Pilgrimage 2000: Journeys of Justice and Peace into the Jubilee Holy Year

Meditations on the readings of the Roman Lectionary.

PRINT-FRIENDLY PAGE: This page has the meditations for September 24, 1999 through November 27, 1999 which are linked as separate documents on the Pilgrimage 2000 web page.

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The Jubilee bell is ringing, the cry of the widow and orphan calls all people to an examination of conscience, to repentance and redemption, reconciliation and rejoicing, healing and wholeness.

The signs of these times are troubling and yet promising, presenting us with hope and challenge. For many years, some have sown in furrows of injustice while others have planted seeds of peace and redemption. Our prayer of necessity is for wisdom and illumination, because once again we approach the banks of the river Jordan and we are asked to choose life or choose death. It's not a boring time to be alive.

We United Statesians are a very busy people. The idea of a Jubilee Holy Year is very foreign to us. The jubilee was a time to "proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof," words of great power in a time when slavery was the norm. To proclaim this liberty in our day is to willingly and freely let go of the slaves we have accumulated, the injustices we commit. It's not an easy thing to do, and as in all journeys, companions are good to have. These meditations are to help us incorporate the living and multi-variegated realities of Holy Scripture and the holy men and women whose stories are recounted therein as companions on our journeys into the Jubilee Holy Year 2000.

Through prayer, meditation, and contemplation of these mysteries, coupled with orthopraxis -- which is righteous and just living (the more we practice it, the better we'll get at it) -- we hope to find the strength and illumination, prudence and wisdom, laughter and tears, that are necessary through God's grace to create the self-fulfilling prophecies of justice and peace in the millennium to come that are the necessary foundations of the civilization of life and love.

May God add His blessing to these readings of His Word.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

Robert Waldrop


Archbishop Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, Oklahoma City

September 24, 1999, Friday of the 25th week of Ordinary Time

Holy Mary,

Mother of God,

help the helpless,

strengthen the fearful,

comfort the sorrowful,

bring justice to the poor and peace to all nations.


Friday, September 24, 1999

Readings: Haggai 1, 15b - 2:9 + Luke 9, 18-22

The second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia was 520 years before the birth of Christ. The Jews had returned from their exile in Babylonia, and times were rough. Haggai was the first "post-exile" prophet sent by the Lord to the returnees.

Today we hear the call from ancient times, "Be Not Afraid," words heard again in the 1970s, when Karol Wojtyla, now John Paul II, stepped to the balcony in the Vatican and spoke for the first time -- "Be not afraid" was what he said, and what apt words for his reign. He spoke them when the world lay under the heavy threat of Mutually Assured Destruction and super-power rivalry. Now the United States Empire stands triumphant across the globe, yet it is beset on every side by challenges, crises, revolutions, wars, and tragedies; the defeat of one foe has solved one issue only to give rise to new and even more complex threats, many of our own creation and the results of many years of sowing in furrows of injustice.

Because of this and many other tragedies that could be cited, a crisis of confidence in the rulers of this world arises in this fin de siecle moment.

Unlike human rulers, Haggai reminds us that God is true to his agreements. Moving quickly to an eschatological vision of the shaking of the entire earth and all the heavens, the seas and dry lands and all the nations, he predicts that the power and spirit of the Lord will be upon the house that is being built. Be not afraid!

The daily gospel readings in this season are in Luke, the Gospel of the Poor, and it is fitting that we walk with him as we go down in pilgrimage together towards the Jubilee Holy Year 2000; we also remember that one of the traditional sources of Luke was Mary.

It is a rare moment of quiet and solitude for Jesus and the apostles and holy women who followed the Lord. "Who do people say I am," asks Jesus. The answers are many, prophets and men of wisdom and boldness of ancient times. Then Jesus says, "But who do you say I am?"

And the story that has come to us says that Peter stood forth and said in reply, "The Messiah of God!" Jesus then tells them not to tell anyone about this. Some find this an enigmatic statement, but when we remember the social location of the view of Christ of this Gospel, it becomes very understandable.

The ability to blend into your surroundings -- to be as invisible as possible -- is a critical survival skill for the very poor and marginalized. Then as now, to be noticed is to be kicked, beaten, cursed, chased away. Jesus was becoming not very invisible. He had just fed thousands of people and preached a sermon of radical love that through all the years since those words were first uttered, has inspired many millions of people and brought much joy, peace, and healing into the world. Jesus in the very next verse shows where this is heading -- his own death and subsequent victory over death for all the human race.

I imagine the apostles sitting there and listening to all this and hardly being able to comprehend what was being said to them -- or what they were replying. Their ordinary lives as fisherfolk, tax collector, peasants and farmers were being changed by their relationship with this prophet from Galilee, which is to say, from the ghetto, the barrio, the sticks. They had been sent out with powers to cure diseases and rebuke demons. And they were continually hearing this radical gospel of grace and discipleship and the Reign of God on earth and within them and every other human being. This Jesus was obviously a man such as they were, but something else was going on. "Do you suppose he really meant he was going to be killed?" Be not afraid!

So what are you building as we journey in pilgrimage into a Jubilee Holy Year of justice and peace, redemption and reconciliation, forgiveness and joy? Are you ready to cast out demons of injustice and oppression, and heal diseases of hatred and strife? Can you leave behind your attachment to material goods so that you may go about your own life announcing the gospel of good news to the poor and disenfranchised? Are you ready to open your eyes so you can see those who are poor among us? Is your faith such that the dead in spirit can be brought to new life in Christ?

Will you take up your Cross and walk this pilgrimage with the Lord? That's the next statement that Jesus makes, after announcing his Passion to come. Those who would follow Jesus must find their own crosses to bear. In other words, how's our solidarity doing? Think about the impact of those words in an era when you could go see a human being die by crucifixion just about any day of the week.

Who is the Jesus who is being crucified today? The poor who are among us, we know this by the word of the Lord himself. It's easy to be in solidarity with the Jesus who we think is far away safe in heaven, but the Jesus who walks among us wearing distressing disguises, well, all too often that is a different story, and it's not so happy or so pious.

Thoughts about praxis: Open your eyes and see the poor. Notice them in the newspaper and on the street, on the television and the internet. What images of the poor are presented to you? What do these images and the realities which are behind them suggest to you in terms of solidarity? An examination of conscience is always a good idea, and it is often helpful to do this in light of a particular virtue. How do you demonstrate your solidarity with the poor Jesus among us? How do the institutions and structures in which you participate show their solidarity with the poor Jesus among us?

Clueless Disciples and Walls of Fire

September 25, 1999

Zechariah 2, 5-9, 14-15a + Luke 9, 43b-45

The apostles were afraid to ask Jesus what his words meant. A great victory had just been won -- a terrible spirit that had haunted a young man had been cast out and the boy healed. "And all were astonished by the majesty of God." This revelation is immediately followed by the second prediction of the Passion, and the disciples were afraid. Understandably so, it was not an era known for its respect for human rights, especially of the poor.

Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai (6th century before Christ), recounts 8 visions relating to the rebuilding of Jerusalem by the exiles. Their fathers -- the rich and the powerful of Jerusalem -- had forsaken the Lord and oppressed the poor. On the day that the Babylonians arrived at their gates, the seeds they had sown in furrows of injustice came back to haunt them. Their riches became plunder for invading armies, the Walls and the Temple and the Palace of the King in Jerusalem were destroyed, and the aristocracy and the middle class were led away captive to Babylon, leaving only the poor behind to inherit the land. By the grace of the Lord, their children return to the land of Judah, the hills of Jerusalem, no longer arrogant conquerors but rather chastened subjects. How the mighty had fallen.

In the vision of Zechariah, the rebirth -- the prosperity -- the protection of Jerusalem is found in obedience to the Law. "I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst." Now would be a good time to remind ourselves of the many juridical provisions of the Law that related to the protection of the poor -- especially women without husbands, their children, and foreigners. The law of Jubilee protected against the centralization of wealth (a problem than as now). The laws regarding gleaning limited the property rights of landowners and provided resources to sustain the poor and protect their dignity. Tithes were to be collected for distribution to the poor. There were limits on what could be pledged as collateral for a loan, and Israel was under covenant to respect the rights of the poor.

The rebuilding of Jerusalem was more than the construction of buildings and edifices, it was a rebirth of community and covenant, reconciliation and obedience, justice and mercy, gifts more precious than rubies or gold.

"Sing and rejoice, O Daughter Zion! See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord."


Thoughts on orthopraxis: Who do we relate to in these readings? The arrogant rulers of Jerusalem before the Babylonians, or the chastened exiles returning to the land of their fathers? Are we clueless as the disciples, not understanding the words of our Savior? (Did he really say, "If you do not do these things for one of the least of these my sisters and brothers, you have not done them for me?" He didn't really mean that literally did he?) Do we see the majesty of God revealed in the rebuking of demons? Or do we refuse to see the forest because we like to look at the trees?

Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you!

September 26, 1999

Ezekial 18:25-28, Philippians 2, 1-11 + Matthew 21, 28-32

Jesus sometimes says the most outrageous things.

The day before he had cleansed the Temple of its moneychangers. He goes back the next morning and the chief priests and elders come out to talk to him. And what does he tell them? "Amen I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."

Ah yes, the how to win friends and influence people communications strategy. But Jesus was saying truth to power: the rich and powerful did not believe John the Baptist, but the tax collectors and prostitutes did. That says something about the rich and the powerful -- and about the tax collectors and the prostitutes.

Behold one of the hazards of being rich and comfortable. When a prophet comes along, you might not understand what he or she was saying to you. This isn't to say that the rich can't read the signs of the times correctly, only that it is harder for them to do this. The poor, on the other hand, heard the Word of John the Baptist and believed.

Today we also hear the great Christological hymn of Philippians (the second half of the reading), a very ancient bit of hymnody developing doctrine later elaborated by councils and creeds regarding the divinity of our Lord. Christ did not grasp at equality with God but rather poured out himself (the Greek word here suggests a complete and total emptying) and then three different descriptions are given to emphasize His true and real humanity, followed by a reference to his humility, and his obedience even unto his death on a cross. This "brief history of the passion" is then paralleled in a "second verse" of the hymn, which depicts Jesus as Lord of all. The teaching here is that the example of solidarity we are called to model is a total giving.

Paul's word's prefacing the hymn call us to a communitarian approach of concern for others, with each person having concern for others. Not much comfort here for those who think that glorifying the seven deadly sins is an appropriate way to run an economic system.

And Ezekial? Well, he's grumpy as usual, pointing out the consequences of our actions, and we do hate that don't we? Following the Lord is life, turning away from the Lord is death. Remember his context -- the Law of Moses, which specifically prohibited oppression of the poor, and one of the crimes for which Ezekial condemns the princes of Israel is their oppression of the poor. But in the grumpiness is nevertheless the promise: if the wicked forsake their evil ways, they receive the gift of life.

Thoughts about orthopraxis:

How do we pray for the wicked? Do we try to be in solidarity with them, so we can understand how to offer healing and reconciliation and redemption to them? What should a person say if e.g. caught in the elevator with Michael Camdessus, president of the IMF? How do we show that we are looking out for others as Paul admonishes us? How do we model in our own lives the solidarity demonstrated for us by Christ?

And are we ready to sit at the table with the tax collectors and prostitutes in the Reign of God?

If we are willing to do this then, are we willing to do this now? What would we do if they moved next door?

With faithfulness and justice.

September 27, 1999 -- feast of St. Vincent de Paul

Readings: Zechariah 8, 1-8 + Luke 9, 46-50

The apostles were arguing: "Who would be the greatest in the kingdom?" To answer them, Jesus showed them a child. In the late 20th century, this seems entirely fitting, or at least, pious. But let's hop into the old Wayback Machine and head back to the 1st century AD, where we find that a child was a person without any rights or status. Jesus emphasizes his point: the one who is least among you is the greatest.

Luke thought that was important enough to record in his Gospel. It was before winning through intimidation and power lunches became the norm.

Zechariah is speaking to a defeated and conquered people, recently returned to Jerusalem. God promises to reunite all the people of Israel, and He will be their God -- "with faithfulness and justice."

Contrast this messianic promise with the reality of human political leadership. Where is the faithfulness? Where is the justice? It's hard to see, hidden and confused by focus groups and political action committees, bribes paid for favors received, punished enemies, rewarded friends. You can get as much justice these days as you can afford to pay for.

Today is also the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, who together with St. Louise Marillac founded the Vincentian family of religious orders and lay apostolates, which today unite millions of people in four great institutions: the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, International Association of Charity, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. After graduating from seminary, St. Vincent de Paul followed a standard upscale career path for his era, becoming a chaplain and favored priest of the wealthy aristocracy in 17th century France. But in the middle of his life, he was called to hear the deathbed confession of a peasant on an estate. The man thanked him, telling him that if the priest had not come, he might have died in a state of mortal sin.

St. Vincent was greatly affected by this experience, and his conversion to service of the poor was total. He had a thousand irons in the fire at any one time, and did not hesitate to knock on the doors of the rich and powerful he had come to know in order to beg money for his apostolates. He brought them to not only give money, but also to give of their time and talents in service to the poor.

Today's readings are a blessing on the feast of this great saint. St. Vincent de Paul modeled the faithfulness and justice of God in his service to the poor and disenfranchised of his era. He became great by living the "preferential option for the poor," long before it was formally articulated as a theological doctrine. May his charism be for us an inspiration and a source of evangelism and catechesis.

Thoughts on orthopraxis:

Is our preference for the rich or the poor? Do we help the rich oppress the poor, or do we deliver the poor from the hand of the oppressor? Are we afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable -- or comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? If we hear the cry of the poor, will we leave the rich to be with the poor?

Shall we destroy this village?

Readings for September 28, 1999: Zechariah 8, 20-23 + Luke 9, 51-56

James and John, sometimes called the "sons of thunder", today live up to their name. "Jesus, can we destroy this village, huh, please, please, can we?" To the Jews, the Samaritans were not polite company. Proper Jews did not associate with "those" kind of people. So the first remarkable thing is that Jesus would enter the Samaritan village.

Next, Jesus resists the destructive impulses of his disciples. We can imagine that they were outraged -- here they were willing to associate with this people who typically were discriminated against, but those who had been marginalized weren't interested in their company. "Who do these people think they are? Don't they know who we are? They should be happy to have us visit them!"

But this isn't always the way it goes. People who have been discriminated against and marginalized don't always light up with joy when their oppressors show up on their door -- even if the oppressors are ostensibly on missions of mercy or hospitality.

Zechariah continues to offer hope to the exiles returning to Jerusalem. He tells this people -- rejected, hated, driven from their homes, scorned -- "One of these days, ten people will grab onto every Jew and beg to be taken to Jerusalem!" A bold prophecy, considering that Jerusalem was in ruins and there wasn't much reason to go there. But the Lord of Hosts promised to be in Jerusalem, and this will make it a city of hope and refuge.

Thoughts regarding orthopraxis:

If we go to do the works of mercy among the poor, and find that our presence is resented, how do we react? Do we blame those who reject us, or do we understand the deeper reasons for what is happening? Do we make our parishes, our homes, our lives welcoming places for the Lord of Hosts to dwell, so that others will wish to come with us and be with the Lord?

Angel is the name of their office.

Daniel 7, 9-10, 13-14, Revelations 12, 7-19a, John 1, 47-51

Feast of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels

The readings of today's angelic feast momentarily clear the "smoky glass" through which we "see darkly", and give us brief glimpses of eternal realities and states of being. That we human beings have spiritual companions and defenders is not doubted by those of us who hold the Catholic faith. Besides the witness of Holy Scripture and Tradition, many millions of people have felt the touch of these angels in comfort and healing and calling.

In speaking of these spiritual beings, all of the writers of scripture wax very poetic: Daniel sees thrones of fire attended by myriad beings; Late in his life, John witnesses a great war in heaven, angelic hosts led by Michael wage spiritual warfare with great forces of darkness and wickedness. Earlier he records the testimony of Jesus to Nathanael, and predict that he will one day see visions of angels ascending and descending to heaven.

