Saturday, February 16, 2008


Gn 12:1-4a Mt 17:1-9
Abram went as the Lord directed him Lord, it is good that we are
here. If you wish I will build
three tents, one for you, one
for Moses and one for Elijah."

Now that you have come home from celebrating the Sacred Eucharistic banquet and have decided that there are in fact other things to do than to watch football on Sunday afternoon, here you are reading We knew that you would be here. We also knew that there might be a challenge waiting for you here. This might be a challenge. As regular church goers you have no doubt noticed that the first and third readings from the Sacred Scripture every Sunday have a close relationship. The first reading from the Old Testament (The Hebrew Scriptures) is usually chosen to paint a sketch that gives us a hint of the teachings of Jesus. Most of the stories are well known to us.

Like last week, we heard the story of the temptation of Adam and Eve first and then we enjoyed hearing about the temptation of Jesus by Satan. Most of us sit there in disappointment over Adam and Eve and applaud the smash-mouth repartees of Jesus that make Satan disappear in
disgust. That is an easy one. This one is a little more subtle. Whatever we hear this weekend, here is an idea that I have about the mind of the Church in putting these two readings side by side.

Look at the comparison that I have been inspired to create at the header of this piece. Abram (Before God called him Abraham) gets called from God, a God whom he has never seen, gets up and goes, no questions asked. Peter, who has been following and learning from Jesus for some time now after abandoning his nets and boats, wants to stay put. He doesn't get the hint. In
the presence of Moses and Elijah, two of the hardest working Patriarchs / Prophets that God ever had, he prefers to hang around and enjoy the heavenly benefit of being close to these luminaries of Yaweh. Does he lose sight of the fact that he is with the Son of God? He just saw Him in His Eternal splendor and instead of seeing the message come to life, he sees his own
good. So should we be disappointed? Not one bit. It's a temptation that we all have.

Look at the story of Moses. Yaweh sure had a hard sell getting Moses to take the reins and get the Chosen People out of the slavery of Egypt. God sure had to show Moses a lot before He could get him to do the job. It got so bad between God and Moses that Moses had to camp on a rock and watch his people march into the Promised Land without him. Peter had a similar
experience. At the very beginning of the Church, it was James who was the head of the church of Jerusalem. Peter went down from Jerusalem to the coastal area of Caesarea and had a very fruitful ministry to the Romans, but not to his own people, the
Abraham is an interesting Patriarch. He comes into our lives before Moses. He is the father of God's people. He has no precursors who could serve as examples of how to believe in God. He is the gifted one who teaches us how to get up and to go even if we do not know the way. It is important for us to compare Peter, James and John before Elijah and Moses. The three disciples had not been at the River Jordan when the Father proclaimed Jesus as His beloved Son. They knew Jesus beause they had been introduced by John and when they were invited by Jesus, they followed. Like Abraham and so many other Patriarchs and Prophets, they left all that they had and dedicated themselves to God. Today, they got the Jordan river treatment all over again in a special way. This is their Confirmation. This is the moment when Jesus tells them to keep the experience to themselves. He knows that they are going to have to nurture this moment in their hearts. This is the moment when, like Abraham they had to meditate on the reality that they had bought into and had to decide that wherever the road led, that's where they had to go.

I'll bet that Abraham never told Sarah what happened on Mount Moriah. No way. That was
between him, Isaac and Yaweh. They was his reserve for the rest of his life and the rest of the challenges that lay in wait for him for the rest of his life. Jesus knew that they could not stay there. Mount Tabor is 100 miles north of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where they had to go,
sooner or later. Like Abraham who had to climb the mountain with his son Isaac, Peter and he colleagues had to climb the mountain to Jerusalem with the one who was to be sacrificed there. On the way up He would carry the wood upon which He would lay as the sacrifice. Unlike Abraham, Peter, James and John and the rest would not find an entangled ram to save their
Master. He is the Ram and Peter and the rest of us are His children, His people, His progeny and we, with Him are the "sons in whom I am well pleased."

So, fellow pilgrims, we too are not allowed to sit before the tabernacle (tent) and enjoy Jesus in the pitty-pat of our pious hearts. He has work to do, and we are those who have to help Him do it. We all have God-given talents and we have to make them work. We do not have the luxury of building a tent on whatever Mount Tabor we choose and expect that the voice from
heaven is going to lift us up to our eternal reward. Nope. At the very least, we have to go out and try to catch fish. That's the deal. If Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth and Mary can bear children in miraculous circumstances, we can catch a fish or two. If Abraham, Moses, Isaac and Jacob can keep a civilization together under God without any more training than to say, "yes", who
are we to renege on the invitation?

