Friday, December 21, 2012

Newtown Tragedy


3 Advent  #9

Zep 3, 14-18a
(Ps) Is 12, 2-6
Phil 4, 4-7
Lk 3, 10-18

Peter Maurin Farm, Marlboro, N.Y.
December 16, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   It’s a challenge to faith, the problem of evil.  How can a good and loving and all-powerful God allow such things as happened in Newtown last Friday?  On the other hand, how can we bear such loss without faith, and without a community of faith, our church?  Our own parish family is still staggering under the loss of our Sarah Saturday before last, a sixteen year old girl killed in an automobile accident.  Now this, so close to us, ten miles over the Connecticut border, twenty first graders and six teachers.  I did my teaching internship at Newtown High School in 1959 and I was student counselor and English and Latin teacher in the next town over, Brookfield, for three years after that, and might well have stayed there but for Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement.  You couldn’t ask for, you couldn’t imagine better towns, better public schools, peaceful, orderly, safe.   And yet…. 

          No one is safe.  Every breath we take may be our last.  Be prepared!  And remember the words of Julian of Norwich, “The worst has happened and been repaired.” 

          This is Gaudete Sunday.   Gaudete is Latin for rejoice!  Rejoice?  How rejoice?  We are more than half way through Advent, the period of waiting, waiting for the repair.  The worst has happened?  The Fall!  And been repaired?  How repaired?   Jesus Christ, Christ himself, Christmas, Emmanuel, God with Us, come to suffer, die and rise again. 

          Evil entered that classroom in Newtown, but God was in that classroom too, and he is the stronger.  He has taken the little ones to himself.  We weep for ourselves!  They are our children too.  All children are our children.  Their families have only their memory.  They will not see those beautiful children grow and learn, see them at First Communion, Confirmation!  There will be no weddings, no grandchildren!  It is for ourselves that we weep.  They are in bliss, eternal bliss, forever innocent, to rise in glory on the Last Day.  That’s a Promise! 

          Last week a similar number of children in Afghanistan were killed by a bomb blast near their school.  Was it unexploded ordinance?  There have been so many more.  Drone strikes are not surgical, as we have been led to believe.  Many children have been killed by these fiendish weapons, nearly three hundred in the Afghan-Pakistan border area.  Afghani and Paki mothers and fathers feel the same anguish, anger, grief and loss as American mothers and fathers do.  Does this in any way diminish our loss, our pain?  Of course not!  Are those kids our children too?  God’s children?  Of course they are.  So why do we let these things happen?

          The Popes have spoken of a culture of death that pervades our society, a culture of violence, violence against the most vulnerable among us, the unborn and the elderly, against the poor, against immigrants, against children, against women.  We will balance the budget they say, but not by pulling out of unnecessary and unwinnable wars paid for on the credit card.  Let the old, the sick, disabled war veterans and children pay.  We have been lied to by politicians as long as I can remember, consistently, by Democrats as well as Republicans, and that’s a form of violence in itself.  I refer also to child pornography, widespread and easily available to feed unnatural lust and loathing, and the trafficking of women. 

          Too many guns, too little mental health evaluation and care in this country.  The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, in his first address to the diplomats assigned to the Holy See, announced that the Church’s first priority in the field of international relations is the building of a culture of peace, a culture of nonviolence, a culture of life.  Do we need any more evidence that this is what we need in our country today?

          “His winnowing fan is in his hand,” John the Baptist announced.  Even here in an agricultural setting we may need to explain what a winnowing fan is, and what it means to winnow.  Before mechanization, the way a farmer removed the grain of wheat from its husk, or chaff, was to spread the wheat stripped from the stalk on the barn floor.  He would then take a large fan and stir the air over it all.  The dry husks, or chaff, are lighter than the grains of wheat, so the breeze the fan creates lifts the chaff and scatters it a few feet away from the heavier wheat.  The farmer can then gather up the wheat for storage and sweep up the chaff to compost or to burn.  That’s what it means to winnow, and the fan used is called a winnowing fan.  John’s words are harsh.  “The chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire!” a terrible judgment.  We have to take his words seriously, for we will be called to account. 

          Think on these words, think on what we have just experienced in that first grade classroom when you are selecting toys for your little ones this Christmas.  If you have already bought a war toy, or a violent video game, TAKE IT BACK!  Exchange it for a teddy bear, or a chess set!  Teach peace! 

          Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace!  Peace  be with you!     W

Monday, October 1, 2012

Cast Your Whole Ballot

26 Sunday B   #137

Nm 11, 25-29
Ps 19
Jas 5, 1-6
Mk 9, 38-43. 45. 47-48

September 30, 2012
Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   Imagine this passage from the Letter of Saint James being read aloud at a recent national political convention.  I won’t say which one.  We just heard the words, God’s words.  They’re important.  So let’s hear them again and take careful heed:

                   “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.  Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded and that corrosion will be a testimony against you, it will devour your flesh like fire…. Behold, the wages you have withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived on the earth in luxury and pleasure and you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.”

