The Ascension of the Lord

On May 21, we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord.  Looking at the readings it might be more appropriately called the departure of the risen Jesus from his followers.  In the first reading Jesus ascends into heaven while in the Gospel of Mathew he just doesn’t appear anymore.  Many commentators try to explain why Jesus had to depart from his followers.  For me the best explanation is that his message had resonated with a growing number of people but was focused on him personally.  For his message to spread he would have to leave the mission to his disciples to spread his message throughout the world.  This mission was for those present at the time and those throughout history which includes each of us.  He would transfer his work to the disciples through the Spirit.  

In the Gospel he gives what is called the great commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  The key points are to go to all nations, baptize them and teach them. 

In the first reading Luke says Jesus was speaking about the kingdom of God.  For Jesus this kingdom was not a territory or a political realm, it is the rule of God over all human hearts, this is the focus of his ministry.  He then tells them they will receive the power of the Holy Spirit and they will become witnesses in Jerusalem and throughout Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.  Jesus encourages them to depart from Jerusalem after they receive the Holy Spirit.

The second reading is a wonderful prayer asking the God of our Lord Jesus Christ to give the disciples, indeed, all of us: “…a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him.  May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened…”  This prayer is for gifts essential for insight and understanding.

Although Jesus was speaking to his disciples these instructions are also meant for us as well.  Clearly when we are armed with wisdom and knowledge of him and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we can each carry out the commission Jesus gave to all of us to go and make disciples of all nations.

© 2023


According to Wikipedia a pilgrimage is a journey where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning.  It can lead to a personal transformation.  We are a pilgrim church, always seeking new understanding, we read about this in the documents of Vatican II.  Pope Francis has commented on it in several of his writings.  Indeed, we are on a journey to our heavenly homeland.  On that journey we meet many obstacles that try to move us away from our pilgrimage.  In today’s gospel we hear of two people who had been on a journey which they believed had suddenly come to an end.  They had been following Jesus, a prophet mighty in deed and word that they believed would redeem Israel, yet he had been arrested and executed.  They were moving away from their pilgrimage trying to understand what to do when a stranger approached them and explained that according to the Hebrew Scriptures this is what would happen to the Messiah.  As we know the stranger turned out to be the risen Jesus.  At the breaking of the bread, they recognized Jesus and they recognized in which direction their pilgrimage would now go.  The inspiration can be seen in our first two readings.  Peter speaks out eloquently that Jesus was commended by God, and they put him to death.  In Peters letter he continues the teaching of Jesus, that the readers, and us, conduct ourselves with reverence during our time of sojourning or pilgrimage.  They are continuing this heavenly pilgrimage.

Today, to help us on our heavenly pilgrimage Pope Francis called for a Synod on Synodality.  Many of us participated in listening sessions.  Just as the Gospel pilgrims listen to Jesus the Church is listening to us.  The Gospel calls the church to journey together to allow the Church to proclaim the Gospel in accordance with the mission entrusted to her.

© 2023

The Mystery of Faith, a Reflection on the Easter Vigil

A concept we often hear in the New Testament is “Mystery.”  Broadly defined it is an idea of something hidden which has been revealed, something unapproachable which invites entry, something unknowable which offers true understanding.  According to St. Paul the great mystery is God’s plan to unite all things in Christ, to gather together those who were far off, to reconcile Jew and Gentile through the cross.  We come closest to understanding this mystery during the Easter Vigil.  During the vigil we begin by bringing light into the worship space.  We will hear up to nine readings, seven from the Old Testament.  These readings recount our journey from darkness into light, from chaotic waters of creation to the saving waters of baptism, they chart Salvation History.  The service begins in darkness, after lighting a fire we light the Paschal candle which will be present at all Baptisms and funerals.  We process in darkness into the worship space and light each individuals’ candle from the paschal candle.  In darkness we hear the readings from the Old Testament.  These readings remind us that in order to embrace the new life God has planned for us we must be willing to relinquish all that we hold dear.”  We then hear the Gloria and bells are sounded.  St. Paul reminds us that those who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, and rise with him in order to live in newness of life, a mystery.  The Gospel tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ.  These last readings provide a promise of regeneration.  After the homily we will baptize those seeking the faith we profess and welcome others into the Catholic faith.  For me this service comes the closest to articulating the “Mystery of Faith.”

