Journal Archive 2010 CYCLE C

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Friends With God
Thoughts on the Second Readings -Joe Frankenfield
First Sunday of Advent
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

A number of years ago a couple returned to visit the parish I was working in after having moved out West several years before. They now lived in a Mexican-American community. “We never expected to find a parish as good as this one,” they said, “but we did. The church is poor and every free foot of wall holds a statue painted in primary colors but the priest is nice and his homilies are short. The people make it though. They’re so welcoming whether it’s at Mass or on the streets during the week. Everyone’s really there for one another. We wish you could visit.”

When folks evaluate a parish they generally look for two qualities: friendliness and supportive liturgy. Of the two, friendliness comes in first especially if the parish is small and people work and socialize with one another during the week. If the parish is bigger and people rarely see each other outside of Mass, the focus tends towards church and clergy.

The importance of friendship in faith is worth reflecting on because it highlights important facts. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time we follow Christ without need of hierarchical authority or clerical services. We rely on our own and our friends’ common sense, knowledge, courage and energy to build our bit of God’s creation. We pretty much know what needs to be done and the values we want to uphold doing it. We count on our friends (those easy to get along with and those “not so much”) to support us, our work and our values.

When we take part in Eucharist, we do so as friends. The prayers remind us of who we are together and our union with Christ for the world. It is we who receive Christ in communion – not just I as an individual – we who work together and with God through the week.

On Good and Bad Days, We’re Family
Thoughts on the Second Readings by Joe Frankfield
Second Sunday of Advent
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11

I recently heard a news story about a small business owner facing dwindling sales over many months. He gathered his workers together and explained that, if things continued on the same trajectory, the business would fold. They discussed various options and agreed that everyone would take a ten percent cut in pay to save the business and everyone’s job. The owner took a twenty percent cut. I don’t know the final chapter of the story but the wisdom of the people boded well.

Recently Bill Gates, Sr. spoke about the importance of realizing that none of us stands alone. We live because of those who came before and those who now make up the network of our existence. He spoke of entrepreneurs and inventors who could easily believe that they are self-made if they disregard their dependence on the skill and sweat of those who give life to their schemes and form to their ideas. It’s easy to overlook taxpayers who pay for educations, laborers who build roads and farmers who raise food making everything we do possible. It’s ignorant and dangerous, Gates maintained, not to realize that without all these people and millions of others, the smartest and strongest of us does nothing and has nothing.

We all “believe in God, the Father almighty.” When, as a child I walked out the door for school each day, my mother’s last words were always, “Take care of your brothers and sister; watch out for them.” Calling God Father and Creator is easy, living the implications is another matter. Claiming God as our father means claiming one another as brothers and sisters. Claiming to be brothers and sisters means watching out and caring for one another, whether we’re “feeling gushy, as my niece used to say,” or we’re fed up with everyone.

Being Christian is about caring for people. Every rule, every ritual, all our reasoning about God is for the sake of people. We learned that from Jesus.

Faith’s Strength
Thoughts on the Second Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Third Sunday of Advent
Philippians 4:4-7

Every high school freshman class has a big kid: the guy who stands a foot above everyone else. In my class it was Tom. He was friendly, gentle, had an amazingly deep voice and a great laugh. He was the strongest guy around – no question. I saw him get physical with someone only twice – unusual in an exclusively male group of highly competitive teens. Once, when two guys were slugging it out, he picked one of them up and simply carried him to the other side of the room. That ended that fight. Another time he walked right into the middle of a fight. He got hit twice before the kids realized what was happening. “You really don’t want to do this,” he said. They immediately agreed, whether out of fear from having hit him, a loss of adrenalin or both.

The memory of Tom came back to me as I thought of Paul encouraging kindness among the Christians of Philippi. He wasn’t giving them an order or rule. He was reminding them of their strength: the power they had as a result of knowing Jesus’ promise to be with them always.

Others might wonder if caring for others and giving their energy and resources to those in need were worth the time and risk. Christians knew. The knowledge of how God overcame tragedy in Jesus’ life and promised to do the same for his disciples provided them the freedom to reach out with assurance.

Paul wanted more than just good public relations from the Philippi Christians. He counseled them to share the gift of faith with those around them. By sharing their own faith-given freedom they would bring freedom to others. The point wasn’t more notches in their convert-belts it was increased joy in everyone’s life.

Christians today are concerned about how to present our world an attractive picture of Jesus. Only one way makes sense. Love and serve people as Jesus loved and served us. Demonstrate the astonishing freedom we have to love. People will respond.

But Can We Really Trust Him
Thoughts on the Second Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Hebrews 10:5-10

A priest I worked with many years ago had the reputation of being a simple, straight forward man. You got what you saw with him. He told you what he thought or he said nothing. He was kind to your face and kind behind your back. Folks loved and trusted him.

We all look for this you-get-what-you-see honesty in a friend. We deeply value knowing where we stand with people. This causes some people a problem with their faith in Jesus.

Scripture presents Jesus as having such a close relationship with God that he sometimes seems to merely play-act humanity. Paul writes “Through one man’s (i.e., Jesus’) obedience all shall become just.” [Romans 5:19] and “Though he was (God’s) son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” [Hebrews 5:8]. “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son . . .” [John 3:16]. And in the back of our minds an itch begins: Are people just pawns in a giant chess game between God, Jesus and, maybe, Satan? Did Jesus actually love us or was he being loyal to a higher relationship? Do we have the Jesus we think we see?

The gospel-writing communities faced hard questions. How could God die? How could the Messiah, the promised world leader, end up executed as a third rate rabble-rouser? One way they answered their questions was to present Jesus as a Son obeying his divine Father’s request.

We may or may not find such an explanation credible or helpful but our core faith remains: Jesus, the true presence of God, was a real human loving us with a deep, human love. The gospels hold hints of the deeply human Jesus that those who lived with him knew. They tell how Jesus mourned when he visited the tomb of his friend Lazarus and felt the grief of his sisters. They narrate the real pain Jesus expressed when he was unable to convince the people of Jerusalem to accept his vision of God’s love.

Jesus lived and loved as one of us. In prayer, after his resurrection those who knew him realized that he was much more as well.

Getting the Roster Right
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

How large is our family? That’s always an uncomfortable question for religions. The larger a religion’s communication circle the more acute the issue. Who belongs? Who’s related? Who’s out? Who’s on the outs? Who’s special?

And through it all, God just keeps on creating everyone.

What do we do with people who don’t worship like we do? What if they don’t believe what we do? If we let them in the family, won’t folks think we don’t care? What if they don’t even think of God like we think of God? What if they don’t even call God God? Won’t God think we don’t care?

And God just keeps on creating everyone.

What about people who think they’re right when we know they’re wrong? How can we invite them to the table? If we make them welcome, won’t we look weak? And what if we get into a fight with them, will God be on our side or theirs? How can we fight them if God is on their side too? How will they ever take us seriously if they think that God loves them just as much as us? If we say God is on their side too, does that mean that God doesn’t care who’s right? Aren’t we special to God because we’re defending what’s right?

And God just keeps on creating everyone.

We’re God’s people. God chose us; he couldn’t have chosen others too, could he? If we’re not God’s only chosen, are we really chosen? How can people who don’t like us also be God’s people? If everyone’s in the family, what does it mean to be family? Sooner or later, won’t we forget who we are? Sooner or later, won’t we forget God?

And babies keep coming, people keep finding love and God keeps on creating everyone.

Maybe God doesn’t understand. Or maybe . . .

Feast of the Epiphany
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6

“It’s my bike and I can do what I want with it.” My nephew was so angry at my brother that he was oblivious of how dangerous his attitude was becoming. “Here’s the deal;” my brother calmly replied, proving himself a better person than I, “it is your bike, but if you leave it outside again and it gets stolen, we’re not getting you another one. There are other needs more important for the family than keeping you in bicycles. It’s not just about you.”

Those words, and many others, must have worked because my nephew is a caring, responsible adult now. Somewhere along the line he learned that nothing is simply his.

Most of us arrive at that awareness sooner or later. We learn that we’re responsible to others for how we use what we possess. That’s true about everything – cars, money, intelligence and – faith.

My faith is my business is a common assertion even though it’s obviously not so. We all know how we’re affected by the attitudes of people around us. We’ve all struggled to do a good job when our co-workers are sloughing off. We know what it’s like to try to better a bad situation when those around us are uninvolved and cynical.

Faith is a commitment to realize life’s promise. It’s attitude in action. In our religious language it’s living the way of Christ or living for the Reign of God. Our faith affects everyone around us. If it’s strong, it elicits faith from neighbors and co-workers. If it’s weak, it drags everyone down.

The issue of faith isn’t the words we use to express it. It is the vitality that we promote through it. From what we know of Jesus, a person couldn’t be touched by him and not be more in love with life – their own and everyone else’s. We eventually came to know that power as God’s Spirit. When we have faith, it’s shared faith. It’s never just about me.

It’s About Bringing People In, Not Putting Them Out
Thoughts on the Second Reading –  Joe Frankenfield
The Baptism of the Lord
Acts 10:34-38

My father was an office manager in a large company. He cared a great deal about his people and frequently that caused him distress. Once a young woman in his division, a Catholic, decided to marry a divorced man who my father knew had repeatedly cheated on his wife. When the young woman gave my dad an invitation to her wedding, he faced a dilemma. He didn’t want to give the impression that he had no problems with this man’s behavior which had caused his wife and children such pain. He was also concerned for the young woman’s future happiness and he wasn’t happy that, knowing her fiancé’s past behavior, she would still marry him.

On the other hand, my father didn’t want to hurt the young woman by refusing her invitation. He was her friend and didn’t want to destroy their relationship. Nor did he want to damage their good working rapport. The wedding was going to take place whether he and my mother attended or not.