                   Word as harsh as these might well have been directed at the other party convention too, I won’t say which one, words of condemnation for the crime that cries to heaven for vengeance, the slaughter of the innocent yet-to-be-born.  The legal right to abortion at any stage of gestation or even birth for any reason whatsoever is now part of that party’s orthodoxy.  How long will the hand of God’s justice be stayed?  "God is not mocked."  (Gal 6, 7)  “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord, “I will repay!”  (Deut 32,35;  Rom 12, 19)

                   The president from one party declares that anything the president does is by that very fact legal.  The president from the other party acts upon that and authorizes assassination by drone missile, targeted assassination of individuals he chooses to designate enemy combatants without any judicial process, appeal, oversight or review, and ten or more innocent women, children and other by-standers die as “collateral damage.”  Obscene!  And some people wonder why they hate us. 

                   Our bishops have given us guidelines, guidance, not in how to vote, but in how to weigh the candidates and party platforms.  It is not their place or mine or anyone else's to tell you how to vote.  But we who are ordained to teach the faithful the principles of social justice based on Scripture and natural law have it laid upon us to do just that.  The bottom-line is this: how will your choice affect the most vulnerable in our society?

          Catholic social teaching holds that all citizens have the right to participate in the political life of their communities and nations, that is, among other things, to vote.  The right to participate entails the responsibility to participate.  Any who fail to exercise that right endanger the right of others to do so.  Catholics make a better showing at the polls than our fellow citizens.  We make up 20% of the population but 27% of the voting public.  There was a time when we tended to vote as a bloc, for the New Deal, for instance, up to 80 percent!  But we are not beholden to any party, nor should we ever be!  And voting is not the only way we participate in public life. 

                   Here we are about five weeks from Election Day.  I confess to you, I haven’t made up my mind yet, whom to vote for or even whether to go to the polls at all, the choices are so bad.  Choosing the lesser of two evils is choosing an evil, after all.  Maybe a third party.  But they’re all compromised.  Then again….

          I am consoled by the words of a great American once scorned but now seen as a national treasure, Henry David Thoreau.  “Cast your whole vote, not just a piece of paper.”  If we live the life that Jesus taught us to live, a life centered on the works of mercy, we cast our whole vote every day of our lives.

                   God be with you and God be with us all on November 6, a day of tears for the poor, the aged, the sick and the unborn.  God forgive us! 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Subversive Lord

25 Sunday  #134

Wis 2, 12, 17-20
Ps 54
Jas 3, 12-4,3
Mk 9, 30-37

September 23, 2102
Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

                    In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard Jesus predict his passion and death.  Peter objected.  Then Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me you Satan; you are thinking as men do, not as God does.”  Today we hear Jesus predict his passion and death once again.  The chief priests and the scribes would betray him.  The disciples, who had been with him through his travels, didn’t know what to make of it!  How could that be?  What had Jesus done or said that would turn the Temple authorities against him so that they would turn him over to the Romans for execution?  He had cured the sick, cast out demons, he had done all things well, had made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.  His words – they were the most sublime anyone had ever heard, or would ever hear, the Sermon on the Mount.  What was wrong with that?  Where is the crime in that?   

                   Plenty!  That’s the point.  The world teaches us to seek power, wealth, influence, control.  The Beatitudes, the whole Sermon on the Mount, turn the world upside down.   Jesus puts forward a little child in today’s reading.  Who welcomes a little child welcomes me, and not me but the one who sent me, God!  Power, wealth are not evil in themselves, they are in fact good if, and only if, they are used for the common good and the relief of suffering.  But how easily we fool ourselves, making necessities out of luxuries!

          In this story, the disciples are mirror images of ourselves.  They failed to see how Jesus was upsetting the apple-cart, until perhaps, he upset the tables of the money-changers and the merchants in the Temple precincts.  The Sanhedrin feared Jesus would bring down Rome on them so they handed him over.  So Rome had to take him down.  The Roman authorities were in fact very liberal in their administration of the provinces of their vast Empire.  They allowed conquered peoples to retain their own legal systems, their customs and religious rites insofar as they did not interfere with Rome’s ultimate control.  But at any sign, at any hint of insurrection or subversion, Rome came down hard and fast, ruthlessly, crucifying hundreds, thousands, to make any example of them.  

          Jesus knew his days were numbered.  His insight into the meaning of the kingdom of God made it clear to him how opposed it was to the kingdom of mammon. But it remained a mystery to his followers how anyone would not love Jesus as they did, even as they failed to grasp the depth of his meaning. 

