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October 16, 2019
The Bible and the great Tradition are massively interested in prayer, especially the prayer of petition. There are many types of prayer—meditation, contemplation, adoration, etc.—but the most basic and most practiced form of prayer is the prayer of petition, of asking God for something. Studies have shown that everyone prays, that even professed nonbelievers pray. It seems to be born of a profound instinct in the human heart. We ask God for things; we beg; we implore; we desire; we long. But what precisely is petitionary prayer, and how does it work? Our first reading and Gospel for this weekend shed a good deal of light on this issue.
October 9, 2019
I have always loved the story of Naaman the Syrian, which is found in the second book of Kings, as part of the Elisha cycle of readings. It is, on the surface at least, a very simple narrative, but it packs a punch spiritually speaking.
October 2, 2019
Last week, I plunged for the second time into the world of the Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). I can’t tell you how many participants in the AMA posed some version of this question: How could an all-loving God possibly countenance so much violence, suffering, and pain? Most questioners turned up the heat by putting special emphasis on the suffering of children and of the innocent. Every single major theologian has wrestled with the issue, as well as many of our most important artists. And our first reading clearly indicates that people in biblical times wrestled with the very same issue.
September 25, 2019
When the conclave of 2013 was finishing up, and Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope, Cardinal Hummes of Brazil came up to him and whispered into his ear: “Don't forget the poor.” In emphasizing “a poor Church for the poor,” Pope Francis is continuing an ancient and powerful tradition that stretches right back to the Bible, including our first reading and Gospel for today.
September 18, 2019
Our first and second readings for this weekend beautifully sum up the Church’s classical attitude toward those in power. I’ve long argued that the most influential philosopher of the nineteenth century was Friedrich Nietzsche. For this very influential and quirky German thinker, power is the fundamental reality—a perspective that has found its way into our cultural consciousness. But the Bible is not in sympathy with either the demonization of, or the exclusive holding up of, power.
September 11, 2019
Our Gospel for today gives us three classic parables, each one exploring the notion that is at the very heart of the spiritual life—namely, that God is the one who searches for us. Why would God fret over one little soul? Why would he bother? Well, it’s his nature. It’s what he does. More to it, as we see in the coin, the sheep, and the son, recovering a lost soul is what he rejoices in doing.
September 4, 2019
Our Gospel for today is breathtaking, first for what it says about Jesus and second for what it says about us. Jesus compels a choice the way no other figure does. Either he is who he says he is, or he is a bad man. The bland middle way that he is a great teacher simply won’t do. In the presence of the one who makes such an extraordinary claim, we have to make a decision.
August 28, 2019
It was a particular joy for me to visit the sites associated with St. Ignatius of Loyola on a recent film trip. But the most moving locale was a little church in Manresa built around the cave where the young Ignatius spent about nine months preparing himself spiritually for his life’s work. What he learned at Manresa is that our attachments to various created goods—money, power, pleasure, and honor—stand in the way of our responding to God’s will for us.
August 21, 2019
The topic of the Gospel for today—the question of how many will be saved—stirs up such passionate feelings in people, and there is such enormous disagreement about it. Luke tells us that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and someone asks, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” And the answer comes back, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.” But before we extrapolate from this exchange and consider the issue very generally, I would like to examine the historical setting of the conversation, which sheds a lot of light on what is really at stake.
August 14, 2019
Our readings for today develop a theme that is uncomfortable. Authentically religious people, authentically spiritual people, will almost always be opposed. The logic behind this is simple and unanswerable: we live in a world gone wrong, a world turned upside down; therefore, when someone comes speaking the truth to us, we will think that they are crazy and dangerous. Jesus’ word is meant to burn things up, to reduce things to cinders, to clear things out. A get-along attitude is never what Jesus is calling for. I know that we are uneasy with this idea, but the Bible isn’t. To love is to will the good of the other. Therefore, to love necessarily involves passionate opposition to what works evil in the other. Love destroys the false forms of order and community in order for the true community to emerge.
