Friday, June 15, 2018

Cloud Rider

Becoming zealous for the true God alone
1 Kings 18:41-46 Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." So Ahab went up to eat and drink, while Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, crouched down to the earth, and put his head between his knees. "Climb up and look out to sea," he directed his servant, who went up and looked, but reported, "There is nothing." Seven times he said, "Go, look again!" And the seventh time the youth reported, "There is a cloud as small as a man's hand rising from the sea." Elijah said, "Go and say to Ahab, 'Harness up and leave the mountain before the rain stops you.'" In a trice the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain fell. Ahab mounted his chariot and made for Jezreel. But the hand of the LORD was on Elijah, who girded up his clothing and ran before Ahab as far as the approaches to Jezreel.

I was first introduced to the fiery figure of the prophet Elijah many years ago when I visited the Carmelite monastery called Marylake. Throughout the monastery were scattered various statues of saints, and I enjoyed trying to identify them because they didn’t wear any name badges. You may have noticed none of the statues or stained glass windows in our church have names either. You have to guess their identity by the clothes they wear – like a bishop’s robes – or an object in their hands – like a book or a sword. I could easily surmise which statues were Carmelite holy heroes like St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux, and even Edith Stein. But one figure baffled me because he carried a sword that looked like fire. I guessed it might be St. John the Baptist at first, but I was wrong.

Later when I spent three months with the Carmelites in Dallas, I saw this fiery figure again, but this time with an additional clue. Below his statue were the words in Latin, “Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum” meaning “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of hosts.” That line comes from 1 Kings 19:10 and those prophetic words were uttered by the mighty ancient prophet Elijah. Elijah was the fellow with the fiery sword. I later learned that Elijah was the inspiration for the Carmelite order and their spiritual founder 800 years before the coming of Christ.  They are truly the first religious order.

1 kings 18 records the epic battle between Elijah, the last of the true prophets, and the false prophets of Baal, a pagan deity. The most dramatic moment of that spiritual showdown is definitely when Elijah slays the 450 false prophets with his fiery sword. Don’t mess with Elijah. But that was not the most decisive moment. The real climax of the story doesn’t center on fire but on water, specifically on rain. Elijah has commanded the clouds not to rain for three years, and after his duel on Mt. Carmel with the prophets of Baal, Elijah goes to pray for rain to descend again from heaven. We read that he went “to the top of Carmel, crouched down to the earth, and put his head between his knees.” Then he sends his servant seven times – seven is the symbolic number of the covenant with God – to see if his prayer for rain has been answered. Why is that prayer for rain so significant? Well, because the name “Baal” literally means “Cloud Rider” and it was Baal particular power to command the rain, and that was challenged and vanquished by Yahweh, the true God. In fact, the name Elijah literally means, “Behold, Yahweh is my God.” In other words, the point and purpose and passion of Elijah the prophet was to make clear to the people who is the true God, and demand their loyalty and love for him alone. That mission is likewise the point and purpose and passion of the entire Carmelite order, and why I wanted to join them.

But we shouldn’t casually peruse the story of Elijah as something that only happened 3,000 years ago. It happens every day. We, too, can turn to modern day Baals and worship them instead of the true God. We may not be tempted to trust in the power of the Cloud Rider, but we do easily turn to the false deities of money, sex and power. And it’s not too far a stretch to suggest that our last three popes have been modern-day Elijah’s “zealous for the Lord God of hosts” turning us back to the true God. Pope St. John Paul II left us the legacy of his monumental theology of the body, teaching us that sex is sacred, and should lead us to God, but not worshiped as a god like in pornography. Benedict XVI reformed the liturgy – he’s the reason we started saying “And with your spirit,” and included the word “consubstantial” in the Creed – and taught us real power resides in the prayerful celebration of the sacraments, not power politics. And lastly Pope Francis shows us how money can become a god as he embraces a life of prophetic poverty. Each pope embodies the name of Elijah which means “Behold, Yahweh is my God.” John Paul, Benedict and Francis, no less than ancient Elijah, demand the people turn away from false idols to worship the true and living God.