I think that this is the lesson that the Church is putting before us with the juxtaposition of these two stories. I could be wrong, but I'm confident that I am close enough. If you think I'm off base here, make a quick move to first and if you pick me off, I'll ask God to shorten your purgatory by a couple of days. But if you don't get me, be happy you tried and keep smiling even through
my funeral.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


The other day the Publisher and the Theology Editor of attended the joint vicariate meeting of the San Bernardino Diocese. It turns out that this is an annual event when at least one priest and the staff of every parish come together at the Pastoral Center and have a day of conviviality, informational get together, constant light snack buffet and two solid conferences/presentations as food for thought. This year Bishop Barnes decided to make the fourth Episcopal Letter to the citizens of the United States the center piece of the event. To make the event all the more attractive, he invited Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington D.C. to discuss the election year document from the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

This is a short overview of the event, mostly focused on Cardinal McCarrick's presentation of the document, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility."

My wife and I arrived at 1:00 PM, the announced gathering time for the afternoon presentations. The reception area was abuzz with people still excited from their morning experience. We bumped into Bishop del Riego, the Auxiliary of the Diocese of San Bernardino. It was the third time that we had personal contact in about 5 days. He had his usual smile, warm handshake and glint in his eye. He was also in his usual position, right in the middle of the pedestrian traffic. "That's where the people are." After a couple of jocular exchanges we proceeded to the fruit, cheese and crackers buffet accompanied by ice chests of water and soft drinks. I could not refrain my brain from remembering the dictum of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, "Wherever a Catholic sun doth shine, there you'll find good food and fine wine." Hhhmmm.

Into the conference room with you, and pay attention. So we entered, discovered a room full of round tables surrounded by ten chairs each, sat there at one of them, met our table mates and awaited the signal for silence. After a few short moments, there was an opening prayer, an introductory statement by Bishop Gerald Barnes, the Ordinary of San Bernardino followed by the Cardinal himself.

I don't want to be mean, but the Cardinal started his conference with two of the oldest and stalest jokes in the Christian universe. Coming from Washington, the capital of slapstick and hilarity, I would have thought that the opening jokes would have been better. So, I got robbed of my opening laugh.
Nevertheless, before long, I was hearing things that I felt at home with. "The Catholic Church is not a single issue Church." "A good and faithful Catholic first and foremost, will be a good and faithful citizen." "You will not be a good Catholic if you do not strive to be a good citizen." I wasn't looking for laughs any more. I was looking for ways to spread the news to the Catholic World. I'm blessed, I have The other 300 participants in this event have bigger challenges. But wait, this was just the beginning.

I was now thinking of myself at about age 12 or so. I came from a very, very Catholic family, both sides. I had been reading the newspapers (yeah, we had them then, and the radio). There had been several news releases that mentioned that the pope had made this statement and this other pronouncement. I asked my father what was so important about these statements since not everyone was Catholic anyway. My father simply replied, "When the Pope speaks, the world's ears burn." ( circa A.D. 1949) The same is true with our bishops. When they speak, the world listens. This is so true that the bishops in this document can say, with great certainty, "In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation." They follow this up with the pronouncement, "The Catholic call to Faithful Citizenship affirms the importance of political participation and insists that public service is a worthy vocation." (Both quotes from Forming Consciences for Faithful
Citizenship, Part 1, numbers 13 and 14)

The Cardinal spoke for some 45 minutes. It was impossible for him to explain and comment on the entire document. Similarly, it is impossible for to give you a complete symposium on this wonderful effort by the USCCB. Let me just make one final point.

This is a document in the style of Vatican II. Nowhere in this document are you going to find statements like, "if you vote for a pro-choice candidate, may you be anathema." NO. This is a true Catechism lesson. It is not a threat to comply or go to hell. It is a push to study the question of how to cause the good to happen through our vote, so we may contribute to its realization. This document is intended to be studied in prayer and meditation so that our conscience may be made surer and firmer in its resolve for the good. The bishops of the U.S. are presenting us with the traditional doctrine of conscience held for centuries by the Church, "...Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil." (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, Part 1, number 17)

Thanks, Bishop Barnes. Thanks, Cardinal McCarrick.