August 14, 2019
Our readings for today develop a theme that is uncomfortable. Authentically religious people, authentically spiritual people, will almost always be opposed. The logic behind this is simple and unanswerable: we live in a world gone wrong, a world turned upside down; therefore, when someone comes speaking the truth to us, we will think that they are crazy and dangerous. Jesus’ word is meant to burn things up, to reduce things to cinders, to clear things out. A get-along attitude is never what Jesus is calling for. I know that we are uneasy with this idea, but the Bible isn’t. To love is to will the good of the other. Therefore, to love necessarily involves passionate opposition to what works evil in the other. Love destroys the false forms of order and community in order for the true community to emerge.
August 7, 2019
The Jungian psychologist Jordan Peterson is, in many ways, an early twenty-first century version of Joseph Campbell, and perhaps the central archetype that they both explored is that of the hero’s journey. As both Campbell and Peterson have recognized, the Bible is a treasure trove of hero’s journey stories. But what makes the biblical accounts so distinctive is that God is the one who is drawing and prompting the journey; in fact, the Bible tells the story of God’s own hero’s journey!
July 31, 2019
The readings for this weekend have a tremendous cohesiveness. They all speak to a truth about our world that is hard to take in, that has to be repeated to each generation afresh, a truth that many older people have an easier time understanding than young people: nothing in this world lasts.
July 24, 2019
The Our Father, the Lord’s Prayer, is a request for Christ. As we examine this most famous prayer line by line, we see it's all about Jesus. That He might come and have communion with us is precisely what we hope for when we cry out to "our Abba who art in heaven."
July 17, 2019
Although the little story of Martha and Mary has been interpreted throughout the centuries as a parable dealing with the “active” and “contemplative” approach to the spiritual life, it can be read as Christ's invitation to all people to partake in his inner circle of discipleship. Christ overturned the social conventions of his time by summoning all people to discipleship. Thus, we must remove all barriers to discipleship for all people.
July 10, 2019
During the twentieth century, moral relativism was in vogue in elite cultural circles, but now it is the dominant moral outlook of the broader culture. Against this, C.S. Lewis argued for “the universality and inescapability of the moral law.” Although there are subtle moral differences between cultures, if we look close enough, we can discern fundamental moral agreements. The Catholic tradition says that this moral bedrock is a reflection of the Eternal Law in the mind of God. It is the voice of God within us. Listen to that voice.
July 3, 2019
St. Paul tells us in our second reading that he boasts in the cross of Jesus. To any of his hearers in the first century this would have sounded like madness. Paul can boast in this shameful thing precisely because God has raised Jesus from death and thereby placed the world-the realm of hatred, violence, and division-under judgment. Now we must have the courage to leave the world and enter into the new creation which is the body of Christ.
June 26, 2019
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus clarifies that all worldly goods find their value in relation to Him. If we believe Jesus is the only Son of God, we must place our grudges, personal desires, and even our most sacred worldly obligations aside in order to walk truly and completely with Him.
June 19, 2019
The Church comes from the Eucharist for it is the sacrifice that makes saints. The Eucharist is essentially the fullest act of gratitude prefigured in Melchizedek finding its fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ. Every Mass is a participation in and celebration of this sacrifice, but the feast of Corpus Christi is a time to be especially aware of the gift of the Eucharist.
June 14, 2019
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The Nicene Creed articulates the mystery of the Trinity with the wonderful phrase "begotten not made," meaning that the Son is not a creature but rather shares in the selfsame nature as the Father. The Holy Spirit is then the life-giving love breathed out between the Father and the Son.
June 14, 2019
Today we celebrate the great feast of Pentecost, one of the truly great moments in the life of the Church. The Holy Spirit comes to give many spiritual gifts, which prepare us to enter into relationship with Christ and embark on mission.
June 14, 2019
Too often we read the Ascension as the moment when Jesus “went away,” when he left us on our own and went off to heaven, where we hope some day to join him. But the Ascension is not Jesus going away; it is Jesus assuming his position as leader of the Church’s life.
May 29, 2019
On this seventh and final Sunday of the Easter season, I want to bring to a close my meditation on the extraordinary book of Revelation. With the disclosure of the heavenly Jerusalem, the Biblical narrative effectively comes to a close—and that’s true. But what we find today, in the very last words of the entire Scriptural corpus, is a kind of liturgical coda, a final prayer, a call and response between the Lord and his Church.