Next time you visit a Carmelite monastery and try to identify the saintly statues and happen to see one curious fellow with a fiery sword, you’ll know who is he. And the next time you go to Rome and get to see the pope, you’ll not only see the successor of St. Peter, but also, in a sense, the successor of Elijah.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Maternal Muster

Appreciating how mothers smile through tears of love
Luke 2:41-51 Each year Jesus' parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." And he said to them, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

God has made a mother’s heart the most resilient and reliable thing in the whole created cosmos, so much so that even the angels stand in awe of them. Why did God do that?  Well, it’s because their children (you and I) are constantly putting that maternal muster to the test, to see how far we can stretch that resiliency and sound that reliability. Now the surprising thing is we sometimes see if our mom’s pass muster not only when we do something naturally bad (like get in trouble), but also when we attempt something supernaturally good (like find our vocation); not only when we fail to do our human parents’ earthly will but when we try to do our divine Father’s heavenly will. But even then a mom’s heart never skips a beat of love but stays strong.

I’ll never forget when I put my own wonderful mother’s heart to the test when I announced my intention to become a priest. I was a junior in high school, and I decided to tell my whole family at supper one evening. Each person had a different reaction, and while my mom tried to paint a smile on her face, she did not entirely hide her disappointment. Of course, her initial reaction was perfectly understandable. She thought her son was embarking on a life of sacrifice and solitude without the created comforts of married love and family life that give the greatest joys on earth. My vocation seemed to fall short of all their expectations for my life made possible by their sacrifices to come to this country from India. But she still smiled through the tears at that dinner.

Now, however, my mom has no regrets that I’m a priest because the reality is that every priest is pampered in his parish, and every priest’s mother is treated like the Queen of Sheba whenever she enters the doors of his parish church. Nevertheless, my mother’s heart was tested maybe more not when I did something naturally wrong as when I chose something supernaturally good. The former makes sense to reason, but the latter requires the gift of faith.

The same dynamic of love was operative in the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary when Jesus tested her by choosing a supernatural good, namely, his Father’s will. At the decisive age of twelve – when our natural awareness is at its apex but our passions of puberty have not been released from their cage – Jesus goes to the Temple for the annual Jewish pilgrimage. But he remains behind to start his Messianic mission of engaging the Jewish authorities and getting under their olive skins. After they find him, Mary asks, perhaps smiling through her own tears, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” To which Jesus unperturbedly replied: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Notice how Mary’s heart is on the earthly level – she says Jesus’ father is Joseph and his house is in Nazareth, where Jesus belongs. But our Lord’s heart is on the heavenly level – he says his Father is God and his house is the Temple, and that’s where Jesus belongs. It might have been easier for Mary’s maternal love to deal with Jesus staying out too late after his bar mitzvah (a natural wrong), than with his decision to seek God’s will (a supernatural good). The first only requires reason, the second needs the help of faith.

It would be very easy to multiply modern-day examples of passing maternal muster, seeing how a mother’s heart is tested in its resiliency and reliability. But all such tests would fall under two headings: natural tests and supernatural tests. And while we would all like to think that it would be far easier when a mother faces the moment of truth and love when her son or daughter chooses to do the heavenly Father’s will (instead of their earthly mom or dad’s will to be a doctor or lawyer), in fact it is much header. Our mothers know us well, especially our weaknesses, and so their hearts are ready to deal with us when we sin (they see it coming), better than when we want to be a saint (they don’t see that coming). But even then we can always see the true strength of a mother’s heart, its resilience and reliability, because she will always manage to smile through the tears.

That’s the moment when her own maternal muster will reach the heights of holiness of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. With the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mothers too, will “keep all these things in their hearts.” That’s when a mother’s heart begins to beat not only with the everyday drumbeat of reason but also with far away cadences of faith.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dereliction of Duty

Fulfilling our Christian duty found in each sacrament
Mark 12:1-12 Jesus began to speak to the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders in parables. "A man planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug a wine press, and built a tower. Then he leased it to tenant farmers and left on a journey. At the proper time he sent a servant to the tenants to obtain from them some of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another servant. And that one they beat over the head and treated shamefully. He sent yet another whom they killed. So, too, many others; some they beat, others they killed. He had one other to send, a beloved son. He sent him to them last of all, thinking, 'They will respect my son.' But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.' So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.