My parents had many discussions about the situation. It was my mother who explained the issues to me saying that I needed to understand what was going on and why the decision was so difficult. There were lots of situations without perfect answers, she said. They were searching for the best answer.

Dad and mom went to the wedding. Dad later told me, “We had to go; otherwise, no matter how I might have tried to explain, we would have been writing her off and I simply didn’t want to do that.”

Drawing lines between ourselves and others is very tempting when we’re sure we’re right and they’re wrong. Yet, lines are easier to draw than to erase. And even when we rub very carefully, it’s like our second grade homework; we usually smudge and tear the paper.

Maybe that’s why God never draws lines.

Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Driving back from a family gathering (not yours or mine, of course) occasions a lot of post game commentary. Why do they let their kids run wild like that? I could never be married to that man; he’d drive me nuts. Can you believe how much they spent on that couch? Those two shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

Families are strange things. The cliché that you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them is true. Most everyone, at some time, wonders if they weren’t adopted or wish that they could prove that a switch had been made in the hospital. Yet, for most of us, family is one of the most precious things we’ve ever known. In them we learned to be human. They gave us our deepest values. It’s them that we count on when everything falls apart.

Many years ago I was complaining to Bishop Ken Untener, the bishop of Saginaw at the time, about some priest that I was upset with. He replied, “You know, a diocese is like a farm, you can’t just fire Johnny if he can’t milk cows. He’s part of the family. You have to find something that he’s good at.” Of course, a couple years later when he was complaining about someone, I reminded him of the diocese’s likeness to a family farm. He suggested I remember who was the bishop at the table and who wasn’t and pass the bread.

Quirks and blind spots plague us all. When all is said and done, we all try to do our best – sometimes we get it right. We’re convinced that we know how God wants us to believe and live. Still, truth be told, we decide specifics without benefit divine cue cards. Regardless of how badly we think someone else is messing things up, we can grant that he or she is probably trying to do well. If it’s true of us, why not of them?

Maybe after getting up from the table and passing out our good-by hugs we could be a bit easier on one another traveling home.

The Price of Faith
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 12:12-30

“When the boat’s sinking, everybody bails,” my uncle Joe used to say. His point: when there’s work that has to be done, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve got planned or how you feel; you pitch in till the job is finished. I hated that saying as a kid but it was hard to contest.

It’s difficult for us to identify with the thinking of the early church – even the thinking of Jesus himself. There’s urgency about it. Absolutes abound. Its judgments and demands never waver.

In our world of fluid situations and multiple visions the gospel seems naïve. “Nothing is that simple,” we find ourselves thinking. “What are the long-term consequences? What about people who see things differently? How do we know that our perspective is the right or even the best one? Where’s the fire?” we want to know. “Let’s calm down and consider alternatives.”

Jesus didn’t preach just anywhere or to just anybody. He preached to a smoldering world, a world where the smallest gust of trouble could and did stir an inferno. His world was massively unjust. Tremendous gaps existed between the rich and poor. Life was cheap. The powerful wrote and enforced the law to keep themselves in power. Ordinary people, the followers of Jesus, struggled constantly because if they stopped, they died. The sense that life had gone all wrong was deep: this couldn’t be what God wanted. Jesus offered a way forward, a path to the world of God’s promise. Wasted time meant wasted lives.

Our enthusiasm for Jesus’ gospel hangs on our ability to see the world from the Creator’s perspective. Unless the dissonance between the divine intent and the reality of the world’s powerless and suffering sets our teeth are set on edge, we’ll never make sense of the gospel’s immediacy.

Only if we feel an inescapable bond between ourselves and all who suffer will the gospel become our passion. Only that realization can transform the image of all people united in God, our Father from a sweet thought to the central focus of our hope.

Forgive – or Forget It
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13

Love is always patient, kind, truthful, faithful, hopeful and persistent. It’s never jealous, pompous, rude, self-centered, hot-headed, sulky or mean-spirited. Okay, everyone still claiming to be a lover put up your hand!

Years ago the wife of a couple, considering Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for their fiftieth anniversary celebration, commented that he obviously had never been married. “You got that right,” her husband replied, laughing. “We try, and on a good day we get some of that right. On our worst days . . . ; never mind.”

We might think it strange that Jesus made “forgive us just as we forgive others” one of the four blessings he taught his disciples to pray for. We might, unless we’ve ever attempted a lasting relationship. Friendship and love teach a simple lesson: no forgiveness; no relationship.

Assuming that we’ve put aside the idea that God will establish the world of Jesus’ vision whether we cooperate or not, we’ve had to accept the idea that he’s going to work through a lot of very imperfect folks.

Stupidity isn’t going to suddenly vanish. Weak egos aren’t going to grow magically strong. All the poor aren’t going to wake up hopeful and wise or the rich as concerned with the common welfare as with their own. Enemies aren’t going to suddenly decide that their opponents are just as right as they are. How, then, will things ever change?

We have no clue how things will change! But we know how things will begin to change: we will forgive one another. We will forgive one another not because we’ve all “gotten it right” but because we realize that our future depends on forgiving one another – as we are. Everything begins with that. Each of us begins with that.

We Make a Difference
Thoughts on the Second Readings – Joe Frankenfield
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1Corinthians 15:1-11

Most of us respond ‘aw shucks’ to the good we do. Especially when someone notices that our good deeds appear rooted in our faith, we blush, look down and scuff our toes in the dust. Maybe this arises from an assumption that only priests and sisters are really fitting examples of faith since they’ve put aside marriage and family for their way of life. Maybe the Church’s habit of focusing on the extraordinary, even miraculous actions of those it designates saints makes our ordinary lives seem too humdrum for God to be operating there. Neither is true. Maybe it’s just how we are.

In the grand scheme of things an ‘aw shucks’ attitude about helping a friend or forgiving an enemy isn’t a big deal like turning our backs on starving people. It can even be kind of endearing. But here’s something to think about. If we don’t have a sense that God is working through us for good – even great good, we run the risk of not taking our potential to make a difference seriously. If we’re blind to that, people suffer – not directly from what we do to them but indirectly by what we do not do for them.

Being aware that the benefits we provide depend on God’s Spirit directing us as well as the matrix of enabling good that others create around us is crucial. Without that we accomplish nothing. Still, it’s we who decide to act and we who spend our energy to make things better. The love we give, the aid we provide, the life and beauty we create are gifts we give and gifts we’re given.

Too many people in our world are hungry and hurting and ignored. Too many of life’s needs are unmet. Too many human advances remain unfulfilled for us to mutter ‘aw shucks’ about our abilities – physical, moral or intellectual. In a room full of braggarts that may provide a refreshing moment but the truth is that God has done great things in us and more will follow.

God’s Word Is Good
Thoughts on the Second Readings – Joe Frankenfield
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 15:12,16-20

Rain was dripping from a gray March sky several years ago when a student walked into my office and plopped in a chair. “Last night I decided I have to live as though there’s a God, whether there is one or not. It’s the only way I can have any hope what I do makes any difference. On a really good day just trying to make things better works as its own reward. But there are too many tiresome days like this to make it with only an intellectual reason for getting fired up. Most days I need to really believe that what I’m doing will make a difference not just for me but for other people.

“And I really hope there is a God because winter lasts way too long around here and I’m not that good at pretending.”

I had to laugh. I knew he wrestled with this issue more, or more vocally, than most. But he was a very honest guy who needed things to make sense. His decision was so human – kind of sad, but very human. He wanted to make sense of his faith.

Why would Paul have said that if God hasn’t raised Jesus from death, our faith is empty? Millions of people have faith in God who know nothing or care nothing about Jesus’ resurrection.

The fact is that we know God’s love and promise through Jesus: God’s presence in our world. If God has allowed the good life Jesus lived to simply end denying him his role in the world he revealed, Jesus’ life failed and the ground of our faith is empty. We can differ in how we explain it. We can differ in how we imagine it. But if God wasn’t faithful to Jesus past life as we know it, then God has no meaning for us.

We need a meaningful God, a God who lives up to his promise and our hopes. There’s no faith without that. None of us are that good at pretending.

To Live With Courage
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
1st Sunday in Lent
Deuteronomy 26:4-10

“If you decide you’re going to do something, give yourself to it completely. If it’s not worth your full energy, put it aside and find something that is. You owe that to yourself and to everyone else.” A wise counselor said those words to me many years ago when I was in college.

Giving life one’s full energy isn’t easy. We want to hoard our limited resources. Others’ acceptance, our own ego, our energy, our time, possessions, all these are finite.

Still, part of us recoils from living by halves. We dislike it in ourselves and we pity it in others. Young folks scorn a guarded life partly sensing that its roots lie in cowardice and partly dreading that they themselves may ultimately yield to the same fear-filled accounting. Old folks view it with the sadness of witnessing a profound loss.

“I have come that people will have the fullness of life,” said Jesus [John 10:10]. The gift of faith is the courage to live fully, to give all of ourselves to whatever we are doing: to give ourselves without hesitation to the future that God promises.

The experience of God’s inestimable care and generosity in creating our universe and us within it and the experience of Jesus, the personal touch of God’s love in history, overcome the fear of our own woefully inadequate resources. It is unimaginable that God who accomplishes such magnificence and revealed such love will not bring its potential to fullness.

We begin every Eucharistic Prayer remembering all the good that God has accomplished. Then we pray that God will complete the work he’s begun: the work of Christ in and through us. We don’t recall this for God’s sake. We recall for our sake.

Religion: The Same And Changing
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
2nd Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15:5-12

When ancient Hebrews told the story of how God used Abram to sire their nation, they used language and customs of their time. To guarantee that his gift of land would be perpetual, God followed a common contract ritual. Jews of that era found it natural. We find the story exotic.