May 22, 2019
On this sixth Sunday of Easter, we are coming to the end of the book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. We are approaching, in a word, the climax of the Biblical revelation, the point toward which the entire story had been tending. And we hear of the heavenly Jerusalem, a city with no temple—for the city itself, in its entirety, has become a temple, a place of right praise.
May 15, 2019
We are coming now toward the end of the book of Revelation, which means toward the end of the entire Biblical story. Writers will often draw the beginning and end of their work together; somehow the end is anticipated in the beginning, and the beginning is recapitulated at the end. There is something like that going on in the Bible. God has no intention of giving up on his creation or simply destroying it. The divorce that happened in the garden of Eden is overcome; and now the bride is ready for the Bridegroom.
May 8, 2019
The book of Revelation is an unveiling of a new state of affairs, the new things that are on offer in light of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Though it looks like worldly power holds sway, real power belongs to the army of those who have chosen to follow the crucified and risen Savior. The martyrs have come from all corners of the world, and they have spoken many languages. And this is the army that, up and down the centuries, has undermined the foundations of the fallen world. This is the great fighting force that Jesus has unleashed and continues to unleash.
May 1, 2019
In today’s reading from Revelation, John is in the heavenly court and he sees angels, elders, and living creatures, countless in number, all standing around the throne and crying out in loud praise. This is a supreme liturgical act, an act of right praise. And whom are they worshiping? Not a mighty prince, not a great warrior, not a cosmic force, but a lamb, one of the meekest and tiniest of animals, who has been slain—Jesus Christ. The Church saw this evening sacrifice as the perfect act of praise—and now the cosmic Church is gathered around it and associating itself with it.
April 24, 2019
The Church has placed the book of Revelation at the end of the Bible, as the culmination of the entire Biblical narrative—precisely because it has relevance for all Christians of anytime, very much including ourselves. Something of central importance is revealed in this book. Something that was hidden to us and is now unveiled. And it has everything to do with Jesus and his resurrection from the dead—which is why we are reading from this book during the Easter season.
April 19, 2019
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the foundation of the entire Christian faith. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, we should all go home and forget about it. As St. Paul himself puts it: “If Jesus is not raised from the dead, our preaching is in vain and we are the most pitiable of men.” But Jesus was, in fact, raised from the dead. And his resurrection shows that Christ can gather back to the Father everyone whom he has embraced through his suffering love.
April 11, 2019
In our Gospel reading for the Palm Sunday procession, Jesus sends his disciples into Jerusalem to prepare for his triumphal entry. They are told to untether a donkey, and if there is any protest from the owner, they are to say simply, “The Master has need of it.” Strictly speaking, God has need of nothing, since he is the unconditioned act of existence. God doesn’t need our praise or our good works or anything. But this phrase signals the wonderful truth that God allows us to cooperate with his grace so that we can participate in the work that he wants to do. He gives us what Aquinas called “the dignity of causality.” We are privileged to be instruments in his hands.
April 3, 2019
In this week's Gospel, we hear the story of the woman caught in adultery, a tale that has beguiled Christians and non-Christians for two millennia. The story displays our constant temptation to use knowledge of God’s law to hurt others, not to liberate them. We gossip, we scapegoat, we blame—and we convince ourselves that we’re just following the divine law in pointing out other people’s problems. But then enters Jesus, who affirms that the law's primary purpose is to make us humble, to draw us to higher attainment. Without denigrating the law in the least, Jesus reaches out in mercy in order to brings sinners back to life.
March 27, 2019
One the greatest Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, Paul Tillich, made a distinction between heteronomy (law from another), autonomy (law from oneself), and what he called “theonomy” (law of God). This week, we have the privilege to consider what is arguably the most magnificent and spiritually rich of Jesus’ parables—the story of the Prodigal Son—and in this familiar story, you’ll see the dynamics of these three approaches on clear display.
March 13, 2019
The readings for this second Sunday of Lent awaken a sense of wonder, of a world beyond ours, a mystical consciousness. In the first reading with Abraham and in the Gospel account of the Transfiguration, we encounter mountains, darkness, voices, and dazzling light, all of which signal the breakthrough of a higher world.
March 6, 2019
Lent is a time of paring down—a time spent in the desert, if you will—as exemplified by Jesus’ forty days of fasting in these arid, barren lands. He was tempted three times by Satan, and rejected each attempt, giving glory to God at every turn. This is the lesson for us: that we make God the center of our lives and not test him. We are here to do his will, which is clarified through our own Lenten sacrifices.