Perhaps you have heard of the term “dereliction of duty.” It is found in the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and binds all military personnel to do their job. If they fail to fulfill their function, either willfully or negligently, they are liable to punishment. That punishment can range all the way from the death penalty (during war time) to dishonorable discharge. Specifically, Article 92 reads: “Failure to obey an order or a regulation…Any person subject to this chapter who…is derelict in the performance of his duties; shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

But dereliction of duty can be found outside the U.S. military, even in the Church. The most dramatic instance recently was the resignation of all 34 bishops in the whole country of Chile on May 18. That would be like all the highest ranking U.S. officers in Afghanistan resigning simultaneously. As far as the Catholic Church in Chile is concerned, that church is leaderless and rudderless today. But why did they resign? You may have been following the news of sexual abuse that has thrown a papal spotlight on Chile. It seems there has been rampant sexual abuse and cover up, or at least willful turning of a blind eye. Whatever the particulars of the case, everyone, including the 34 bishops, acknowledges they were guilty of dereliction of duty, and tendering their resignation is tantamount to asking for a “dishonorable discharge” from service in the Lord’s army. Dereliction of duty is a serious failure, whether you serve a country or a church.

Mark 12 shows that Jesus was not so lenient as Pope Francis might be in dealing with dereliction of duty. He tells a parable directed clearly to the “officers” of the Jewish people, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. The parable is about the woeful failure of tenants given charge of a vineyard to cultivate and care for. But they are severely derelict in their duty because they abuse and kill the owner’s emissaries, and ultimately kill his son. What punishment will the court-martial mete out to them? Jesus continues: “He will come, put those tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.” Jesus does not tolerate dereliction of duty to any degree and punishes it accordingly.

My friends, it can be convenient to cast blame on the leaders of the military and in the church regarding dereliction of duty, and easily turn a blind eye to our own responsibilities. You and I may not be in the U.S. military or a bishop in the Catholic hierarchy, but that doesn’t absolve us from possible dereliction of duty. Where does our duty to the Christian community originate? It can be found in every sacrament. Each sacrament – baptism, confirmation, Communion, confession, marriage, holy orders and anointing of the sick – is not only what God promises to do for us – his duty – but also an obligation placed on us to respond to his love – our duty. Every sacrament, especially baptism, is a renewal of our covenant with Christ in which we exchange mutual rights and responsibilities: he promises to love us and give us his grace and mercy, and we promise to love him by lives of holiness, humility and honor. When we fail to do that, we are also derelict in our Christian duty. And we face our own personal court-martial every time we go to confession. That’s why everyone looks forward to confession.

This week all the priests of our diocese will be on retreat. We don’t just go to Subiaco to rest and relax – don’t worry, we’ll do plenty of that – but also to examine our priestly commitment we made at ordination. Have we been derelict in our duty as shepherds of souls? Knowing that Jesus is not very lenient in this regard with the leaders of his church, I think I’ll need your prayers this coming week.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Wise Blood

Seeking wise blood in believers and in the Eucharist
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Many years ago I read one of the most bizarre novels written by one of the most brilliant Catholic authors of the last century, Flannery O’Connor. The name of the novel was Wise Blood. The real meaning of the story, however, lies hidden, buried beneath layers and layers of symbolism, and I still don’t understand most of it. The basic plot revolves around a World War II veteran named Hazel Motes, who returns to his hometown in Tennessee to find his family homestead abandoned. His war experiences have embittered him to life and now he’s an avowed atheist. So much for the theory that “there are no atheists in foxholes”! As a matter of fact, Hazel begins a street ministry preaching anti-religion, trying to convince people religion is a sham and there is no God.

Hazel’s path, however, is continually crisscrossed by people with highly symbolic names that slowly help him to a spiritual awakening. The first character he meets is Enoch Emory, who teaches him about the notion of “wise blood,” meaning that Hazel’s own heart, which pumps his life blood, has a wisdom that doesn’t require religion or God (he’s talking about his conscience). You might remember Enoch was a patriarch mentioned in Genesis 5:24 who was taken to heaven before he died. Next a young fifteen year told girl comes into Hazel’s life named Sabbath Lily, whose name obviously evokes Sunday (Sabbath) and purity (Lily), and Hazel is irresistibly drawn to her like to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a fit of rage, however, Hazel kills a competing street preacher, and feeling deep remorse and guilt, does penance by wrapping barbed wire around his body and blinding himself with quicklime. Finally, Hazel is saved from his anti-religion by a lady named Mrs. Flood, and dies in her arms, and her name is reminiscent of the ancient flood recorded in Genesis 9 that washed away sin and disbelief.