          Their failures, their unwillingness to understand, prefigure the patterns of future generations of disciples over the ages, people just like you and me, slow to understand the radical message of Jesus, and slower yet to follow.  The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel is subversive, subversive of every pattern and structure of oppression, domination, discrimination and war and the piling up of superfluous wealth when any of God’s children are starving.

           Jesus didn’t give up on the first disciples.  He won’t give up on us either.   Jesus teaches us to stand with the powerless, the marginalized and the disenfranchised rather than seek favor by catering to the rich and the powerful to feather our own nests. 

          They had to kill him.  But they couldn’t keep him dead!  “He rose again on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures.  …. His kingdom will have no end.”  It begins here and now, when we embrace that little child.  W

Monday, August 27, 2012

Joshua Casteel, R.I.P.

Tom Cornell
posted on America Magazine blog
and Independent Catholic News, London 
August 27, 2012

Joshua Casteel died, August 25, in New York City, after a long, brave and painful battle with cancer, another victim of the war in Iraq, at age 32.    

If ever there was an “all-American boy!”  A photo of Josh as president of the Young Republicans in his high school is charmingly na├»ve.   Tall and handsome, blue-eyed and blond-haired, of Norwegian stock, he must have looked quite at home as a cadet at West Point Military Academy.  But he couldn’t take the mindless chauvinism, he told me.  No critical thinking!  “I could take orders, but I can’t give them in an outfit like that,” he said.  He thought it only right to fulfill the commitment he made when he signed his enlistment contract, so he asked not for release but for reassignment as a common soldier.  He was sent to language school, in California, where he learned Arabic well enough to be assigned to Abu Graib Prison in Baghdad as an interrogator.  He arrived there just after the prisoner abuse scandal broke in 2004.  He had over one hundred interrogation sessions with prisoners, 90% of whom, he determined, were guilty of nothing but being Arab.  General Janis Karpinski, in charge of the prison at that time, disagreed, maybe 80%.  One was 14 years old, another nine!

Joshua was brought up in a fervently Evangelical family.  But Josh’s Christian faith began to falter.  He read Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity.  That not only revived but strengthened his faith.  He was received into full communion with the Catholic Church.  An admitted jihadi prisoner challenged Josh’s commitment to the New Testament ethic of nonviolence.  The jihadi had the better of the argument, Joshua decided.  He came to the conclusion that he was in fact a conscientious objector to war and to military service.  He applied for early discharge as a conscientious objector.  His commanding officer recognized the sincerity and validity of his claim.  Joshua was released with an honorable discharge and returned home to study and to write plays and stories based upon his experience. 

Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, retired, of Galveston-Houston, arranged for Michael Griffin, theology professor at Holy Cross College in South Bend and editor of the Catholic Peace Fellowship The Sign of Peace and me to present Joshua to Pope Benedict in Rome, March 2007 at an outdoor Mass.  The Holy Father was obviously impressed with Josh’s story.  As he was led away, Mike Griffin told the Holy Father the purpose of our trip to Rome, to spur further development of ministry to conscientious objectors, support and encouragement.  “You mean men like him?” said the Pope, pointing to Joshua. “Yes, Holy Father, men like him!”

Having earned an MFA at the University of Iowa, Joshua started advanced studies at the University of Chicago when he suddenly took sick.  It was lung cancer, 4th stage, metastasized.  The disease progressed rapidly.  He was soon in excruciating pain and dependent upon strong opioids.  Treatment seemed at times hopeful.  He was admitted to an experimental therapy program at a secret location in Lower Manhattan.  He responded very well.  Then a sudden downturn, due to pancreatitis.  In little more than a week, attended by his mother, Joshua slipped away. 

 A victim of the war?  Yes, probably, but there is no proof.  Joshua believed that his cancer was caused by living at Abu Graib near an open burn-pit operated by the US military.  All manner of refuse including plastics was dumped into open-air pits to be incinerated.  The fumes are toxic. 

Let Joshua have the last word, or words he spoke to Aaron Glantz, in a radio interview on Pacifica Radio KPFA, San Francisco, on our trip to Rome:  “We were seeking pastoral guidance from the Holy See as to how to best address the issue in America, which at the core is an issue of spiritual formation and catechesis, that people don’t know the history of Catholic conscientious objectors….  And this is where the issue of nationalism is front and center….  In this country, Catholic Christians often don’t act as if their Catholic identity is their primary identity – that somehow it’s ok to closet your Christianity when the State tells you to.  That’s not the history that Christianity hails from; it’s simply not the case.”

Pray for us, Josh, that God will grant us even a small share of your faith and courage, and consolation to your bereft mother Kristi and sisters Naomi and Rebekah.    