February 27, 2019
Our Gospel for this weekend comes from the end of the Sermon on the Plain, which is St. Luke’s version, more or less, of the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s account. Jesus has been operating as the definitive spiritual teacher here, and at the end of his address, he has some strong things to say about false spiritual teachers. Every spiritual teacher and guru is eager to tell you what’s wrong with you. But unless they’ve surrendered to Christ and found salvation in him themselves, they are absolutely in no position to help you.
February 20, 2019
The philosopher Jacques Derrida reflected on what he called the aporia or dilemma of the gift. The upshot seems to be that it is virtually impossible truly to give a gift, for gift-giving always locks us into an economy of exchange and obligation. But there is one great exception to the Derridean dilemma, and that is the Lord God. Jesus’ recommendations in the magnificent Gospel for today are not for the natural person, but the supernatural person, who loves with the very love of God.
February 13, 2019
I would like to focus on the brief but extremely powerful passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, which is our first reading for this weekend. It is taken from the seventeenth chapter of the prophet’s book, and the context is a fierce upbraiding that Jeremiah is giving for the idolatry of the people. What we have here is the pithy formula, the simple program, that ought to govern our spiritual lives at the most fundamental level.
February 6, 2019
There is a wonderful parallel between our first reading and the Gospel this week. The first reading is taken from the sixth chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, and it has to do with the call of Isaiah; and the Gospel is from the fifth chapter of Luke, and it deals with the call of the first disciples of Jesus. Both stories, in remarkably similar ways, lay out the essential dynamics of the spiritual life.
January 30, 2019
This week we hear from St. Paul’s brilliant meditation on love. Everything in religion and theology revolves around love. It is at the heart of everything. Nothing matters without love, because God is love. Putting love at the center is the best way to organize and prioritize our entire lives.
January 24, 2019
The dramatic scene presented in the Book of Nehemiah presents a people who had forgotten their identity and learned, as if for the first time, who they really are. It is the mission of all those who remain invested in the faith of the Church to give testimony to their brothers and sisters in Christ, reminding all that in Christ, we have received a unique and wonderful identity—and it is only when we know who we are that will be able to find our purpose and accomplish the mission that Christ has given to us.
January 16, 2019
The communion of humanity and divinity in Christ’s divine person can be likened to a marriage. Sin effects a kind of divorce between God and humanity, a break up of the marriage of God and his people. How wonderful, therefore, when the Messiah offers the first sign of his identity and mission at a wedding. This is an indication that the relationship of God and humanity will be transformed, reconciled, and renewed in Jesus Christ.
January 9, 2019
The first sacrament one can receive in the Church, Baptism, defines our relationship with Christ. In it, we are reborn as part of his Mystical Body and gifted with the grace of God’s love. Baptism lays the foundation for every other sacrament we are to receive and inextricably links us with the Trinity.
January 2, 2019
Our modern culture suggests a tension between spirituality and religion. But the Magi in today’s Gospel demonstrate that when spirituality is lifted up by revelation—when the Magi are told by the religious leaders where the Messiah is to be born—we find the object of our spiritual longing.
December 26, 2018
Lots of people today will tell you what makes a family well-adjusted, functional, and peaceful. But in this week’s readings for the Feast of the Holy Family, which center on two exemplary women, Hannah and Mary, the Church wants to tell us what makes a family holy.
December 19, 2018
The New Testament authors consistently reached to the Old Testament for their categories of understanding. Hence, Jesus is the Torah in person; the new and definitive Temple; the prophet par excellence; the fulfillment of the covenant; etc. But one of the most important of these Old Testament points of reference is the Mashiach, the anointed one, the Messiah—which is to say, the new David.
December 12, 2018
Like most of the prophets, Zephaniah trades in a fair amount of doom and gloom—but he also dreams of the great day of victory and vindication. The Apostle Paul—the former rabbi Shaul, who had studied the prophets and their works under the great teacher Gamaliel—came to see that in the Paschal Mystery, in the dying and rising of Jesus, the totality of Zephaniah’s message was realized. The destruction that Zephaniah and the others foresaw came massively true in the destruction of Christ’s body on the cross. However, having gone all the way down, God in Christ brought the human race all the way up. Therefore, rejoice!