What does all this have to do with the title of the book Wise Blood? I have no idea! But here’s my best guess. Somehow, blood carries a certain wisdom, which is the knowledge and awareness of sin and the subsequent need for salvation. Maybe that’s why so many sins we commit infect the blood. Pope Benedict XVI insisted, “The organ for knowing God is the heart.”  Notice he didn’t say the organ for knowing God is the mind. The heart, in other words, is the throne of faith and a Christian heart is pumping the blood of a believer, the wisest of all blood.

I believe there is a kind of crimson cord that stretches from the beginning to the end of the Bible and that is blood. Blood builds a kind of bridge between sin and salvation: blood is shed in sin but blood is also shed when we are saved, as our three scripture readings attest. In Exodus 24 Moses sprinkles the people with the blood of sacrificed bulls, because they had worshipped bulls in Egypt. The bull’s blood was “wise blood” because it reminded them of their sin. The Letter to the Hebrews 9 says Jesus entered heaven “not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood.” The “wise blood” of Jesus gives us knowledge of eternal mysteries hidden in heaven. And at the Last Supper in the gospel of Mark, Jesus takes a cup of wine and pronounces “This is my Blood of the covenant” and commanded his apostles to partake of it. Why? So that they would have Jesus’ own “wise blood” so that they, too, would live by faith, true wisdom.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ, let me suggest how you, too, can have a little more wise blood in your veins. First of all, try to seek the wisdom of your parents. After all, their blood flows through your whole body. Learn from them, listen to them, and laugh with them (don’t laugh at them). Someone sent me this little joke about not laughing at parents. A man recalled sadly, “My dad died last year when my family couldn’t remember his blood type in time for paramedics to save him. As he died, he kept insisting for us to ‘be positive, be positive,’ but it’s so hard without him.” Parents are not perfect, but they have the wisdom of hindsight, so try to get an infusion of their wise blood.

Second, seek “wise blood” in the Scriptures and in the saints. Pay close attention to that crimson cord running through the Bible, the intimate connection between sin and salvation in the blood, and realize that someone we, too, must make sacrifices to expiate sin and receive salvation. The saints, too, especially the martyrs who shed their blood bear powerful witness to Jesus. They believed that faith was worth any price, even the price of their own life. That is wise blood.

Thirdly, never miss Sunday Mass, and the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion. I know it’s summertime and we want a break from the routine of school and work. And that is both good and healthy. But don’t take a vacation from your vocation by skipping Mass. Your heart is the one muscle that never gets to relax, because if it ever took a vacation – even for a few minutes – from pumping blood to your body, you’d die. So, pour “wise blood” into your heart by receiving Communion frequently. Keep your hearts muscle strong because it is the organ for knowing God.

My friends, do you have any wise blood? Here’s how you can tell if you do. First, wise blood makes you aware of how sin and salvation are found in the blood, like Hazel Motes learned. Second, you’ll frequently seek the wise Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion every Sunday, or more often. Wise blood is the best blood type that you can possibly have, even better than “be positive.”

Praised be Jesus Christ!

The Fault in our Figs

Seeing Jesus’ judgment as directed to our lack of holiness
Mark 11:11-26 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve. The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said to it in reply, "May no one ever eat of your fruit again!" And his disciples heard it. They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He did not permit anyone to carry anything through the temple area. Then he taught them saying, "Is it not written: My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples? But you have made it a den of thieves." Early in the morning, as they were walking along, they saw the fig tree withered to its roots. Peter remembered and said to him, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered."

It’s amazing how easily hunger can turn into anger, or as some people say these days “hanger” (a conflation of hunger and anger). The funniest commercial depicting the debilitating effect of hunger was for a candy bar. In one commercial, two men are at a party talking to two pretty girls (trying to pick them up). One of the two men looks like Joe Pesci, the sarcastic comedian, prone to violent outbursts. After introducing themselves, Joe Pesci loses his composure and start interrogating the two girls for no apparent reason. Pesci suddenly asks, “What are you looking at?” And not pausing for an answer asks, “What, we’re not good enough for you? What, are you some big supermodels or something? What do you model, gloves?” Then after his friend takes him aside and gives him a candy bar, the man becomes his usual charming self, no longer Joe Pesci. It was a memorable ad about how hunger makes us lose our cool and control to the extent that we’re almost another person.