Abundant Life

Reflection on Gospel for Fifth Sunday of Lent

John 11:1-45

In the Gospel readings the last two Sundays we learned about two people who were in a sense dead.  The woman at the well didn’t seem to have a life, she was just going through the motions.  She didn’t seem to have any friends and her marital life had not gone well.  Last Sunday we met the man born blind from birth.  Many would have believed he or his parents had committed some sort of sin that led to his blindness and therefore he would be considered a sinner.  Due to his blindness, he would not have been allowed into the temple and probably didn’t have the opportunity to socialize with others.  His only occupation was begging.  This Sunday we meet Lazarus who was ill and died, he was physically dead.  It was through Jesus that each was restored to life.  The Samaritan women was energized by her meeting Jesus and the ensuing conversation.  Jesus treated her with respect, and she responded.  She was so energized she went back to her village and proclaimed the good news.  Similarly, by giving the blind man his eyesight Jesus restored him to wholeness and he too spread the news of what Jesus had done.  Jesus approached his friends in Bethany and raised Lazarus to life.  In each case Jesus reached out to the “dead” person and restored them to life.  We often encounter people in our communities and even families who seem to be “dead” they lack spirit.  Sometimes we meet immigrants or refugees who are bewildered by their new environment and don’t know where to turn.  They cannot find their own way they need someone, like Jesus or us, to reach out to them and offer them help, to be a friend and spend time with them as Jesus did.  Jesus is an example of how we should reach out to those in need.

(c) 2023

Reflection on Doubt

Reflection on the Gospel for Sunday April 24, John 20:19-31

In this Gospel we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas.”  This is not the only time in John’s Gospel that Thomas raises a question about what Jesus said.  He is a skeptic, but is able to overcome his doubt when he meets face to face with the risen Jesus.  On reflecting on his doubting I realize that there is merit in doubting some of the so called shibboleths that society maintains. 

Throughout history people have been certain about many things and conducted their lives based on those certainties.  Then someone would come along and begin to doubt those certainties—that is to question them.  In doing so they often face ridicule, persecution and often death.  Yet often their doubt gains traction among people who take the time to reflect on the doubt.  They come to the realization that the certainty is inaccurate and they are able to clarify the certainty.  Eventually society comes to the realization that the certainty was incorrect and they are able to clarify it.

Take for example the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe and everything revolved around it.  Then people like Galileo doubted the accuracy of this proposition based on observation.  The Catholic Church, and many others laughed at his doubt.  Galileo and those who agreed with him were persecuted.  Yet eventually we came to know that the earth indeed is not at the center of the universe but only a very small part of the universe.

We also see this as the cause of racism.  Many start with the certainty that non-white people are intellectually inferior.  They build their case on anecdotal evidence and more often fear of the other.  Yet, as people doubt the validity of this certainty they realize that people of different ethnic backgrounds are no different than white people.  This clarifies the relationship even as many continue to reject the evidence of equality.

Now we are faced with a new certainty that homosexuality and transgender people are aberrations in human development and should be rejected out of hand.  Those who doubt this assertion are met with ridicule and sometimes violence.  Yet as we research the subject more closely we learn that this is the way those people are and in other ways are no different than others.  When we accept that or clarify the certainty we bring new elements into society that enhance all of our well being.

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.” 

René Descartes

Psalm 72 on Leadership

During most daily Masses this week the Responsorial Psalm is from Psalm 72.  This is a Psalm worth reading and meditating on as it has strong guidance on religious and political leadership.  First, I will provide the Psalm, then reflect on it and finally reword some of it to apply to us today.

1. Give the king your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to a king’s son.

2. May he judge your people with righteousness,

and your poor with justice.

3. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,

and the hills, in righteousness.

4. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,

give deliverance to the needy,

and crush the oppressor.

5. May he live while the sun endures,

and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

6. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,

like showers that water the earth.

7. In his days may righteousness flourish

and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

8. May he have dominion from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

9. May his foes bow down before him,

and his enemies lick the dust.

10. May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles

render him tribute,

may the kings of Sheba and Seba

bring gifts.

11. May all kings fall down before him,

all nations give him service.

12. For he delivers the needy when they call,

the poor and those who have no helper.

13. He has pity on the weak and the needy,

and saves the lives of the needy.

14. From oppression and violence he redeems their life;

and precious is their blood in his sight.

15. Long may he live!

May gold of Sheba be given to him.

May prayer be made for him continually,

and blessings invoked for him all day long.

16. May there be abundance of grain in the land;

may it wave on the tops of the mountains;

may its fruit be like Lebanon;

and may people blossom in the cities

like the grass of the field.

17. May his name endure forever,

his fame continue as long as the sun.

May all nations be blessed in him;

may they pronounce him happy.

18. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,

who alone does wondrous things.

19. Blessed be his glorious name forever;

may his glory fill the whole earth.

Amen and Amen.

In analyzing this psalm, Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger  state in their book on the Psalms: “These verses state the quite ancient Near Eastern conviction much older than Israel’s royal theology, that the king has a responsibility to govern such that a viable political and economic infrastructure is maintained for all members of the community. Specifically, the king has a responsibility to support and sustain the life of the poor and the marginal when they have no resources by which to sustain themselves.  The psalm envisions a quite assertive, initiative-taking royal government on behalf of the poor and needy.”  Further in their analysis they note that to have a strong economy the king must first take care of the poor and the marginalized.