December 5, 2018
In our Gospel for today, Luke invokes the most significant cultural and political players of that time and place; but then, just as he did in the Christmas story, he pulls the rug out from under us. The word of God, the definitive guide to life, came not to one of the major players in their palaces, but to this isolated oddball, this mad prophet wearing animal skins and eating locusts. And this oddball prophet, who speaks the word of God, is ushering in a whole new way of ordering one’s life.
November 28, 2018
This Sunday is New Year’s Day, in the liturgical sense of the term. With the first Sunday of Advent, we commence the liturgical year of 2019. And New Year’s day is always a good time for resolutions, taking stock, starting over again. I want to interpret our Gospel for this Sunday, which portrays Jesus is full apocalyptic mode, in that spirit.
November 21, 2018
The liturgical year ends with the feast of Christ the King. This day reminds us what the Christian thing is all about: that Jesus really is the king, the Lord of our lives; that we belong utterly to him; and that we can say, with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
November 15, 2018
Our first reading for this weekend is from the utterly fascinating book of Daniel. Daniel is an example of apocalyptic literature, and apocalyptic books reveal something of decisive significance. We see that significance when Jesus comes preaching the kingdom of God, by which he was taken to be announcing the fulfillment of the Daniel prophecy. This is the apocalypse, the great unveiling: a new kingdom has come, a dominion that will last forever.
November 7, 2018
Today’s Scriptures highlight two widows and two very important biblical principles: God reveals himself precisely at that moment of our greatest vulnerability and need, and the grace in your life will increase in the measure that you give it away.
October 31, 2018
Our first reading for Mass this week contains the defining prayer of the Jewish tradition: the “Sh’ma.” In the Gospel, when asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus, a pious Jew, recites this prayer from the book of Deuteronomy. We Christians too claim—or better, are claimed by—this great prayer. But what does it mean?
October 24, 2018
Our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah treats of a theme that is basic throughout the Bible: the motif of the return from exile. Like two great hinges on which the Old Testament turns are the stories of Exodus and Exile. Israel finds itself enslaved in Egypt, but God liberates the people; later, the northern tribes are carried off by the Assyrians; and later still, the southern tribes are carried off by the Babylonians. But exile was also a kind of spiritual metaphor, a trope for having wandered far from the Lord.
October 17, 2018
Friends, all three readings for this weekend center around a theme that was very familiar to the ancient audiences who first took them in but that is rather alien to us. I’m talking about the theme of substitutionary sacrifice. A very basic problem that we have when we seek to understand this idea is that we are marked, through and through, by a strong individualism: everyone acts and speaks for himself and takes responsibility for his own actions. But ancient people lived within a far more collective or corporate consciousness.
October 10, 2018
The first reading for this weekend and the Gospel, which are meant to be read in tandem, are very good examples of what I’ve called principles of spiritual physics. They lay out some ideas and relationships that are fundamental to the spiritual order—laws, if you will. And both readings have a good deal to say about riches.
October 3, 2018
Our first reading for this weekend is of pivotal significance in the Bible, for it lays out some of the fundamentals of human anthropology and the Christian vision of marriage. It behooves us to take a careful and attentive walk through this brief but highly significant passage from the second chapter of the book of Genesis.
September 26, 2018
Our first reading from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel reading from Mark both highlight a very interesting spiritual predicament, one that is presented numerous times throughout the Bible. It might be summed up as the inclination for members of the Church to subvert the mission of the Church because of their own ego-driven desires and preoccupations.
September 26, 2018
One of the most important doctrines of the Church is the doctrine of original sin, which asserts that something it off with us. We see the effects of it everywhere, and we also see many attempts to solve the problem of sin on our own. The only way to be healed, however, is to give ourselves over to Jesus, like the little child in today’s Gospel reading.
September 12, 2018
Today's second reading from the letter of James discusses the relationship between faith and love. We need a strong faith, but faith without love is lifeless so we must respond to grace and faith with acts of love.
September 5, 2018
In this week's Gospel, Jesus heals a man who is deaf and dumb. When we read this account at the spiritual level, we see that he cures those who are deaf to the Word of God and hence unable to speak it clearly. How relevant this message is to our own time!