In Mark 10 it looks like Jesus loses his composure because of hunger and he could use a candy bar to calm down. St. Mark writes: “As they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. And he said in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” Jesus suddenly sounded like Joe Pesci because his hunger got the better of him. But is that what’s really going on? Not at all.

First of all, Jesus is not a slave to his passions and bodily appetites, but rather he possesses absolute self-mastery. Remember how he rebuffed the devil’s temptation in the desert not eating for forty days? Jesus can easily fast from figs for one day. Secondly, the fig tree was an ancient symbol for the Chosen People, Israel. Hosea 9:10 prophesied: “Like grapes in the desert, I found Israel; Like the first fruits of the fig tree, its first to ripen, I looked on your ancestors.” But the Jews fell from grace and away from God and the subsequent time for judgment had arrived. Jesus’ judgment on the fig tree was symbolic of God’s greater judgment on Israel. Indeed, that’s why Jesus’ next step is to enter the Temple and drive our the money-changers. The faulty figs represented the faults of the people, hence Jesus’ judgment, not because he was “hangry.”

I think one lesson we can draw out from this scripture is to ask ourselves: are we slaves to our passions, or have we learned some self-mastery? The rich spiritual tradition of the Church offers seven capital sins or vices that perennially plague all people, including me and you: envy, gluttony, greedy, sloth, lust, anger and pride. As a convenient way to remember them, I use the mnemonic device, the acronym that spells “EGG SLAP.” For instance, does greed – a lack of money or financial stability – make you turn into Joe Pesci and behave badly, blaming others? Perhaps gluttony – not satisfying your desire for food – causes you to lash out at people. What about satisfying your sexual appetite, lust? Do you seek solace in illicit sexual activity? Sometimes our bruised ego or our prickly pride prompts us to resort to resentment or revenge. All these indicate a lack of self-mastery and that we are governed by our passions, not like Jesus.

Jesus did not take out his hunger pains on a faulty fig tree. He only condemned the faulty faith of his people. Jesus is also looking for the figs of faithfulness from us, which is evidenced in lives of holiness and humility. We don’t want Jesus to turn into Joe Pesci when he deals with us.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

First Impressions

Allowing others to make a good first impression first
Luke 1:39-56 Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

How do you behave when you meet someone important for the first time? Most of us try to make a good first impression and so we feel understandably nervous. Try to recall your first job interview. Di you fret over the kind of tie you would wear, or the dress you decided to don? Did the palms of your hands sweat or beads of sweat break out on your forehead? Did you stutter when you tried to speak? I remember when I personally met Pope John Paul II for the first time in 2002. I had the chance to exchange a few words one-on-one and I was so nervous I sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher on Peanuts, “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” I was hoping the pope thought I was speaking some obscure Indian dialect he’d never heard before. So much for first impressions.

In India whenever two people meet for the first time, they fold their hands in the prayer position and bow toward one another. They utter the word, “Namaste” almost like a prayer. The word and the bow mean that I acknowledge the divine presence in you. That’s what I should have done when I met the pope, surely I could remember one word “Namaste”! But notice the shift in emphasis of the good impression: instead of focusing on me, I turn the attention to the other person. Rather than trying to make myself look divine, I acknowledge that the other person carries a spark of God. The best first impression we can make is to let the other person make a good first impression.

The feast of the Visitation, the second Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary, is the meeting of two wonderful women and their two extraordinary unborn children. Mary goes to the hill country to care for her cousin Elizabeth, who’s older and pregnant, so it wasn’t easy. And how does Elizabeth greet Mary? She was more poised than I was with the pope. She exclaims: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth didn’t literally say “Namaste” or perhaps even fold her hands and bow, but she said essentially the same thing. Of course, Elizabeth’s greeting was the one occasion in human history when saying “Namaste” was unconditionally and absolutely true: Mary carried not a spark of God, but the veritable Son of God, the eternal Logos. Elizabeth made a great first impression – as well as John the Baptist in her womb – by allowing the focus to be on Mary and Jesus, so they made a good first impression. The best first impression is always letting the other person make a good first impression.

