Dear Reader,

There is a hymn that needs reviving today.  “Make me a channel of your peace.  Where there is hatred let me bring your love.”  The hymn is a transcription of the Prayer of St. Francis.  The saint personified the Beatitude about peacemakers.  The genius of his hymn is in that opening verse: make me a channel of your peace.  The Beatitude challenges us to be transmitters of grace.  Make no mistake about it.  Peace is not of our making; it is a result of God’s healing and transforming grace empowering us to love even as God loves us.  That is no small task.  It wasn’t for St. Francis; and it won’t be for any of us who seek to die to selfishness and sin and so let Christ love through us.

To be a peacemaker after Jesus’ heart, we must be about convincing each person we meet that’s/he is beautiful in God’s sight and beloved.  That must be true even for those by whom we might naturally be repulsed.  There are no exceptions and no acceptable excuses.

The 1960s and ‘70s, when “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” was being sung in Guitar Masses across the country, were difficult, albeit, exciting years to be alive.  Monumental changes happened in those days following Vatican Council II.  The Holy Spirit, in a new Pentecost had been poured out on the faithful, clerical and lay, causing to well up within them awareness that the Church is the People of God.  This People struggled with what that reality meant in practice and struggled as they assembled around the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist to be transformed by what they heard and celebrated.  As a transformed people, they were sent to be the continuing presence of the One they celebrated, whose blood they had drunk and whose flesh they had eaten, the One who lived in them.

If you remember the first Pentecost as it is described in the Acts of the Apostles, you recall that there was violence in that moment of birthing.  You may see holy pictures that depict the events in that upper room.  Seldom do they correspond with Luke’s imagery.  The pictures are tranquil.  The faces of the assembled are serene – even as little tongues of fire hover over them.  “Suddenly from up in the sky there came a noise like a strong, driving wind which was heard all through the house where they were seated.  Tongues as of fire parted and came to rest on each of them.”  Sounds terrifying to me.  Violent winds blowing?  Fire dancing over my head?  Fire?  Think of hurricanes and forest fires and ask yourself how serene the scene would be.  Remember that these are images that Luke chose to describe the indescribably.  He is telling us that the first creation was born out of chaos.  So, too, was born the new creation that is the Church.

Following the first Pentecost, the transformed disciples, moments ago cowering in the locked Upper Room, rushed out of the room and into the streets.  They began proclaiming Christ, crucified and risen.  The power of the message brought thousands to Christ.  The Good News began to spread throughout the whole region and world.

Think of those days following the Council.  Nostalgia can make us think that they were the best of times; and they might have been if you were in the privileged class and race.  For women they were the best of times if they did not mind their subservient role.  If you were black and thought you shouldn’t have to ride in the back of the bus and ought to be able to drink from any public water fountain, if you thought your children should be able to go to the same public school as the white children, then you knew that big changes had to come.  Over 50 years ago, the Spirit rushed out over the people and inspired them to sit in the front of the bus, to sit at the lunch counters labeled “for whites only” and to drink from similarly marked fountains.  There were attempts to quash them, but they massed together with some of their white brothers and sisters.  They marched.  They spoke out.  Fire hoses and biting dogs couldn’t disperse them.  Some of their leaders were shot; others were beaten and hanged from cottonwood trees.  Crosses burned in front yards.  A sound like a violent wind blew where they were.  Fire raged about them.  Looking back now, it seems clear that the new Pentecost transformed attitudes and the reality of Equal Rights began to emerge from the chaos as the law of the land.  Of course that meant that some were forced to admit that blacks were human beings, created in the image and likeness of the same God as whites were.

Blessed are the peacemakers.  Blessed are those who marched and demonstrated and entered into the cauldron from which they would not emerge alive.  Blessed are those who ventured from the safety of the north into the tension of the south and were killed in the process of registering black sisters and brothers so they could vote.