August 29, 2018
All of today's readings pertain to law. We Americans are a fairly litigious society. Lawyers are thick on the ground and many of our Founding Fathers were students of law. We have a kind of love-hate relationship with the law, like most people in history. Today's readings offer a key lesson: whenever we reverence something, we surround it with laws. Laws protect the integrity of good things. And for the saints, the law of God is planted within their hearts.
August 15, 2018
Today's first reading personifies Wisdom as a woman who invites people to a feast, lavishly offering food and wine. In today's Psalm, we echo that invitation: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." But to join the banquet of the Lord, we need to turn away from other food. We spend our whole lives eating from troughs that never satisfy our hunger - wealth, power, pleasure, honor. But in John 6, which is today's Gospel, Jesus invites us to feed on himself, Wisdom incarnate, the only food that will ultimately fulfill our hunger.  Mass Readings  Reading 1 - Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm - Psalm 34:2-7 Reading 2 - Ephesians 5:15-20 Gospel - John 6:51-58
August 8, 2018
In our first reading today, Elijah is dejected and requests that the Lord take his life. But an angel touches him and orders him to get up and eat. Strengthened by food, he journeys to the mountain of God, Horeb. We're all acquainted with the need for physical food, like Elijah, but we also need spiritual food. If we don't feed our souls, we will become spiritually lethargic and unhealthy. Where do we find that nourishment? The answer comes in John 6, our Gospel reading for today.
August 1, 2018
In today’s first reading, we see God giving the Israelites mysterious bread on their way to the land of liberation. We need this same food ourselves, to sustain us for freedom, and that’s what the Lord provides in the Eucharist.
July 25, 2018
The sixth chapter of John's Gospel, from which we will be reading these next several weeks, is a sustained meditation on the meaning of the Mass and the Eucharist. Our passage for today, when read symbolically, illumines the major movements of the Mass.
July 24, 2018
In today's first reading, God announces that he himself will shepherd his people. Yet a few sentences later, he suggests that he will raise up a righteous human king to reign and govern wisely. So which is it—will God become king or will he establish a human king? The answer, which the Gospel reading unfolds, is both. In the person of Jesus, the divine shepherd, the scattered people of God find their way home.
July 11, 2018
For many people in the West, liberty seems to trump everything. We avatars of the egodrama, we worshippers at the altar of freedom, say that our choice is supreme. We don't want anyone to constrain our pursuit of money, success, power, influence, safety, or physical health. But what matters in the end is not to place our wills in the position of ultimate concern. Everything in nature, history, science, and our careers is, in the end, summed up in Christ.
July 6, 2018
This week's Scriptures illuminate the identity and mission of a prophet—a calling that belongs to all the baptized by virtue of our Baptism. God appoints the prophets to a specific mission. This mission is to speak God's word of truth. God's word of truth is not a private or personal opinion, but the Word of God communicated through human words. The prophet speaks God's word of truth to those within and those outside the Church. Prophets do not seek to proclaim a message that is easy to be accepted, but seek to speak God's word of truth, no matter how hard it might be to hear and accept. Christ is the paradigmatic example of the identity and mission of the prophet.
June 27, 2018
The Book of Wisdom offers us the strange assertion that God did not make death, for he formed humanity to be imperishable. This revelation directs us towards the truth that death is much more than merely the dissolution of the body; it is the full impact of the power of sin over our lives. This power is especially evident in our fear of death. The dormition of the Mother of God offers us a sign that Christ has given to humanity a way that takes us not only beyond our fear of death but beyond death itself. The way of Christ enables us to face the power of death with trust rather than fear.
June 20, 2018
John the Baptist is one of the most important figures in Christianity, and provides a window into the tradition of the Jewish priesthood and the historical context of the day. John chose the river Jordan to baptize, a conscious move to display the forgiveness of sins against the backdrop of the Jewish history of Exodus and liberation. Yet while he was baptizing in the desert, likely an exercise in protest of the corruption in the Temple in Jerusalem, he was heralding the coming of Christ, one who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
June 13, 2018
Our Gospel for today features one of Jesus’ most beloved parables: that of the mustard seed. How does God tend to work? What does the building up of the Kingdom typically look like? From the very small to the very great—and usually by a slow, gradual process. God, it seems, tends to operate under the radar, on the edges of things, quietly, clandestinely.