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Bread of Life

20 Sunday B  #119

Pvb 9, 1-6
Ps 34
Eph 5, 15-20
Jn 6, 51-58

Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.
August 19, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

          Our first reading from the Book of Proverbs speaks of the Temple of Wisdom built upon seven columns, or pillars.  But it doesn’t tell us what those seven pillars are.  Let’s say they are the seven virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, courage, and faith, hope and charity

          Or they might be what scholars of religion call the pillars of all major religions:  the contemplation of God, the ultimate mystery;  then where do we come from  and where are we going and why;  the destiny of the universe itself;  salvation, redemption, from what and for what;  and what other planes of existence there might be.  Christians will deal with these questions from our understanding of Hebrew and Christian Scripture and our own and our common experience, Sacred Tradition, and ultimately, through the person of Jesus Christ.  Wisdom, Sophia, Logos was with God and danced at the Creation, to become man in Jesus Christ.

            For the past three weeks, now four, we have been hearing “The Bread of Life Discourse” from the 6th Chapter of the Gospel according to John.  Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life, his own flesh and blood as food for eternal life.  Many of the Jews who heard these words found them intolerable; they couldn’t bear to hear them. They walked away; they would listen to him no more. 

          The bread of life come down from heaven will be offered to you in minutes.  This is the whole purpose of the priesthood.  Jesus would leave this earth, go back to the Father, sit at his right hand until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.  But until that time, Jesus remains with us.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in their midst.”  Jesus is present in the poor the sick and the suffering. “When you did these things for the least of these my brethren, you did them for me.”  Jesus is also truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity in every particle of the bread and wine consecrated by a valid priest at the altar.  He remains with us in sacramental sign because, no matter how badly we go astray, no matter how foolish we become, he wants to be with us, to nourish and guide us even despite ourselves.  Such is the infinite mercy of God.  

         God the Father did not directly will that his only begotten son should die, mocked and scourged, upon a felon’s cross.  But it was inevitable.  It was God’s will that Jesus submit and resist not the evil of men.  This would be the ultimate sacrifice which we commemorate at every Mass. 

          If the Incarnation had been postponed for two thousand years and Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, Connecticut or Marlboro, New York instead of Bethlehem in Juda, the outcome would have been the same.  We would have killed him.  One way or another we would have killed him.  That’s what we do to the lambs of God. 

          And Jesus would forgive, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” just as he did at Golgotha.  And we would be forgiven, saved.  Saved from the consequences of our own blind stupidity, willfulness, pride, greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth and anger, saved from the isolation we put ourselves into when we hide from each other’s pain and want and need. 

          The bread of life!  Communion!  The word means oneness with God and oneness with each other.  So we must bear one another’s burdens, live as brothers and sisters, not judging, but sharing, just as God has shared with us, shared his own very self!  Such a gift we have been given!  How can we not share with others then?  Our hearts should be so full of gratitude that they open and pour out whatever we have, even foolishly.  God will not be outdone in generosity.  His eye is on the sparrow.  I know he watches you and me!   W

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fortnight of Freedom

13 Sunday B  #98

Wis 1, 13-15. 2, 23-24
Ps 30
2 Cor 8, 7. 9. 13-15
Mk 5, 21-43

Peter Maurin Farm
July 1, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us that all creation is good, and that God created human beings in his own image and likeness, the basis of all human rights.  The reading from Second Corinthians is a clear command to us Christians to share what we have beyond our own needs with those who have not.  Our reading from Mark’s Gospel is deceptively simple.  Mark is like that.  Sometimes Mark seems overly simple, if I may say so.  Jesus did this and then Jesus did that; this happened and then that.  The most common phrase in Mark is “and then.”  Sounds like a kid reprising a movie, doesn’t it?  But take a second look.

          Jairus was an official of the local synagogue, a well-respected and presumably a wealthy man.  He didn’t have to push through the crowd to approach Jesus.  People made way for him.  Then he fell at Jesus’ feet to beseech him.  It was important in those days how one approached another person in public, especially someone he did not know, and especially if he was going to ask a favor.  Although Jairus was a leading citizen, he prostrated himself on the ground before the penniless itinerant preacher-healer Jesus and begged:  “My daughter is at the point of death.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live!”   

                   Mark interrupts the story abruptly.  A poor old woman enters the scene.  Jairus is kept waiting, by an old impoverished woman, a woman suffering from a flow of blood.  It is not just that she is ill and poor and a woman; she is unclean, ritually unclean.  Women were considered unclean once a month, but this poor woman had been haemorrhaging for twelve years straight.  By the letter of the law she should not have been in any crowd.  She should not have come into contact with any other person lest that one too be declared unclean, but up in Galilee the Law was not as strictly observed as it was in Jerusalem. 