Let me suggest a simple way you, too, can change your attitude about making a first impression, whether it’s for a job interview or if you’re about to meet the pope. Instead of focusing overmuch on yourself, acknowledge the importance and value of the other person. Specifically, try to discover their talents, or accomplishments or gifts and compliment them on it. This is very easy to do, if we but take a moment to look around and pay attention. For instance, I visited a family for supper last night and complimented them on their landscaping when I walked in, they obviously worked hard on it. I’ll send them a little thank you note mentioning how well their children shared in the dinner conversation and how delicious the supper was. We sat and talked for almost three hours! Every time you compliment someone you are silently saying “Namaste,” I see the divine spark in you.

That’s the paradoxical things about first impressions. When you allow someone else to make a good first impression, that’s when you make the best first impression, too. And in a way, you’ll be speaking an obscure Indian dialect, too.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Patriotism over Pacifism

Embracing courage to follow the Lord
Mark 10:17-27 As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Some time between the two great World Wars, C. S. Lewis delivered a controversial talk to a pacifist organization in England called, “Why I am not a Pacifist.” That would be like coming the I.C. Ladies Auxiliary and giving a talk called, “Why I am not a Catholic.” It was either very brave or very foolhardy. But I’d like to share a small section of it with you because today is Memorial Day, and we might well give some thought to war and peace, and why men and women would die for their country.

Of all Lewis’ preponderance of points against pacifism the one that touched me deepest was the argument of courage versus cowardice. Lewis contends soldiers face the worst evils (in fact they face all evils simultaneously), saying: “All that we fear from all kinds of adversity, severally, is collected together in the life of a solider on active service. Like sickness, it threatens pain and death. Like poverty, it threatens ill lodging, cold, heat, thirst and hunger. Like slavery, it threatens toil, humiliation, injustice, and arbitrary rule. Like exile, it separates you from all you love. Like the gallies, it imprisons you at close quarters with uncongenial companions. It threatens every temporal evil – every evil except dishonor and final perdition.”

That’s the courageous side that soldiers stand on, but pacifists have a much easier route to take. Lewis continues: “On the other hand, though it may not be your fault, it is certainly a fact that Pacifism threatens you with almost nothing. Some public opprobrium, yes, from people whose opinion you discount and whose society you do not frequent, soon recompensed by the warm mutual approval which exists, inevitably, in any minority group” (like the Ladies Auxiliary). The reason I mention Lewis’ essay today is to remind us why we celebrate Memorial Day: we honor those men and women who chose courage over cowardice. They did not choose war over peace; they chose patriotism rather than pacifism.

If we study the scriptures carefully we discover that courage is an indispensable virtue for every Christian. A rich young man approaches Jesus and declares his desire to follow Our Lord. Jesus answers: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.” We all know how the man reacted because that’s how most of us would have responded as well. “At that statement, his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” It would take the courage of a soldier, who’s willing to part with all possessions, even the precious possession of life itself, to serve others, and to follow Jesus. Sooner or later our decision for or against discipleship will involve choosing between courage or cowardice, like a soldier chooses between patriotism and pacifism.

On this Memorial Day, therefore, I think we should do two things. First, take time to honor the women and men who have made the supreme sacrifice for patriotism, and let us pray for those who still are ready to make that sacrifice day after day, the “soldiers on active service.” Like Lewis said, they face “all adversities” combined at once. That takes profound courage. Second, let us muster up that same virtue in the face of the hurdles and harassments that keep us from following Jesus more closely. Maybe we will have to give up possessions, or perhaps lose our reputation, or maybe we’ll be corrected by others, or have to persevere in a vocation that feels fruitless and futile. Ruydard Kipling eloquently explained the value of courage in his poem “If” writing: “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew / To serve your turn long after they are gone, / And so hold on when there is nothing in you / Except the Will which says to them ‘Hold on!’”

At the end of the day, Christianity belongs only to those who are courageous and not cowardly. That’s to whom the future of this country will belong to as well.

Praised be Jesus Christ!