June 6, 2018
In all the literature of the world, I don’t know of a richer account of who we are, what we’re called to be, and what goes wrong with us than the first chapters of Genesis—especially the third chapter, from which our first reading comes. And we see in our Gospel for today that what happens to us in the immediate wake of original sin—alienation, shame, self-centeredness, scapegoating—helps us immensely to understand Jesus and his work.
May 30, 2018
To truly understand what Jesus did at the climax of his life—and what the Catholic Church does at every Mass—we must understand the importance of blood sacrifice to Judaism in Jesus’ time. Everything that Moses did at Mt. Sinai, and all that was done for a thousand years in the temple, was summed up by Christ’s ultimate blood sacrifice on the Cross, offered for the reconciliation of God and humanity. And this ultimate lifeblood of God, sprinkled by Christ the high priest once for all, is what the Mass re-presents and makes sacramentally present to us.
May 23, 2018
It's often joked that Trinity Sunday is "the preacher's nightmare." But while the Trinity can be viewed as the most arcane and inaccessible Christian doctrine, it's also the most ordinary and obvious. Every Catholic invokes the Trinity whenever he crosses himself in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Moreover, every single baptized person has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism we've been sealed by the Trinity, brought within its dynamic, and sent out on mission.
May 16, 2018
I’m delighted that on this Pentecost Sunday, I can reflect on one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It is taken from the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In this passage, Paul gives those who belong to Christ their marching orders by laying out the works of the flesh—those attitudes and actions that stand against the way of love—and the works of the Spirit.
May 9, 2018
As the Easter season draws to a close, we hear from one of the most magnificent passages in the Gospel of John—namely, the high-priestly prayer of Jesus the night of the Last Supper. It is by far the longest discourse by Jesus anywhere in the New Testament, and it contains the seeds of Christian spirituality in its entirety.
May 2, 2018
Today's Gospel presents the distinction between a generic spirituality, which emphasizes our decision for God, and authentic Christian faith, which is the recognition that God has chosen us in Christ. It is God's choice—his election of us in Christ as not only his followers but his friends—that matters most.
April 25, 2018
I would like to focus my attention this week on the magnificent first reading, taken from the pivotal ninth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. I say pivotal because this is the chapter in which the conversion of Saul is recounted. Hans Urs von Balthasar refers to Paul as one of the great archetypes in the life of the Church, and so we can benefit from a close study of the spiritual lessons from his life and his manner of discipleship.
April 18, 2018
Our first reading for today proposes a very serious challenge to the inclusiveness and non-judgmentalism that is taken for granted in our culture today. The chief of the Apostles says, “He is the stone rejected by you the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” Stay with how uncomfortable this is—because in a way, that’s the point.
April 5, 2018
On this Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, we remember the dedication of this day by Saint John Paul II in honor of St. Faustina’s vision of Christ, in which the Lord’s heart radiated forth with divine mercy for the world. But what does mercy mean? It designates the suffering of the heart, a type of compassion, a deep, loving identification with people in their suffering. It is the characteristic of God, for God is love. Nothing in the world would exist if it were not, at every moment, loved into being by God—a great act of tender mercy. How is this love made manifest in us? Precisely through following God’s commands and through forgiveness.
March 28, 2018
Many people enjoy visiting the graves of famous people, from Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL to St. Peter in the Vatican. We feel a sense of peace and finality around graves. But the one thing we would never expect in a cemetery is action. Yet that's precisely what we find at the center of Christianity, as St. John recounts in today's Easter Gospel.
March 21, 2018
Entering Holy Week, we see numerous stirring examples of Jesus' fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies. From the direction he enters Jerusalem to his mode of transport, we find again and again how he is the one intended to reclaim the temple and prove to the world that he is indeed the son of God, chosen to save us through his revolutionary example of love and forgiveness.
March 14, 2018
Jeremiah 31:31 contains the great prophecy that the Lord will one day place his law within our hearts. In the Old Testament, God's law was written on stone and often appreciated as an imposition, a burden. But Jesus is the Law incarnate, the Torah made flesh. Therefore, when we eat his body and drink his blood, we take the law into our hearts, and thus we realize the prophecy of Jeremiah.
