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Reflections on Catholic Faith - February 2010

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February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Father Murphy was a reformed and holy man. One morning, Father walks into a pub in Donegal, and says to the first man seated at the bar, "Do you want to go to heaven?" The man said, "That I do, Father." The priest says, "Then stand over there against the wall." Then the priest goes to the next man at the bar: "Do you want to go to heaven?" "Most certainly, Father." "Then stand over there against the wall." Then Father Murphy walks up to O'Toole and says, "Do you want to go to heaven? O'Toole said, "No, I don't Father. The priest said, "I don't believe this. You mean to tell me that when you die you don't want to go to heaven?" O'Toole said, "Oh, when I die, yes. I thought you were getting a group together to go right now."

A lot of us are like O’Toole when it comes to matters of our faith… Oh yes…. When I get old… or just before I die… yes… then it’s okay… but not that faith stuff right now… On Ash Wednesday, the reading from Joel says that this is the time.... now is when we return in a renewed relationship with God. Assemble all in the parish... assemble our families and all those in our community and start 40 days of journey towards a whole new relationship with God.

The ashes on our foreheads proclaim us as Catholics -- people of repentance and journey... in fact -- these ashes make us ambassadors for Christ as Paul wrote to the Corinthians. If you have been a Christian of dull, repetitive practice, of never changing -- never growing faith -- this Lent... this Lent can be a time of Spiritual rebirth in your life.

Are you ready to make a new start in your faith life? Are you ready to say YES? Are you ready to take action NOW?  Are you willing to go stand up to start the journey to deepen your faith? Or are you like the Irishman, O’Toole?

Now what I’m about to say might sound strange or in conflict with what you think and have done in the past. Please stay with me. Father gave us a preliminary talk about Lent this past Sunday. He talked about fasting and abstinence. He talked about things you can come to Church and do. He talked about soup suppers...  But I say to you -- it would be a great sadness if your only vision of Lent is to come to Church and do .... DO what the Church puts on for you to do.

Father Murphy is coming into the bar that you are sitting at... and he’s going up and down the bar and tables and asking who wants to make a change in their lives? And unlike O’Toole who doesn’t want to do it now -- this is the time to take action in your life and in how you are living. Make 40 changes in your life. Come to Mass each day...  Take action each and every day. I heard of a program started elsewhere called 40 bags in 40 days. People are encouraged to let go of things they have been holding on to in their lives. Fill a bag with books and donate it to the library. Fill a bag with canned goods and give it to the food bank. Fill a bag with diapers and bibs and take it to the pregnancy center. Fill a bag with clothes and take it to the women’s shelter. Forty bags in forty days. Enter into the desert because when you enter the desert it will force your thinking to change. This is the time … the Kingdom of God is at hand… Repent and believe…

February 1, 2010

Wisdom and Scripture

Some of you may have been present when I preached about the Psalms a few weeks ago. I spoke of a book entitled The Catholic Companion to the Psalms -- written by Sister Kathleen Glavich. It is a quite readable book -- and it shares an easy journey into the subject and importance of God’s holy and inspired words in the Psalms.

What one finds is that a lot of the Psalms are attributed to David... The word attributed means that experts aren’t in complete agreement - but that it is likely that David wrote - or designed -- or inspired -- or perhaps funded the Psalms. He may have been musically talented. Scholars place his life near the end of the 10th Century B. C. (or BCE if you’re into this more recent manner of dividing and describing periods of time). The time attributed to David seems to reflect him as a clever, committed mediator and leader according to the values of his time

There are however - a number of contradictions that appear surrounding David. They say he was involved in the Psalms and we’ve heard of him as the giant slayer. You may recall he had an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the soldier. And while it appears sinful at least, out of the union of David and Bathsheba comes the great and wise leader Solomon.

I think about this man David.... and I think about his contributions to biblical beauty in the Psalms... I think about the sinful or at least errant things that David did.
Finally, I remember that God makes a covenant with David, promising that he will establish the house of David eternally: "Your throne shall be established forever." It is reasonable to ask how this Godly covenant with David can exist along with the bad stuff. 