We could speak as well of those who marched and chanted, “War no more.”  Remember the picture of the college student on her knees beside the body of her fellow student demonstrator killed by the National Guard soldier.  Why?  Why do these types of horrors happen?  Because ideas die hard.  Often change is borne out of the clash of wills and identities.  God once again scoops up the mud and breathes in new life.

Leap forward in time to the present.  There is no shortage of similar images to those immortalized in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  The women march in the streets demanded an end to sexual harassment.  Victims of harassment speak out demanding justice.  Teenagers march demanding safety in their schools.  Others proclaim that Black Lives Matter and demand an end to the violence in their neighborhoods.  And the wars continue.  And the bombings.  And the gassings.

Where is peace?  Does one have to be at peace before s/he can be a peacemaker?  In some ways, yes.  On the other hand, maybe not; but at least there must be an openness to it.  Someone once defined peace as “the confident assurance that nothing can separate you from the love of God.”  Think about that for a moment and try to imagine the plight of some of those freedom fighters we sited above.  There is a difference between serenity and peace.

In the Gospels it is clear that Jesus was a man of prayer.  Often he would go off by himself to spend the night in prayer.  Whenever a major decision was to be made, a new direction in his ministry was about to unfold, he preceded the moment in prayer.  Were there words voiced in that prayer time?  Perhaps.  But I wonder if most often the prayer was one of silent contemplation, openness to the Father, a longing for the reassurance that he was the beloved Son.  The scene of Agony in the Garden on the night before he died was one of anguish that sought primarily to know that in the horrors that the next day would bring, that love would abide.  In the final moment, hanging on the terrible gibbet of torment, in peace he could cry out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Prayer is essential if we are to find peace.  We must dare to do what Jesus did and be open to the Mystery that transforms.  Sometimes that can be done in common in the prayer of the Assembly as we become keenly aware that we are sojourners and have companions on the way.  Eucharist is always a communal experience.  We give thanks to God as the People of God.

Sometimes we must do it alone.  Jesus said that when we pray, we should go to our rooms and close our doors and pray in secret.  The Father who sees in secret will reward.  That profound silence that is contemplation opens one to God’s presence, reminds one of that presence that is constant, bespeaking of the love that is unconditional and perpetual.  We believe in a God who loves us much more than we could ever love in return, a God who creates and holds in existence those made in God’s image.  This is the God who, in the Song of Songs, looks through the lattice at the beloved and says, “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come.”  Resting in that love is where peace is found.

Peace is the confident assurance that nothing will separate us from the love of God.  It is when we accept that love that we are empowered to love as we are loved.  That is what Jesus commanded those who would be his disciples.  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  It can be easy to practice this with those we deem to be likable, those who are kind, generous, loving and beautiful.  But this love must go beyond to embrace also the unlovable, those who do evil things, and those who seem to have abandoned all signs of humanity.  These are the peacemakers who pray for reconciliation and healing.  These are the ones who believe that society’s fundamental option must be for the poor.  They uphold the dignity of all people, the able and the disabled, of both genders, of every race, color, and creed, believers and unbelievers – all.  Will they see the fruit of their peace making?  Sometimes, but not always.  That is where hope enters with the confident assurance that one day, God’s will will happen and peace will reign.

May the peace of Christ be with you,




Dear Reader,

My heart is heavy as I write this.  There have been 18 shootings in schools in our country so far this year.  We are only in the second month of 2018.  Yesterday’s shooting, the deadliest in 5 years, killed 17 and wounded several others, two of them critically.  It’s too soon to know the motive, but the action is another indication of the anger and hatred raging through the land.  It wasn’t that many years ago that schools were thought of as safe havens for children and young people.  Then came Sandy Hook and before that, Columbine.

The school shootings mirror the violence in the streets and the domestic violence.  The vision Jesus proclaimed in his Sermon on the Mountaintop and in the eight Beatitudes must be heard and help us to be ambassadors of that vision so that healing, reconciliation, and familial unity can be restored.  That vision should be advocated not only by the Church but by the state as well.  Enough of the vitriol, the sexism, and racism.  Let love reign.