                   Notice how the woman approaches Jesus.  The crowd makes no way for her, she does not fall before him, she is afraid even to approach him face to face.  She dares only to stretch out her hand and touch his clothing, “the hem of his garment,” from behind.  When Jesus realizes that healing power has gone out of him, he demands to know who has touched him.  Then in fear and trembling she comes forward and falls before him to explain herself.  “Daughter,” he tells her, “your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” 

                   Then Mark returns to the story of Jairus and his daughter.  Word comes that she has died.  Jesus counsels faith instead of fear.  Then the din of wailing as they approach Jairus’ house.  Finally the touching scene: Jesus takes her hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”  She gets up and walks around, and finally the charming detail, “Give her something to eat.” 

                   What are we to take from this “miracle within a miracle,” as it is called, the story of Jairus interrupted by the story of the woman with a flow of blood?  The action stops, the powerful synagogue leader is put on hold, for the sake of a woman, a second-class citizen in those days, and worse, one who is poor and  worse than that, “unclean.”  The lesson is this:  in the economy of Jesus, in God’s economy, it’s not the big-shots, but the poor, the sick, those who are pushed around and those who are pushed aside who come first, not the big-shots, but the little-shots.   Nowadays we call it “the preferential option for the poor.” 

          But aren’t the poor poor because they are lazy?  Isn’t it their own fault in the richest nation on earth, the richest in world history?  During this time of economic distress, I don’t think many of us are going to fall for that line.  For decades many of us, I included, have lived one pay check from homelessness, and worse.  Imagine what it feels like when the clerk at the Unemployment Office hands you your last check and says, “Good luck!”  It could happen to any one of us.
          It is hazy, hot and humid, but we can not let pass our nation’s birthday without reflection.  On July 4th, 1776, our forefathers declared our independence in the most powerful document of political history.  For the first time in history a nation was founded on the premise of God-given inalienable rights for all, at least on paper.  No government can in justice take away our rights because no government has given us our rights.  They are from God! 

          And yet today, in the middle of the “Fortnight of Freedom” that our Archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has declared, let us take heed of the threats to our heritage of freedom.  They are real.  The President claims the right to order the assassination of anyone he deems a “terrorist,” foreign or US citizen, with no review, no appeal, no need to explain or justify.  Since 1215 the British government has been obliged to justify imprisonment, no less execution.  US law is based upon English Common Law, including Magna Charta.  Good-bye, habeas corpus!  Good-bye, Magna Charta!  One hundred and sixty-eight men are being held in Guantanamo Prison in Cuba, most of them, admittedly, simply because they are Muslim, of Oriental ancestry and in the wrong place at the wrong time.  They have been there for over ten years despite the lack of any evidence that they have committed any offense!  They are there because we simply don’t know what to do with them.

          Ours is the most wealthy country in the world, in world history, so we pride ourselves!  According to one standard that is correct.  But if you take the aggregate wealth of the nation and divide it up among the citizens, nowhere near!  Norway is the richest country in the world by that calculation.  In quality of health care, we have the best in the world, yes, for those who can pay for it; for most of us it ranks about 36, just ahead of Slovenia according to the World Health Organization. 

          Having destroyed Iraq in order to save it, we are now at war in four countries.  We spend as much on war, wars past, current and future, as the rest of the world combined.  That money could heal our sick, educate our young, create jobs to repair our crumbling infra-structure and see to a dignified retirement for our aged workers.  And yet, college students graduate burdened by debt they may work their lives to liquidate and we congratulate ourselves that they will not have to pay 7% interest on their loans, only half that for the next year.  And thereafter?  As for religious freedom, Catholic Air Force officers are forced to sign a pledge that they will not hesitate to launch nuclear weapons of mass destruction upon command even though their use has been condemned unequivocally by the highest teaching authority of the Church, the Second Vatican Council . 

          These are crimes against life itself, at least as much as contraception.  Everyone knows our Church’s stand on abortion and contraception.  How many know our stand on nuclear weapons?  The Vatican has informed the United Nations that there is no longer any legal or moral justification for the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons!  

          Yes, our religious liberty is indeed under threat.  Habeas corpus is under threat.  Magna Charta is under threat.  The planet itself is under threat.  Why all this hullaballoo about the Affordable Health Act?  Do you sense a lack of proportion here?  W

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Faith Works!

11 Sunday B  #92

Ez 17, 22-24
Ps 92
2 Cor 5, 6-10
Mk 4, 26-34

Peter Maurin Farm
June 17, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   Happy Fathers’ Day!  When a man becomes a father it changes his life.  It changes him.  He takes his first look at the little creature reddish and wrinkly at his wife’s breast and he knows, but it takes a while before the enormity of it all sinks in:  life has changed;  he’s no longer the man he was.  Women seem to understand these things instantly.  It takes us men a little longer.  We know we have been given a mighty gift, to be co-creators with God and our wives, co-creators of a new human life.  We have taken our place on the ladder of life, passing on what had been passed on to us from all generations since the beginning of time.  Knowing this gives us a feeling of deep satisfaction, worth, happiness.  May that feeling be renewed in all fathers today and stay with you all.

