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September 11, 2016

On the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this week's stories of wildly inordinate mercy may be hard to take in. Mercy sounds like a beautiful idea -- until the day it is we ourselves who suffer irreparable loss at the hands of another, and righteous outrage smolders deep in our heart. The 9/11 attacks were a horrifying public humiliation for the people of the United States, and the nation's response was anything but merciful. As violence piles up ever-higher in our city streets and around the world, responses of fear, rage, and reprisal are the norm. So many people are trapped in the conviction that violence and trauma define their identity, and that the only way out is retaliatory violence.

September 4, 2016

This Sunday Mother Teresa will be canonized and very few doubt her holiness. But in light of this canonization I think it is important to note that for many years this saint experienced a real crisis of faith. In a collection of her letters Mother Teresa: Be My Light, compiled by her spiritual director, we read that after founding the Missionaries of Charity, she had doubts about the existence of God, about the soul and therefore the promises of Jesus - and heaven. This revelation has been received in a variety of ways. In an extensive article in Newsweek published by the late journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens, he criticized her as being an over-promoted religious celebrity. He also contended that Mother Teresa's doubts made complete sense because the Catholic faith is based on asking people to believe "impossible things."

August 28, 2016
On social media and in other venues a popular game makes the rounds. If you could invite a famous person to dinner, who would it be? Inevitably Jesus gets quite a few imaginary invites. In light of his questionable behavior as a guest perhaps we should not race too quickly to invite. This Sunday's gospel is another in the "Jesus as annoying table companion" series presented by the gospel of Luke. Consider the episodes: Jesus embarrasses his Pharisee host by pointing out all he did not do in comparison to the sinful woman intruder who anointed him (7:36-50). Jesus shakes up dinner with a parable implying his table companions would probably not get a taste of the eschatological banquet (14:15-24). Jesus invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus the tax collector (19:5). Even at the Last Supper Jesus cannot resist admonishing the disciples one more time, reminding them that the cost of greatness is paid in suffering (22:1-34).
August 21, 2016
Jesus often does not give straight answers to questions posed to him. Today's gospel story, for instance, starts with someone asking him, "will only a few people be saved?" It seems like a straightforward question about numbers. But Jesus perceives that the questioner and the others whom he was teaching were not really as concerned about the final head count as they were about whether they themselves would be included among the redeemed.
August 14, 2016
As we were growing up, we were all taught to tell the truth. However, we soon learned that, just as there were consequences for telling a lie, telling the truth sometimes produced unpleasant results. Not only might we have been made to 'face the music' ourselves, but in being honest we might have implicated others as well, and no one likes a 'tattle-tale.' Still, no society can survive without the truth, regardless of what it might cost. We have to be able to trust each other; and we have to be strong enough to accept the truth about ourselves and our society. Otherwise, we will not be able to remedy what could prevent growth and improvement. Several weeks ago (Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time) we reflected on 'the cost of discipleship.' The readings for this Sunday invite us to look at that theme again, but this time from a slightly different perspective. In both the passage from the prophet Jeremiah and the gospel reading, we find examples of the cost of telling the truth. In both instances, this cost is quite high.
August 7, 2016

My home parish in Central New York State is Our Lady of Lourdes. As a child, I attended the parochial elementary school of the same name and became an altar server. As a teenager, I worked there as the paid weekend sacristan and began the early discernment of a possible vocation to religious life and sacramental ministry. As an adult, I think of one of my earliest memories I have associated with this parish and the fear I had as a youngster after hearing the story of what happened to St. Bernadette Soubirous in February 1858. As the story goes, Bernadette was gathering firewood near a grotto with her sister, Marie, when she witnessed what would later be determined was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I recall as a kid hearing that Mary signaled to Bernadette that she should begin praying the Rosary. Like the devout young woman that she was, Bernadette reached into her dress pocket and took out the beads for prayer.

July 31, 2016

For me, it's books. I just cannot get enough. Not only are there new ones that I always want to read, but I want to acquire my own copies. And I never let them go. You never know when you are going to want to reread or consult them again. And so I need more and more bookshelves. But, where is the boundary between legitimate need for books (or whatever we are tempted to accumulate) for ministry and pleasure, and greedy acquisition?

July 24, 2016

The Lord's Prayer is much more than just a prayer that we say; it is also meant to be a prayer that we live. Cyprian of Carthage, a third century bishop and martyr wrote, "My dear friends, the Lord's Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words there is great spiritual strength, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions." In the twentieth century, Pope Benedict XVI observed, "The meaning of the Our Father goes much further than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus." When we pray the Lord's Prayer we enter into the world of Jesus and into the depths of his relationships with God and with others. We begin to view life, God, others and ourselves through his eyes. Praying these words with attention entails a training in vision.

July 17, 2016

Our readings this week seem to offer a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand the first reading from Genesis seems to say that entertaining guests is a good thing, a spiritual practice. As the Letter to the Hebrews comments referring to this passage: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (13:2). As the famous line from St. Benedict's rule reads: "venit hospes, venit Christus" -- "when a guest comes, Christ comes."

July 10, 2016

The words of Pope Francis, addressed to Europe, in accepting the Charlemagne Prize, ring true of America as well: "What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom? ..... What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld and even sacrificed their lives for the dignity of their brothers and sisters?" In the Pope's mind, another Europe is emerging; and it seems that another America is emerging as well.