Angels have been one of the fads of the 1990s, and a pleasant one at that (beats a lot of other fads hands down). There are even popular television shows which, taking a theme from ancient scripture, show angels walking among us and ministering to those in need, sometimes in ways that might not have been predicted by the recipient of this grace, and certainly leading to unexpected outcomes.

We can all take comfort in the protection and guidance of angels, but more than comfort, let us learn from their example. St. Augustine wrote that "angel is the name of their office, not of their nature." (Catechism 329). "Because they 'always behold tthe face of my Father who is in heaven,' they are the 'mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.'" Angels are evangelizers, announcing to Mary his Mother and to the shepherds in the fields the news of the Savior of the world. Let us resolve to be angels in disguise for those who are afflicted and marginalized, bringing them good news and hope in a tumultuous and stormy world.

St Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle! Be our shield against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou O prince of the heavenly host, thrust into hell Satan and all other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen!

Thoughts on orthopraxis:

Who do you know that is in need of angelic help? Having understood that help is needed in a given situation, is it possible that God is calling you to take upon yourself the "office of angel" to minister healing and hope in God's name?

Being, Making, Doing

Nehemiah 7, 1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12 Luke 10, 1-12

Memorial of St. Jerome, Doctor of the Church

Seventy-five years after Haggai and Zechariah preached the Word of God in Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned from Persia to Jerusalem (about 445 BC). The walls were in ruins. Psychologically, they were still a defeated and subject people. The layman Nehemiah and the priest Ezra chronicle the time of the "Restoration", as scholars call this era in Jewish history after the return from their Babylonian Exile. He was a doer, the reader's notes in the Oxford study Bible describe him as "a man of good practical sense combined with deep faith in God." From the text of the book, he was dedicated to building a culture of life and love.

As part of his efforts to restore the people, we read today a genealogy, a calling to mind of ancestors, which is a way of helping them to understand who they were, where they came from, and how they came to be where they were.

Luke tells us of the commissioning of the 72 evangelists, sent to heal the sick and preach the good news that the Reign of God was upon us. By the nature of their sending, they are one in solidarity with those who are marginalized and rejected.

Further, we learn that we are accountable for our response to that Gospel. It is always within our freedom to reject the journey of grace, justice, and peace.

This is not a one dimensional experience, but rather wholistic in the most complete sense of the word. There is understanding of the "where" that we are at, and how we came to be here. There is solidarity with the conquered and marginalized and poor. There are cultural contexts, and objective situations and actions of right and wrong, and ways and practices of discernment and reading the signs of these times. In our journeys we build and create structures, which either help or complicate and challenge the process. There are ways of being and doing and making that organically develop from this existential situation of journeying in justice and peace towards a civilization of life and love.

Thoughts on orthopraxis: So if there are ways of being and doing and making that derive from being on a journey of justice and peace, what might they be in my life? In the life of my community? What structures of Wisdom, Beauty, and Goodness am I helping to build along the way? What structures of Ignorance, Death, and Arrogance do I help build?

Justice is with the LORD.

St. Therese of Lisieux, October 1, 1999

who said: "I reminded myself that charity isn't a matter of fine sentiments; it means doing things."

Readings: Baruch 1:15-22 + Luke 10:13-16

Today's first reading has powerful words from a chastened, conquered, and humbled people, read before princes and royalty -- and to all who attend mass today.

"Justice is with the Lord, our God; and we today are flushed with shame, we men of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem, that we, with our kings and rulers and priests and prophets, and with our fathers, have sinned in the Lord's sight and disobeyed him.

"We have neither heeded the voice of the Lord, our God, nor followed the precepts which the Lord set before us. From the time the Lord led our fathers out of the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the Lord, our God, and only too ready to disregard his voice.

"And the evils and the curse which the Lord enjoined upon Moses, his servant, at the time he led our fathers forth from the land of Egypt to give us the land flowing with milk and honey, cling to us even today. For we did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God, in all the words of the prophets whom he sent us, but each one of us went off after the devices of our own wicked hearts, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God."

Let's stop for a minute and think about not only what this passage of Holy Scripture is saying, but also what the Church is saying to us in giving this for reading at masses throughout all the world on this day -- and what we've been hearing.

We often talk about "journeys of justice and peace," and it's important to remember that what the Church gives us in the lectionary is an arrangement of Holy Scripture in the form of a journey. For daily masses, there are two annual cycles, for Sundays there are 3. We've been reading these past few days of God's word to a proud and arrogant people who had been brought low upon the ground as captives and slaves -- to fall from the glories of David and Solomon to the ignominy of exile by a canal in Babylon.

Actions have consequences, I think that is one of the lessons the Church is teaching us in this season of Ordinary Time. In the Gospel, Jesus continues his words of ordination to the 72 who were sent in Jesus' name to preach that the Reign of God was upon them. Those who have received much are accountable for the gifts they have received and rejected. Woe to those who reject the Gospel -- and if you need a hint about what kind of woes we're talking about, reference the today's first reading. Where are Capernaum and Chorazin today? Ruins visited by tourists and pilgrims.

For the umpteenth time, I will remind us of the many requirements of justice of the Law which were broken by the people of Jerusalem thus bringing upon themselves the destruction of their civilization. Actions have consequences. For we did not heed the voice of the Lord, our God in all the words of the prophets whom he sent us, but each one of us went off after the devices of our own wicked hearts, served other gods, and did evil in the sight of the Lord, our God." Throughout the Word of God are calls to justice, mercy, solidarity, and powerful indictments of the oppression of the poor and the murder of the innocent.

Yet, here we are, 2500 years later, citizens of a cruel and arrogant military empire whose ethos is rooted in the glorification of the seven deadly sins of pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and acedia (spiritual laziness). Our culture of death rejoices in the blood of Abel, the cries of the people oppressed in Egypt, and the oppression of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan.

But nothing bad can happen to us. We are the Americans, the Americans, the ones who are God's Special Friends, when the overwhelming scourge comes upon us, we will slide through unscathed and unpunished and make money on the deal. We can do anything we want to do, kill any number of innocent children, fire off a billion dollars worth of cruise missiles, sow tons of seed in furrows of injustice -- and we will never reap a bitter harvest. (Even as I write this and you read it, children in Iraq are dying as a result of the incompetent and immoral foreign policies of the United States Government, to cite one of a thousand different examples.)

Do you suppose this is true, that God has died or at least gone to sleep, or maybe He's changed his rules, dumped the "Blessed are the peacemakers" in favor of "Blessed are you who murder innocent children and oppress the poor and commit all manner of exploitation and injustice, the kingdom of this world is yours." Cancel all that love stuff and wake us up when the killing starts. Remember: we are the Americans, we make our own rules.

NOT! In spite of ourselves, we may yet be dragged "kicking and screaming" into the Kingdom of God, our structures of vicious wickedness and sin redeemed and reconciled -- "we who were far off have been brought near by the Blood of Christ."

And so it comes to pass that even as the culture of death whirls about us, and captains and kings rant, rave, and rage, there are millions of unknown saints and angels among us who are committing random, mysterious, and secret works of beauty, kindness, justice, mercy and peace, a goodist crusade of redemption and reconciliation and grace. Glory to God in the Highest, and Peace to His people on Earth! You may be one of them! If you aren't such an angel right now, you could become one! It's very easy -- do good things, many of them, anywhere and everywhere, giving praise and thanks to your God.

How merciful is our Lord as these readings come together with the feast day of St. Therese the Little Flower. Kathy Rabenstein, who publishes biographies of saints at the St. Patrick website, says about the Little Flower: "Therese had shown innumerable people that sainthood is attainable by anybody, however obscure, lowly, untalented, by doing the small things and discharging daily duties in a perfected spirit of love for God."

When Dorothy Day's book about St. Therese was published in 1960, she wrote in its preface: "In these days of fear and trembling of what man has wrought on earth in destructiveness and hate, Therese is the saint we need".

James Allaire, of the Winona Catholic Worker, says in the Houston Catholic Worker:

"In Therese's understanding, no act, however apparently insignificant, is without meaning when done within the awareness of God's loving presence. Whatever our situation in life---a mother with children at home or a mother working, a store clerk, a scholar, a nursing home assistant, a suburbanite, an assembly line worker---all of us, in the ordinary and required activity of daily life, have available to us in the Little Way a means to holiness, to love as God loves us. The Little Way is the ordinary way we can all become saints."

"For Dorothy, becoming a saint wasn't merely a matter of personal salvation. Her vision was that the work of social transformation requires saints. "Sanctity alone will meet the crisis of the day. Nothing else matters. One can feed the poor, shelter the homeless, comfort the afflicted, but if you have not charity, the Love of God, Sanctity, it is worthless" (Archives: Notebook, November 1951). (http://www.cjd.org/paper/roots/rtheres.html)

The structures of sin which characterize the culture of death were built by innumerable individual and personal sinful acts. The structures of Goodness, Beauty, and Wisdom which characterize the Reign of God on Earth flow in like manner from the innumerable individual acts of goodness, justice, mercy, and peace. From washing the dishes to instructing the ignorant, sweeping the floor to feeding the hungry, this is the Little Way of justice, sanctity, holiness -- and thus wholeness. May we open our hearts to it this day, the First Friday of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine.

Delivering the oppressed and the oppressor from the hand of oppression

Readings: Baruch 4, 5-12, 27-29 + Matthew 18, 1-5, 10

The Guardian Angels, First Saturday, 1999

Nine days ago we began this series of meditations with an essay entitled, "Be not afraid!" This theme again sounds deeply in today's readings. Actions as we have noted have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are quite scary, tragic, and troubling. Yet even in the midst of those consequences, we hear the cry "Be not afraid! The Lord remains with you!"

See then the depth and the mystery of the love of God, who does not abandon us but who reaches out to deliver the oppressor AND the oppressed from the hand of oppression. In the case at hand, the rich who had oppressed the poor were removed by the conquering Babylonians from the ability to cause harm to the poor in Jerusalem. Those who had been powerful were now captive slaves, precariously dependent upon the goodwill of their powerful and cruel captors. Those who had been powerless were left in their homes in the land of their fathers and not carried into captivity.

You'd think the reverend fathers who compiled the lectionary would make their point and get on with it, but they seem to be wanting to make a point about this "actions have consequences" theme, as well as "those who break God's law and oppress the poor should take heed lest they fall." And sometimes, what a great fall it is. Next week the theme of accountability for the rich and powerful -- the call to justice! -- continues, with readings in Jonah and Malachi, and as we shall see, it's not clear that the exiles having returned to Jerusalem have learned lots from the mistakes of their history.

Matthew's Gospel reminds us again that to enter the Kingdom requires child-like humility, and it is important to again recall that children in that era had no status at all. This is not a message we care to hear these days, as status is everything. People who don't have status get pushed around, exploited, killed, and treated with contempt by the "A List." That's the way it's always been, but we add insult to injury in this era by pretending that people aren't jerks based on their class/status relationship with others with whom they interact. This is especially true of political actions, where it is even more important for the successful functioning of the system that we pretend that war is peace and slavery is freedom -- and that the rich don't exploit the poor politically as well as economically.

Thoughts about orthopraxis: How do I personally benefit from the structures of sin that oppress the poor? Have I ever confessed my willing participation in, and benefit from, these structures during the sacrament of reconciliation? How would I have to change my life to stop benefitting from those structures of sin? What stops me from ending my participation in this structures of sin? Am I rationalizing my situation because of the benefits I receive from participation in oppression?

The world will be saved by Beauty.

Sunday, October 3

Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43

"He looked for judgment, but see, bloodshed! For justice, but hark, the outcry!"

During a critical era, Isaiah brought the word of God to Jerusalem. Israel, the northern kingdom, had been destroyed by the Assyrians. Over and over again, he calls Judah to faithfulness to its covenant -- and to stop oppressing the poor. Hmmm, where have we heard this before?

Matthew's gospel today is a parable of the history of Israel and his passion, aimed at the leaders of the people, the ones laying "heavy burdens" upon the people. Just after this parable, those leaders were wanting to arrest Jesus, but the crowds were honoring him, so they held back. Too many people watching.

Ancient stories of proud empires and peoples rejecting the covenant, and a reminder that those who do not learn from the mistakes of history will repeat them until they destroy themselves.

Paul teaches us that the world indeed will be saved by Beauty. In that Beauty, there is no anxiety, but rather true communion between God and humanity. We are called to be in prayer and to "set our sights" higher things. Paul wrote to a people who were poor, oppressed, and often persecuted. Their lives were in danger, and they lived in a society where the culture of death ran strong and murderous. He offers good advice -- honor, justice, purity, beauty, grace, excellence. Orthopraxis -- right living, then and now.

It wasn't an easy world back then, not for Isaiah, not for Matthew, and not for Paul. It isn't an easy world today either, although like our ancestors we often pretend it is something different than it is. Part of our problem is our persistent tendency to acknowledge as "real" only that which immediately assaults our physical senses. Thus we try to do everything ourselves, and shut ourselves away from the overflowing source of life, joy, and peace. Paul is telling us how to open our spiritual eyes and other senses so that we see that our reality includes the supernatural, the metaphysical, even though it may not be sensible by our traditional physical senses. When we follow Paul's advice, and in everything give thanks and be in prayer and petition, practicing the presence of God, we indeed find the peace that passes human understanding -- a wholeness, a healing -- that can hardly be discussed with words.

Thoughts on orthopraxis: When was the last time that you said the Lord's prayer over and over as you kneaded bread?

Who is my neighbor?

Jonah 1, 1 - 2, 1.11 + Luke 10, 25-37

St. Francis of Assissi, October 4, 1999

Two of the epic stories of Holy Scripture unite today on this great feast of "Our Seraphic Father" (as the Franciscans say), St. Francis of Assissi: Jonah and the big fish, and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

We have met the Assyrians before. When they conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, they led the aristocracy out of the city through great holes in the walls, their captives were linked together with hooks through their noses and lips. Not-nice people, when they showed up in your country, you just had to say, "There goes the neighborhood."

Given this history, it's understandable that Jonah would not be excited at being sent to preach that God would destroy the Assyrian capital city of Ninevah because of its wickedness. Why should they get a warning -- especially at great personal risk? They might repent, they deserve to die. So he ran, ending up in the midst of a storm, his shipmates throw him overboard as the source of their troubles, a big fish swallows him and he has 3 days to think about his disobedience.

Smart guys were always trying to trick Jesus, asking him questions, fishing for evidence. Today He is asked the straight-forward question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers with a question; "What is written in the Law?" The answer: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. And then the punch line: "But who is my neighbor?"

Who indeed is my neighbor, that is the question, isn't it? The answer is laden with obligations, and we don't like obligations, they limit our freedom and autonomy. "Neighbor" is a very ancient concept, it goes way back. A neighbor isn't just anybody, it is someone who is part of your direct community, your territory, you have duties to them and they have duties to you.

This is more information than we want to know, but since somebody asked, Jesus answers with a parable. Here is a paraphrase, substituting modern synonyms for the biblical terms.

A man fell victim to gang violence as he went from the suburbs to downtown. They took his car, wallet, and jacket, beat him, dumped trash on him, and then went off leaving him half-dead on the sidewalk.

A corporate executive happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he changed lanes and passed by in the fast lane. He was on his way to an important board meeting and in any event, the underclass was always killing each other so what could he do anyway. He didn't even think about using his cell phone to call the police, because after all, it wasn't his responsibility to police the barrio and this guy certainly wasn't from his neighborhood. He gave money to the United Way to take care of such people, so he had done his part.