We face a similar situation. To maintain a united and orthodox understanding of God and our relationship with him church authority has enshrined language and images from centuries, even millennia, past. Much of it is foreign to us.

Democracy, facile communication, universal education, the equality of all people and individual rights are fundamental realities for us. Advances in the sciences have fundamentally changed the way we perceive reality. In addition, many possess an unprecedented amount of power for controlling their daily lives. These facts make our world drastically different from the world that gave rise to our religious language and imagery.

There are those who say that “everyone knows” what the prayers and rituals are saying. Sometimes people do. But the language of faith is becoming more and more remote from everyday existence. Consciously and unconsciously we find religion in an increasingly isolated corner of our lives.

Theologians work on this problem. They search out ways of making faith understandable to us. In the nature of things they bump heads with the bishops whose job it is to make certain that our ancestors’ experience of God is fully handed on. It’s a messy process that never stands still and is never finished.

As profound change chases profound change today, nothing substitutes for deepening our faith knowledge. We can’t wait for someone to hand us a new dictionary that translates what we hear in church and read in scripture. We need to grow more confident in pondering our faith and making sense of it ourselves and in conversation with one another. The doctrine that the Holy Spirit guides all baptized people will become a practical reality for us or our faith will end up in the attic of our lives.

Stop Praising the House and Grab a Hammer
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
3rd Sunday in Lent
Exodus 3:1-8,13-15

“Take off those muddy shoes before you come in! Don’t you dare track up this kitchen; I just washed the floor!” As a kid I thought my mom simply didn’t want more work. As an adult I realized how much she wanted a nice place for us all to live. Taking my shoes off outside wasn’t just for my mom’s sake; it was for all our sakes.

That insight came back to me as I reread the story of the burning bush. It sounds as though God is displaying a bit of divine egotism. But God’s admonition to Moses not to approach with dirty feet isn’t about God’s ego; it’s about seeking respect for what God’s doing for humanity and, specifically, for the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt. God wants to impress on Moses that he’s being recruited into an act of liberation implications of which are beyond his comprehension.

It’s important to remember that those who composed the Bible’s stories wrote within the customs and characters of their experience. They could do nothing else. Since magnificent undertakings were the work of kings and pharaohs, the Bible portrays God as an ancient Mediterranean potentate. In Jewish history their liberation from Egyptian servitude and their conquests on the eastern end of the Mediterranean formed the core of their identity. Honor paid to God was honor paid to God’s accomplishments.

The Gospel of Matthew [7:21] quotes Jesus, “Not everyone saying, ‘Lord, Lord’ is part of the Reign of God; only the one who does my Father’s will.” Jesus worked to get folks to realize that we don’t praise God for God’s sake. We praise God for our sake. Praising God reminds us of what God is doing in our lives and encourages us to involve ourselves with his actions. If we remember this, our faith will deepen and mature.

It will be easier to keep our home free of all those muddy footprints too.

Knowing God – Cautiously
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
4th Sunday in Lent
Joshua 5:9, 10-12

What are we to make of the God of Israel? On the one hand, the God of the Hebrews extolled and commanded justice and loving care for people, including the poor and foreigners living among his people. On the other, he led his tribes in driving out the inhabitants of Canaan, allowing and even approving the merciless killing of men, women and children to create a homeland for them.

It’s a common observation that while God created humans in his image; humans also created God in theirs. That’s often true, often unavoidable and often tragic.

Faith tells us that the Creator of the universe loves us. Beings who truly love are persons. We are persons. It’s natural to give God a human face. Still we take great risks attributing our qualities to the Creator. Even our best characteristics are polluted with fear and self-interest, not because we’re evil but because we’re finite beings possessing infinite imaginations. When we ascribe human qualities to God, God always comes out looking contradictory.

People frequently ask why a loving God allows war and death. In the Hebrew Scriptures God not only allows war and death, he repeatedly commands war and death – ruthlessly.

For Christians, a lot of assumptions begin to fray at this point. We know Jesus taught: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:44-48). We can’t square this with a God who sanctions the killing of whole armies and the slaughter of widows and children to create a homeland for his favorites.

Were the God of the Hebrews and the God of Jesus two different God’s? Hardly. But we possess incompatible descriptions of the one God.

Describing God carries huge consequences. We do well to go about it humbly and cautiously. Unless we are supernaturally wonderful, imaging God after ourselves is perilous indeed.

There is much wisdom in anchoring what we know of God in the historical person, Jesus of Nazareth and holding everything else with a very loose grip.

In The Image of God
5th Sunday in Lent – Joe Frankenfield
Isaiah 43:16-21

Jesus presented a new image of God. The image he offered was not discontinuous with that given by his Jewish Tradition but he enhanced that image profoundly. His Tradition offered a God violent with his enemies; Jesus offered instead a God of love and infinite forgiveness. His Tradition spoke of a God primarily concerned with one group of people, Jesus offered a God concerned for the welfare of all.

Were there elements of an all-forgiving, universally solicitous God present in the Judaism Jesus inherited? Definitely. But Jesus made them God’s identifying quality.

God didn’t change when Jesus arrived. What changed were the mutually enabling visions of how the world works and how the Creator of the world works. The two are inseparable.

On the one hand, a generous, self-giving Creator and a parsimonious, self-centered world make no sense. A forgiving, loyal God creating a world to run on harsh judgments and qualified love is irrational.

On the other hand, when we find within ourselves a deep desire to love and care for one another even to the extent that parents give their lives for their children and lovers for their beloved, we can’t imagine God doing less for his creatures. When living teaches us that we can’t survive, let alone thrive, without forgiving one another, how can we picture God not basing his relationship with us on forgiveness?

Thinking that we can successfully act in a way that differs from how our Creator acts is untenable and self-destructive.

Hearing Jesus end the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5) by encouraging his followers to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” may make us want to roll our eyes and mutter, “right.” But his words make complete sense regardless of how difficult, even unlikely they may seem for us.

The images we cultivate of God and ourselves mature with living. They’re precious. We form them in common with others but we can’t delegate them to others. They define us. They define our possibility.

A Time For Prophets
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Isaiah 50:4-7

Several years ago, at a parents’ gathering a mother commented that we need to do better teaching our young boys respect: that people aren’t things and that being aggressive in pursuit of a goal doesn’t excuse violence towards another. While many forces work against this idea, she was convinced that it’s attainable if parents make it a conscious priority and support one another.

Prophesy has garnered both abuse and ridicule from the ignorant. They equate the term with parlor room predictions, generally of a religious nature. Social commentators scoff at the very idea of someone foolhardy enough to rise up before others and direct social traffic. Cynics find only danger in anyone’s attempting such a role: at best it’s self-delusion, at worst a charlatan’s play for political power.

Still, there’s a longing for prophets and awe when a true one arises and moves our hearts. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa, Dorothy Day, Bishop Ken Untener – we watch people like these amazed by their power and authority. We half fear that they’ll reveal feet of clay, succumbing to the tide of public derision but we still root for them to be who they seem, to live what they speak, to demonstrate to everyone the potential lying within us.

Prophesy has nothing to do with foretelling the future, it has nothing to do with being smarter than everyone else. It is observing the direction of life’s hope, vibrating in harmony with the Creator’s longing and openly, boldly living what one knows to be true. Prophesy acts. It may speak, but it always acts. And when it acts, people know that it’s true. They may join in; they may refuse. But they know they’ve witnessed truth.

Every follower of Jesus agrees to be a prophet. Our lives are billboards of hope for a rushing world. We may sometimes speak. We will always act for the future, for life, for justice, for love, for what we all can be, for what God is building among us. Sometimes we will give voice to an honest, prayerful heart in a gathering of parents. But we will be God’s presence. We will be prophets.

God In Front Of Us
Thoughts on the Second Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Acts 10:34, 37-43

Years ago I met a young couple preparing to baptize their first child. The dad commented that they could hardly believe what God had done through them. “This child; this new, little person; it’s almost too much to believe – but here she is.” His eyes brimmed with joy.

We don’t bat an eyelash when people comment that God has been at work in their lives when they’ve conceived and born a child. But eye brows climb if those same people remark that God gave them and their children a clean place to live when they finish cleaning or a warm place to live when they finish insulating their home. Does conceiving and giving birth involve God more than cleaning and improving a family’s dwelling?

What if I picked tomatoes from my backyard garden and given a half dozen to my neighbor: has God provided them abundance and love? What if the local high school kids entertain three hundred parents and friends with a production of The King and I: have they brought God’s love and joy to their families and friends?

A witness offers others an experience beyond himself. Parents, homemakers and high school drama students witness to the goodness of God every day.

The world is awash in the love of God. Our demand for that love to be somehow extraordinary blinds us to the everyday wonder and sanctity of life. Restricting God’s activity to amazing events walls us off from the depth of God’s immersion in all we know. We do ourselves a great disservice when we restrict God’s work to events we can’t explain. God creates every heartbeat.

It’s difficult not to place the boundary of God’s involvement in life at the edge of our ability to grasp it. The price of doing so, however, is living a life of make-believe. We can look deeper; not for God’s sake; for ours.

A Difficult Love
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19

Opposition has lined Christianity’s entire journey. Since Jesus, those who shared his faith have met resistance from those who feared it, who ridiculed it, who hated it and those who found it simply incomprehensible.

Faith is pursuing the full potential of our Creator’s gift. Faith is living the way of Jesus. Faith is change. We’ve no reason to be surprised that many don’t understand change, doubt its promise, fear its cost, or find it too dangerous. How we who’ve been given Jesus’ faith respond to those who resist our vision is both important and telling.