                   Jesus taught us to call God “Our Father,” and so we do.  But we know that God is neither male nor female.  He is neither a man nor a woman.  God is spirit, to be worshiped in spirit and in truth.  Our God did not create and then walk away.  God is involved in His creation.  Like an earthly father, God provides and protects.  He led the People out of slavery in Egypt.  He gave the People the Law, and then He gave his only begotten son over to us that we might have life everlasting through faith in him.  But God has a feminine side too, nurturing and comforting, like a mother hen who would gather her chicks under her wings, as Jesus put it of himself.  

                    In Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians today we read, “…we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one might receive recompense according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.”     

          In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus compare the Kingdom of God to a field of wheat.  The farmer scatters the seed and of its own accord, he doesn’t know how, it grows until he can harvest another crop.  The seed the farmer scatters is our good deeds, the works of mercy, feeding the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned and counseling the doubtful, forgiving injuries, praying for the living and the dead and so forth, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  We need not know how, we need not even see the results, ever, but these will build the Kingdom of Heaven until Jesus comes again to bring it to fulfillment.  But we can’t do them without faith.  And so with the mustard seed.  Faith, as weak as it may be, can be nurtured and grow to sustain great deeds.  Without faith we can do nothing and faith is a free gift, a grace of God, Paul tells us (Rom 3, 21-26).  Pope Benedict in his encyclical, Spe salvi, Saved by Hope, he tells us the same.  By hope he means a confident expectation, faith.  So what is it?  Are we saved by faith or by good works as Paul seems to imply in today’s reading?  

          Theologians have been teasing this question for centuries.  Good works will flow from authentic faith firmly held, but faith is itself a gift, a grace freely given.  However we understand the relation of faith with works, in the end we must neither presume nor despair.  These are sins against the Holy Spirit.  We presume if we say, “I’m saved.  It doesn’t matter what I do, what I have done.  My sins are paid for by Christ’s blood.   I won’t be called to account because I believe.”  That’s wrong!  That’s a grave sin.  But it would be just as grave a sin to despair:  “I’m so bad, I’ve done such horrible things in my life that not even Christ could forgive me!  So I might as well keep being the wretched creature I am and keep doing the same damned thing. ” 

          Jesus stands there and knocks at the door.  Do not dare to lock it.  He wants to enter and sit down with you at the table.  If you have any doubts about that, bring them to our new pastor, Father Bassett.  His door is open, the deacons’ too.  And be glad, rejoice and be glad.  We have a Savior and we have an Advocate, the Holy Spirit of God, and we have a Church community holding each other up.  We have the Word in Scripture and we have the Bread of Life at the altar table.  Come and be filled!   W

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dorothy Day, a Sign of Unity

7 Easter B  #60

Acts 1, 15-17.  20-26
1 Jn 4, 11-16
Jn 17, 11-19

May 20, 2012
Peter Maurin Farm
Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   “God is love.”  That’s a pretty stark statement, no adverb, no adjective, no qualification.  I remember the first time I heard it, really heard it I mean.  It hit me hard.  I was a teenager and I was struck to the core and I never got over it, and I pray I never will.  Love is not just a four letter word!  The idea of love is cheapened in our world today.  It is not lust.  It is not sentimental “puppy” stuff.  It is not a Hallmark jingle for Mothers’ Day.  "No greater love hath any man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  And even more, for his enemies, as Jesus did. 

          Love is the force that set the world, everything, creation in motion.  Love alone could move the Unmoved Mover.  Love unites us, makes us one, one with each other, one with Jesus, one with God.  Jesus’ prayer to the Father at the Last Supper is that his disciples be one, united, and their disciples after them, that they all be one as he is in the Father and the Father in him so that the world might believe, believe that it is God who has sent Jesus, that Jesus’ way is the way God wants us all to follow, the way of self-giving love.  He prays that their unity might be complete so that the whole world might come to believe.  Today they will come to believe when they see how we love one another.  The ancient Greek and Roman pagans saw the Christians, how they lived, and said to their fellows, “See how they love one another.”  And so the Empire was converted.  “Preach the Good News always, and if you must, use words.”  If today they do not believe, it is because we do not love enough.