Likewise, an important politician drove by, stopped, took a picture, and then went on his way. His campaign needed some good photos of urban violence, and this one was great. But he had no time himself to get personally involved, it was unlikely this guy was a voter from his upscale suburban district and this district was represented by the other party. After he got back to his office, he would have one of his administrative assistants look into some research grants for the university to do some studies on the impact of urban violence on suburban property values. Yep, that'd be a nice piece of work, he said to himself, thinking of who owed him favors, he might even get a gig on Oprah, and certainly the morning shows.

But a prostitute who suffered from AIDS and sold crack saw the man and was moved with compassion at the sight. She approached the victim, bandaged his wounds with her scarf, and took him herself to the emergency room at the hospital. Instead of dumping him on the porch, she took him inside and made sure that somebody treated the man, paying the admissions clerk in cash.

Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the gang's victim? "The one who treated him with mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

These are all appropriate thoughts for the feast of St. Francis, medieval poet and lover of God, poverty, and the goodness of all creation. He too taught that the world would be saved by Beauty, and his words today ring true and with joy for all people. May his heroic example be for all people an inspiration.

Nineveh Repents! Film at Eleven.

Jonah 3, 1-10, Luke 10, 38-42

October 5, 1999

My grandmother Dovie Waldrop once told me, "Bobby Max, one of the things I always regretted is that my mother died before we got electricity on the farm. She never got to see how easy housekeeping was with electrical appliances." Personally, I never find housework easy, so I always try to think about this while taking care of household duties. Her message was clear: keeping house without electricity was a hassle, and the major part of the burden fell on the women.

Today we see a glimpse of this in the Gospel, Martha is busy running around taking care of the details, while Mary sits around wasting time with Jesus. In Jesus' gentle words to Martha about the importance of such "time wasting", I find a warning about doing works of justice and peace without spirituality. There are many problems in the world, and many just causes. As one gets caught up in this work, it is easy to be swallowed by the work itself; we let go of our spiritual anchor and end up depending solely on the "arm of the flesh", as though petition campaigns and organizing drives by themselves can bring the Reign of God to our neighborhoods. But if we have no time to "hang out wasting time with God" then we are missing the point, our work becomes a grind and a trial, and the Way is dry as dust. It's like tying one hand behind your back and then trying to play a Rachmaninoff piano concerto.

Meanwhile back in Nineveh -- a city so big it takes 3 days to walk through it -- Jonah preaches one day and the entire city turns out in sackcloth and ashes to mourn and repent their sins. When the King hears about the pending destruction of the City, he is so distressed he orders everybody to fast and he himself goes and sits in a pile of ashes. He commands all people in his kingdom to turn away from violence and evil. "When God saw by their actions how they had turned from their evil way," he canceled the previously announced destruction of the city. They not only had faith, they demonstrated their faith by their actions.

Imagine this. Some whacked out desert prophet arrives in Washington, D.C., reeking strongly of fish. He starts walking across town, preaching against the wickedness of the government -- and amazingly, the government listens! The President ends the embargoes against Cuba and Iraq, and withdraws US troops from NATO, Congress abolishes corporate welfare and enacts living wage laws and a rational and compassionate social services system paid for by a just and equitable tax system. Pork barrel spending ceases, and a pro-life amendment is added to the Constitution. The gap between rich and poor starts to narrow and wealth becomes more evenly distributed.

Would you be surprised about the repentance of the wicked? Happy? How did Jonah feel about the sudden success of his Revival Crusade for Justice in Nineveh? Well, actually, he wasn't too happy, but that story must wait for tomorrow.

Lord, teach us to pray.

October 6, 1999

Jonah 4, 1-11 + Luke 11, 1-4

Is Jonah mad or what? How dare those Assyrians repent of their sins! Well, if that's the way they are going to be, he's just going to deprive them of his company, go out into the desert and be a hermit in the hot sun. God asks Jonah -- "Have you reason to be angry?"

And so it came to pass that a leafy plant grew up and Jonah was glad for the shade, but then a worm came along and munched on the plant, causing it to wither. That day was a scorcher, and Jonah was thinking, "First the whale, then the heat, what's next, let me die now, Lord." God then gives Jonah a lecture, ending with this admonition: "And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?"

It's hard to understand how God's mercy and grace covers those who are oppressors and persecutors, but it's true. God wants to draw them to conversion, to deliver them from the hand of their own oppression. The sad truth is that those who would be oppressors begin first with oppressing themselves, and they themselves are changed as they extend their oppression onto others.

In today's gospel, the disciples say to Jesus, "Lord, teach us to pray." What an answer is given.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

There is much to be in despair about in this world, which is why this prayer is so important and profound. May it be for all of us catechesis and evangelism.

Thoughts on orthopraxis: When we pray for those who persecute and oppress us, are we glad when they don't repent? Would we call down brimstone and fire upon them? What does the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor look like when the oppression is taken out of the equation?

There will arise the sun of Justice with its healing rays.

October 7, 1999, Malachi 3, 13-20 + Luke 11, 5-13

Just before Nehemiah left Persia for Jerusalem, a prophet spoke against the injustice and religious indifference of the people of Jerusalem. A very plain spoken man, he wrote a book whose name is "Malachi, which is Hebrew for "My Messenger." The book is almost eerie in its relevance to our days. Like post-exile Jerusalem, we are a people weary of the Lord and His incessant call to justice, mercy, and love. We forget the covenant He made with us, and merrily trod the dead end road of oppression. Malachi speaks movingly of that era's re-write of the law -- "rather we must call the proud blessed."

It would appear that his call to metanoia was a success, he was cultivating the soil of Jerusalem for the arrivals of Ezra and Nehemiah, great leaders of the rebuilding of the city and the re-evangelization of the people of Israel.

Malachi gives us a promise of the victory of Good over Evil, of Justice over Oppression, Mercy over Violence, Humility over Arrogance. For the just, the good, and the beautiful, "there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays."

Jesus today teaches us of the virtues of patience and persistence, and calls us to pray in faith, believing, and expecting God's answers. (Sometimes we need to pray for the ability to recognize God's answers as answers.) He promises the Holy Spirit to all who call upon the name of the Lord in prayer.

The journeys of justice and peace cannot be without prayer. They are supernatural pilgrimages, like St. Ignatius of Loyola taught: elements of the active and the contemplative life woven together in a harmonious tapestry of love, mercy, beauty, and joy. To rely on the arm of the flesh alone, without recourse to the supernatural realities of our lives is for me to betray the poor, who need the very best that we can give. That "best" -- and even the "better" and the "good enough for our purposes" and the "do what you can, with what you have, where you are" -- is the fruit of the ever-flowing, never empty Cup so freely offered to us. To pray for guidance is to ask for the ability to correctly read the signs of these times. And that leads directly to having the courage to step outside of the culture of death's political categories and commit to a metanoia that seeks to understand the signs of these times from the viewpoint of the Reign of God, right here, right now . . . as in, it's happening all around us, can we open our eyes and see it's every-growing reality?

Today is the celebration of Our Lady of the Rosary. Let us in unity pray the Rosary for the intention of receiving an inner illumination regarding our discernment of the signs of these times. May we open our eyes to see the new Realities that are coming to be during these days. The Jubilee bell is ringing, proclaiming liberty to all who are captives of oppression and injustice. It calls each one of us to free the captives we hold in bondage, to cease from our own individual oppressions, and to do good. Thus the Sun of Justice with its healing rays will rise upon us, bringing light out of darkness at the dawn of this New Day of the Kingdom.

Near is the Day of the Lord!

October 8, 1999 -- Joel 1, 13-15, 2, 1-2 + Luke 11, 15-26

Chronologically, Joel comes late in the succession of prophets sent to Israel and Judah, whose writings date from the 8th century BC. Joel writes in about the year 400 BC, 346 years after Isaiah saw his vision the Lord sitting on a lofty throne, "the year that King Uzziah died," perhaps a bit more than a half century after Nehemiah and the re-evangelization of the people of Jerusalem. These four centuries span a lot of history -- invasion, collapse, destruction, exile, return, restoration.

Joel writes to the people of Judah who faced an ecological catastrophe, a plague of locusts.This was not something that they had much control over. They had no defenses. As people today live paycheck to paycheck, ancient Judah lived harvest to harvest. One crop failure meant starvation.

Joel summons the people to fasting and prayer, the convocation of a solemn assembly. Grave pictures are painted of a coming Day of the Lord. From their metanoia comes the deliverance for which they pray.

In today's gospel, the enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ continue their attempts to silence the message by killing the Messenger. They preach lies, and attempt to confuse the situation, making unreasonable demands. Jesus turns their arguments back on their heads, and calls all people to uncompromising discipleship, where the rubber hits the road, so to speak.

The journeys of justice and peace are continually under challenge and even attack by "Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls." This is part of the reason why spiritual awareness is so important. There are powers and structures in our lives every day, and it is important to be able to discern the choices they set before us. The wicked may be redeemed and reconciled, and this is the beginning of the redemption of the structures and powers which challenge the fullness of the Reign of God which is in the here and now.

The Day of the Lord is very near, so near that in fact we are already in it, the One sent to bring good news to the poor is in our midst, spiritually and physically present to us. The judgment of the wicked proceeds apace, it is not always evident, but is forever certain: sowing in furrows of injustice yields a bitter harvest. So we live today in the midst of that Judgment and that Day, which seems to me to say something about the tumult on the evening news each day. This has gone on for a very long time, so long that we are becoming spiritually and mentally shell-shocked. We don't always recognize the steady climb in the intensity and extent of the violence and injustice in the world -- or the corresponding overflowing of Grace, Mercy, Beauty, and Goodness. The wicked may rage, but the Spirit brings peace. And when all is said and done, as paper beats rock and rock beats scissors, Grace, Mercy, Beauty and Goodness will trump Violence, Oppression, Injustice, and Exploitation. Note: I confess that I read the Book all the way to the end, and this is the way it turns out; sorry if I'm giving away the big ending, but I thought that with everything going on these days, it was news worth repeating.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.

Thoughts on orthopraxis: If we are living today in the Day of the Lord, is there any evidence of this in our lives? Given the disasters that today's world faces, how do we heed Joel's call to repent, reconcile, and rejoice in the Covenant which God has made with us?

The Judgment of the Nations.

October 9

Joel 4, 12 - 21 + Luke 11, 27-28, memorial of St. Denis and his companions, Bishop and Martyr

Joel pictures a great judgment day for the nations -- he singles out those in his day who were exceptionally arrogant, exploitive, unjust, and violent. Their deeds will come back upon their heads -- they have "shed innocent blood in their land." They may be powerful nations, but their time will come.

Two primary themes of this recent series of readings are: "actions have consequences", and, "those with power must be accountable for it." This flies in the face of the contemporary conversation, where we typically believe that because we are the Americans, the Americans, God's special friends, the New Chosen People, we have our own "Escape the Consequences of Our Actions" card that we can play whenever times get rough. But we are entering into a time when our ruthless bloodthirstiness and our wealth may not be what is necessary to save us. We see where Arrogance, Violence, Oppression, and Exploitation have taken us. Our sensibilities are so numbed and shell-shocked we don't recognize the signs of these times for what they are: harbingers of a series of great changes in human affairs. We have plumbed the depths of Empire, and found that there is no security to be found. Indeed, as our military Empire advances, the risks to your neighborhood grow.

Jesus today reminds us that his family is determined, not by biological relationship, but rather by our obedience -- by our actions. It is not anywhere near enough to simply say, "Lord, Lord," we must not only hear, but respond with metanoia -- a fundamental change in the way we see life, the universe, and everything. We can put "In God We Trust" on our money all day long, but it is nothing less than blasphemy in the absence of our own response of obedience to the Lord's call.

The facts that we hate to face today are: The United States of America is not a "special friend" of God, we are not the "good guys" in this world, we are the enemies of justice and mercy. We always side with the rich and the powerful against the poor and oppressed, we collect interest on our loans stolen from the rice bowls of the poor. And because of our voluntary choices, and our deeds of wickedness, we are heading for the ash heap of history, there is a place reserved for us right beside the old Soviet Union. The teleological purpose of Creation is not to bring forth an aggressive military empire on the North American continent. All life is not ordered for our convenience. We do not have an "Escape the Consequences of our Actions" card to play when the going gets really rough. Like all empires before us, we must reap the bitter seven-fold harvest that comes from sowing in furrows of injustice. (These are hard truths to hear, but we must listen to them.)

Thus, Arrogance, Violence, Exploitation, and Oppression will fall before Beauty, Wisdom, Goodness, and Justice.

Invitation to a Feast.

October 10, 1999, Isaiah 25, 6-10a + Philippians 4, 12-14, 19-20 + Matthew 22, 1-14

Isaiah and Matthew both beckon us to a feast today, while Paul teaches us about our attachment to material goods and our trust in God.

Paul states his cause plainly. "I know how to live in humble circumstances, and I know how to live with abundance." He finds this "lifestyle" in his absolute trust in Jesus, his strength is in the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth, and with this Lord, he can endure anything.

What advice this is for those of us who live in the wealthy and powerful United States of America! Do we understand how to live in abundance? No we do not, and if we were to lose our abundance, would we know how to live in poverty? Not likely. We trust in our own strength, in bountiful stocks of nuclear weapons, powerful banking institutions, creative technology, and our own growing national reputation as "America the Merciless: Don't mess with us, boys, or we'll destroy your country."

Isaiah beckons us to a feast of peace, of abundant foods and choice drinks. Jesus gives us a parable about his rejection by his own people. Since the invited guests will not come, the invitation is sent our into the highways and villages -- "Come to the feast." But one guy shows up, "not dressed for the occasion." He gets thrown out. Hmmm. . . maybe this means that isn't enough to just show up, you've got to do something -- "Wear the robe", be part of the community, actively engage your faith. The call to Christian journey is not for observers, rather, it is for participants, people who do not merely say "Lord, Lord" but who actively "do the will of the Lord."

Thoughts on orthopraxis: How often do I just show up and don't do anything, when the "Gospel Call" sounds? What kind of attachment do I have to the material things in my life? If all of them disappeared tomorrow, and I found myself homeless, would I know what to do and how to live? Who do I trust in for strength?

Grace to you and peace!

October 11, 1999

Romans 1, 1-7 + Luke 11, 29-32

This week we leave the Prophets of the Old Testament for the Apostles of the New. Written about 56 - 58 AD by Paul, probably when he was in Corinth, the book of Romans is "the longet and most systematic unfolding of the apostle's thought" (Introduction to the Letter to the Romans, New Oxford Study Bible). Today's reading is a formal salutation which includes both a statement of his apostolic authority and a confession of faith. The final sentence -- "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" is often used today in liturgy. Paul writes of the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and of the on-going reality of His ministry through the apostles as well as the believers in Rome, Jews and Gentiles alike.

You can imagine the reputation that the Assyrians had in the minds of the hearers of Jesus' word in today's Gospel. But the Lord strikes directly at this cultural memory, telling them that the Assyrians of Ninevah will rise up in judgment against the corrupt leaders and those who turn away from the Gospel of Life. He recalls the story of Jonah (which we have recently read) and the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon in times ancient to the first hearers of these words. The words are sharp, pointed, uncompromising.

Notice that our Lord did not turn away from his enemies. He engaged them in conversation and dialogue, he loved them enough to call them to repentance. Those who came to metanoia were welcomed -- Matthew had been a "tax collector and a sinner" before his call as an apostle. Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man. Christ loved them and their lives were changed by their new relationship with this politically incorrect Rabbi from Galilee (which is to say the barrio, the ghetto, the sticks, the "Not a Fashionable Neighborhood").

Today is the civil holiday of Columbus Day, and thus it is a good day to remember all the martyrs of the conquest of the indigenous peoples of this hemisphere by European invaders. It is also the day on which Joao Bosco Bournier, SJ, was martyred in 1976, while demanding the freedom of two peasant women who were being held and tortured at a jail in a remote area of the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. On the site of his death, the Indian peoples of the region erected a cross with the inscription, "On 11 October 1976 in this place of Ribeirao Bonito, Mato Grosso, was assasinated Father Joao Bosco Bournier, for defending the liberty of the poor. He died, like Jesus Christ, offering his life for our liberation."