Some of the Psalms and other Scripture writings talk about a God of anger... a God of revenge. One time -- a woman came to me after Mass and asked me why such matters as adultery, rape and war were even contained Scripture, much less used in Mass readings. My reply was that the teachings from God are true and useful for all of time, that God’s inspiration and expression must, of necessity work through the men and women writers of a certain time period. And so, as we’ve heard so many times, God draws good from evil... God can help bring about repentance and conversion from an open, willing heart.

God has plans that will not be thwarted... as men or women who are in control... we may have our wishes and desires and ideas -- but God’s plans are eternal. Throughout the Old Testament -  there are inspired stories of wicked and virtuous women... there are stories of men who slay other men without good reasons.... other than opportunity. But as we see, from some of these sorts of people come Psalms... or leadership.... or prophecy.

Studying Scripture... reading Psalms.... seeing the greater good that happens during or after a certain story in the Bible... these provide us with steps on the road to Wisdom.
If we go to the pages of Scripture, we see from time to time the wonderful stories of requests made to God and answers given. For example, Solomon prays for wisdom and God hears the prayer. But what’s fascinating about this particular prayer and this passage in Scripture is that we’re given a little bit of insight into the mind and the working of God as well. God tells us why he hears this prayer, why he honors this prayer, why he says yes to this prayer. It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word.” In other words -- I will grant your wish.

If you are estranged from the Bible... if you are intimidated by Scripture... if you are confused by what looks like rewards for adulterers and bad people... If you see stories or men or women who seem both bad and good, pray for wisdom from God.... and then read Scripture with the heart of one looking for God’s message and intentions in your life.

Reading I
Sir 47:2-11
Like the choice fat of the sacred offerings,
so was David in Israel.
He made sport of lions as though they were kids,
and of bears, like lambs of the flock.
As a youth he slew the giant
and wiped out the people’s disgrace,
When his hand let fly the slingstone
that crushed the pride of Goliath.
Since he called upon the Most High God,
who gave strength to his right arm
To defeat the skilled warrior
and raise up the might of his people,
Therefore the women sang his praises,
and ascribed to him tens of thousands
and praised him when they blessed the Lord.
When he assumed the royal crown, he battled
and subdued the enemy on every side.
He destroyed the hostile Philistines
and shattered their power till our own day.
With his every deed he offered thanks
to God Most High, in words of praise.
With his whole being he loved his Maker
and daily had his praises sung;
He set singers before the altar and by their voices
he made sweet melodies,
He added beauty to the feasts
and solemnized the seasons of each year
So that when the Holy Name was praised,
before daybreak the sanctuary would resound.
The Lord forgave him his sins
and exalted his strength forever;
He conferred on him the rights of royalty
and established his throne in Israel.

Responsorial Psalm
18:31, 47 and 50, 51
R.  (see 47b)  Blessed be God my salvation!
God’s way is unerring,
the promise of the LORD is fire-tried;
he is a shield to all who take refuge in him.
R.        Blessed be God my salvation!
The LORD live! And blessed be my Rock!
Extolled be God my savior.
Therefore will I proclaim you, O LORD, among the nations,
and I will sing praise to your name.
R.        Blessed be God my salvation!
You who gave great victories to your king
and showed kindness to your anointed,
to David and his posterity forever.
R.        Blessed be God my salvation!
Mk 6:14-29
King Herod heard about Jesus, for his fame had become widespread,
and people were saying,
“John the Baptist has been raised from the dead;
that is why mighty powers are at work in him.”
Others were saying, “He is Elijah”;
still others, “He is a prophet like any of the prophets.”
But when Herod learned of it, he said,
“It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up.”
Herod was the one who had John arrested and bound in prison
on account of Herodias,
the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married.
John had said to Herod,
“It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”
Herodias harbored a grudge against him
and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man,
and kept him in custody.
When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed,
yet he liked to listen to him.
Herodias had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday,
gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers,
and the leading men of Galilee.
His own daughter came in and performed a dance
that delighted Herod and his guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother,
“What shall I ask for?” Her mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.”
The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter
the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head.
He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter
and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother.
When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

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