Today I attended Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Main Street in Amherst, New York. The church was packed and the service was lovely. For much of this week I have had the recurring thought of the mission of Jesus or maybe the omission of Jesus.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
 because he has anointed me
 to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
 and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4:18-19

Jesus provides the mission statement for his ministry and throughout the rest of the gospels regardless of the author there is one instance after another where Jesus does exactly what is spelled out in Luke. In Matthew 4:19 he says, “Come, follow me.” In Matthew 25:35-36 he says, “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.’

Jesus provides loads of examples of what kinds of behavior he expects of his followers. Nonetheless his whole impact of Western Christianity is reduced to the crucifixion and resurrection. He was crucified because he welcomed the stranger, he reached out to those on the margins. If you ask most Christians about Jesus they will say, “He died for our sins.” They mention nothing of the kind of life he lived nor what he expected of his followers.

This stems from the doctrine of original sin which was never mentioned by Jesus. St. Augustine was the first to use the term original sin. St. Augustine was also the author of the “just war” theory. Jesus said, “I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

I guess it is just easier to say he died for your sins and then you don’t have to be one of his followers which is much more difficult.

Holding Afghanistan in the Light

More broadly, it is far past time for the United States to acknowledge that peace and real security can never be achieved through military force, and to therefore abandon the failed endless war paradigm completely.
— Read on www.fcnl.org/updates/2021-08/holding-afghanistan-light

The horrific attacks at Kabul Airport must not be used as a pretext for more war. The military industrial complex and its supporters have kept the United States in a wartime footing since 1939. The present war in Afghanistan has depleted our National treasure long enough and has done nothing to end terrorism nor advance the cause of world peace.

Radical Equality

Today’s Gospel in Catholic churches everywhere is drawn from the Matthew 20: 1-16. It’s a familiar parable of the landowner who is hiring people to work in his vineyard. You’ve heard it many times I’m sure. The landowner goes out at 9:00 AM and hires folks to work and agrees to pay them a the usual daily wage. He went out again at noon and at three o’clock and hired more workers to for the usual daily wage. He hired more still at five o’clock. In the evening he summoned the foreman and told him to pay the workers beginning with the last and ending with the first. Each received the usual daily wage. Those who had been hired first began to grumble. They thought they deserved more because they had labored the entire day.

And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,‘These last ones worked only one hour,and you have made them equal to us,who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’He said to one of them in reply,‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money. Are you envious because I am generous?’Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:11-16

As I reflected on these word today I realized that in the Kingdom of God as proclaimed by Jesus we see radical equality. There is no seniority, no frequent flyer miles. Everyone is compensated equally for their work. Some would call this socialism today but is it really? Imagine a world where such as this existed. Isn’t this what life should be like?

Those who have eyes to see

I’ve come to believe that white supremacy is so embedded in Eurocentric American Christianity that most folks can’t believe that Jesus and the early church were not white. That they were in fact brown and/or black. Look at the statues and paintings in most churches and museums depicting Jesus, his followers and most of the early saints. It’s highly likely that St. Augustine was at least brown. He was from North Africa. The Desert Fathers and Mother’s came out of the Egyptian and Ethiopian deserts. It wasn’t until Christianity moved to Europe and the Americas that it became a religion of conquest and subjugation of indigenous people.

America’s Original Sin

I’ve been reading James Cone’s, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” It’s a powerful book and one that everyone in the United States ought to read. I thought I knew how much black folks had suffered but I really had a very shallow understanding of the depth and the length of their oppression. I’m not really late to the game. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and as I’ve written previously my father was deeply prejudiced and that colored my view of the world. However I was a fan of Dr. Martin Luther King and I followed his work with interest.

One of the stories in this book that was left out of my worldview then was the story of a young boy who was murdered when I was not quite three years old. The story and my ignorance of it are clear examples of white privilege. I never heard anything of Emmett Till in my schooling.

Because he had whistled at a white woman and reportedly said “bye baby” as he departed from a store on August 24, 1955, Emmett Till was picked up four days later around 2: 00 a.m., beaten beyond recognition, shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River, “weighted down with a heavy gin fan.”[ 2]”

— The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book. It’s well written and extremely well documented.

Turn away from sin and follow the Gospel

That’s frequently said by priests and others who administer ashes to the faithful on Ash Wednesday. Today is the beginning of Lent. What is Lent and what does it mean in 2020? What is sin? Everyone might have a different answer on that. How about lack of universal healthcare? That’s a sin. What about income inequality? What about endless war and inaction on climate change? Those are global sins we can all easily see. I’m challenged by Lent. What can I do to make a difference in the world around me? What can I give or give up that will change me and the world we live in? Agnus Dei qui tolli peccata mundi dona nobis pacem. Peace be with you and us all.

A Reflection on Scripture

This video clip is one that I love and one that animates my life. From as far back as I can remember this part of scripture has had great meaning in my life. It comes from Matthew 25: 34-40

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’Then the righteous  will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Click here to watch the video.

Blind guides

I read today on one of the news blogs that Glen Beck and some Republican congressman are touting that a vote on health care on Sunday is dishonoring God. It reminds me of the quote from Jesus taken from the Gospel of Mattew 23:24.

You blind guides strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Where were these two guys when we voted for war? Where was their phony moral outrage when wars were started? Repeatedly in the Bible we are admonished to care for the less fortunate. I’m personally a fan of single payer health care and unfortunately that won’t pass in Congress because too many of our lawmakers are owned lock, stock and barrel by the insurance cartels, but at least this bill provides a measure of relief to the uninsured and those who are targeted by unscrupulous insurers. This bill is far from perfect but at least its a start.

The Feast of St. Nicholas

Today, like most Sundays I got in my car for the forty minute drive to Mt. Irenaeus. Going to the Mountain as we call it is a Sunday ritual for me. The sun was shining adding a bit of luster to a fresh coating of snow we received overnight. Along the way I stopped at Giant Food Mart in Cuba, New York for orange juice and eggs. A morning at the Mountain is topped off with brunch for all following Eucharist in Holy Peace Chapel.

Today as I drove up the country roads that lead to Mt. Irenaeus I thought of my friend Paul Kelly who had recently died. I thought too of a couple of papers that are due for the graduate classes at St. Bonaventure University in which I am enrolled this semester. Being a perfectionist is not easy. I always want to do my best and there is always some anxiety as the final week dawns. When I arrived at the retreat center, I parked my car and greeted several students from nearby Houghton College. As I walked toward the House of Peace I was surrounded by little chickadees who flew about my head and slight above it. I thought of Paul and the Holy Spirit and how these little fellows seemed to be signaling that Paul was in good hands. After dropping off the food and then resuming my walk to the chapel I was again surrounded by this small flock of birds who seemed intent on accompanying me to Mass today.

I fetched my Blackberry to take a picture of these little birds who were so close to me in the bushes that lined the trail. One of them lit in my outstretched hand and with my free hand I was able to take a picture of my little feathered friend. At once I my eyes filled with tears and I thought of our seraphic father St. Francis. I was truly blessed today as I made my way up the path to the Eucharist. What a great blessing to hold one of these little creatures in my hand.

Today’s readings were special too. I loved the second reading from St. Paul and the one line that reads, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” This was reassurance in God’s word that my paper and those of many more students would be completed. I’m sure that reading means something different to everyone, but to me today it was a great reminder that my life is ordered by a power greater than me.  The gospel too is one that I love and each year it’s proclamation is special.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” — Luke 3:1-6