Fr. Bournier was ordained a priest in 1946, and spent the next 20 years largely in administrative assignments; in 1966 he was assigned to an area of Brazil which was rife with injustice and exploitation of the poor, especially against the Indians whose lands were being dispossed by the rich and powerful. Under the pressure of the circumstances, he came to a new understanding in his own ministry as a priest of the importance of the work for justice. Robert Ellsberg, in his book All Saints, says Bournier came to understand that "the priest's job was to represent the interests of human dignity and justice and to make it clear that God was not indifferent to the fate of the poor."

Fr. Bournier, and all you martyrs of the Americas, known and nameless, pray for us!

The Suppression of Truth by Wickedness

October 12, 1999

Romans 1, 16-25 + Luke 11, 37-41

Today Luke and Paul both discuss the problem of truth being suppressed by wickedness.

Paul begins with a strong confession of his faith. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!"

He goes on to say that the glory of God is revealed through Creation, and thus knowledge of God is available to all people, even in the absence of Revealed Truth. He shows how this knowledge becomes degraded into idolatry, and connects this corruption of "natural theology" with "lusts of their hearts." Which is to say, they abandoned the natural dignity of the human person for disordered appetites and desires.

As I was meditating on these words, I was struck by how we today in the United States, supposedly the most "Christian" nation on earth, are repeating these ancient idolatrous errors. We have abandoned the dignity of the human person for the false gods of convenience, absolute selfish autonomy, and the reduction of all aspects of life to a combination of politics and economics, all unfolding within a series of cultures of death that overlap to cover the entire globe.

In today's Gospel, Jesus has been invited to dinner at the house of a ruling religious authority, and at the beginning of the meal He omits a customary liturgical obserance. He is questioned about this by his host, and Jesus responds with a series of denunciations of the "scrupulous hypocrisy" of the era, where fine attention was to be paid to liturgical details while the greater truths were missed. Jesus does not dismiss liturgical observations or religious duties, but he says that they must be animated by justice, love of God. The leaders are denounced for laying burdens on people that they themselves will not carry.

The problem in both readings is the suppression of truth by wickedness. The glory of the worship of God is changed into the offering of infants on fiery altars before statues. The requirements of the Law are emptied of meaning as we debate fine details while ignoring our violations of justice. There is a hierarchy of truths, this is a clear teaching of the Church. Some things are more important than others. Truth, justice, and the dignity of the human person are right up there at the top.

And if truth is suppressed by wickedness, then it follows that righteous is a revelation of the truth. In my experience, the primary antidote to the suppression of something is to make more news/noise about it. Like Paul and Luke, we can look at our world and recoil in dismay at the tragedies. But the answer is not to break our engagement with the wicked -- Jesus himself today sets the example for us, he goes and has supper with his persecutors. Rather, our call is to reveal the truth of the Gospel by our righteous living. As the saying says, 'It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.' The more the truth is suppressed by wickedness, the more important it is for us to reveal the truth by our righteous living. And as Paul reminds us today, this righteous living begins in our faith. "The just shall live by faith."

There is no partiality with God.

October 13, 1999, Romans 2, 1-12 + Luke 11, 42-46

Today's first reading ends with "there is no partiality with God." He loves everybody, Jews and Greeks, men and woman, those who are slaves and those who are free. His mercy and kindness are "priceless," and we are called to return good works as a response to God's offer of Himself in love. Wrath comes on those who "selfishly disobey" the truth, but those who "persevere in good works" will be blessed. As last Sunday's Gospel noted, it's not enough to just show up. Paul's words hark back to those of Moses and his last sermon to the people of Israel -- and the emphasis is clearly on "doing the Word," not just hearing it.

Luke's Gospel continues this theme via Jesus' oration at the Pharisee's supper, strong words, demanding a faith that is true and is not hypocrisy. These are words that we need to hear today, an era in which Text is worshiped and revered, and people seem to think that if the appropriate politically correct language can be used (and non-politically correct language avoided), then life itself will become appropriately just. But for today's readings, actions speak much louder than words.

Thus it is not enough for us say "Justice, Mercy, Peace," we must model them in our lives. If we speak of Goodness and Beauty but live in Violence and Arrogance we are hypocrites and stand condemned before God and our fellow human beings.

The United States government could do with a dose or two of these readings, for surely we live in a nation where our leaders speak of peace and practice war, they honor justice with their lips even as they participate in the latest oppression. War indeed has become peace, slavery is now freedom, dead babies are collateral damage, and as long as the stock market continues to climb, that's pretty much fine with most people, and it is certainly fine with our ruling political and economic elites who are getting richer even as the poor are getting poorer.

Everything for which the prophets condemned ancient Israel, we do. Everything for which Jesus condemned the leaders of His community, we do. And we've added to the litany of horrors. As the book of Proverbs says, "Pride goes before a fall," and "let those who think that they stand take heed, lest they fall."

There is in fact no partiality with God. The LORD of the Universe is not impressed by a militaristic empire controlling half of the continent of North America, whose rulers fatten their bank accounts from the rice bowls of the poorest of the poor worldwide, a place where parents buy their children toys made by exploited children in other lands, who often work 14 hours a day six days a week. God does not establish a covenant to enable the rich to oppress the poor. He does not desire that people murder innocent babies. Our United Statesian trust in our "Special Relationship" with God is a mass delusion fostered and encouraged by Satan to cause death, misery, and tragedy throughout the world. The names of the demons on which this satanic crusade rides are Arrogance, Violence, Exploitation, and Oppression, the four horsemen of the coming Apocalypse. Our sense of "American Exceptionalism" is blasphemy at its worst.

We are not the first empire to be sent to the Ash Heap of History because of our devotion to our sense of our own importance and glory. We won't be the last. But we shouldn't doubt that that is where we are heading.

It took hundreds of years for the Roman empire to develop, decay, and fall, but that was then, this is now, and the velocity of such events today is much greater. Living standards dropped precipitously after the Fall of Rome because many people did not understand the technology that made their cities possible, thus, cities shrank in size, literacy declined, libraries were destroyed, but most people survived, they weren't that far from their agrarian roots.

Today the situation is much different. Our division of labor is much more developed. We are very far from our agrarian roots, and our cities depend upon massive technologies, enormous wealth, and prodigious expenditures of energy. If something happens to the modern trinity of Technology, Wealth, and Energy, hundreds of millions of people worldwide could die. Unless, of course, we can figure out how to jump start a sustainable, distributist, personalist society real fast, as in Very Very Fast, which is to say, in weeks, not months. Well, ours is a faith rooted in miracles, and if the judgment does come upon us (by war, by technological failure, by human error, or by the demons Hubris, Deviousness, Arrogance, Exploitation, Violence and/or Oppression) maybe we will develop the ability to learn -- and thus to have faith -- quickly. If the fields become suddenly white and ready to harvest, will you be ready to go immediately to work? Do you have catechetical and evangelical materials stockpiled at your house, ready to give to your neighbors if they suddenly begin to ask, "what should we do now?" Are you ready to be like Paul and give reasons for the Faith which is within you? Now is the time of preparation for the harvest. Remember that procrastination of a deadly demon that kills.

In the meantime, let us mark well all the words of today's readings and hold them in our hearts, pondering them deeply.

The world is complex, grace is simple.

October 14, 1999, Romans 3, 21-30 + Luke 11, 47-54

Well, duh Jesus, if you're gonna talk like this, what do you expect that any self-respecting band of exploitive, violent, arrogant, and merciless leaders are gonna do? "When he left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility towards him and to interrogate him about many things. . . " Yep, kill the messenger, a favored strategy of corrupt rulers from the very beginning. Rather than face the Truth that Jesus gave them in the mirror He held up before their faces, a mirror which showed not only their souls, but also the victims of their crimes, they can't wait to get their hands on the Messenger so that they could kill him, shut him up, get him off their collective cases, and return to Business as Usual. If this keeps up, why, the Stock Market Might Go Down.

Paul reminds us that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Oops, there goes Hubris. We are offered a free gift of faith through grace. Oops again, there goes another one, this time Violence. Because of this redemption, we have no room to boost. Oops a third time, down with Arrogance. This faith is not an annulment of the commandments, but rather its basic support. Oops a fourth time, Exploitation is 86'd. Four strikes, Satan is out.

Yes, it really is (ultimately) that easy. The world is complex, Grace is simple. Life is busy-ness, God is tranquility. The signs of the times are confusing, faith is the answer.

In my own life, I have devoted a considerable amount of thought and effort at one time or another to "proving" the existence of God. Somewhere I have a multi-page "proof" that I developed and a philosophy professor tore to shreds. While such reasoning is interesting, and sometimes profound (although mine wasn't especially so), and can be an assistence to the development of faith, ultimately all human reasoning runs into a dead end alley. We may have a need to go through all of that, but when we come to the limits of our intellectually abilities, hopefully at that point we will be able to let go and let God. Today if you ask me to prove the existence of God, I would most likely play a Bach fugue on the organ for you, or maybe take you to a homeless camp or a soup kitchen. You might not understand that language, but that just means you need to learn a new language, not that the proof isn't adequate.

There's a phrase that I often use when talking about sustainable and frugal living that also pertains to the present discussion: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. God will in fact do the rest, He always does, He always will.

"Woe to you, scholars of the law. You have taken away the key of knowledge. You yourselves did not enter, and you stopped others trying to enter."

The Active and the Contemplative

October 15 Romans 4, 1-8 + Luke 12, 1-7

October 16 Romans 4, 13, 16-18 + Luke 12, 8-12

October 17 Isaiah 45, 1, 4-6 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5b + Matthew 22, 15-21

Every so often, the busy-ness of my life catches up with me, I apologize for the sudden hiatus in the daily meditations. To catch back up, I am looking at the past 3 days of readings as one meditation.

October 15th was the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, the great medieval mystic and doctor of the Church. She lived in an era in which women were expected to be in the background, yet she consistently spoke truth to power, corresponding with kings and bishops and popes. She was a spiritual director of St. John of the Cross and was instrumental in the founding of the Discalced Carmelite reform movement. She was a contemporary of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and spoke often of her desire to be a perfect blend of Mary and Martha -- the active and the contemplative lives. Then as now, we often like to separate these two -- we have our religious life, and we have our temporal life, and never the twain shall meet. When we go into the marketplace, too many leave our religion behind.

In the Friday and Saturday readings, Paul continues his major exposition of Christian teaching, in particular, the doctrine of salvation by grace and not by works alone. There is a call to community with all people who believe -- not those of our own particular race or ethnic group, he teaches the universality of the Christian faith. All of Abraham's works would have been for nothing without his faith in God -- which is to say, the active life is rooted in the contemplative, and our temporal activities are one with our spiritualities. It seems so easy and familiar, we have heard it ten thousand million times -- but when we are hot and bothered and busy, and perhaps even feeling sorry for ourselves because we are so put upon, do we remember then our salvation by grace, God's good gift to us, and thus the one-ness of our spiritual and temporal lives?

Jesus continues his "hard sayings" to the disciples and those who were following him. He warns of persecution, but promises that whoever confesses Jesus before others will be remembered before the Father. Do not be afraid! There's that phrase again.

The persecution of Christians has not ended. In the Sudan, Christians are captured and sold as slaves. In Pakistan, Christians have been condemned for death -- the usual charge is blasphemy, the context is greed for their property or revenge. But even here in the United States, a most religious nation, persecution may be found. Sometimes it is overt -- such as when prayer is banned at public assemblies or Bible studies are banned in homes. Other times it is just an attitude -- "religion doesn't apply here." (Note this attitude isn't directed only at Christians, but generally at all people of faith.) This is particularly true of the Marketplace, and our halls of Governance and Legislation. We may put "In God We Trust" on our money, but that is a bad joke, we do not trust in God, we trust in the Almighty Dollar. It is the prime value of this fin de siecle age, we think that all things are materialistic, everything not only can -- but must! -- be reduced to its economic quantification, and when we are done with that, there is nothing left.

We tolerate the most egregious sins -- actually, we don't just tolerate them, we praise them, hold them up as examples for our young people to emulate, and punish those who speak out against them.

Isaiah reminds us of how all things work together for the good. Cyrus, King and Emperor of Persia was a pagan, yet he was raised up by God to punish the Babylonians who had themselves in turn been used by God to punish Israel when it abandoned its covenant.

Sunday's second reading comes from the earliest writing in the New Testament, dating from about 51 AD. It is a formal greeting, recalling the faith and endurance of the Church in Thessalonica.

The enemies of the Lord Jesus attempted in today's Gospel reading to put him "between a rock and a hard place." They crafted a question designed to get him in trouble either way. "Is it lawful to pay tribue to Ceasar?" Say yes, and the Jews would be outraged, say no, and the Romans would get worried (governments always worry about threats to their tax programs). He neatly avoids the trap by advising his questioners to "render to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and to God what is God's."

No wonder his enemies were astonished, it is not only a clever answer, it is deep and fraught with meaning. What is God's? What belongs to Ceasar? We have not only spiritual duties, but also social duties.

These readings carry us three days closer to the Jubilee Holy Year 2000, a time of reconciliation and renewal, an opportunity for us to remember God's covenant with us and our covenants with each other. The world cries out for justice and peace, yet we daily experience injustice and violence. In this tension and contradiction is the place that we live. As we continue our journey, let us reflect on our place in time, in geography, and in covenant.

All the way to justice is justice!

October 18, 1999

2 Timothy 4, 10-17b + Luke 10, 1-9

Pilgrimage 2000 ... Front Page ... HOME ... A Millennial Prayer

Today is the Feast of St. Luke, evangelist, author of the Gospel we are reading in this season for the daily masses.

With our reverence for sacred scripture, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that the Bible records the stories of real people -- with names, lives, histories. The stories seem so much bigger than life, we forget that it is a record of God's saving action in the lives of ordinary people -- who in responding to grace, transcended the "ordinariness" of their lives to bring eternal truth to light for all people.

Paul writes to Timothy from prison in Rome, perhaps in the last days of his life. He tells Timothy that he has been deserted by many, but that the Lord stood by him and gave him strength.

Today's Gospel returns to the ordination and commissioning of the 72 preachers to Israel of the Reign of God. They are called to go and bear witness of what they have seen and heard. They are to go in poverty, and to humbly be content with whatever they are given. They are to heal the sick and announce that the Reign of God is near. Sent to a conquered, oppressed, and impoverished people, these "Delegates of the Word", together with the Apostles, were the first Christian evangelizers, and have set an example for all of us to follow.

How do we know the Reign of God is upon us? Christ has said so, and sent us forth to teach this. But that was 2,000 years ago, how can the Reign by "near" for so very long? It's right here, under our noses, only our blindness caused by sin prevents us from seeing its Beauty and Glory. It is a great work in which we are engaged -- the job won't be finished in our lifetimes, and probably not in the days of our great grandchildren. This should not be a sign of despair, but rather we should be content with the part of the task that is set before us. Sure, I long to see a truly just and humane society, but if this is not to be fully realized in my lifetime, I will nevertheless see that truly just and humane society -- the Reign of God -- as I go about my days doing the small little bits of the tasks that are appointed for me. St. Catherine of Siena was often quoted by Dorothy Day -- "All the way to heaven is heaven." This could easily be retranslated as 'all the way to justice is justice," or "all the way to peace is peace," or "all the way to mercy is mercy."

In Luke's day, human beings were nailed to crosses at the edges of cities, and people were bought and sold as commodities. We are not so very different today, people are crucified every day on crosses of Dollars and Deutschmarks, and if you want to buy people as commodities, they are for sale everywhere. Slave labor is so common in the modern world, we think nothing at all of buying slave-made products. I am no better than anyone else in this regard. The shirt I am wearing most likely was made by exploited labor -- in Qatar. Should I buy a sewing machine and learn to sew? Should I help organize a cooperative of tailors here in Oklahoma City?