In this Beatitude Jesus blesses those who are single-hearted.  The vice that seemed to rankle Jesus most was hypocrisy, i.e., to pretend to be something on the outside that did not correspond with the interior.  More than once Jesus chastised the Pharisees, the epitome of those preoccupied with the minutiae of the Law, for being among those who pay lip service to God but whose hearts were far from God.  The Pharisees confronted Jesus because he cured the blind and the lame on the Sabbath.  They were disturbed because he welcomed sinners and ate with them.  Jesus’ attitudes and values scandalized them.

What Jesus urges in this Beatitude is that those who choose to be his disciples be single minded in their desire to do God’s will in everything they say and do.  No thing will hold God’s place in their lives.  We hear the phrase “pure in heart” as a translation of single-hearted and can think in terms of purity of flesh and sexual purity.  Of course a right ordered sexuality fits here.  But Jesus is not casting negative aspersions on the flesh.  He does not say that flesh is innately sinful.  He is not saying that one can only please God in the spirit.  Down through the ages, there have been those who have taught that the flesh is sinful and that “saints” are called to flee the flesh and live in extreme asceticism – scourging the body, fasting excessively, and living in isolation, cut off from human commerce.

That is not what Jesus taught.  If we go back to the beginning as it is described in the Book of Genesis, God creates human kind in God’s image and likeness.  God breathes God’s life into human flesh.  Man and Woman are at the apex of creation.  In that innocence they are told to go forth and multiply.  Sexuality is not an evil, but an essential part of what it means to be human.  Flesh is not evil.  We believe that the Word became flesh and lives among human kind.

Jesus calls his disciples to live right ordered lives when he says that the single-hearted; the pure in heart are blessed.  That means all the senses are to be right ordered.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach and passes on?  Thus he declared all foods clean.  And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile.”

Each of the capital sins focuses our attention on how the senses can be disordered.  Lust rises out of disordered sexuality and demeans the other.  Gluttony results in appetites out of control.  Gluttons eat too much, or drink too much alcohol.  The insatiable appetites of addictions are forms of gluttony.  Greed destroys perspective regarding wealth.  Legend puts King Midas before us as one who was destroyed by lust for money.  Scripture has it that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  Notice that it is the LOVE of money that is the root of the evil, not money itself.  Sloth puts the human in perpetual idle, lazing, doing nothing productive.  St. Paul raged at the slothful and told the rest of the community that they should not feed those who do not work.  Wrath is the human temper out of control that results in destruction of life and limb of innocent ones.  Envy causes one to lust after someone’s goods and makes on willing to do anything to make the envied object one’s own.  Envy drove Cane to kill his broth Abel.  We know that pride comes before the fall.  The prideful one sees himself as superior to and better than the other, and so denies the others dignity and worth.  Narcissism comes under this heading.

Blessed are the single-hearted, they shall see God.  The single-hearted live right ordered lives.  They do not give themselves over to the capital sins.  They live in right-ordered relationship with others, recognizing others as their sisters and brothers that, like them, are created in the image and likeness of God and are the beloved of God.  The single-hearted are pure in their desire to see all people, all races, both genders, all nationalities, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and atheists live in justice and peace.  They will do nothing to make another subservient.  Again, Jesus is the model.

The Jews dreaded ritual impurity incurred by their coming into contact with someone deemed to be impure.  One who was ritually impure could not enter temple worship before being cleansed and declared clean by the priest.  Jesus turns such an attitude upside down by reaching out to the shunned and, through his healing and forgiving touch, draws them back into community.  In quick succession in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus encounters a leper, a desperate (Gentile) centurion, a hemorrhaging woman, and a dead girl.  He touches each one of these people who, in their condition, the law said should have rendered Jesus impure.  But Jesus not only does not accept that impurity, but also, by touching them and declaring them healed, restores them to a pure state.