I once knew a fellow who declared that he didn’t care what people said about him; he let it roll off his back. He could not and would not, however, tolerate or leave unanswered insults directed against God. The difficulty was that he seemed to consider any disrespect of himself an abuse of God. He constantly discovered enemies of God who deserved his ire.

One of Jesus’ most amazing teachings was that we’re to love our enemies. Doing so attests not only to our participation in the Reign of God but that God is advancing his peace through us.

Loving and doing good for those who obstruct our efforts to better the world runs counter to common sense as well as our deeply entrenched sense of self-righteousness. The key here is remembering that, in the final analysis, God’s power brings about the world he’s promised. Our power and intelligence are crucial to the process only when they’re directed by God’s Spirit.

As difficult as it is, following Jesus means having our arms always open to those who find us foolish and resist our good efforts. Like it or not, God wills to give his gifts even to those who find us obnoxious – even dangerous.

And we thought that the hardest thing about our faith was believing in the Real Presence!

Loving God – Loving Ourselves
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Revelation 5:11-14

Rogers and Hammerstein adapted the story of Cinderella for a television play in 1957. In it Julie Andrews and her prince, sang, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you?” Every adult knows that it’s a great question but not easy to answer.

What are we to make of Jesus? Why do we profess such great love for a man who lived two millennia ago in a culture that we can scarcely imagine? Why did John imagine all the creatures of the universe praising him?

Jesus loved, forgave and cured people in the name of his divine Father. He lived in a way that those who knew him realized that they were witnessing God among them. Having seen Jesus executed as a threat to public order, they came to believe in God’s boundless love. When they saw Jesus raised from death, they realized that nothing can thwart God’s desire to fulfill life’s promise. Knowing God’s love for them freed them to love themselves and, in turn, grow in their love of God.

Loving God is inseparable from loving ourselves. Loving ourselves is inseparable from loving one another. Loving God, ourselves and one another is inseparable from loving our universe, the matrix of our existence and our knowledge.

There’s wisdom in our normal way of thinking that divides God, self, other and universe into discreet ideas so that we can understand and appreciate each more deeply. We have benefited greatly from this way of looking at things.

There’s also wisdom in respecting the unity of self, other and universe with the all-penetrating reality of the Creator. It’s the wisdom that ultimately anchors all our ethics and morality

Deep peace and joy await our rediscovery of this unity revealed in Jesus.

God’s Gift Of Worship
Thoughts on the First Readings –  Joe Frankenfield
Revelation 7:9, 14-17

If God can watch over and take care of you day and night for a week, don’t you think you owe him at least one hour of worship on Sunday? I remember hearing our pastor utter those words in many Sunday sermons when I was a youngster. He seemed to miss the irony of voicing his frustration to us in church. I figured that he assumed that we would somehow convey the message to the miscreants sleeping in or mowing their lawns.

Years later I began to wonder about the more central issue of how we could be in debt to God for his care. What could we owe God who makes everything possible for us – including our appreciation of all his gifts? The idea of being obligated to our Creator seems to demean him. It somehow places God on our level as someone who benefits or suffers from what we give or withhold.

Our life is full of those whose love leaves us in their debt. They’re precious to us and we can’t imagine life without them but God’s love has to be beyond that experience. His has to be a love that leaves us debt-free: a love totally without strings. Not only have we nothing to offer God that God hasn’t given us first but a God in any way dependant on us cannot pull us up from our self-centeredness, our cussedness, our fears – our sin.

Then what does it mean to worship God? Why engage in it?

Worship means aligning our minds and hearts with God’s mind and heart. How could we know God’s mind and heart? Jesus’ life revealed God’s vision and God’s concerns – at least those we can understand.

Why worship? If a person can know what the Creator of the universe is doing, who in their right mind wouldn’t hop on that bandwagon. As a friend of mine from India used to say, “In the end, the wise rider goes where the elephant wants.” As my fourteen year old niece says, “Duh!”

A Person Of Faith Is A Person Of Hope
Thoughts on the First Readings –  Joe Frankenfield
Revelation 21: 1-5

I’m reading What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe. It contains an account of the 1828 presidential race between John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. The similarity between the politics of those days and our own is striking. It doesn’t support optimism for the approach of a golden age. Venality, stupidity and short-sighted self-concern were as rampant then as now. It’s difficult to read these pages without questioning our nation’s moral progress. Is our pursuit of a more just and wise future more than chasing a mirage?

I’ve spoken often with folks about the role they reserve for God in human life. Many maintain that they understand why, in ancient times, people imagined a divine being controlling nature’s power and life’s chaos. Since we’ve made such progress in mastering these realities, however, they find little left for God to do beyond guaranteeing our survival after death. Some find even that unnecessary since, if it turns out that we’ve no post-death future, none will exist to rue its absence.

But always there are our kids and grandkids! What we dream for them! What a future we hope for them! Don’t let them face war. Don’t let them endure poverty. Give them a world where they can trust people. Give them a world that affords everyone equal freedom, respect and actual opportunity. Give them love and joy, discovery and growth.

We want more for our offspring than a continuation of what we’ve always known. We want a new history that moves beyond the ersatz glory and bombastic blather of national exceptionalism to real peace and community. We want our children and their children to rise above the fearful pettiness that we and our ancestors have slogged through. How do we dare entertain such a hope?

For us God isn’t primarily the realization to our private destiny. We look to our Creator to fulfill the promise of life for the entire world: we look for God’s Spirit to lead us beyond the edge of the map that history has drawn. In God we see the promise of life. In worship we claim a future.

We Work: God Makes It Happen – Joe Frankenfield
Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

“When are you going to stop taking your sister’s toys?” the frustrated mother asked her four year old son. Mistaking the angry statement for a question, the little boy, chin aquiver and eyes ever so pathetic replied, “When I grow up.”

There’s a strain in social thought that holds that humans, given enough time, will evolve our way out of violence and injustice naturally. This optimism waxes and wanes in the popular imagination. But, the thinking goes, our intelligence and simple self-interest will inevitably move us all towards cooperation for the common good.

Catholic thought, however, cautions against trusting a natural progression to universal peace. Jesus referred to humanity’s fulfillment as the Kingdom of God because it will be the world that God always intended but, more importantly, because God alone makes it possible.

Many of us who are comfortable with the idea of the Kingdom being God’s vision are much less at ease with the idea that only God can make that vision a reality. Such dependence upon God leaves us feeling a bit like children playing at life while God, the parent, tolerates the game until its time to put the toys away, put us to bed and straighten up the house. Such extended infancy seems irresponsible. But this misunderstands our theology.

Our tradition points to an all-consuming human need for security in the face of death’s inevitability. Unless this need is met, we face an insatiable drain on our energy that keeps us radically focused on ourselves. Jesus revealed that our Creator stands by us without question, however. Death isn’t the absolute demise that it seems. Faith in Jesus’ revelation liberates us from obsession with our own individual survival so that we can enter fully into the communal relationships of loving care that life both affords and demands.

God doesn’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. God opens the door of life’s promise by guaranteeing our existence but we must walk through it to build the world we desire.

Without God’s work the Kingdom cannot happen; without our work the Kingdom will not happen.

Christians At Ease?
Thoughts on the First Readings
Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20

John wrote his letter to the Christians in Asia Minor (today’s Turkey) to assure them of Jesus’ rescue from the hardships they were enduring under Rome’s emperors. Some of these folks faced social and economic ostracism; others, situations much more lethal.

Rome didn’t much care for Jews who insisted on a single God. Rome claimed divinity for its Caesars. Most Romans thought Jew’s refusal to burn a bit of incense before the emperor’s likeness quirky at best and, more likely, crazy. The risk for refusing such a petty tribute was too great. It was un-Roman, not to mention impractical, not to go along to get along.

Christians, seen by most as merely heretical Jews, were viewed as not only nuts like all Jews but trouble-makers as well since they caused tension, even open hostility, within the Jewish community. The empire simply couldn’t abide civil unrest in its provinces. It was bad for business; bad for Rome.

John encouraged his brother and sister Christians to stay faithful to Christ assuring them that Rome would end up on the ash heap of history while they would live in eternal glory.
All this sounds quaint two thousand years later. Rome is still around though it hardly bestrides the world in grandeur. America, for the moment anyway, is the big bestrider. And we Christians dominate her religious landscape. It’s been a long time since anyone had her business confiscated or was tossed to angry lions for following Jesus. When some of us were in college, there was a popular poster that read: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to prosecute you? Is today’s world in such harmony with Christ’s Spirit that Christianity blends in smoothly? Has the Christian way gained such ascendance in modern life that no one dares bother those who travel it?

Are people simply too sophisticated today to harasses or persecute anybody thus allowing even Christians free rein to live as they choose?

What’s going on here? Why do we have it so cushy compared to those who began it all?

God’s Chosen People (Like Everyone Else)
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Acts 2:1-11

I was three when my younger brother was born. For three years I’d been my mother’s, grandmother’s and aunt’s special little boy. Then one day I walked into the bedroom where my mother slept beside my brother’s crib and heard her call him her special little boy. I was about to learn some life-changing lessons.

Religious people sometimes have a difficult time with the idea that, though they’re special to God, they’re no more special than members of any other religion – or people with no religion. Like children they’re afraid that if someone else is special, they aren’t. They feel the need to prove over and over that their religion is best and thus, they’re God’s favorites. Of course, the dark truth behind this exercise is the belief that the special ones have first claim on God’s attention and gifts with the right to commandeer them should that claim be questioned. The whole idea would be merely childish were it not for this veiled (or not so veiled) assumption.

A mother’s assurance: I love you all the same but each one in a different way is never emotionally satisfying to a child. At some level it boils down to who gets to sit on mom’s lap and who gets the first cookie. In the world of religion it’s who gets to claim God is on our side; God told us His mind and you must think as we think; God wants us in control, not you.