What should I do to help free the slaves I sustain by my purchases, by my sins of omission and commision?

Luke's Gospel is often called the "Gospel of the Poor," because of its consistent portrayal of Jesus' tender concern for all who had been rejected -- the poor, women, foreigners, tax collectors and publicans. May the words of his Gospel, which reverberate with great intensity even into our own era, remind us continually of our need for evangelism and conversion, and may we be ever mindful of our vocation as evangelizers and peacemakers.

Where sin increased, grace overflowed.

Romans 5, 12, 15b, 17-19, 20b-21 + Luke 12, 35-38

By one man sin entered into the world, and by one Man grace overflowed. This is the message Paul brings us today, developing his theological arguments by recalling the Fall and comparing the actions of Adam and Eve to those of Jesus Christ.

As we have journeyed in this pilgrimage to the Jubilee Holy Year, we have had occasion to reflect on the concepts of structures of sin and structures of beauty. The Holy Father has many times taught of the danger of structures of sin that encourage evil, and of how these structures have their beginnings in the concrete individual acts of sin and wickedness. The sins of Adam and Eve began this process. By grace, however, and through our Lord's obedience, death on the Cross and Resurrection, there enter into the world structures of beauty and goodness, and we participate in this through our acts of wisdom, peace, justice, and mercy.

Luke today presents the parable of the faithful stewards, who do their jobs even though the coming of the Master of the House is delayed. How appropriate this is for us today, when evil grows wild and strong, and wickedness abounds. The practice of justice is trivialized and scorned, we put "In God we trust" on our money but turn this noble phrase to blasphemy by our actions and the things we do with our money. Personally, I am increasingly losing sight of where the "big picture" of world geopolitics is going these days, the velocity of events is very fast, the permutations are devious, and the possible consequences are grave beyond our arrogant imaginings. But it's not really my job to understand this, my call is to be a faithful servant, to do the works that God sets before me, and let Grace do the rest. In the darkness of our times, even as the structures of sin seem stronger than ever before, grace yet overflows, a Cup filled and running over that never empties, from which all are invited to drink deeply.

Much will be demanded from those who have received much!

October 20, 1999

Romans 6, 12-18 + Luke 12, 38-49

Because grace is freely offered to us, does this mean we can sin with abandon and impunity, certain of God's forgiveness? This is the question Paul asks, and thereby notes a problem for the first Christians that we share today. No, he answers, if you are a servant of righteousness, that is how you must live. In fact, he tells us that by our works is how others will know who we serve: do we serve God with works of righteousness, wisdom, and beauty, or do we serve Satan with works of wickedness, evil, and death? He's not making a casual observation, it's not a writer's "throw-away" line, rather, our behavior indicates at a fundamental level who we serve, who is the owner of our hearts, to whom we have consecrated our lives. As the old joke goes, if you were arrested for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Paul writes that because we are redeemed by righteousness, sin should not reign over our mortal bodies. He talks about the power of sin and how this power has been broken by Christ. What we think, and what we do, makes a difference. Nobody can stop the wicked impulse from creeping into your mind -- but through Christ we have the power to resist, we don't have to say that hateful word. We don't have to buy stock in that corporation that exploits the poor.

We often like to think that our religion stops at the church door, and doesn't enter into our economic life, but that's not what Paul says. If we piously go to Church on Sunday, and then turn around on Monday and do the works of wickedness in our life in the world, then we didn't pay much attention to what we heard and received on Sunday. The call to a "Separation of Church and Economics" is not the call of the Gospel, rather, it is the siren song of Satan and his evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

Today Luke continues to teach us about the Good and Faithful Steward. Who is this person? The one who is always ready for the Lord, whether he comes early or late, he is to be found doing his duties in righteousness. He does not oppress others -- he uses no violence -- he is not a thief. Those who are called and who know the Master's will, but do not do His will, are to be cast out and punished. Those who are ignorant, and do not do the Master's will, are to be punished only lightly. Jesus teaches us today: Much is required from those who have been entrusted with much. Those who have more will have more demanded of them.

We must read these words with concern, for there is perhaps no other nation in the history of the world that has received so much as the United States of America. How have we used our power and wealth? To murder millions of innocent children, to rig the marketplace so that the poor are at a disadvantage -- our economy and our politics today are based on the glorification of the Seven Deadly Sins of Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth. "In God we Trust" may be on our money, but it is blasphemy. The Master is delayed in his coming, so we riot and beat the servants, break into the supply room and have a party with property that belongs to others. We steal the inheritance and birthright of our children to satisfy our demand for instant gratification.

A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, going from "here" to "there" with purpose. Let these words today be a call to leave the City of Wickedness for the City of God, and may our actions be in accordance with the journey that we have undertaken.

The wages of sin is death.

October 21, 1999

Romans 6, 19-23 + Luke 12, 49-53

Like I've been saying, we are building structures of Arrogance, Exploitation, Oppression, and Violence, or we are building structures of Beauty, Wisdom, Love, and Goodness. These structures are constructed of a myriad individual acts that reinforce each other spiraling upwards -- or downwards, as the case may be. Beside the Jordan River, with the tribes of Israel, we are invited to choose life or choose death. We are with Hezekiah reading the book of Deuteronomy to the people. And we are back to the Jordan River for the baptism of John. The wages of sin are death, that's pretty much it.

Paul makes the astute observation that the culture of death promises a lot more than it delivers. What is there of it that truly satisfies? The Cup that is offered to us, however, is never empty, it continually overflows allowing all to drink of its freely offered grace.

Jesus again reminds us that actions have consequences, and his Message is not exempt. Those who profit from the structures of Arrogance, Exploitation, Oppression, and Violence will defend them. There will be a refining fire.

It is a characteristic of the culture of death that it is very seductive. There is very green grass -- over there -- it says to us, come on and take just a little taste, it won't hurt. Great evil may not be obvious in its initial forays in our lives. There is the "Everybody is Doing It" argument, which works with all seven of the capital sins -- pride, lust, covetousness, envy, gluttony, sloth and anger. Today's readings remind us of both the need for conversion and the sometimes turbulent effect it can have.

Thoughts on orthopraxis: How do we respond to division caused by an evangelical change in our ways of living? In what ways does the culture of death beckon to us, inviting us to get on the 'everybody's doing it' bandwagon.

The Signs of the Times

Romans 7, 18-25b + Luke 12, 54-59, October 22, 1999

Romans 8, 1-11 + Luke 13, 1-9, October 23, 1999

The gospel for Friday and Saturday teaches us (among other things) of the importance of correctly reading the signs of the times. Jesus notes how hard we work on understanding the weather -- and how little we apparently care about the importance of developing the ability to correctly read the signs of the times.

These two days' readings in Romans give us clues to where Christian discernment begins, in an understanding that there are three sources for the "interior movements of our being": the world, Satan, and God. He clearly identifies the crux of the issue: the inner desire to follow God frustrate by worldly and Satanic influences. Which is to say, there is often a disconnect between what we believe and what we do. I preach against the evils of exploiting the poor in factories owned by garment companies in the US -- even as I wear a shirt perhaps made in Indonesia.

But as Paul notes so cogently in Saturday's readings, does this disconnect mean we should just give up? If grace is so important, should we sin a lot, so that "grace may abound?" Grace abounds apart from our sins, and we shouldn't use the mercy of God as an excuse for our own laziness. If I can't take a big step, I can take a little step. If I can't afford to have a private tailor make me a shirt, I can nevertheless work to end the exploitation of the poor in other countries. I can talk with tailors to find out more about the economics of making shirts, and perhaps think about recruiting some unemployed poor people to start a shirt-making cooperative. Other people will have other "little steps." You could start a compost heap. Or take a casserolle to a new family who moved into your neighborhood. You could not snap at somebody in anger, be kind to the counter staff at a fast food restaurant. As with evil, so it is with good: small acts of goodness pave the way for greater acts of goodness, justice, mercy, and peace. "Grow in Christ" means something starts small and gets bigger.

Paul continues with powerful metaphors of life and death, living the Resurrection in our daily life. "You too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus." That is, Arrogance, Exploitation, Violence, Death or Beauty, Wisdom, Justice, Love.

Jesus reminds us that the worldly explanation -- what seems "obvious" -- may not be in fact true. A tower fell on some people and killed them, did this happen because they were wicked? No -- but Jesus says that if we do not repent, the wages of sin is death. Worshippers at the Temple were murdered by Pilate -- they were not the greatest sinners, but if we do not repent, the wages of sin is death.

God is patient, he will put up with a lot, even a prolonged period of barrenness. We who are gardeners for God must likewise be patient, remembering the mercy of God and his desire that all repent. But sooner or later it is necessary for the rubber to meet the road, for deeds to follow beliefs. God's justice will not be delayed forever.

Thursday morning early I went to my home town for the funeral of my aunt, Carol Rae Waldrop Perry, who was my first music teacher. In her 44 years of teaching music, she undoubtedly taught hundreds of children the beauty and discipline of music. In her work as a church musician, she "married and buried" two generations in my home town of Frederick, Oklahoma. She was born on a farm in a small town, and lived her entire life there, faithfully married for 46 years to her high school sweet-heart, and had children and grandchildren. We laid her to rest facing the East, carried to her grave by neighbors who had known her all of her life, in a cemetary beside her ancestors, and we read the Twenty-third Psalm. As I stood by her grave, I had a moment of peace and understanding of the "rightness" of these natural rhythms of our lives. We are born, we grow, mature, and our physical bodies die, we transition to a new order of existence beyond the grave. We are very sad about our loss, but if all people lived 62 years in the way that she did, the world would be a better place.

Her children rise up and praise her, her husband, too, extols her: Many are the women of proven worth, but you have excelled them all. Proverbs 31:28-29

Where is our love for the poor?

Exodus 22, 20-26 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 5c-10 + Matthew 22, 34-40

The concern of the Law of Moses for the rights of the poor is a startling contrast to modern attitudes. What's the going loan interest rate at pawn shops? Generally 240% per annum. For "pay day loans" -- loans guaranteed by a post-dated check -- it's 651% per annum. Can you imagine the howls of protest from credit card holders if a bank tried to charge that interest rate? Can you imagine how fast they would send a multitude of letters to legislators demanding that this abuse be curbed by law? How deafening is the silence of those same credit card holders regarding the scandal of interest rates in the poor neighborhoods. Such usurious rates even have their defenders -- economists, bankers, and stockholders of pawn shop and other such loan operations, among others.

In modern America, instead of loving the poor, we demonize them, slander them, and punish them with our regressive tax systems (which favor the rich). We think nothing of causing the cry of the "widow and the fatherless" to rise to heaven. Now is probably a good time to mention that the ancient Hebrew and Greek words that are typically translated as "widow" actually mean "a woman with children but no husband", not simply a woman whose husband has died. Note that this is not an opinion without foundation, it is attested by virtually all commentators as lexigraphical resources. I've heard plenty of people say, "Well, I don't begrudge the widows anything, but those lazy welfare mothers, that's another story."

Jesus reminds us that while religion may get complicated, it comes down to two things: Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. These two commandments are inseparable. If you aren't doing the second, you aren't doing the first. Nobody who hates their neighbor can say that they love God.

It sounds so easy, but it isn't. We think we'd be better off with a list of one thousand and one do's and don'ts. Instead, Jesus says "Love God and love your neighbor." Sigh. Whine. My neighbor? That welfare mother on the other side of town? That stranger from another country who is "illegally" resident in this state? That corporate greed merchant who ruthlessly exploits the poor? Those aren't my neighbors, we think, my neighbors look like me, act like me, talk like me, go to my church, and belong to the better clubs. But that's not what Jesus said -- remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? In this age, millions of people have dismissed the idea that the poor are included in the term "neighbors." Instead, we see the poor as objects to be manipulated and exploited: people like making 651% per annum on their money, and the politicians like the contributions such people make. That's why the maximum interest on credit cards is limited, but the maximum interest on "payday" and pawnshop loans isn't.

The deafening silence about this injustice tells us how much we love the poor, and how well we are doing in re "love God with all your heart, might, mind, and soul."

The Spirit bears witness of the Jubilee.

October 25, 1999

Romans 8, 12-17 + Luke 13, 10-17

The week-day readings return us to Paul's theological exposition and Luke's narrative.

One of the things Luke's gospel is known for is its many depictions of women, and Jesus' close and tender relationships with them. From Mary Theotokos to Mary Magdalene, and many points between, women are prominent actors in the Gospel drama. Today's reading is one of many that could be cited to support this point.

Given the tenor of the times in which Jesus and Luke lived, it is remarkable that a woman was even mentioned. From the description Luke gives of her physical illness, most of the first readers (and many since) would assume that she or her ancestors had committed some awful offense against God to be so cursed.

And then, the woman is healed -- oops! It is the Sabbath, on which no work was to be done, and so the rulers rise up and say, "No fair, you can't do that on the Sabbath." Jesus refutes their obstinacy, "and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him."

Would we be brave enough to stand against power in defense of someone as marginalized as this woman? When people talk trash about people on welfare being lazy, do we nod our heads in agreement or do we speak out in defense of the truth?

If we're stuck to physical reality by itself, maybe not -- actually, probably not. There is no quicker way to become an object of scorn than to be poor and to defend the poor. People will pat you on the hand and say, "That's nice dear, let's be realistic OK, if you're too nice to them they'll want to stay poor all their lives." Plus it can sometimes be dangerous, as Archbishop Oscar Romero and many others have discovered.

This was no less true in Paul's day. Indeed, the penalty for publicly confessing Christianity -- for embracing the culture of life against a culture of death -- was often death, often via excruciating torture.

In the midst of this, Paul writes "For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." There's no doubt about where the power is here, it is a supernatural force that animates our entire existence. In that Spirit, we can certainly speak truth to power, and even be heard by power, for the Power which is above all earthly thrones is the one whom we by adoption can call "Daddy." "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are Children of God." Even if we are poor and homeless and live in a ditch beside a dump.

The Jubilee Holy Year is indeed what we decide to make of it. Jubilee is a time of freedom from every bondage, a day of cancellation of debts, a place where strangers are welcome and invited to sit at the table with the family. During the Jubilee concentrations of wealth and power are broken up, people return to the land of their fathers and renew their sense of belonging and place in a great reconciliation. It is a time to replace structures of Arrogance, Exploitation, Violence, and Death with structures of Justice, Beauty, Wisdom, and Love. Each time we open our hearts to the reality of the Resurrected Christ in our lives and do the works of mercy, justice, and peace -- whether they be actions great or small -- we bring the Jubilee one step closer. This Jubilee is the conscious creation of all of us who choose to be on this Journey and cooperate with Christ's grace in building the Reign of God right here, right now.

Yeast, mustard seed, and the groaning of all creation.

October 26, 1999

Romans 8, 18-25 + Luke 13, 18-21

Many years ago somebody gave me a mustard seed encased in a drop of plastic. It was very tiny. Yet from such small seeds grow large plants. When I bake bread, I add about 2 tablespoons of yeast to 6 or 7 cups of flour. That's not much yeast, but it makes two entire loaves of bread (or about 20 dinner rolls, or a dozen fat cinnamon rolls), and people rarely complain about the taste..

Such is the Kingdom of God. Starts small, grows big. One of my favorite wisdom sayings is, "We start small or we don't start at all."

Paul sees this in his metaphor of birth and creation. He chooses a very feminine metaphor to describe the movement of Creation towards God's Reign -- labor pains and birth, "All creation is groaning in labor pains". At the present time, we are "looking through a cloudy glass," we have only glimpses, not full sight, of what might be ahead. There is an inner yearning that longs for the fulfillment "on earth as it is in heaven" of justice, mercy, beauty, goodness, and love. We live in the midst of arrogance, violence, exploitation, and death, but that is not our destiny, that is an aberration of evil.