March 7, 2018
The Divine Love is the great theme of the Bible, but one of the mistakes we can make is to project onto God our way of being. God’s love is unconditional, not fickle and vacillating. His love is hesed, which means “tender mercy.” This love is visible, par excellence, in the Incarnation.
February 28, 2018
The Temple, for Old Testament Jews, was everything. But St. Paul, who lived for many years in Jerusalem and knew the rituals of the Temple very well, told the Corinthians that their bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit. The account of Jesus cleansing the Temple in this week’s Gospel, brought together with Paul's insight, provides us with with a wonderful Lenten meditation. Let Jesus swing that whip of cords around the Temple of your body; it’s time for a spring cleaning of the soul!
February 21, 2018
The story of the Transfiguration of Christ has beguiled the Christian mind for centuries. It is the clearest New Testament evocation of mystical experience, the experience of spiritual things within the ordinary and the keen conviction that the spiritual reality is greater and more beautiful than ordinary experience. "Mystical" means there has been contact with a Person: the person of God.
February 14, 2018
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Church asks us to meditate on animals and angels. For Christ, in his own person, joins together the disparate elements of creation, the spiritual and the material, angels and wild beasts. There are, of course, angels and wild beasts in all of us. We are all a microcosm of the ethereal and the corporeal, the spiritual and the physical.
February 7, 2018
Our Gospel this week gives us one of the great scenes of healing in the ministry of Jesus, and as is usually the case, the Gospel writer composes the scene in such a way that it becomes an icon of the spiritual life in general. In our sickness, our weakness, our shame, our sin, our oddness—lots of us feel like this leper. And once we’ve been healed by the Lord, we feel the obligation to tell the world about it.
January 31, 2018
January 24, 2018
It is of particular importance this week that we read the first reading and the Gospel together, for the former sheds enormous light on the latter. In the first reading, Moses assures the people: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself." Moses received the word from God, but this new prophet would be an authority greater than Moses. He would speak with the words of God. And in the Gospel reading from Mark, this is precisely who Jesus is revealed to be: the highest prophet and the Word of God made flesh.
January 17, 2018
When Christianity is reduced to deism or moralism, we turn the Gospel into a faint echo of the surrounding culture. But today's readings propose something much more substantive than spiritual bromides or ethical directives. They suggest a new world breaking into the old.
January 10, 2018
The story of the call of Samuel is illuminating for our time of corruption and cleansing. I argue that the sex abuse scandal in the church should be read through the lens of this narrative.
January 3, 2018
Our modern culture suggests a tension between spirituality and religion. But the Magi in today's Gospel demonstrate that when spirituality is lifted up by revelation—when the Magi are told by the religious leaders where the Messiah is to be born—we find the object of our spiritual longing.
January 2, 2018
Our modern culture suggests a tension between spirituality and religion. But the Magi in today's Gospel demonstrate that when spirituality is lifted up by revelation - when the Magi are told by the religious leaders where the Messiah is to be born - that we find the object of our spiritual longing.
December 27, 2017
The Bible is not particularly sentimental about families. What makes a family holy, as far as the biblical writers are concerned, is its willingness to surrender to the purpose of God. We see this in a number of key figures, including Joseph, Abraham, and Hannah.
December 20, 2017
The readings for this dramatic fourth Sunday of Advent put us in the heart of a deep and abiding mystery: the mystery of God’s providence. Just when we are tempted to say, “nothing makes sense,” the Bible interrupts us to say, “wait.” God works in subtle ways, and often it takes years, even centuries, for God’s plan fully to be realized.
December 13, 2017
Our second reading today is taken from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians—and it always takes my breath away. He says, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks.” For Paul, the coming of Jesus changed everything. His dying and rising turned everything upside down, so that the usual ways of thinking and acting are not longer valid. Grace has transfigured nature—and the three recommendations he gives are signs of this transfiguration.
December 6, 2017
In our magnificent first reading from the prophet Isaiah, which is echoed in the words of John the Baptist in today's Gospel, a voice cries out: “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Advent is a great time for us to clear the ground, to make level the path, so as to facilitate what God, with all his heart, wants to do.
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