Check out the Burning Question of the week. You'll keep coming back for more. I love telling you these things. I know that if you make an effort to study these things, you'll never, ever, be tempted to cry at my funeral.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Serpent in the Garden, Satan in the Desert
Genesis, 3 Matthew, 4

We heard some great stories at today's Mass, didn't we? We listened to the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve on the one hand and the victory of Jesus over Satan on the other. Our Holy Mother the Church told us those stories this morning for our own good. She knows that we so often have the temptation to fall back on the weakness of Adam and Eve to explain away our own foibles and weaknesses. She makes us listen to the story of Jesus and Satan because she knows that we are better prepared for the sparring than Adam and Eve were. She wants us to know that being human is not an excuse, it is a blessing.

You're saying, "Oh come, on! Not so. Look, Adam and Eve didn't have the Original Sin weakening them. They were walking and strolling in the Garden and talking to God and enjoying life, plain and simple. They had plenty to eat, they worked without sweating, they didn't need clothes because they were sinless so far, so they didn't have the burden of evil to carry around. They were innocent about life. They were there with God enjoying their freedom and doing Him little favors like naming the plants and the animals and stuff like that. You have to admit that it must not have been a bad life. I bet that if some of you are like I am, you wish sometimes that you could go back to the Garden of Eden just for a short vacation. Just to see what it was
like to be that innocent. We sometimes think to ourselves, "That would be so neat."

But then, I hear the two stories that we heard today, side by side. Adam and Eve with the serpent in the Garden and Jesus in the desert with Satan. Jesus was innocent too. But He was innocent in a different way. Jesus was innocent not like a baby is innocent. Jesus was innocent not like Adam and Eve were. Remember they had never experienced evil. They did not know what sin is. The serpent knew evil. The serpent was evil. For him it was like taking candy from babies. The devil had a lot of experience because he was a part of the fallen angel brigade who had rebelled against God out of pride. Adam and Eve only had themselves and their sweet innocent knowledge of God who had not ever tempted them, of course. He had even given them directions about what they could do and what they should not do. In a confrontation with the wily devil, they couldn't make it work.
To get back to Jesus (and by extension to us) we know that Jesus knew what evil is. Jesus knew the experiences of human beings very well, being an adult one Himself. Jesus had been schooled in the teachings that God showered on His people for centuries before Jesus was born. Jesus, like Adam came to the world without sin. He also maintained Himself sinless throughout His life. That's why we can call Jesus innocent. He conquered sin by keeping it out of His own life. We are taught that by the two stories that we heard today. Jesus was better prepared than Adam and Eve to conquer Satan. I dare say that we too are better prepared than Adam and Eve to conquer Satan in our lives. We are the beneficiaries of Jesus' ACTIVE innocence, the innocence that comes from maintaining a pure and clean heart and soul in the midst of evil. Jesus had the
history of His Father's teachings through the Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Law. We too have that, plus the life and Gospel of Jesus Himself. Adam and Eve had none of that. God had just begun teaching His new creatures. Like so many of us, the serpent was able to poison their hearts and minds with the promise that they were ready for bigger and better things. They could be like God and get to know as much as He. Jesus stayed innocent in the desert because He outfoxed Satan at His own game. Jesus protected Himself from falling for Satan's tricks not because Jesus was God, but because Jesus new that all He had to do was to prove that Satan could not match wits with Him. As we say in sports, Jesus stayed within Himself and used what he had learned from the Scripture and turned it against Satan. God therefore stayed on the side of Jesus. Jesus did not have to show Himself as God to Satan. In fact He made all His arguments by staying separate from God. Jesus taught us that is it is not necessary to be God to beat Satan. It is only necessary that we accept the teachings that we receive from the Scripture, the Catechism and those people who love God and us. It is up to us to unite with Jesus and use these teachings to gain the personal victory over evil.

What God has been doing for us over the centuries is forming our conscience. God is teaching us the difference between good and evil. Jesus is the prime example of how to do that. Jesus not only left us with His example, He in fact left us His very own being, His body and His blood to serve as our shield against evil and the protector of our innocence. Not our infant type innocence, but our mature, adult innocence that is defined by our daily victory over evil in our personal and communitarian lives. It is our perseverance in this innocence that will pave our way to the Pearly Gates. Jesus is with us every step of the way urging us on, filling us with His own life. The Spirit is there keeping our hearts fired up with the desire to imitate Jesus
Himself in the fight against evil and in the zeal to help our fellow human beings to join us in the life of active, working innocence.

Pick up your bible again when you see this on your computer. Read the two stories again in the quiet of your favorite corner of the house. You'll see what I mean. You'll love it. Then you won't want to cry at my funeral. In fact, we may even want to shake hands at the Pearly Gates and give our Guardian Angels a high five in gratitude for all they did to help Jesus keep us on the straight and narrow.