It was a dangerous thing for the bishops at the Second Vatican Council to acknowledge God’s Spirit at work in all religions and all people who try to make life better. They made it impossible for Catholics to back away from a conversation with other religions. We can not justify refusing to honor and learn from their experience of God.

Discovering others’ specialness is the beginning of a life-long journey to humility and community. It ends the illusion of control over one’s parent – or one’s God. It shines a light on the mystery of love – human and divine. It’s a painful, wonderful lesson that takes a lifetime.

Trinity Reconcidered
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Proverbs 8:22-31

When most of us learn about the Holy Trinity, our response is, Okay; if you say so. Many of us don’t move much past that. Numberless statements of popes, bishops and theologians not withstanding, the mathematics and internal makeup of God simply don’t grab our imaginations. It’s not that we’re impious; the language of a Trinitarian God simply appears too abstract to benefit our faith. That same language presents greater possibility, however, if we shift the focus from what it says about God in himself to what it says about how God relates to us.

God plays three distinct, essential roles in our lives:
God gives us existence;
God removes our fears of death;
God offers us a fulfilling future.

When God offers us a deeper understanding of himself, it’s for our sakes, not to heighten his stature. The understanding we’ve developed of the Holy Trinity – and it’s not that great – isn’t meant to astonish us with God’s complexity or mysteriousness, it’s intended to point out how reliably God is committed to human life, how totally intertwined he is in every aspect of who we are and who we will become.

We can’t hope to imagine God who is totally different from any being we’ve ever encountered. The best statements we can make about God must begin God is kind of like . . . .

On the other hand, Jesus revealed everything we can and need to know about our Creator. God isn’t out there somewhere. God is intimately involved with our every breath and more committed to our welfare than we are. This is the point the language of Trinity tries to make.

Religious authoritarianism (an abuse of authority) makes it difficult to remember that a doctrine isn’t a test of our obedience or a medal of allegiance. It’s the best understanding of life and God that we’ve developed couched in the most adequate terms we know. Doctrines are not perfect. Nonetheless, we miss valuable aids to living if we refuse to pray over them and subject them to our best intelligence. Take the Trinity for example.

The Humility Of Mixed Motives
Thoughts on the First Readings The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ  – Joe Frankenfield
Genesis 14:18-20

A story on the CNN website recently told of evangelical churches banding together to resist recent anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and to work against other states adopting similar laws. Cynics may say that such a move is designed purely to increase Hispanics’ likelihood of joining an evangelical church.

Cynics could also say that U.S. bishops’ activity to encourage immigration reform is designed purely to keep Hispanics Catholic. Both the evangelicals and the Catholic bishops maintain that their motivation arises from a biblically rooted concern for justice. It’s not unlikely that both groups have mixed motives.

In times of uncertainty folks are want to seek out purity – in motives, in beliefs, in commitment, in every aspect of life. We Catholics, as a whole and in our particular subgroups, aren’t feeling all that secure these days. Dip one’s toes in the water of Catholic opinion and it doesn’t take long before the heated rhetoric of purity begins to scald. Catholic liberals look askance at any social justice work of conservatives and Catholic conservatives cast similar glances at liberals expressing doubt that Vatican II was God’s final word on how the Church should work.

It irritates one’s irony-bone to hear a group of Catholics complain bitterly about liberals and conservatives in government refusing to cooperate on obviously good legislation. The same folks can be clueless about the anger of poor folks watching Catholic liturgy warriors squander ecclesiastical time and energy that could put food on their plates and roofs over their kids.

Genesis tells of Abraham, the Hebrew forefather, defending the Canaanite king Melchizedek against outside aggression after which Melchizedek called on his Canaanite gods to bless Abraham in gratitude. Everyone went home happy.

Was there complete agreement between the two men about how kingdoms should be run, about how land should be divided, about whose God was supreme? Not ever. But one king had been saved from defeat and another king had been blessed by a rival. Thousands of ordinary citizens slept more soundly that night. There were mixed motives lying everywhere that evening but peace had been strengthened.

It’s About More Than Forgiveness
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
2nd Samuel 12:7-10,13

Many years ago a recent convert to the Church told me that joining up and receiving the sacraments had given him life-changing peace of mind. “How so,” I asked. “I had a lot of guilt over things I’d done,” he said, “but knowing that God forgives me has taken that away. I know that I’m right with God. My sins and failures are in the past.” We who have a strong sense of God can easily forget the people our failures harm.

On the one hand, we are right with God the instant we decide to cooperate with what God is doing. On the other hand, the harm we’ve caused others lingers long after we’ve had our change of heart. Sorrow and apologies – even sincere ones – leave actual injuries unaffected.

An individualistic notion of sin gives the impression that if God still loves us after our failures, all is well. The problem is that God is trying to give love and justice to everyone. If my actions or inactions have deprived someone of that love and justice, I’ve denied him or her God’s gift. God still loves me (truthfully, he never stopped) but I have thwarted the good God is trying to do and that it takes more than an act of contrition to redress the situation.

One danger of being part of a sacramental Church is that performing our rituals can give the impression that we’ve restored some cosmic balance. A hug and a kiss may reassure neglected, hungry children that we love them, but getting up and fixing supper is the only way to fill their stomachs.

There is something unsettling about the Prophet Nathan’s reassuring King David that he’s right with God after his acknowledgment of guilt for murdering Uriah. Uriah’s wife was still a widow. Uriah’s children were still orphans. David’s people would never trust him as they did before his treachery. Of course God loved David. But God loved Nathan’s widow too. There was a huge problem that cried out to be resolved. All was not right!

Religion: For Our Sake – Not God’s Sake
Thoughts on the First Reading – Joe Frankenfield
Zechariah 12:10-11, 13:1

As we grabbed a moment of peace and quiet in a local coffee shop, I asked a friend of mine why he had left the Church. His answer was interesting. “Once I was riding through town with a co-worker who drove through a school zone at the same speed that he had driven the rest of our trip. I mentioned that it was three o’clock. He responded that he had checked and that there weren’t any cops in sight. That’s why I left the Church: too many people watching for the cops instead of the kids.”

Another colleague once observed that the problem with most people isn’t that they aren’t religious enough, it’s that they aren’t human enough.

We Christians speak of faith as though it were frosting spread over life to make it sweet and beautiful – or at least tolerable. Maybe that comes from our view of revelation: we have the impression that God gives us faith directly from some heavenly sanctuary, by-passing the everyday of life. In reality, religion bubbles to the surface from deep within life. As we sense its presence, we ritualize it and speak of God as life’s source and promise.

Back to my friend in the coffee shop. Some folks accept the standard view of faith that our prayer pleases God and our sin offends God and that is the point of both. We miss that prayer makes us more appreciative of life’s beauty and more determined to transform its ugliness. We are not faithful for God, we are faithful to God for ourselves. That is indistinguishable from being faithful to creation and to life – to everyone’s life. The ability to live faithfully is God’s gift to us.

Living faithfully is no more about pleasing God than slowing down through a school zone is about avoiding a ticket. How can we not know that!

Prophets Of Hope
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Isaiah 66:10-14

“I’m taking my son out of his classroom,” the young mother told me, “his teacher is so negative. She constantly tells the kids what they do wrong but rarely what they do well. My son says that her favorite phrase is, ‘You’re not getting this.’ There’s no encouragement. I’ve talked to several other mothers who are having the same experience. We’re all having our kids switched to another teacher.”

Whatever the whole story was, that mom had every reason to be concerned if she sensed a lack of hope in her son’s school setting. Life is difficult enough, even in the fourth grade, without someone giving the impression that we can’t succeed.

Too often the image of a prophet is that of a person foretelling disaster, too often of a person offering only jeremiads accompanied by threats of disaster. Too many folks think that “speaking truth” means voicing how badly things are going.

Folks generally know exactly how bad things are. Fear of helplessness or of the cost of change keeps them from acknowledging and trying to resolve problems. There are always a few people who thrive on bad situations and maintain and foster them when they can, but generally the foundation of a mess isn’t wickedness or even ignorance, it’s debilitating fear. Announcing that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket may feel like a bracing defiance of that evil but it’s like taking aspirin for a brain tumor. What’s needed is hope. The contribution of a prophet is hope.

It’s not necessary to have the right answer or the perfect solution to problems to offer hope but it is necessary to totally commit oneself to finding those answers and solutions together with the community. That hundred percent commitment is the language of our gospel.

The gospel of hope that Christians offer the world is not practical solutions to life’s problems. It is the experience of God’s promise that life’s potential will come to pass. We prove that not with doctrines and rituals but with putting ourselves on the line for our world – regardless of the cost.

First You Choose Then You Live
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Deuteronomy 30:10-14

“Religion is really a very simple thing,” a fellow once told me. “Everyone knows what’s right. They just have to do it.”

Except for reducing religion to morality, my friend’s comment is hard to disagree with – on the one hand, that is. As usual, the trouble lies on the other hand. Generally, the hard part of acting justly or ethically lies not in knowing what to do but in having the courage and strength to do it.

Acknowledging that mind-achingly difficult situations certainly arise, day-to-day morality is generally not intellectually crippling.

What can be and often is crippling is the fear that accompanies making what we know is the best moral decision. What’ll it going cost me; what’s the downside? What kind of acceptance will my decision find among my peers? Will my effort to act justly make any difference in the long run?