Patient waiting is not my strong suit, but note the word the translators chose to describe this -- endurance -- which suggests a runner striving for the finish line or a woman struggling to give birth. The labor pains of birth may be turbulent, but they bring life into the world. The final moments of a race may be excruciating to the runner, but they are the price of victory. As a mother longs for the birth of her child, we await the fulfillment of the Kingdom. The patient waiting that we are called to is active participation in the building of that Reign, right here and now. Any work of justice, peace, mercy, love, beauty, and/or wisdom that we do is a step in fulfilling the Reign of God on earth, as it is in heaven.

Our deeds may be very small, almost un-noticeable, but God sees every one of them and like pebbles in a pond, we may never know the full consequences of our actions. One kind word might stop an abortion, or a suicide, or a divorce, or child abuse, or even just another bad day..

In the wisdom of God, this is accessible to all of us. We don't have to be saints of heroic virtue, scholars of incredible wisdom, or merchants of great wealth capable of endowing hospitals and universities. The Jubilee call is to ordinary people, in the midst of our usual circumstances and states of life. We start small or we don't start at all, and we do what we can, with what we have, where we are. Not everybody is called to heroic martyrdom for the Faith, but all are called to walk daily in the Kingdom, which is here and yet not-here, within our hearts and still to come in its fullness. Paul provides the summation as he writes, "For it is in hope that we are saved."

The last will be first.

October 27, 1999

Romans 8, 26-30 + Luke 13, 22-30

Today Paul teaches an important, but hard, truth. All things work together for good for those who love God. Sometimes this is very hard to see and indeed in our humanity we may not always be able to believe in that Providence. It's not an endorsement of fatalism, but rather an affirmation of the truth that our existence is Beauty, and that structure of justice is superior to the demonic structures of sin and evil that afflict the world.

Fortunately, the "Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness." We hardly even know what to pray for (as the saying goes, "be careful what you pray for, you might get it.") So the "Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." Paul wasn't a hermit. When he looked out his window he saw the Roman Empire, in all of its cruel and terrible grandiosities. Men and women hung on crosses at the city gates, slaves were bought and sold in the marketplace, Christians were persecuted, there was much then that inspired despair. So it is today, different context, same culture of death structures.

It's a day for hard sayings, because Jesus gives us a few too, not the least of which is "some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last," echoing ancient themes from the prophets and wisdom writings. Some people may reject the Kingdom, but others will come -- from all directions to sit at the Table of Plenty.

Many people seek a comfortable Christianity, but today's Gospel is more in the direction of "afflicting the comfortable Christianity." Christianity involves a change of heart that leads to a change in ways and manners of living. We stop doing some things and start doing other things. Sometimes that change is rapid and dramatic, other times it is slow, incremental. It's a journey, a movement -- not in isolation or alienation, but rather in a new reconciling and redeeming community. Nobody has strength in and of himself or herself to challenge that 'gate' that is straight and narrow, but through the Spirit, who comes to the aid of our weakness, all things are possible, Jubilee doors are opened and new paths revealed., decorated and adorned with Wisdom, Beauty, Justice and Love.

Hope and zeal in a desperate cause.

Ephesians 2, 19-22 + Luke 6, 12-16, Feast of Saints Jude and Simon

Metaphors are given to us today of growth and building, foundations and capstones. Our faith is built upon the foundation given us by the first witnesses of the Gospel -- holy men and women whose lives were changed forever by their relationship with Jesus. Luke recounts the story of the calling of the 12 Apostles -- among whom are Jude and Simon, whose memory we honor on this day.

Simon is known as the "Zealot" and there has been much discussion over the years regarding this appellation. There was a faction among the Jews of the era known as the "Zealots" - revolutionaries opposed to Roman rule. Years after the death of Jesus, they helped organize a revolt that for a brief time threw off the Roman yoke, but which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He may have come to the apostles from this group, or it may be a description of his holy zeal for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God.

St. Jude, often pictured in religious art with a bit of holy fire (representing the Spirit of God) resting upon his head, is the patron of desperate causes. This devotion is one of the most popular in the Church, and the personal ads of any given large city classified ad section is likely to have one or more "in thanks to St. Jude for favors received" notices, some containing an entire novena prayer. There may be a danger of superstition, but there is also the reality that many people are in desperate straits, and the tradition of invoking a powerful protector in such situations should not be casually rejected.

These are desperate days for the cause of social justice, and they are also days where a little zeal comes in handy ("a little zeal" is probably an oxymoron). Zeal that is based in a desire for self-promotion or anger is a dead end that becomes counterproductive, chasing people away and bringing alienation. But zeal that is rooted in the experience of Gospel conversion changes not only lives, but also entire societies and the course of human history. Consider the world-changing effects of Jesus and the small band of holy men and women who followed Him. Think about their imperfections, their mistakes, their lack of understanding, and yet see what has grown from this tiny, weak, almost imperceptible foundation.

Hopeless and desperate situations call for zeal, but they also call for prayer, and thus today's feast of these first apostles and martyrs of the Church is a reminder of the importance of the active and contemplative (one of the themes we have been following in this series). Paul himself writes of Christ as the capstone and the mortar which holds the structure of beauty, wisdom, justice, and love which we call the Reign of God together, built upon the foundation of the personal experiences of those who knew Jesus in the meridian of time.

St. Jude, patron of desperate causes, come to the assistance of the poor and marginalized. Bless all who work for justice with hope and abundance. St. Simon, give us a portion of your zeal for the Gospel, so that we may run and not be weary, walk and not be faint. May we be lifted up by the wings of eagles, as we become the dwelling place of God.

The gifts and call of God are irrevocable.

October 29, 1999 Romans 9, 1-5 + Luke 14, 1-6

October 30, 1999 Romans 11, 1-2a, 11-12, 25-29 + Luke 14, 7-11

Christianity began within the womb of the Jewish religion. Paul, a scholar of the Law of Moses, and the writings and wisdom of his people, had been a member of the Pharisee's spiritual movement. The Pharisee's were primarily lay people, and they were the developers of the synagogue as a site of teaching and worship. Perhaps the greatest conflict of the early Church was in the relationship between Christians and Jews. The first Christians did not see themselves as anything other than Jews, but late in the first century AD, Christians were excommunicated from the synagogues. Paul writes to the Romans in the era leading up to that breaking of fellowship, and his concern is to establish that the rejection of the Jews paves the way for the opening of the Gospel to the Gentiles.

But he is careful to establish that God does not reject the Jews, they are still loved, God remains faithful to the covenant He made with them. "The gifts and call of God are irrevocable."

It is a sad commentary on our own history that we have often forgotten this, and anti-semitism has flourished among Christians. Part of the call to Jubilee is an examination of our conscience, and certainly, there is much in Christian history that cries out for repentance and change of ways when it comes to anti-semitism.

It was a hard thing for the early Jewish Christians to see that the Table was big enough for the Gentiles. And for the descendents of the Gentile Christians, it became a hard thing to understand that the Table was big enough for the Jews too.

This is also a good time to remember the descendents of those first Jewish Christians, who live today in the land of Jesus's birth, life, death, and resurrection, the Arab Christians of Palestine, and their cousins who are Islamic. How hard it is for many of us to understand that the Table is big enough for them too! There are hard feelings and much injustice, but the gifts and call of God are irrevocable, and that applies to everybody in Palestine, including the Arab Christians and Muslims.

The Gospel for these two days teaches us about humility in two ways.

First, another person in need of healing is presented to Jesus on the Sabbath, while at the home of a religious leader. Jesus heals the man, and then tells the guests a parable. As is often the case at a banquet, there is some competition for the best seats. Jesus tells them, "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." How different this is from our own era of publicists who teach that "perception is reality." The other day I saw an advertisement where the Disney corporation was offering free materials to teachers about a justice issue. And of course I thought of the workers in Haiti who make 13 cents an hour making Disney licensed merchandise. But they don't work for Disney, they work for a contractor, so I guess it's not Disney's fault. I saw another advertisement for Nike, of all people, featuring a reading of the 23rd Psalm. I thought about the workers who make Nike shoes, earning pennies to make profits for Nike stockholders.

Humility is not a virtue that is encouraged by our culture of death economic system. But it certainly is one of the keys to the kingdom of God.

October 30th is the birthday of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian novelist, who was one of Dorothy Day's favorites. The phrase "The World will be saved by Beauty", which is one of the mottos of our Catholic Worker house, was written by him in the Brothers Karamazov, uttered by one of his characters, Fr. Zossima, who is in dialogue with the nihilist Ivan Karamazov ("if God does not exist everything is permissible", which is certainly the motto of the modern culture of death.) In his youth, Dostoevsky was involved with radical politcs, was arrested, condemned to death, and went so far as to be chained to the execution post, when his sentence was commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. His only book in prison was the New Testament. In the Brothers Karamazov, he wrote, "Strive to love your neighbors actively and indefatigably. And the nearer you come to achieving this love, the more convinced you will become of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul." (Information from All Saints by Robert Ellsberg.)

Word, Incarnation, Cup

Malachi 1, 14 - 2, 2b, 8-10 + 1 Thessalonians 2, 7b - 9 + Matthew 23, 1-12

We ran into Malachi earlier in this series (5th century BC), who wrote just before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, returning from exile in Babylon, conquered by Persia, giving powerful oracles about the injustice of that city. The arrangement of this passage in the lectionary presents a harsh condemnation of religious leaders who lead people astray, who violate the commandments of God and teach others to do likewise, who condone the evil that is done in the name of the Lord, oppressing the widow, the orphan, the alien, and causing their cries to rise to heaven in a chorus of pain, sorrow, and tragedy.

Paul writes to a people who were becoming a radical new community, he applies feminine, nurturing images to himself, teaching that the Gospel is not only Word, but also Incarnation -- and the ties that bind are relationships rooted in that Word, Incarnation -- and also, Cup.

He is an effective counter-model to the images invoked by Malachi.

Jesus today is clearly in conflict with the religious leaders of his era, he speaks of religious hypocrisy, pride, and the oppression of the people by religious decree. Matthew composed his gospel during a time in which the early Church was engaged in the continuation of this struggle for religious justice. The nascent realization of the new covenanted community founded in Word, Incarnation, and Cup brought turbulence. The comfortable were greatly afflicted by this -- but the afflicted were greatly comforted. Thus, in Matthew's arrangement of this material (most of which is unique to his Gospel), we may also find an echo of early problems within the Church itself. In providing these readings today, the Church perennially reminds itself of its own need for perpetual renewal and growth in Christ.

All Saints and All Souls

November 1 & 2

Revelations 7, 2-4, 9-14 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

With these two feasts, of ancient origin in the Church, we remember our ancestors, of both the body and the faith. Churches everywhere are displaying books for people to write the names of their remembered dead. Surely we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, -- heroes of the faith, known and unknown -- who remain active in prayer and intercession on our behalf. It's important to remember this when times are tough and when they are good.

John today reminds us that now -- right now, wherever you are -- we are together children of God. In an apocalyptic vision, he sees the saints in heaven, and hears the chorus of praise. Jesus reminds us of the essence of his Gospel, which calls all of us to be holy ones, saints, and prophets.

Given the holiness of these days, there seems to me to be less of a need to write about the readings, and more of a need to call us to remembrance.

+ A Litany of Remembrance and Salvation

God of witness and memory -- Lord, have mercy

Vindicator of the poor -- Christ, have mercy

Spirit bearing justice -- Lord, have mercy.

Response: We will not forget.

Let us remember this day all people who are

killed in wars,

tortured in jails,

disappeared in the night,

starved for food,

subjected to oppression,

driven from their homes,

unlawfully imprisoned,

denied religious liberty,

excluded from economic opportunity,

marginalized by poverty,

targeted by racial and cultural prejudices,

silenced by violence and injustice.

Response: Save us O Lord. . .

From the marginalization of poverty

From the silence of the disappeared,

From the ruthless thirst for power and profit,

From the despair of homelessness,

From demonic structures of sin,

From economic exploitation,

From the culture of death,

From the lure of materialism,

From greed for money,

From covetousness of possessions,

From material wealth and power,

From alienation and anger,

From the politicization of all life,

From the exploitation of the maquiladoras,

From the demand for instant gratification,

From the lies of politicians,

From the scourge of war,

From the cruelty of transnational corporations,

From the denials of human dignity,

Response: Pray for us. . .

St. Peter Claver,

St. Francis of Assisi,

St. John of God,

Venerable Pierre Toussaint,

St. Moses the Moor,

St. Rose of Lima,

St. Rose Duchesne,

St. Martin de Porres,

St. Gaspar del Bufalo,

Blessed Maria Mattias,

St. Maximilian Kolbe,

Ugandan Martyrs,

St. Andrew Duc Lac & all Vietnamese Martyrs,

Blessed Frederic Ozanam,

Blessed Katherine Drexel,

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross,

Martyrs of the Americas,

Venerable Matthew Talbot,

St. Francis Xavier Cabrini,

St. Vincent de Paul,

St. Louise Marillac,

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton,

St. Mary MacKillop,

Blessed Kateri Tekawitha,

Dorothy Day,

Peter Maurin,

Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange,

Henriette Delille,

Oscar Romero,

Stanley Rother,

Mother Teresa of Calcutta,

Ita Ford,

Maura Clarke,

Dorothy Kazel,

Jean Donovan,

Barbara Ann Muttra,

Shirley Kolmer,

Mary Joel Kolmer,

Agnes Mueller,

Kathleen McGuire,

Dietrich Bonfoeffer,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

May we hear and remember the tragedy, joy, despair, and hope of the voices that call to us and to history for justice, reconciliation, and peace.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Solidarity, Judgment, Hospitality.

November 3: Romans 12, 8 - 10 + Luke 14, 25-33

November 4: Romans 14, 7-12 + Luke 15, 1-10

Hard sayings on discipleship and solidarity today from Jesus. Take up your own cross! These words are dulled by 2,000 years of Christian tradition. We think of the cross as an object of piety. Few of us would mind picking up a sterling silver or 24 karat gold cross and hanging it about our necks, with a nice, safe, Jesus affixed thereupon. For Jesus' first hearers, and for those who were the first readers of Luke's Gospel, however, such words must have been almost incomprehensible. Imagine: Go up to your electric chair and sit upon it.

As if this isn't enough, today's passage ends with, "Whoever does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple." Thanks Jesus, we really needed that.

But we do need that kind of hard saying. We can't imagine life without our comforts; here in the affluent west, things we consider to be absolute necessities are incredible luxuries in the third world. And we finance our luxures by our ruthlessness, our merciless foreign military and economic policies, interest payments stolen from the rice bowls of the poor, contractors for Nike and Adidas and Disney who steal the childhoods of poor children in order to create products to sell in the wealthy west. Children go hungry in foreign lands so we can have fresh tomatoes and lettuce in January. Should we not in some cases interpret these words of Jesus quite literally? If we don't abandon our houses, shouldn't we renounce any of our possessions that are stolen from the poor?

The gospel for November 4th continue's Luke's theme of Jesus' hospitality to sinners and those who are marginalized by presenting two parables -- the lost sheep, and the lost coin. Here is a modern reading of this passage:

"The crack addicts, homeless, and prostitutes were all drawing near to listen to him, but the politicians and respectable people began to complain, saying, 'this man welcomes the underclass and fellowships with them.'"

The readings in Romans are part of the passage where Paul discusses the "division of labor" within the Body of Christ. He calls Christians to love one another with sincerity and "mutual affection." Paul returns to an earlier theme, and calls the Romans to not "look down" upon others, and says that all will give an account to God for their actions.

The United States is allegedly a "classless society," but this is another of those national delusions that gets us in trouble. Many people despise people who are poor, they tell lies and slanders about them with abandon. I live in a neighborhood that is on the boundary between the very poor and the middle class. The stories I hear from people who don't live in my neighborhood. "You live THERE!" When I worked for an African American parish in Northeast Oklahoma City, people told me, "I'd be afraid to go over there." Politicians inflame these misperceptions and fears, and people don't bother to question the assumptions: "Of course it's a bad neighborhood, there are poor people there! How could it be anything else?"

