ordered by her confessor to write down the visions that she had received since the age of three, Hildegard took ten years to write her Scivias (Know the Ways). Pope Eugene III read it, and in 1147, encouraged her to continue writing. Her Book of the Merits of Life and Book of Divine Works followed. She wrote over 300 letters to people who sought her advice; she also composed short works on medicine and physiology, and sought advice from contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

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The Stigmata of St. Francis

St. Francis receives the Stigmata (fresco attr...Authorized by Pope Paul V, September 17th is the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, a feast day celebrated within the Franciscan communities.

Stigmata, from the Greek word, generically points to a “brand” or a “mark.” It is the common word to describing branding of cattle. In the Christian context it refers to the bodily marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ. St. Francis was the first person, historically recorded, who bore the marks of the crucified Christ in his hands, his feet, and in his side. Continue reading

In God’s eyes

jesus-and-disciplesWe conclude our look into Sunday’s Gospel with some final thoughts about Jesus’ lesson to the disciples. If the first teaching was troublesome, the next would have been downright shocking. In our time we have a different view of children. We hold children to be innocent and precious. This does not seem to have been the view of 1st century. In ancient culture, children had no status. They were subject to the authority of their fathers, viewed as little more than property. In Roman culture adults were adopted, not children. Consider St. Paul’s statement: “I mean that as long as the heir is not of age, he is no different from a slave, although he is the owner of everything, but he is under the supervision of guardians and administrators until the date set by his father.” (Gal 4:1-2) If this is said of the heir, can you imagine the attitude for children in general?

Perkins [p. 637] writes: “… the child in antiquity was a non-person…Children should have been with the women, not hanging around the teacher and his students (cf. 10:13-16). To say that those who receive Jesus receive God does not constitute a problem. A person’s emissary was commonly understood to be like the one who sent him. But to insist that receiving a child might have some value for male disciples is almost inconceivable.”

Perkins echos the text in Matthew 10, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me….” but is pointing out that Jesus is telling the disciples that while there are times you will indeed be my emissary, this is not the problem at hand. The problem is that the Twelve cannot conceive of welcoming the least important people in society, those ranked lowest in human convention. Yet Jesus is saying, “you’ll need to work your way down to the most marginal and lowest (by human convention) in order to find me. I am last of all.”

Remember the recent episode when the disciples were unable to cast out the demon from the child in 9:14-29? The disciples ask Jesus “…in private, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.” One wonders if the disciples did not think the child was worthy of their time, effort, or prayer? They were willing to command the demon to come one, but not to pray for the child.

The Kingdom of God involves giving status to those who have none. The disciples are not to be like children, but to be like Jesus who embraces the child, the one held to be least of all in human convention.

A young rabbinical student asked the rabbi, “Rabbi, why don’t people see God today as they did in the olden days?” The wise old man put his hands on the student’s shoulders and said, “The answer, my son, is because no one is willing to stoop so low.”


  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994) 635-38

Back on submarines, I wish had….

Today is my one day off. I have swum, grocery shopped, done laundry, prepared lunch, and put my feet up to read. …and then I came across an article which described a new 6-story apart complex being developed in the North Hyde Park area of Tampa. Some of the apartments will be 400 sq. ft.! Yikes, that is still larger than my room on the submarine which I shared with 2 other officers, but that is still tiny. The article mentioned that they were going to equip the micro-apartments with robotic furniture from OriLiving, a startup tech company with roots in the design and urban design schools of MIT. The founder, Hassier Larea, has a very interesting video on equipping the micro-apartment. I wonder what they could have done for submarines!

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian

Cornelius-n-CyprianSaint Cornelius was elected Pope in 251 during the persecutions of the Emperor Decius. His first challenge, besides the ever present threat of the Roman authorities, was to bring an end to the schism brought on by the first anti-pope Novatian of Carthage. The great controversy that arose was as a result of the Decian persecution. In the wake of the persecution the question faced by the Church was whether or not the Church could pardon and receive back into the Church those who had apostatized in the face of martyrdom.

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Greatest in the Kingdom

jesus-and-disciplesIn next Sunday’s Gospel, we will encounter the disciples wondering about who among them will be the greatest in the Kingdom – and Jesus’ response to their chatter: Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.”  (Mark 9:35-37)

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