This psalm has clear relationship with Jesus statement in Matthew 25:31-46 about the final judgement. This guidance is as relevant today as it was when the psalm was written.  The greatness of a modern nation should be measured by how well it takes care of the poor and on those on the margins.

As the psalm begins as a prayer for good leadership let me put it in a more modern context I would like to edit the first four verses to say:

1. Give the president your justice, O God,

and your righteousness to Congress.

2. May they judge your people with righteousness,

and your poor with justice.

3. May the mountains yield property for the people, 

and the hills, in righteousness.

4. May they defend the cause of the poor of the people, 

give deliverance to the needy, 

and crush the oppressors.


Brueggemann, Walter and Bellinger, William H. Jr. (2014) Psalms.  New York, NY. Cambridge University Press.

The Season of Advent

The Season of Advent

Advent literally means “coming” and applies to our liturgical calendar as the season when we celebrate the first coming of Jesus and prepare ourselves for his second coming.  It is also an invitation to us to “come” to the manger and see the Lord Jesus.  At his birth angels went to shepherds and invited them to come to Bethlehem.  The stars in the heaven invited the Magi to come from their far off land to see the new king of the Jews.  During Advent we are invited to come closer to Jesus.  We do this through study, prayer, and practice. We are invited to take time to study both the bible and the teachings of the church.  We are invited to build a strong and regular prayer life, and we are invited to put the teachings of Jesus into practice in our daily lives.  As Jesus was a gift from God to us our response in prayer, study and practice is our gift to God.  Let us take time to look at our lives, have we answered that invitation to come to Jesus.  Let us build a plan on how we can respond to the gift of the coming of our Lord.  Finally, we are called to share this gift with family and friends.

A Teaching from Elijah for Our Time

On November 7, the church celebrated the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  The first reading came from 1 Kings 17:10-16.  In that reading I will highlight two issues that are found in the reading.  The first is determining which god to worship and the second is exercising hospitality.

The reading begins with Elijah traveling to a town named Zarephath.  According to a google search on the internet this town was a Phoenician city now called Sarepta and is located on the Mediterranean coast between Sidon and Tyre.  Its location would be in pagan territory where the residence would worship the pagan god Baal who was called the “Lord of Rain and Dew.”  Elijah was running away from the Hebrew King Ahab, the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and his pagan wife Jezebel.  Ahab had committed apostasy by worshipping the pagan gods of his wife.  Elijah prophesied that if he did not change God would send a drought on the land which indeed happened.  During this drought Elijah had to escape from the Northern Kingdom of Israel ruled by Ahab and Jezebel to avoid persecution and probably death.  Apparently he felt safe in pagan territory and not in Israel.  The drought did extend into Zarephath and the pagan god Baal couldn’t stop it.  It would be a test of which god is really in charge.

A second point is the hospitality the poor widow offered Elijah.  In my studies of the Balkan area I learned about the code of hospitality which existed in that area and which also existed in the Levant.  According to this code if anyone, even your enemy approached you and asked for help you were obliged to honor the request.  In this case the widow was struggling to feed herself and her son when this foreigner came asking to be fed.  She had to chose between her maternal responsibility to feed her son and to obey the code of hospitality.  She chose the latter and this benefited her as the God of Elijah kept her flour and oil jars full until the drought was over.

I see the messages for us are what god do we worship and do we have a code of hospitality.  Although Baal no longer serves any modern community we now have gods like consumerism, addictions, and more which many seem to serve more than the one God.  Daily we have to choose between worshiping the God of Elijah or the gods that serve what we want and not what we need.

I don’t know when or if the code of hospitality disappeared but it certainly doesn’t exist in the western world.  When people in need come to our borders we don’t welcome them we force them out, we put up barriers to keep them out and we don’t feed them or help them in their need.  Yet thousands who, legally or illegally, entered the United States have taken over jobs that natives don’t want, they have contributed economically to our country, they have rebuilt derelict parts of our big cities, and have taken farm jobs that no one else wants.  Some have turned to crime, but most have helped our country.  The question is, should we be more hospitable to those who come to our borders seeking help?

© 2021

What are the Sins we are Committing

In the Gospel for October 11, 2021 from Luke (Luke 11:29-32) Jesus, after a series of statements warning the people of the battle between evil and good spirits he makes this statement:  “This generation is an evil generation it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”  We often jump to the conclusion that what he is referring to is that Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and that Jesus will spend three days in the tomb after his execution before his resurrection.  Yet, Jesus goes on to reference the sign Jonah gave to the Ninevites.  The message Jonah gave the Ninevites was that in forty days Nineveh would be destroyed.  Believing Jonah’s message and their impending doom the Ninevites led by their king repented of their wrongdoing.  Their signs of repentance were so strong that God relented and did not destroy the city.