Then there are the “shocking” guests he welcomes to his table and shares meals with them: prostitutes, tax collectors, and generic sinners.  “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” became one of the key charges that called for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Notice in each of these encounters, it wasn’t Jesus who changed, but those who yielded to his transforming touch.

Each one of us who knows what it means to be a sinner, that is, one who recognizes that all of his/her appetites are not quite right ordered, must come to understand that we, too, need that healing encounter with Jesus.  That happens when we let the light of Christ shine on our lives and so help us to see not only what we are, but also what we might, through Christ’s grace, become.  Each one who gives his/her life over to one or other of the deadly sins, in Christ sees how that life can be changed when imitation of Christ becomes the goal of living.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel, two disciples of John the Baptist begin to follow Jesus.  He turns to them and asks them, “What are you looking for?”  They respond, “Master, where do you live?”  And Jesus says, “Come and see.”  They do and stay with him that night.  Following Jesus on the Way necessarily involves learning what it means to imitate him, that that imitation will always result in humble service of the poor and others deemed by the rest of society to be inferior and even outcasts.

The pure in spirit, the single-hearted love as Jesus loves.  And Jesus promises that those who imitate him in loving will see the face of God.  How many of the saints have told us how they came to recognize Christ in the poor they served?  St. Francis met Christ in the leper.  St. Teresa of Calcutta tended the wounds of Christ in the poor and dying ones she cared for.  In the serving they knew the presence of God.

One final note on this subject: notice that when Jesus calls the disciples, they leave everything and follow him.  In order to enter that purity of heart and single-mindedness that promises to led to the vision of God, we have to be willing to let go of whatever stands in the way of our experiencing God.  That takes us back to those capital sins.  We must let go of those addictions and so find the freedom of the children of God.  Then we experience the happiness that Jesus said would result from that single-mindedness, that purity of heart.

And there will be peace.



FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – B – March 11, 2018

A reading from the second Book of Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 2:4-10
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 3:14-21

Dear Reader,

Why is it only hindsight that is 20-20?  Does it have to be at the end and with final gasps that one comes to see in a different light?  Deathbed insights point to final grace; but why can’t this happen earlier more often?

There is much for us to consider as we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Lent.  Is the season flying by for you?  Some may think of these forty days as being interminable.  When you think about the formation and transformation happening in the community we call Church, no wonder it takes time.  We are being molded and sculpted.  We are marble being chiseled into something new.  God will do it if we let God do it.

It took the fall of Jerusalem and the exile for the Israelites to come to their senses.  Before that, from our first reading, Israel had fallen pretty much into disrepute.  All those laws we heard about last week as signs of their covenanted relationship with God were being ignored.  It would be difficult to tell the difference between the pagan and the Jew.  The worship of idols and eating food sacrificed to idols, immoral practices, these evil deeds were done not only by the common people, but also by their princes, the leaders of Judah.  Over time, they failed to notice their weakened condition and how vulnerable they had become to outside forces.

They cried out to God in the midst of the rubble of their city.  They shook their fists at the heavens as they were led off in slavery.  If in the depths of their despair they listened, they could have heard God say: “I tried to warn you.  Remember the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah?  They spoke for me to alert you to what was happening and to call you back, but you ignored them.  Constantly I reached out to you and told you of my love for you and my desire to be your God and for you to be my people.”  This was a people whose strength came from their fidelity to God and God’s ways and whose weakness followed on their corrupt ways.

Do not stop listening because the tale of woes seems unbearable.  The beauty of the reading is God’s faithfulness to the promise evidencing a love that is eternal and unconditional.  I will bring you back and restore you.  Jeremiah prophesied that.  No one could have dreamed how the prophecy would be fulfilled.  God inspired Cyrus, the Persian king, their captor, to have a change of heart.  He released the people and allowed them to return to Judea, to their holy city and there to rebuild the Temple.  Isaiah called Cyrus God’s anointed one, a messiah.  Did Cyrus even know God’s name?