That brings us back to the above speaker’s assertion about religion’s simplicity. Religion isn’t first and foremost about morality; it is about how we view life: its meaning and its potential. An a-theist believes that there is no knowing, caring source of creation. Creation is radically pointless – it just happens – and human beings, as part of creation, are radically pointless. A theist, on the other hand, believes that there is a knowing, caring Being creating all reality. As a result, all reality, humans included, are known and cared for. Our existence is not pointless, our dreams not futile. Over time, the view of life we choose directs our actions.

My friend was correct when he declared that religion is simple. Either we believe in a knowing, caring Creator or we don’t. When we look at the universe and ourselves, we either see promise and love as the most powerful forces or we see love and promise as illusions we create to assuage our fear of nothingness as ultimate destiny.

Can we prove either position? I don’t know how. It’s choice: a simple choice; a choice made new each day – a choice that determines every other possibility.

Tending The Web
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Genesis 18:1-10

“Always be nice to a stranger and help him if he needs you because he may be Jesus in disguise,” my grandmother used to say. Her thinking seems quaint now. We bridle at the image of God sneaking around to trap us. Still, there’s an important truth hidden in my grandmother’s caution.

In our search for God, we’re chasing a mirage if we think that we can touch him directly. We find him in the people and world He is creating. Behind my grandmother’s prudence (and that of countless other grandmothers) lies the awareness that life, and indeed, all reality, is a web of interdependent being. Mistreat one part of the web and I mistreat the entire web – including the part that I am. God’s life is found in the web he creates even more than a parent’s life is found in the child he gives life or an artist’s in her painting or music.

In many, if not most, places around us folks generally agree with such a thought. If you ask them how often they consider the welfare of the whole web of life when they make their daily decisions, however, or how much they reflect on that web when they’re looking for an experience of God or check the needs of that web when they’re seeking God’s will for them, the answer is typically, “Rarely.”

Most of us are comfortable with the part of Jesus’ great commandment that tells us to love God above all things. We have a much harder time dealing with the part that tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That, of course, is the more difficult one because it’s measurable and, so, subject to evaluation. Then again, it’s the one where change for the better occurs – the one that demonstrates that we’ve actually come to love the Creator.

Just Living
Thoughts on the First Readings –  Joe Frankenfield
Genesis 18:20-32

“You’re going to be tempted many times to count the cost of love and ask yourself whether or not you’re getting your fair share of the pie. The biggest threat to marriage is the desire for fairness. The whole idea of fairness is nonsense; get over it before you stand in front of the altar or you’re through before you start. Give as much as you can and don’t keep score.”

These were words that a friend’s father spoke to him shortly before his wedding. Not only are they observations from a good marriage, they are observations from the heart of life. We hear and talk a lot about fairness but everyone who thinks deeply about life knows that fairness has little to do with anything. It’s not fair that we’re conceived; it’s not fair that we survive to adulthood; it’s not fair that people love us; it’s not fair that we die.

The key to life is justice as scripture uses the word: the will of God for creation. The quest for justice is the effort to treat all of creation – especially human beings – as God wants it treated. Jesus is our model for just living. Often the Hebrew Scriptures offer models of justice but not consistently.

The tale of Abraham cajoling God into sparing an entire city for the sake of a handful of righteous people is a great story. It has humor that we rarely associate with the absolute rule of Abraham’s God but it gives a hint of the justice that Jesus will reveal centuries later. God’s love is never fair; it’s absolute and forever. It’s the kind of love that we would like to give others if we could only conquer our fears and insecurities. It’s the love we pray to imitate.

Faith Hopes And Loves
Thoughts on the First Readings
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 2:21-23

There’s a strain in Christian thought that says that most everything we spend our lives working at and worrying about doesn’t much matter. The essential reality is the cosmic battle going on between God and Satan for our souls and our allegiance. Whose side we choose is the only important issue.

Do what God tells you and make the best of life. Don’t ask questions. Don’t expect much. Do your work and say your prayers and turn everything over to God might summarize this attitude.

It’s astounding that so many folks subscribe to this vision of Christian life in the face of Jesus’ assurance that his task was to transform the world. God loves the world: Jesus loved the world. He asked us to love the world: to make life more just, more loving, more generous. Doing that, he said, is the touchstone of faith.

The nub of Christian living isn’t obedience; it’s love: love of our world made possible through love and trust in the world’s Creator. That sounds simple but it’s nearly impossible, at times, to know how best to make love practical.

If we could find an authority that knew the most loving course in all circumstances, one that grasped and reflected God’s vision to us clearly and consistently, we could just salute and carry out orders. Alas, such an authority doesn’t exist.

So we push ahead, buoyed by the faith that God’s Spirit works with us. Arm in arm we feel our way through a lot of foggy days doing our best to make progress. And if, at times, we’re tempted to sigh, “Vanity; it’s all pointless,” we can take heart. Jesus loved and lived for this world. Jesus struggled and wondered just as we do but he never lost hope. He didn’t live in vain.

No Faith Without Trust
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Wisdom 18:6-9

“Honest, I won’t pull the football away this time.”

“That’s what you said last year.”

“But this time I’m telling you the truth. I’m really hurt that you won’t trust me.”

“Alright, alright; I’ll let you hold the ball; but don’t let me down, okay.”

Huff, huff, arrrrgh. Thud.

“Never again; never, ever again! I swear it; I’ll never believe her again – no matter what she says.”

Every year Lucy talked Charlie Brown into letting her hold the football while he kicked it. Every year she pulled it away at the last second. Every year Charlie Brown fell in angry ignominy. Every year millions of sympathetic readers smiled because they knew how Charlie felt. So many people beg for our trust, then let us down at the last second and watch us fall. We all hear “sucker” ring in our ears and blush at once angry and ashamed.

It’s hard enough when a bank or an oil company asks for our trust then betrays it. It’s devastating when a friend or a lover pulls the same trick. But when a church does it, someone claiming to speak God’s truth, something is snatched from our souls that no one can replace.

It is a sacred act to speak for God. To stand before a person and claim God’s truth is so central to a community’s health that is was protected by the second of the Commandments: before murder, before adultery, before even respecting the elders. Do not claim to speak God’s truth unless you speak it. As with all the commandments, the crucial consequence of not adhering to the rule is not simply destruction of the perpetrator; it is destruction of the community!

I’ve lost count of the number of Catholics who have told me that they no longer trust Church leadership. They may still trust this or that priest but the hierarchy as a whole has finally jerked the football away from them one too many times. This is extremely serious.

Without trust our church will not survive. For one another and for our world we all must immediately do everything possible to repair our credibility.

Keeping Things Straight
Thoughts on the First Readings
Feast of the Assumption of Mary
Revelation 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10a

“There’s nothing we can do about the church. They’ve got all the power. We don’t count. They think that God speaks to them so they don’t have to listen to us and they’re sure that we’re too worldly to have anything useful to say anyway. Catholics have two choices: do what we’re told or quit. And, if you’re so naïve to think that quitting sends them a message, think again. They’re absolutely certain that anyone who leaves wasn’t a good Catholic to start with. You can’t win with these guys.”

Now that was a rant!

I’d quibble with little of it. The woman was venting a frustration that many lay Catholics, for good reason, share. Still, it’s not the heart of the Catholic reality.

My brother and his wife often speak of their admiration for the Amish community near which they live. In many ways my brother finds these people embodying Jesus’ vision. It’s interesting that speaking about them he never mentions the internal structure of their community or how they foster unity among their many settlements. He’s not commented on their doctrines, worship services or how they govern their community. What he finds attractive in the Amish is their love and peace.

The soul of our Church isn’t its doctrines, its governance or even its sacramental rituals, as important as these are. The heart of the Catholic Church is the Spirit of Jesus that works through us to bring love and justice to the world. Everything in the Church exists to support the work of this Spirit. Nothing in the Church controls this Spirit. The actions of the Church’s members – lay or clerical – facilitate or hinder the Spirit’s work but they don’t control it.

Back to the rant. The Church lives in a difficult time. It’s important to keep a clear perspective. Jesus’ Spirit is the real power in our community, the real source of our community’s unity is that Spirit. The real goal of our community is to help others become aware of and live in harmony with that Spirit.

We can’t attribute to anyone else the power, the unity or the gift that is the Spirit’s alone.

We Needs To Listen
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Isaiah 66:18-21

A solemn, young Catholic once told me that the first thing that we need to be clear about when talking with other religions is that God has told our church everything important there is to know about faith. As he saw it, others need us, we don’t need them. He wanted Catholics to be clear about that lest we not only lose the truth that God has given us but deny our truth to others and be responsible for the loss of their souls. He saw a great danger that we, in our effort to be friends with other religions, would adopt an everyone-has-his-own-truth mentality.

Why do we have an ecumenical movement? Is it simply to get all religions to play nicely together? That’s certainly a noble goal but there’s a more important one. The central reason for religion is to bring those who practice it into harmony with the Creator and the universe He creates. The ecumenical movement gathers folks from various religions to pool their experience and wisdom about how to do that.

A religion has to enter the ecumenical discussion aware that its truths are contained in words, ideas and rituals that are imperfect. No one can equate their description of God or life with God or life itself. Descriptions are partial, conditioned by factors like time, place, language, culture, perspective and history. This means that we know truth but, especially when we’re discussing the relationship between God and human beings, we never know it totally and we never express it completely. In fact, our ignorance is much greater than our knowledge.

We enter into ecumenical discussion because we desperately need to learn from others what they know of God and what they know of people so that we can improve our ability see and understand both.

All this is impossible if we can’t enter into the conversation without putting aside the fear that learning more will rob us of what we already know. Only when we overcome that apprehension will we learn that truth is always larger than our assumptions.

Sharing: It’s About Justice
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29

“I really think we should be giving more to the poor,” a good friend once told me over lunch. He was speaking of his own household, not other people’s. “We could do more than we do.” I remember the comment because it expressed a sentiment I don’t often hear. In fact, I don’t recall having a similar conversation with anyone else. Why would this fellow make such a statement? He wasn’t the type to fear some divine punishment for insufficient generosity.