          Christ’s church is one.  Christ willed it, so it must be.  But our unity is not complete, it is not visible.  At the Second Vatican Council the Council Fathers were asked to define the church.  They did not.  They could not.  Not if define means put a limit to, put borders around, de fine.  You can not define God, put borders around God.  Jesus Christ is his sacrament, his efficacious sign, as we say.  But you can not define Jesus Christ, that is exhaust the meaning of “true God and true man.” The church is his sacrament, his efficacious sign in the world.  And neither can you define the church, put borders around it, de fine.  The Council Fathers were asked to identify the church of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church.  They refused.  We can define, put borders around the Roman Catholic Church, say who is in and who is out, but we can not put borders around the church of Christ, say who is in and who is out.  So the Council Fathers put it that the church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.  That means that the Catholic Church is necessary for the very being of the church of Christ.  It is interesting to note that the other churches and denominations define themselves in terms of which teachings of the Catholic Church they reject.

         We no longer hear of the Catholic Church claiming to be “the one true church.”  Dorothy Day in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, wrote that she never considered the claim of the Catholic Church to be the one true church, or any of its other claims, whether they were true or not; she just accepted them because she experienced the Catholic Church as the church of the poor, the church of the workers, the church of the immigrants in all the cities where she had ever lived.  That was enough for her.  We say nowadays that the Catholic Church, if not the “one true church,” is the “uniquely true church” because it has a unique fullness of the means of salvation, including the Petrine ministry.  It is also, and this is most important, the sacrament of the unity of the human race, the sign that brings into being the knowledge of the human family as one with no ethnic, no racial, no national distinctions. 

          They tell us today that the Catholic Church is polarized between conservatives and progressives.  Dorothy Day is now seen as a bridge between the so-called conservatives on the one hand and the so-called progressives on the other.  I can tell you from personal knowledge that Dorothy Day was a fiercely loyal, though sometimes an angry daughter of the Church.  She was angry when she saw Church leaders and institutions failing to live up to their own teachings.  But she stood her ground in loyalty and obedience.  When she was asked, during a tense period of the Cold War, what she would do if the Cardinal (Spellman) ordered her to close down the Catholic Worker, she said she would obey.  She also told me that in that event she would move the operation across the East River to the Diocese of Brooklyn or across the Hudson River to the Diocese of Newark! 
           Dorothy would be astonished if, when she was alive, anyone were to tell her that she would one day be seen as a sign, an efficacious sign, of unity.  But that is what her life was about, the unity of the Church in witness to an unbelieving world, a witness to love and to compassion.  It is only that the rest of us are finally catching up to her.  If you would like to consider membership in the Guild that Cardinal Egan established to forward her canonization as a saint, see me any time.  W

Monday, May 7, 2012

People First

22 Sunday B #125

Dt 4, 1-2. 6-8
Ps 15
Jas 1, 17-18. 21b-22. 27
Mk 7, 1-8. 14-15. 21-23

Deacon Tom Cornell
St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
Labor Day Weekend 2006

It’s Labor Day Weekend already, the end of summer, back to school. What does Labor Day have to do with labor? And why should we talk about it in church? When you get back to school, take a look at your high school history book, you students. Parents, you take a look too and see what it has to say about the labor movement. I have taught public high school in four jurisdictions, Connecticut, New York City and New York State, and New Hampshire. We are lucky here in Marlboro. Jack Mazza tells me there is a whole week long unit on labor in the advanced placement American History course in our high school. That’s great but it’s not the way it is in most places, and it’s still not enough. You’re lucky to get a paragraph on the Knights of Labor in the 19th Century and another on the AFL-CIO in the 20th, and something about the Wagner Act of 1935 that established the National Labor Relations Board and (this they never tell you) the weakest labor laws in the industrialized world.

If a history book tells you in the Preface that it’s going to give you an overview of the story of our nation, how it came to be, who formed it and how and it does not include the mighty battle to establish minimal protections for the working people of this country, then it is not telling you the truth. If it’s not the truth, it’s a lie. I realized this when a good Jesuit priest, Father Ryan, offered to teach a course in Labor History for us at Fairfield Prep, after school, not for credit. It was the most important class I ever took, in high school or in college, because it taught me that what I had been led to believe was history, wasn’t. The struggle for the forty hour week, for health and safety regulations, for the right to organize for collective bargaining, for social security old age pensions, for workers’ compensation for injury on the job, for unemployment compensation, for a minimum wage, that was all left out.

It cost blood! Yes, there was violence, almost all of it aimed against unarmed workers. Men, women and children were burned to death, men were shot, some were lynched, castrated, dragged through the streets and hanged. Deputy sheriffs near Hazelton, Pennsylvania in 1897 shot down nineteen unarmed Slavic, Hungarian and Sicilian miners because they went out on strike. That stimulated the building of the United Mineworkers Union. Organizers were imprisoned unjustly for as long as twenty years, all for trying to form a union. Why talk about this sort of thing in church? Church is where we come to get closer to God, to hear the Word and to come together in Communion with Jesus our God and with one another and all God’s children. There you have it! ALL GOD’S CHILDREN, not just the sons and daughters of the powerful. The God we worship is a God who demands justice, “Whose mighty right arm scatters the proud in their conceit, who lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty from their thrones, who fills the hungry with good things....”