November 3rd is the celeration of St. Martin de Porres, in the Catholic tradition one of the patrons of social justice, one of the "Holy Helpers of the Poor." He was born in Lima, Peru in the 16th century, the son of a Spaniard man and an African woman. His father refused to acknowledge him until he was 8 years old. He was apprenticed as a barber-surgeon, and became a Dominican lay brother. He was famed for his hospitality to the poor -- and also to animals, he often fed the stray and abandoned cats and dogs that he found in the streets. For this reason, he is often portrayed in religious art with a little cat and dog beside him. He lived a long time ago, in a culture different from ours today, but his heroic virtues and witness of Gospel solidarity remain important to us today. St. Martin de Porres did not think that the people who lived in the poor part of town should be shunned, rather, they should be loved, embraced, and comforted. May his example be before us today, and may his intercession on behalf of the poor and marginalized be powerful!

You cannot serve God and Money.

November 5, 1999: Romans 15, 14-21 + Luke 16, 1-8

November 6, 1999: Romans 16, 3-9 + Luke 16, 9-15

These two days readings bring to a close the lectionary's survey of Paul's theological exposition in Romans. Paul is a missionary apostle, he "aspires" to preach the Word where it has not gone before. He does not want to come to Rome to make his home there, but rather to stop there on his way to preach in Spain (at that time, Spain was considered the westernmost limit of the world). He emphasizes his mission to the Gentiles, bringing them to the God of his fathers, "by the power of signs and wonders."

Saturday's reading is of Paul's greetings to the Church in Rome. He sends his blessings to men and to women, to Jews and to Gentiles, reminding us and them of the universality of the Gospel call, and how it transcends our human divisions.

Luke gives us one of the more puzzling parables of Jesus -- that of the dishonest steward -- together with the application of the parable to a particular situation. At first reading, it almost seems as though Jesus was condoning dishonesty. But like many parts of sacred scripture, which was given to the world in a specific human cultural context, this parable is illumined by an understanding of the business management practices of the time. Typically, a steward -- or manager -- received his compensation by taking on his percentage to whatever business the master was doing through him.

This particular steward had not been a good manager, he had squandered his master's property. So faced with imminent dismissal, he decides he is going to need some friends. So he goes to the people he has done business with for his master, and removes his percentage from their agreements. This does them a good service, and since the man is about to be unemployed, he is going to need all the friends he can get. One of its lessons, then, is appropriate use of one's material possessions in the face of an impending crisis.

Saturday's gospel draws this application further, and suggests that how we use our material wealth has implications for what we will receive as heavenly wealth. And there are some other hidden gems here. Jesus refers to material wealth as a small thing, this is the exact opposite of how we tend to think about things. The altars of the Almighty Dollar have more devotees these days than do the altars of the Eucharist.

Today we also read the famous quote -- no one can serve two masters, you will hate one and love the other. Nobody can serve God and money. Then as now, the religious hypocrites who heard this hard saying "sneered" at Him. Jesus responds, "what is of human esteem is an abomination in the sight of God."

This passage is often used to promote stewardship and condemn materialism, but it also has application for the Church itself. What is true for a man or a woman is also true for the Church -- the Church will either serve God, or it will serve Money, and it cannot do both. The "preferential option" of the Gospel is for the poor, but all too often, our preferential option is for the rich and the powerful.

The wise and the foolish.

Wisdom 6, 12 - 16 + 1 Thessalonians 4, 13-18 + Matthew 25, 1-13

Today's Gospel reminds us to stay awake -- be prudent -- be prepared, echoing the beautiful words of the song of Wisdom in the first reading -- "Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom. . . for taking thought of her is the perfection of prudence, and he who for her sake keeps vigil shall be quickly free from care."

Thus, the wise are those who are constantly prepared to meet their Lord. They are prudent in material and spiritual affairs. They look ahead, seek to discern what is important, and are conscious of their place in a supernatural reality.

The Church has been reading this parable at Mass for a very long time, and it seems useful to think about the placement of this reading in the season of the time. The Roman Rite evolved in the northern hemisphere, and November is the time just before the depths of winter. For much of history, the time before winter could be anxious. If the harvests were thin, or had failed, they were looking at winter without much in their cupboards to tide them through. They didn't have supermarkets or convenience stores open 24 hours a day. They ate what they grew or caught, and if they didn't grow or catch anything, they were in trouble.

We don't have that problem these days. In October, we don't plan what we will eat in February, because we trust in the Gods of the Corporate Marketplace to fulfill our every need. We see them as being much more reliable than that old Yahweh character. They brings us food from the four corners of the earth, and we care not a sun-ripened fig for the people who may be going hungry in poor countries so that we can have fresh lettuce and tomatoes in our supermarkets in January. Our wealth has made it possible for us to abandon the practice of eating with the season. Our feelings teach us that if we can do it, we ought to do it, and we never think of just how immature and juvenile this idea is.

We are daily encouraged in this practice by corporations whose landholdings were secured and often defended by the United States military. Their lands are worked by the descendants of the original owners, who are now serfs. Worse than serfs, actually, because at least a feudal lord acknowledged some responsibilities to his serfs, whereas the modern transnational corporation sees them as one more resource to exploited until depleted, and then tossed aside when no longer profitable for the stockholders.

We aren't interested in knowing much about the provenance of those tomatoes, or the problems of those who picked them. We are the Americans! Our convenience is so much more important than their misery! We deserve those tomatoes, we are beautiful people. They deserve whatever it is that they have left after we have taken what we want. We are like the foolish virgins flying out the door, going to wake somebody up in the middle of the night because we had not the foresight to be proper stewards of our material possessions.

But pride goeth before a fall. The foolish ones still get left behind, they show up way late and the door is locked. As Jesus said on many occasions, "Let those who have ears to hear, hear."

There is a connection between how we manage our temporal stewardship and how ready we are to meet the Bridegroom when he comes to our door. If we selfishly abuse those gifts so that others are hurt, if we oppress the poor by taking advantage of them because we have the power and wealth to do so, are we not dead asleep with empty lamps when the wedding party arrives? Is it possible that because of our selfish exploitations of the poor, that we will find the door locked when we knock upon it? "Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor, will themselves also call and not be heard."

Justice, servant leadership, metanoia, reconciliation.

November 8, 1999: Wisdom 1, 1-7 + Luke 17, 1 - 6

November 9, 1999: Wisdom 2, 23 - 3, 9 + Luke 17, 7-10

These two days have is an interesting convergence of feasts, readings, and memorials. On November 9, 1938, the German Nazi's burned 191 synagogues, destroyed 7500 Jewish businesses, arrested 25,000 Jewish men, & shipped half of them to Buchenwald. It gets its name from the shattered glass of the windows on the ground. Ellsberg's "All Saints" says that the next day, there was little protest in Germany or abroad, and the organizers of the raids congratulated themselves on a job well done.

The lectionary reading for the Tuesday of the 32nd week of Ordinary Time, which this year falls on November 9th, is from the book of Wisdom, and it says that "the souls of the just are in the hands of God and no torment shall touch them. . . " It is one of the traditional texts appointed for reading at funeral masses and services. November 9th is also the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, a major milestone of the journey of the Soviet Empire towards the ash heap of history. Both the Nazi and the Soviet empires were responsible for the deaths of many millions of people, men, women, and children slaughtered unjustly.

The reading for the 8th begins the book of Wisdom with an exhortation to justice -- "Love justice, you who judge the earth. . . because into a soul that plots evil wisdom enters not. . . for the holy spirit of discipline flees deceit and withdraws from senseless counsel; and when injustice occurs it is rebuked." The end of this pericope, although not in the reading, bears remembrance: "For justice is undying." It's a good reminder, given the bi-partisan leadership of the United States.

Jesus speaks about the sad state of those who create structures of sin that bring wickedness, violence, and death. It would be better to suffer the fate of being drowned at sea with a millstone tied around your neck than to encourage one of these "little ones" to sin. We who live in the midst of an economy rooted in the glorification of the seven deadly sins should ponder these words.

Jesus also leads us on the path of the Little Way, if our faith is only the size of a mustard seed, it will be enough to do mighty things. As you may know, the mustard seed is very tiny. We are called to be our brother's and sister's keeper, to call them back from the edge upon which they stand, and to be ever ready to extend forgiveness and be reconciled. The reading from the 9th is a call to servant leadership, always a difficult thing for us in a "winning through intimidation" society to hear. There's so much noise and static one has to listen carefully and intentionally.

61 years after Kristallnach, on the eve of the 2nd Christian millennium, problems of race, class, and ethnicity continue to disturb the peace and safety of too many people. Ten years after the opening of the Berlin Wall, another great and mighty empire is headed for the same ash heap on which rests the Soviet Union, and for many of the same reasons -- materialistic ideology, corrupt political economy, overextended military commitments, willing commission of injustice against the poor to further the economic and/or political interests of the ruling authorities and privileged classes. As Confucius said, "Without justice, the state is simply organized crime."

Many different threads, but all parts of the same cloth. Justice, servant leadership, reconciliation, forgiveness, the call to metanoia -- and a reminder: it is the souls of the just that are in the hands of God.

The stern judgment of God upon politicians and corporations.

Wisdom 6, 1 - 11 + Luke 17, 11-19, St. Leo the Great

Thus says Wisdom -- and the Church, by placing this reading in the lectionary for today's masses.

Those who have power must understand that it is not theirs to do with as they please, power is a responsibility, and those who use their power irresponsibly will eventually pay the price of their sin.

These are not words heard very loud in Washington, D.C., or in the other world capitals of governance, finance, business, and culture. We live in an era of radical selfish autonomy, where even the president fancies himself above law and morality.`

Even so, the judgment of God will come upon those who do wickedness "in high places" -- terribly and swiftly, and it will be stern. "Mene, mene, tekel, upharison" wrote the finger of God upon the banquet hall wall of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon -- "you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting." What do the balance scales of justice say about America the Merciless -- that great Democratic Republic whose people willingly choose leaders to implement policies that murder poor children in foreign lands? We cheerfully and enthusiastically do business with bankers who steal interest payments from the rice bowls of the poorest of the poor. Do Wisdom and Justice approve of our devotion to political corruption and the exploitation of the poor for financial and political gain? If the United States is indeed the land of We the People, who then are the rulers of this land that this condemnation comes upon? Is not one of the risks of democracy that We the People themselves will be held morally responsible for the crimes of their freely elected governing authorities?

I am reminded that the Catechism teaches us that we can gain responsibility for the sins of others by approving of those sins, praising them, not opposing them when it is within our power to do so, ordering them, covering up for them, or facilitating them. So when we willingly vote for a man or woman who commits oppression -- even though we know they are oppressors and exploiters and murderers of the poor -- where will we stand in that great accounting of those who hold and wield power?

Luke today tells us of ten lepers healed by Jesus. One of them turns back from the rush to be certified as "clean' to thank Jesus for this great miracle. Jesus notices that only one returned to give thanks, and as it so happens, the man was a Samaritan. So here we have two groups that were hated, feared, and marginalized in Jesus' culture: lepers and Samaritans (foreigners and heretics), and they are held up to the people of the era as good examples. Today we would probably tell a parable of 10 crack addicts and the one who turns back would be a prostitute. This parable is found only in Luke.

Today is the feast of Leo the Great, who died on November 10, 461. During his papacy, the Council of Chalcedon issued a primary theological definition on the human and divine natures of Christ. He persuaded Attila the Hun to not attack Rome in 452, but in 455 AD, he saw the conquest and sack of Rome by Genseric the Vandal. In religious art, he is often depicted with saints confronting Attila. Perhaps he would be a good saint to invoke during the crash of empires and the destruction of cities.

The essence of Wisdom.

November 11, 1999, St. Martin of Tours

Wisdom 7, 22 - 8, 1 + Luke 17, 20-25

The book of Wisdom was compiled about 100 years before Christ and written in Greek; the author was well educated in the history and scriptures of his people, and also influenced by Greek philosophy. He sings of the blessings of Wisdom, and as we have seen, an essential aspect of Wisdom is justice, and the promise is clear: "wickedness prevails not over Wisdom."

Everybody wants to know when and where the Kingdom of God will come. The people of Israel labored under colonial oppression, they were ready for the demise of the Romans and the coming of God's Reign on earth. Jesus says that the birth and growth of this Kingdom is not announced by trumpets and cymbals. It is a quiet arrival, hidden, starts small, grows big. In fact, the Kingdom was already among us, 2,000 years ago when these events were happening.

This seems to me to be good advice. Many people are convinced the Second Coming will happen soon. But the fact is, nobody knows the hour of that great event at the end of time as we know it. What we should be concerned about is the First Coming of Jesus, and the growth of the Kingdom of God among us right here, right now. At times it's hard to see that Kingdom, the oppression and wickedness of the world is very strong, flagrant, and omnipresent. But if we open our eyes and look, we suddenly see beyond the forest and notice that "there be trees there." Each act of goodness, justice, peace, and love is evidence of the victory of the Reign of God over wickedness and evil.

Today is the memorial of St. Martin of Tours, who lived during the 4th century in France (known in those days as Gaul.) He was a soldier and a catechumen. One day during the winter he was confronted by a freezing, half-naked beggar; he sliced his military cloak into two pieces and gave one to the beggar. He later requested discharge from the military, and gave up his sword. As his holiness grew, he was elected a bishop by popular acclamation, and performed many miracles. He is responsible for the evangelization of much of rural France. He is invoked as the patron saint of beggars.

Today is also the memorial of the end of the first part of the Great World War of the 20th century (it seems to me that World Wars I and II were the same war, separated by a 21 year armistice -- the "11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month". This traumatic event set the stage for much death and suffering in this century, and the causes of the war itself are among the most ignoble in history. The German and Austrian imperialists went to war with the British, French, Italian, and Russian imperialists, and they managed to drag the US into the fray. It was not a war for democracy, but rather money and colonies. We were on the side of the inventors of the concentration camp (the British, who had soldiers in more countries than any other empire). Many people died in that stupid conflict among first cousins (the British, German, and Russian emperors were first cousins, all grandsons of Queen Victoria of England), and the war was immediately followed by great flu pandemics which killed additional millions.

The stupid and short-sighted peace forced on the Germans -- the Treaty of Versaille -- set the stage for World War II and created the objective conditions which made the rise of Hitler and the Nazis possible. Further, because of the war, the Germans gave Lenin and the Bolsheviks assistance to travel from Switzerland where they were in exile, back to Russia. Consider how much human suffering that meddling attempt to take Russia out of the war has caused. How many tens of millions of people did the Communists kill over the next 70 years?

World War I made World War II inevitable. Let us remember this day all those who have died in war this century, and let us pray for our bi-partisan national leadership who are leading us again down into the darkness of war, imperialism, death, and conquest. When the United States of America falls onto the ash heap of history, it will be in large part because we have not learned the historical lessons of this century.

Resistence to Tyranny is Justice!

November 12: Wisdom 13, 1-9 + Luke 17, 26-37

November 13: Wisdom 18, 14-16 + Luke 18, 1-8 -- St. Francis Cabrini

November 14: Proverbs 31, 10-13, 19-20, 30-31 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 1-6 + Matthew 25, 14-30

November 15: 1 Maccabees 1, 10-15, 41-43, 54-57, 62-64 + Luke 18, 35-43

November 16: 2 Maccabees 6, 18-31 + Luke 19, 1-10

November 17: 2 Maccabees 7, 1, 20-31 + Luke 19, 11-28

November 18: 1 Maccabees 2, 15-29 + Luke 19, 41-44, St. Rose Duchesne

In the 2nd century BC, a great persecution was carried out against Israel. The land had been under the authority of the Persian Empire, but after its conquest by Alexander the Great, it fell under Greek control. Upon Alexander's death, his empire was divided among generals and nobles, and thus it came to pass that eventually, Antiochus Epiphanes, a descendent of one of those who received a kingdom from Alexander's inheritance. The Persians ruled a polyglot empire, and were content to protect each people in their ancestral customs. Not so the Greeks. This week the first readings give us stories of heroic resistence to tyranny.