Please be careful how you hear this reading.  Do not fall into the cycle of sin-punishment, of God sending the wrath of the Babylonians on Israel because of their sins.  One thing should be clear here.  That is not how God acts.  Paul underscores this as he writes to the Church in Ephesus.  God acts even before we get around to repenting.  I say we because I hope we can recognize ourselves and our inclinations in Israel’s story, and recognize our potential for grace and change in the stories of the early Christian communities.  God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love God had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ.  This remarkable passage, written early in the Christian era, tells us that it is all God’s doing.  It is all grace poured out on us, whether we are aware of it or not, through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We did not earn it.  We did not merit it.  God loved in the beginning and wants only our love in return – love that is evidenced by our loving others the way we are loved.  No specifics here.  Each life is unique, and so is each response.

The clear evidence for this mystery is manifest in our Litany of the Saints.  Read the lives of some of the saints.  You will soon notice that no two are alike; no two stories are the same.  How can that be since there is only one way to be a saint, and that is via imitation of Christ?  Each saint imitated Christ to heroic degrees.  No two saints are alike.  That means you and I can imitate Christ in our unique ways and fulfill the promise in our times of those who will love others so that they, too, can experience God’s love and come to know Christ.  The possibilities for imitation will never be exhausted.  Amazing.

Love changes everything.  What inspires horror and dread can become signs of love and grace.  Despair can yield to hope.  Look at the two symbols put before us in the Gospel.  Moses fashioned a serpent of bronze, mounted it on a pole, and all those bitten by the venomous reptile that looked on the image were healed.  Now the seraph serpent is a universally recognized symbol of the medical profession.  Isn’t that amazing?  If not, it is only because we are used to it and so it cannot shock.

The same is true of our most treasured icon.  The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  The cross in Jesus’ time inspired horror in all who beheld it.  The Jews were used to seeing the condemned writhing on crosses, lining the roadways, crying out in agony.  The death was slow in coming and the pain excruciating.  How then came we to hang crosses around our necks, top the church spire with the cross, make sure that each liturgical procession outside of the Easter Season be led by the uplifted cross?  How did the cross become a symbol of hope?  Because the Son of Man was lifted up twice – once in crucifixion, and once in resurrection.  The resurrection transformed the meaning of the Cross forever.  Our hope is in the Cross.

So the theme repeats.  God wills the salvation of all people.  Hear that.  God does not want to condemn.  Jesus comes into the world to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness.  The proclamation far exceeds the sinner’s awareness of sin, much less contrition.  Here is an interesting exercise.  Go through the Scriptures and see how often God’s forgiveness precedes even the sorrow for sin.  Repentance comes in response to the recognition of God’s love.  It is possible to turn one’s back on, or to be deaf to God’s call.  But all who recognize that love and change their lives embrace the light that is Christ and rejoice at God’s action in their lives.

Is there anyone you think of that is beyond that pale?  Be careful how you answer that question.  Remember, the Gospel says that everyone who believes in Christ will not perish but will have eternal life.  Everyone.

Augustine is the great saint of repentance.  But so are Ignatius of Loyola and Camillus and Magdalene and the Samaritan Woman.  If you read carefully, so are all the saints; so are all who recognize that lack of proportion between who and what they are and how great is the love in Christ that empowers them.  All those who live the truth come to the light, so that their works may be clearly seen as done in God.

Now do you see why the central action of our worship is Thanksgiving?  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving.  We constantly give thanks to God as we renew Christ’s dying and rising in bread and wine, as we share the meal, and, having been transformed by what we do; and, having been transformed by what we do, we give thanks as we are sent out to be Christ in the world, loving, until he comes again in glory.

We remember.  We celebrate.  We believe.  Continue on this journey that is Lent.  You will never be the same, if you do, not if you let God have God’s way with you.  In these divisive days of hate mongering, there are many who stand on the brink of despair.  Your love, shining in the darkness, reminding the downtrodden of their dignity and worth, reminding them of God’s love for them, will rekindle hope and point the way to healing peace.

Believe it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,