Scripture, both Christian and Jewish, encourages alms giving. The reason: it’s God’s will. When a person does not have enough wealth to live with security and dignity, he or she lacks the blessing of life that God intends for everyone. When we encounter such a person, we have a responsibility to redress the wrong that she is enduring. It’s not a nice but optional activity that we can engage in or opt out of as we choose. Scripture speaks of giving alms as an act of justice: an act demanded simply by the way God creates the world. That is the first reason for giving alms.

The second reason for giving alms is what one might call the spiritual reason. An aware almsgiver acts in a way that reminds him or her of the web of life. Giving to another puts a person in touch with the reality that we’re all intertwined and interdependent for our welfare. Active caring for another puts the giver’s mind and will in harmony with God’s Spirit hence it strengthens his spiritual life. It is a heart-changing action.

We give alms because the balance of the creation demands it; we give alms because doing so unites our wills to the Creator’s and thus fulfills us individually. The wise Christian claims both reasons. In the back of her mind she hears the echo of Jesus’ words: “the first commandment is love the Lord with your whole heart and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”

Missing The Plan
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Wisdom 9:13-18

“I know God wants me to marry this guy; I’m absolutely certain He wants us together.” The young woman smiled from ear to ear as she revealed her destiny to me. When we spoke again a month later, she sadly related the story of her breakup and how she figured that she and her boyfriend had displeased God and, as a result, He was banishing them back into the dating wilderness.

Deciding what to do with the idea of God’s will is proving a big problem for people of faith. A deep distrust exists between those who search for and find God’s plan for daily events and those who think themselves totally responsible for determining their response to life. Sometimes the distrust between these two types turns into hostility and they hurl accusations of faithlessness or escapism at one another.

The stakes in this argument aren’t insignificant: one side fears seeing their community beginning to deny any reality beyond what we touch and see while the other fears a society controlled by absolute authoritarians disguising their personal views behind a mask of divine will.

Beyond the societal implications there’s the personal difference between those who long for the security of knowing the Creator’s plan for them and those who value, above all, the freedom and responsibility of choosing their own course in life.

Alleviating the tension in this situation isn’t easy. As totally certain as each group is that its vision of reality is true, neither position is provable. God’s communication – or the lack thereof – is simply not open to objective verification. In light of that, arguing about it is pointless.

Resolving this tension will begin when the parties involved adopt a radical respect for the hopes and a real determination to alleviate the fears of their opponents. We really have to love those with whom we deeply disagree. The alternative is to continue throwing stones.

God Re-Examined
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
Exodus 32:7-12, 13-14

I once sat in on a discussion about God with a group of university students. The question was Do you still believe in the God that you believed in five years ago? One student had abandoned the idea of a God who kept score of and punished sins. A younger student said that he now realized that it was by punishing sin that God kept human chaos at bay. A young woman stated that she had realized how God places painful experiences in people’s lives for their own good. Her roommate volunteered that it was exactly such a God that she now rejected in favor of a God who gives us all freedom to make our way through life and react with intelligence, love and courage to whatever life brings.

When the discussion ended, we had learned that though we spoke of one God and prayed to that God together, we held any number of contradictory understandings of who God was and what God did. I was also obvious that it wasn’t theology that held the group together; it was friendship and a hope held in common. Many of our assumptions about God’s ways and even our understanding of his dealings with people were different – even contradictory. Everyone left the room thinking more deeply about their faith and their church than when they entered. One comment just before the break-up was, “I wonder what we’re saying when we say we believe in one God.” Then it was pizza and pop: the ritual meal of college life.

At a time of heated arguments over whether God exists, what God is like and what God is doing; it’s crucial to continually examine our beliefs. They reflect what we think about life. They also reflect our change and growth. Sharing our insights with one another is a wonderful gift – if our friendships are strong enough to accept our differences.

Salvation: It’s About Life Not Death
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
Amos 8:4-7

“The Church has gotten too concerned with the world and politics. We’ve to get back to what we should care about: praising God and saving souls. If I want to talk about ending poverty, I’ll go to a Red Cross meeting. I want to hear about God and salvation at Church. The Church is always complaining that we’re too materialistic; it’s as much to blame for that as anyone else. We never hear about the spiritual life anymore. It’s always “justice this” and “justice that.”

The person sharing his frustration with me had much more to say but this gives you the sense of his ire. Many folks – many Catholics – share his dissatisfaction so I offer some reflections on his statement.

Long before Jesus, religious leaders were trying to get folks to see that it makes no sense to pray to the Creator of life while taking or harming or not caring about the life of one’s neighbor.

For Jesus, as for the Hebrew prophets before him, God’s salvation did not begin at death; it began in the present – here and now. To be concerned for one’s salvation means to be concerned for her life. The life we know and the life we can influence is right here, right now.

For Jesus one’s spirituality was one’s union with the divine Spirit that guided him. To be a spiritual person was to live in harmony with the divine Spirit. It had nothing to do with choosing an immaterial reality over a material reality. Such an imaginary choice is not an issue of faith but, at most, one arising from bad philosophy.

Finally, for Jesus faith was inseparably bound up with justice and so with political and social realities. In biblical terms justice equals God’s way of doing things. We are just when we act as God acts. What Jesus taught is that God acts always lovingly to all people. God acts always for the benefit of all people. For us acting spiritually and justly will always entail acting politically and socially.

The Gift of Faith: Freedom To Care
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Amos 6:1, 4-7

A father once told me about a disturbing story he had seen on the previous night’s news.

“It was a little kid crying from hunger in her mother’s arms at an emergency feeding station in Africa. She sounded exactly like my daughter crying at night from a bad dream. It made me uncomfortable. I picked up a magazine and began to read to get away from it. Later on I talked with my wife about it and decided that my discomfort was that I was couldn’t do anything to help the little girl.”

“What would you have done if that had been video of your daughter visiting friends in Africa and not getting enough food,” I asked?

“First, I’d never have let her go to a place with such problems. Second, I would have gotten on the internet and sent money to that aid organization immediately. Then I would have gotten myself a ticket on the next plane to that town.”

“So, you wouldn’t be totally helpless. You’re saying there were actions that you might have been able to take if you had to?”

“I guess what really makes me uncomfortable is that I know, ultimately, I don’t care about that little girl enough to do what I can for her. That’s unsettling. What do the things I say I believe really mean? I know I can’t make everything right but I also know I can do a lot more than I do. I’m afraid to let myself care too much because of what it could cost me. And I’m not satisfied with that about myself.”

Thinking about our conversation now, it occurs to me that if Jesus were to sum up his life in one sentence, he might say, “Allow yourself to believe in the faithful, loving God that I’m revealing to you. That faith will free you to love those around you as much as you love yourself and your family.”

Messengers Of Hope
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Habakkuk 1:2-3 to 2:2-4
Don’t jump!

If God’s revelation were made into a thirty second tape, that would be its first line. It would fit right next to I know it’s hard. I’ll never quit on you. Together we’ll make this work better than you dream. In countless ways our Creator has said don’t give up on me and don’t give up on yourselves.

When God first created us with imagination, when he gave us the longing for peace between people, for lasting friendship, for love freely given, for plenty for everyone, for children bubbling with life; God knew we would pay a price. God knew we would ultimately arrive at our dream but would also suffer along the way.

Scripture is full of stories about characters who struggled but endured. History books, dramas and novels, our family photo albums and our memories tell tales of those who kept trying and found meaning in their efforts. They left us a better world for their labors. In Christian language these people were true to God’s Spirit; in ordinary language, they hoped in life.

Do folks have to keep trying to live, grow and make life better. No, obviously! We can climb to the hundredth floor and step off. Or, more commonly, we can despair of the larger world’s future and work only for ourselves and our own.

Our Creator knows this struggle. God lives within it and joins it on the side of humanity. That’s the meaning of Jesus. But the Creator can’t strip away the tension between hope and despair in our lives without stripping away the core of our humanity as well.

As God’s incarnation we’re asked to be the embrace of hope for all who struggle, especially for those who feel life’s promise slipping away. We share the rest of the world’s disappointments and we share its dreams. What we have to offer is a promise, God’s promise. We embody it in our loving care.

The Measure Of Faith
Thoughts on the First Readings
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kings 5;14-17

Physicians sometimes use medicines in ways their developers didn’t intend or foresee. A doctor may prescribe a drug intended to alleviate flu misery to mollify the effects of acne. Whether or not the drug’s producers approve of her decision, they can’t stop her from pursuing such a therapy. Neither can the FDA. It’s within the purview of the doctor to treat her patient as she deems best. It’s also her responsibility to benefit rather than harm her patient.

Religious faith is similar to medicine is some respects. No one can effectively control how we use our faith. If a person decides to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in the yard to ensure that his house sells, nobody can stop him. On a graver note, if a preacher teaches that God will bless with miraculous wealth those who send him money, no one can stop him. If a military leader tells his troops that God wills them to slaughter an entire village, no one can prove that God said no such thing?

What can we do about this Wild West aspect of religion? We could establish a commission with the power to decide and enforce their decisions about what God says. We could ignore the issue and pray that all those who claim bizarre things about God won’t draw a crowd. We could simply pay little attention to organized religion diminishing both its power and its danger.