All were ordered by the king to abandon their ancestral customs and embrace the customs, religion, and lifestyle of the Greeks. Those who resisted were tortured and killed. We hear the story of Eleazar, 90 years old, learned in the Law. His friends take him aside and say, "Eleazar, this is the way things are now. Just have a little taste of this pork roast and be done with it. Everybody will understand." But Eleazar refuses the call to homogenization and disloyalty and embraces a martyrs death rather than betray his people. He tells his friends that he has an obligation to live the Law as an example for those who are young.

We hear of a brave mother and her seven sons, six are murdered by the tyrants, and the king orders the woman to persuade her son to apostasy and idolatry. But she preaches a sermon of devotion to Yahweh and faithfulness to the Law.

And we hear of Matthias and his sons, who with their families and friends flee into the desert, abandoning their homes and villages, in order to be faithful to their ancestral laws and customs.

Empires don't tolerate much in the way of diversity. Consider the WTO trade talks going on even as these words are being written in Seattle. Transnational corporations and the wealthy West are determined to beat down the last vestiges of resistance to their world wide dominion. Custom, tradition, religion, human rights, none of these mean anything to these Lords of Trade. The God of Creation and Redemption has no place in the hearts of these cold and cruel tyrants. All must bow down and worship the Almighty Dollar and abandon their ancestral cultures for the latest glitz and glamour from Hollywood. They rejoice in their ability to oppress the poor, to beat their workers if productivity falls and to pay them pennies with no social benefits. When they are done with them, when they have extracted the last bit of productivity from them, these Lords of Capital abandon their workers to the mercies of fate and the marketplace.

On November 16th was the 10th anniversary of the murder of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. They are members of a distinguished company of faithful martyrs of the 20th century, victims of greed and tyranny. We who are citizens of the United States must remember that our government encouraged this kind of tyranny, supported it, paid for it, trained its perpetrators in terror tactics. One of the places where such training goes on is the School of the Americas, and this coming weekend will be the annual vigil at its gates --- a group of "persistent widows" will gather and remember all those murdered by graduates of that school, people who are forgotten and ignored by the U.S. Military which maintains -- to this day -- that "it's not our fault."

The gospels for this week from Matthew and Luke remind us (twice!) of the importance of prudence in regard to our temporal goods, and present warnings to be ready for the coming of the "Day of the Lord." We read of the healing of a blind beggar, of the conversion of a rich tax collector, and of the persistence of a widow who had suffered injustice.

Jesus was passing by Jericho, and a blind beggar asked those around him what the tumult was. They told him that Jesus was coming, so the beggar began to plead for Jesus to have mercy on him. Those standing around him told him to shut up, but he was persistent. His faith brought him sight.

Zaccheus, a tax collector -- who worked for the Romans, and thus was part of the oppressive colonialist regime -- comes to a true and genuine conversion in these readings. What is his response to the Gospel? He gives half of all of his possessions to the poor, and promises to pay back "four times" the money he has extorted from the people. Would that the Lords of Trade and Tyranny would come to such a conversion of heart and ways of living! But they are making too much money stealing rice from the food bowls of the poorest of the poor to be very interested in conversion. They would rather shift the tax burden from the rich onto the poor than share their wealth with those who are poor because of the extortion of the rich.

Let us remember to pray for the rich, that this terrible burden of greed, envy, gluttony, pride, wrath, arrogance, and violence be lifted from their shoulders, so that they may come to understand the joy and abundance that is found in true conversion to the Gospel.

And let us also remember to pray for the poor, and all who stand against the tyrannies of these times, that the spirit of Eleazar, Mattias and his sons, and the seven brothers and their mother will sustain them in their resistence to those who would oppress and subjugate them. Let us in particular remember the people of Chechnya, who are enduring the bombs and missiles of the criminal Russian regime. Martyrs of El Salvador, hear our prayer!

What goes around, comes around.

November 19, 1999 1 Macabees 4, 36-37, 52-59 + Luke 19, 45-48

November 20, 1999 1 Macabees 6, 1-13 + Luke 20, 27-40

On these days we read of two different "liberations" of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem. This first, in 164-163 BC, from the tyranny of the Greek successor kingdom under Antiochus Epiphanes, and 2nd during the lifetime of Jesus, from the moneychangers, which is to say, the bankers.

We also read of the consequences of wickedness in high places. Antiochus dies -- not at home, among his kindred -- but in a foreign land, in Persia, after hearing of the defeat of his armies in the field. Sow not in furrows of injustice, Sirach the wise writes in his book, too bad Antiochus didn't read it.

The Jews found the Temple in terrible disrepair, and a pagan idol set up before the altar of holocausts. They cleansed it, repaired it, rebuilt the altar of holocausts, and began again the Temple liturgies. This event is the historical root of the Jewish festival of Chanukah, celebrated for 8 days.

Jesus today strikes at the corruption of the religious establishment of his era, and he hits them where it really hurts -- in the wallet. This action unites the entire religious establishment against him, but since Jesus was still attracting large crowds, his enemies were powerless to move against him. "They feared the people," as do all corrupt and oppressive leadership. In our own era, we hear counsels such as "Don't tell the people that, they wouldn't understand, they would panic." When the wicked rule, they forget that the purpose of governance is the greater good, and the greater good is not served by keeping people ignorant and excluding them from participation in the decisions that affect them. An index of the amount of virtue in a government may be found in its transparency. If the government is afraid of the people, and actively seeks to conceal the truth about its activities from the people, then we can be certain that the government is up to no good.

Jesus also teaches us of the eternal nature of our existence. The Sadducees were educated and sophisticated, they doubted the resurrection of the dead, and use a trick question to see if they could trap Jesus with a web of words. They didn't do very well, however, and withdrew to plot for another day.

This week President Clinton visited Turkey and Greece, and there were riots in the streets in response. The protestors in Greece were prevented from approaching the U.S. Embassy, so they looted and torched a "fashionable" business district. Meanwhile, the State Department advised all Americans living in Russia to leave before the end of the year, and announced the evacuation of the dependents of US diplomats resident in Russia. The nation's largest pipeline companies announced they would be shutting down their pipeline systems over the upcoming "century date change."

The special facility established by the Federal Reserve system to help banks keep their liquidity in the face of excessive withdrawal demands has begun dispensing cash, inventories of gasoline and heating oil declined at much faster than normal rates in October, the price of crude oil is at a nine-year high, and the federal government confirmed that the nation's food processing system has at most a 60 day supply of food. Meanwhile, President Clinton is advising the nation, "Everything will be fine." I guess the accuracy of that statement may depend on the definition o "everything" and "fine", not to mention, "will be."

What does this have to do with justice and peace? It has to do with reading the signs of the times, discerning the context, and knowing how to respond to the Gospel imperatives of love, justice, and charity. One theme in today's readings is the familiar "the unjust will reap the consequences of their actions." I'm wondering if this theme is being illustrated in the on-going progress of world events. What goes around really does come around.

Antiochus Epiphanes was the proud and arrogant inheritor of the legacy of Alexander the Great, but he himself was certainly no Alexander. He attempted to impose a uniform, homogenous, European Greek culture on all of his territories. He persecuted those who worshiped the Lord and followed the ancestral customs, he also defiled the Temple. He murdered the innocent and oppressed the poor. He had everything, but he ended up with nothing. Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them,

A Celebration of Justice

The Solemnity of Christ the King, November 21, 1999

Ezekial 34, 11-12, 15-17 + 1 Corinthians 15, 20-26, 28 + Matthew 25, 31-46

In the dark days of the rise of fascism in Europe earlier this century, the Church proclaimed this great feast as a reminder to all the world that temporal governments are not supreme, there is one King over us all, Jesus Christ.

And what a King he is! He heals the injured and the sick, brings back those who have strayed. He is stern with the sleek and the strong, but he is a just judge in all things.

He is the One by whom life came into the world, who destroys the last enemy, which is death. He is Lord over all sovereignities, authorities, and powers.

When He comes in his great glory, attended by angels, he will judge all humanity with justice. Who are those who enter into peace and blessedness? Those who have fed the hungry, sheltered the homeless, given water to the thirsty, and visited those who are sick or in prison. Having lived justice, they will reap the consequences of their actions. Who are those who go away into damnation? Those who do not feed the hungry, who shut their doors to the homeless, chase away the thirsty, and forget about those who are sick or in prison. Have lived injustice, they will reap the consequences of their actions.

This is the servant leadership modelled for us by Jesus. Though he was rich, for our sake he became poor, emptying himself out entirely, being obedient even unto death. He opened his life to all who were rejected -- the weak, the persecuted, the marginalized. And when the oppressors came to him, he opened his life to them too, if they would only accept it. Some did, most did not.

The world isn't in much better shape than it was back when this feast was first proclaimed. It is a world afflicted with many grave injustices. At its heart, this solemnity is about social justice. It celebrates not the corrupt and violent governments under which we live, but rather the just Judge who is the ultimate ruler over all, who will one day bring all who commit oppression to accountability for their actions.

Mysteries of the Reign

November 22, 1999 Daniel 1, 1-6, 8-20 + Luke 21, 1-4

November 23, 1999 Daniel 2, 31-45 + Luke 21, 5-11

The lectionary now takes us into the apocalyptic book of Daniel, written during the same period of the events chronicled in 1st and 2nd Macabees, the bitter persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. The author is not Daniel, rather, he and his companions are the primary actors in the book.

Daniel is a young man of Jerusalem, who along with others of the aristocracy had been deported to Babylon. He together with 3 companions was chosen to enter the royal academy where the Babylonians trained their future bureaucrats, administrators, and diplomats. Right at the beginning, they question authority. The King orders that the young men receive food and wine from the royal table. Rejecting the gourmet fare, they asked the chamberlain for peasant food and water. Thus they avoided any potential unclean foods as well as food that had been offered to idols. It seems a minor point at this late date, but these commandments of the Law of Moses helped define their cultural identity as a people. Thus, in the midst of the splender of the Babylonian court (remember the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon?") they take their stand in solidarity with their ancestors -- and their descendents -- by strict adherence to the Law as they understood it in their time. They did not "go along to get along," even though "everybody was doing it."

In time, Daniel and his companions win great favor with the ruler, and Daniel interprets a complicated dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. It recounts the four great empires impacting on the book's author -- the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks. It then prophesies about the Messianic kingdom, a passage of scripture which Jesus applied to himself.

Luke first tells us Jesus' parable of the widows mite, and then predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We often read this parable as showing forth the great faith found among the poor, who give generously even in their great poverty. But it is also a direct condemnation of the rich whose hands are clenched when it is time to give, but open when it is time to receive.

Jesus then speaks of dark and calamitous times to come. He stands in the middle of New York City, and predicts the destruction of Wall Street. (The contemplation of this thought helps understand the impact of his prediction of the destruction of the Temple in the 1st century AD.) Wars, rumors of wars (were the Romans coming or not, when would they get here, which route would they take, which way should we run to keep out of their way), famines, plagues, pestilences, the destruction of cities and empires. Woe to those who are pregnant in those days -- it is hard to run from soldiers while carrying a kid -- we will read the words of that first phrase on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. On that day, let us be grateful that we are not surrounded by soldiers about to loot and rape our town, and murder most of us. Let us be grateful that we are not fleeing for our lives from war and violence. But our gratitude must call forth solidarity with those who are presently surrounded, or fleeing for their lives.

Do we have the courage of Daniel to allow the civilization of life to flourish in our homes in the midst of a culture of death? Do we ask our bankers if they are extorting interest payments from the rice bowls of the poor (that is, do they have any Brady bonds or other loans/participations with developing countries)? Is your banker benefiting from the demands of the World Bank and the IMF that schools and clinics be closed and expenditures for social programs be slashed?

Tuesday's reading has held the fascination of generations of commentators, theologians, and preachers. This is in part because more generations than not, "we the people" have faced terrible calamities, wars, violences, genocides, and etc. Times get so bad that people can't imagine how such evil can be allowed to continue. Despair can run strong and deep, and any large number of rational reasons can be offered why this is our existential choice in the face of a universe which some feel doesn't care about or even know of their personal existence. As our world has become more complex and impersonal, the concept of God who can be in a personal and communal relationship with every human being becomes very hard for us to grasp, understand, explain, count, regiment, or catalog. In this as it is with other things: experience is a good teacher -- both the experience of your openness to the relationship which God is offering "each of us personally" AND the supernatural reality of "God with all of us together". We see these mysteries all around us, but hey, they're mysteries, so sometimes we don't notice them. It can be an interesting spiritual discipline to consciously seek to enumerate these experiences, sort of like practicing "seeing the Reign", and it is like most attempts to develop virtue -- this also gets better with practice.

So it goes with civilization. If we keep practicing it, we may by the grace of God get better at it, and then there might be viewer calamities, wars, violences, injustices, and tragedies heaped upon the world and all of its inhabitants.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Miguel Augustin Pro, SJ, was murdered by a government firing squad in Mexico, during the persecution of the Catholic Church by the Mexican government. His dying words -- Viva Christo Rey -- became a rallying cry for those who opposed the injustice of the persecutions, which failed to distinguish between those who had used the Church as an instrument of oppression, and those who were true to the Church's apostolic mission, living and working in solidarity with the oppressed.

Be watchful, faithful, and strong.

November 24, 1999 Daniel 5, 1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 + Luke 21, 12-19

November 25, 1999 Daniel 6, 12-28 + Luke 21, 20-28

November 26, 1999 Daniel 7, 2-14 + Luke 21, 29-33

November 27, 1999 Daniel 7, 15-27 + Luke 21, 34-36

In these final days of the liturgical year 1999, leading up to the first Sunday of Advent, the Church again reminds us of the rise and fall of empires. King Belshazzar of Chaldea gave a great feast, and use the liturgical vessels looted from the Temple in Jerusalem as his serving ware. During the festivities, a hand appears and writes three words on the wall. He sends for his astrologers, promises them great wealth, but they are unable to translate the message. So the king is reminded of Daniel who is able to interpret the dream. Mene, Tekel, Peres, three Aramaic words for measures of weight and money. Daniel tells Belshazzar that because he has been proud and not humble and offended the Lord, his kingdom will be taken from him and given to another. Mene -- God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; Tekel -- you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres -- your kingdom will be divided and given to others.

That very night, Belshazzar, king of Chaldea, was killed.

We then read of the tricks played that condemned Daniel to a night in the lion's den, from which he is saved by the Lord. Daniel then gives us another apocalyptic vision setting the Messianic kingdom against/across the world, symbolized by the four kingdoms of Babylon, Media, Persia, and the Greeks.

Jesus in Luke foretells the coming persecutions of Christians, and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The last gospel for the church year, anticipating the gospel of the first Sunday of Advent, advises us to be watchful, faithful, and strong.

Fast forward to November 1999, and all of these words speak strongly to our situation. Somebody sent me some private email saying, "My motto these days is, 'if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.'" The system is quite expert at keeping people quiet and distracted. Our attention spans are short, if it doesn't fit into a 15 second sound byte in a 30 second news story, it doesn't make the evening news. We are fixated on the sensational and centered on instant gratification. Our economy is based on the glorification of the seven deadly sins and we think nothing of sending to heaven the cries of tens of millions of widows and orphans. We sow daily in furrows of injustice, and think nothing of the seven-fold harvest we risk. Be watchful and vigilant, strong and faithful, indeed, the Babylonians are at the gates, the Romans surround the city, and Antiochus has set up a pagan idol in the Temple.

But this isn't the end of the Story. There's more, but that must wait for the morrow.