The Ninevites were probably not aware that they were sinning, that is they were doing things contrary to the will of God.  They needed Jonah to make them aware that their behavior was detrimental to living in a peaceful environment.  This is a message we all need to reflect on.

We first must be aware that we are committing sin before we can repent and take remedial action.  Too often we don’t see that things we are doing are sinful.   A smoker has to believe that smoking is bad for their health before they will start to stop smoking.  It is harder for those addicted to drugs, gambling, sex etc. to realize their addiction is causing them irreparable harm.  Once they accept that these things are bad for them and their families, that is they are sinful, then they can start a program to withdraw from their addiction. We need to become aware of the things that we are doing are sinful, many are things we do daily and don’t think of them as sinful.

Let me start with racism.  Racism is defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.  This covers a lot of people we see in our larger communities. Often we don’t feel we are prejudiced against these people because we are removed from them due to where we live, work, or visit.  Yet, if we ever look at one of these people and think “what are they doing here” or “they don’t belong here” or many other statements that belittle them in our mind we are committing the sin of racism.  This can be extended to how we view people of different religions, different gender identities, economic or educational status.

Under this criteria we all in one way or another show our prejudices. We don’t take the time to see these people as someone just like us but look a little different.  We don’t take the time to understand where they came from, why they are here, what struggles their forbearers experience and how that impacts how they view the majority society.

Besides racism there are other areas where we far too often take an uninformed view of a situation and then don’t do anything about.  Take for instance air pollution.  It is contributing to climate change but worse, it is becoming a serious health problem.  We are seeing more children and adults with lung problems due to the air we all breathe.  We all know that the weather is getting warmer, draughts are becoming more frequent, violent storms occur more often. When we deny or do nothing about climate change we are sinning against mother earth.  Repent!  When we don’t want to welcome refugees in our country we are sinning against humanity.  Repent!  This list could go on.  We all need to take a closer look at what we believe and see how we are sinning.

We need Jonah to come back and tell us our world will be destroyed and we must respond by repenting!



Reflection on the readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 608, James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

While going over the readings for this Sunday I started reflecting on piety and how it is interlaced in these readings so I thought I would look deeper into piety.  According to Keith R. Barron piety “…perfects the moral value of religion by engendering within the human person a filial affection for God and a loving regard for all people as fellow children of God.”  Harriet A. Luckman lists some of the attributes of piety as “…to denote a type of tenderness, fidelity, reverend, obedient, commitment and affection for one’s family, religion and state.”  Further she notes  “Piety was made evident by the acts one did to show reverence for God and gain purity of heart.  These actions included fasting and abstinence from food, drink, sexual relations and other bodily pleasures.  They also included almsgiving, the recitation of prayers, and attendance at the liturgy.”  Other acts of piety include visiting pilgrimage sites, special prayers like “Stations of the Cross” family rituals and more.  However, piety can be viewed negatively by those observing the pious.  Barron points out “The formalistic and legalistic observance of the law, however, sometimes encouraged the projection of a mere façade of piety.”

In our first reading this Sunday from the book of Deuteronomy Moses has given the Hebrews the teachings that was given to him by God.  In another translation of this passage these are listed as “statues and ordinances.” He notes these teaching are from wisdom and intelligence and that if the people observed them they will be truly a wise and intelligent people.

In the Gospel Jesus is confronted by some Pharisees and scribes who have observed that Jesus’ disciples do not wash their hands before eating therefore they do not follow the tradition of the elders.  It is interesting that this is not a law but a tradition, yet these religious leaders seek to scrupulously follow all the traditions as well as the teachings and ordinances handed down to Moses by God.  Jesus response is to say that it is not what goes into the body that is profane but what comes out of the body.  These Pharisees and scribes are meticulous about following the outward signs of the law but not the inward signs.  Of particular note is the inability of the poor or low level labors in the fields or fisherman to wash their hands before eating.  

These inward signs are what St. James calls us to follow in the second reading.  He reminds us that it is not enough to be hearers but must be doers of the word.  He reminds the readers that God calls all of us to care for the orphans and widows, a phrase that covers all those in need.

When we practice pious actions such as prayers, visiting pilgrimage sites and, most of all, attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist we gain strength to do the works God and St. James call us to do.  As it says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, we are called “…to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison.”  These are the highest of all pious actions.


Barron, Keith, O.C.D.S (1993) Piety. In The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (pp. 741-742) Collegeville, The Liturgical Press

Luckman, Harriet A. (2005) Piety. In The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (pp. 491-492) Louisville. Westminster John Knox Press