Most ecclesiastical authorities attempt the first option setting up boards of orthodoxy with, at best, moderate success within their own groups and none beyond them. The majority of lay people choose options two or three. We accept a greatly straitened religion as the cost of defending ourselves against its abuses. Is there anything we can do beyond sitting back, watching and minding our own religious business? Yes. We can put aside our wariness of religious discussion and begin to really pay attention to what people think about life and God. We can make it our business to listen more than we speak and to speak thoughtfully and respectfully when we open give our opinions. We can stop assuming that we need an advanced degree before we can think deeply about belief and morality. Discussions about faith between laypeople need not be quick-draw shootouts. It hurts no one, least of all God, to begin a discussion with an honest I’m not sure about this; what do you think.

The touchstone for a religious opinion is: How will this idea strengthen me to treat others with more love and justice. Naaman became interested in Israel’s God not because Elisha presented him a brilliant theological argument but because Elisha helped him with his skin disease. When all is said and done, love not brilliance demonstrates the presence of God.

Trust That God Will Do – What?
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Exodus 17: 8-13

Trust in the Lord. Turn your troubles over to God. God never give us more than we can carry. The Lord never fails us. Let go and let God.

Some Catholics find these and similar sayings powerful comfort in times of trouble. Others, just as Catholic, find the same sayings unreliable, often simply untrue and always incomprehensible. When folks of these two persuasions meet, they typically do their best to avoid discussing God’s providence. When the subject does arise, they engage in a lot of “uh huhing” and “mmming.” It’s the price they find necessary to remain peacefully in the same church. What’s going on? What do we really believe about God’s care for us?

What every follower of Jesus agrees to is that God loves us, does his best for us and promises that we will ultimately be part of what Jesus named the Kingdom of God. That’s the bare bones of divine providence: stark, abstract, matter-of-fact and emotionally very unsatisfying when the roof is falling in. When Catholics begin to speculate and tell stories about how God’s power works in everyday life, things get lots more colorful and, although often inconsistent and unverifiable, much more emotionally compelling.

Many folks are glad to have answers even if they’re not always iron-clad. They find much in life ultimately unexplainable and ask only that their beliefs enable them to live with courage, love and hope. Others prefer to have no answers about how God cares for them than answers that don’t square with their experience. They observe things going unexplainably well in life but also unexplainably poorly. They find no reason to hold God more responsible for one than the other. They’re most likely to find God directly responsible for neither. They live with that – not always comfortably – without doubting that God ultimately assures the fulfillment of our lives.

Whichever approach to divine providence we find most natural for us; there is a further, crucial element in our understanding of it. Faith in God’s care frees us to fearlessly commit ourselves to the world. That kind of commitment is capable of transforming human life. It is the mark of a mature faith to look not for what God will do for us but to seek to discover what God makes us capable of doing for ourselves and others.

Jesus’ Family Value
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18

One of today’s headlines was census confirms recent trend: rich, poor gap widening. The only new part about this news was the recent census’ confirmation of what many observers have been reporting for several decades.

Some folks will hear this fact of life but let in pass with little notice or comment. Others hear it and are drawn up short. This information reveals several dangers: a danger to the individuals who have less than they need to live full lives and a danger to the community arising from the frustration of those denied access to opportunities enjoyed by those around them, even a danger to our economy from fewer folks able to purchase the goods and services others make their living producing.

While the economic and social dangers of unjust distribution of wealth are real and important, our faith concerns itself with Jesus’ teaching that all people are sons and daughters of one Creator and brothers and sisters of one another. Few believers question his point.

We sing about brotherhood, we write poems about it, we even lace commercials with it for a feel-good effect. But as easily as we celebrate the ideal, we find it difficult to live. Brotherhood entails viewing everyone as family and no one pretends that family is always simple or easy to deal with.

Long ago I learned: family are the people who have to care for you whether they want to or not. Why? Simply, family is us. Family is the milieu in which we have to acknowledge that there really is no “I” without “we,” no “we” without “you” and no “they” to be found.

Jesus didn’t put a boundary around family. In his world everyone prayed, “Our Father.” It’s always a challenge to live what we pray.

The God Who Cares
Thoughts on the First Readings – Joe Frankenfield
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 11:22-12:23

For as far back as we can remember people have looked up at the night sky and found themselves in awe of its magnificence. The beauty and the regularity of the nighttime stars and the life-giving power of the daytime sun made the heavens the obvious home of ultimate power. Whoever could form and govern such immensity deserved all the honor and reverence that people could muster. The ancients found it totally sensible to pray that life on earth would echo the order and peacefulness that they observed in the heavens.

What do we see when we look upwards? We, or at least people of our generation, have flown to the moon and probed comets. We’ve photographed the edge of our universe and speculated about the existence of other universes beyond our powers to imagine. Do we still see the heavens as the realm of God? Do we still stand in awe of the Creator of such immensity?

We know the mechanism of starlight. We understand the nature of gravity. We watch stars being born and we’ve viewed the awe-inspiring destructiveness of their deaths. Some say that our knowledge has squeezed God out of the cosmos. We know how things work; things simply must be as they are. And yet. . . .
We look up at night and we are still thankful to see the sight. We look at photos of galaxies and nebulae and find ourselves pondering not how they could be but how astounding it is that we’re here – part of everything the universe is.

For centuries people have declared God’s growing irrelevance as problem after problem has been solved, unknown after unknown uncovered.

But faith in God isn’t about solving problems. God isn’t a solution. God is a promise. God is a call. God anchors our belief that we can become what we dream of being. God is the word that says we matter.

Faith – With Help From Our Friends -Joe Frankenfield
Thoughts on the First Readings
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

In a society which places as much emphasis on individual achievement as ours it’s easy to forget how interdependent we all are. Even though Jesus spoke of our being brothers and sisters of one Father and St. Paul spoke of us comprising one body with Christ, we still imagine ourselves on our own before God. Our Tradition tries to wean us away from this overblown sense of self-sufficiency by teaching about saints – not just the famous ones with feast days and statues but the little known ones in our own families and neighborhoods. Saints are the people who inspire us. Saints are the people who give us the feel of what we’re capable of if we overcome our fears.

Once we’ve known a saint, whether it’s a parent or teacher, a friend, someone we’ve worked with or someone we’ve known only at a distance, we are never spiritually alone again. A saint can be someone who rubs us the wrong way, someone we’d never vacation with but someone we can see has lived courageously, someone committed to life, someone who has done what was possible to make things better. Such a person takes up residence in our minds and hearts and whispers to us, “You can do what I’ve done. You’re just as capable of loving. You’re as able to give yourself as I. You’ve only to overcome your fears to live as you believe.”

Our world is full of saints. They’re a gift of God to us because they mirror our deepest longings. They’re both strength and challenge for us wherever we go.

Keep your eyes open for saints. Don’t look just in churches. You’re as likely to find them in grocery stores and backyards. They’re found in offices and hospitals, auto dealerships and tractors – and, not infrequently, washing dishes and putting the kids to bed in our own homes. Let them touch your lives; they’ll free you to be who you are.

Joining The Moral Quest
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 3:19-20

“You know what I can’t stand about Christians,” a friend told me, “they’re so certain that whatever they decide is moral. They never wonder whether they’re wrong. They’re convinced that they know God’s mind and every decent person should think what they think. Even if you get them to admit that they’ve been wrong in the past on things like slavery, religious freedom or women’s rights, they give the excuse that they were just being people of their times. Why can’t they admit that they have to figure things out just like the rest of us?”

There are many Church activities over which we laity have little control. We have a lot to say, however, in the Church’s public moral voice. What we do and say about moral issues often carries more actual weight than pronouncements from Rome or diocesan offices. People may rant about or praise the latest word from on high but they decide what weight that word actually carries when they see how the Catholic next door Catholic puts it into practice.

The truth is that most of us are pretty good seat-of-our-pants moralists. We generally have a clear grasp of the good and bad things we can do in life. We’re also very aware that circumstances play a huge part in morality. We know that deciding good and bad involves more than measuring an action against an abstract rule.

Here’s where our power lies. Honesty about our moral quandaries as well as our moral certainties and a willingness to grant the assumption of good conscience to those who disagree goes a long way to acknowledging that we too put our ethical pants on one leg at a time. We have much more credibility conversing than lecturing.

Nobody asks the laity to hand down moral answers. That’s an advantage. Shoulder to shoulder with everyone else we discover the best way to live in our complex and murky world. We contribute more to the common journey by joining the search for the best path than by claiming to be the tour guide.

We Need Bigger Arms
Thoughts on the First Readings -Joe Frankenfield
Feast of Christ the King
2 Samuel 5:1-3

There was a story going around several years ago about a little girl crying to her mother about how alone and afraid she sometimes felt at night. She thought that she would be happier if she could sleep in her mother’s bedroom. “Why not say some extra prayers while you’re falling asleep,” her mother suggested. “God loves you and she’ll give your heart a hug and you won’t be afraid anymore,” she said. The little girl responded, “I know that God loves me and is with me but I need a hug from someone with arms too.”

That’s a great story. It works because we all know its truth. A mother’s hug is the work of God: it’s God’s hug – with arms! There’s an important implication here.

We all know that there are hugs and hugs. Some come from people who don’t like us; some from people who don’t like hugging. Some come from people who are thinking about something or someone else. Some come from people who are afraid to hug. All hugs aren’t equal.

When someone gives a second class hug, God gives a second class hug. None of us is comfortable with that. We’re more comfortable with a God who acts independently of us. We make too many mistakes. We too often give less than our best. We leave God with too little to work with.

We can improve on our shortcomings but, try as we might, the odds of overcoming them all is, realistically, slim. It’s disheartening, even scary, how distant we remain from giving the world the love and competence it needs.

As passionately as God loves the world She’s creating, it’s amazing that She has so much patient love for us. We seem more trouble than we’re worth sometimes. That’s the full mystery of God’s forgiveness: it benefits everyone but it costs everyone as well. Believers have always struggled to understand this – without success; it’s at the heart of the King David story.

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