By the middle of the 19th Century, the Catholic Church had to deal with the devastating effects of the industrial revolution on its people. In countries where the bishops were chosen from the sons of the powerful, the Church was very slow, too slow to respond to the crisis, and Pope Pius IX lamented, “We have lost the working classes.” In England, where the Catholic population was small and mostly Irish and poor, and in the United States, where the bishops were, almost every single one of them, sons of workers, the response was quick and positive. The rich and powerful, the noble families that ruled Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Austro- Hungarian Empire and their bishop cousins wanted the Pope to condemn the labor movement, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Knights of Labor in the US as Communists and enemies of Christ and his Church. On the other side were Cardinal Gibbons in Baltimore and Cardinal Manning in London. They went to Rome and appealed directly to the Pope. Gibbons and Manning won.
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII gave his answer to the social question in an encyclical that set off the development of modern Catholic Social Teaching, Rerum Novarum, or In These Revolutionary Times. Labor is prior to capital. Work comes first, because work creates capital. People come first because men and women are made in the image and likeness of God. Dollars, pounds and euros are made in the mint! Labor is not a commodity on the market, subject to the law of supply and demand. All God’s creation was meant for the benefit of all. On the other hand, the Church defends the right to private property. “Property is proper to man.” The problem with capitalism is that it doesn’t get enough capital to enough people. Private property, yes, but it is not an absolute right and must be subject to the requirements of the common good. Workers have a right, even an obligation, to band together to assert their right to a fair share of the product of their own labor by all honorable means, including the withholding of their labor. The public sector has the duty to intervene for the re-distribution of wealth when necessary.
Catholic Social Teaching is the envy of our fellow Christians in the denominations. Many times I have been told by Protestant colleagues that they simply do not have the resources to develop and bring together such a body of teaching. “You write the documents, and we teach them in our seminaries,” one told me. And yet, so very few of our fellow Catholics are aware of it. Even a smaller percentage of our fellow citizens know anything about the terrible long struggle to attain the degree of social justice we enjoy in this land today, the Pullman Strike in 1894, for example. President Grover Cleveland called out 20,000 troops to put it down. They shot thirteen unarmed men dead and wounded fifty-seven more and the courts condemned, not the killers, but the strikers’ leader, Eugene Victor Debs, in prison for six months, one of the greatest Americans of all time. Or the Haymarket Riots of May 4, 1886 in Chicago. Someone threw a bomb at a rally and four policemen were murdered. It was a terrible crime. Somebody had to pay, so four labor leaders were hanged and one cheated the gallows by suicide in prison. Or the Lawrence, Massachusetts textile strike of 1911, the “Bread and Roses Strike.” Two women representing the strikers went to the local newspaper editor. He asked them, “What do you want?” One woman answered, “We want bread!” The other chimed in, “And roses too!” Or the Ludlow Massacre on Easter Night, 1914, when the National Guard in Ludlow, Colorado shot dead a dozen striking coal miners, thirteen of their children and one pregnant woman. Or the Lawrence strike of 1919, led by my beloved teacher, A.J. Muste, or the 1937 Flint, Michigan strike against General Motors that established the United Auto Workers Union, led by A.J.’s students.
The last survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in Lower Manhattan in 1911 just died this year. Two hundred and seventy-five young women, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrants right off the boat, worked six day weeks ten hours a day in this sweatshop. The doors were kept locked so that none of them could sneak out. When fire broke out on the ninth and tenth floors, many of them jumped to their deaths to escape the flames. One hundred and forty-six died. That spurred the growth of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, where my aunt learned to speak English, with a Jewish-Italian accent. These lives were part of the price we paid for health and safety regulations in factories.

Who remembers that Gene Debs ran for President of the United States from a federal prison cell and won a million votes! Debs opposed World War I. For saying so out loud, that’s right, just for saying so in public, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. President Harding freed him after three years, but Debs’s health was broken and he died not long after. Or A. Philip Randolph, who organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first Black union when many unions were still segregated? Mister Randolph – even his closest associates called him Mister Randolph – was the Martin Luther King of his time.

I hope in this parish the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are not forgotten, men who were executed in 1927 for being labor activists and for being Italian immigrants. “We never brought a morsel of bread to our mouths, from our childhood to today, which has not been gained by the sweat of our brows. Never!” Vanzetti wrote the night before he was murdered in the electric chair. The State of Massachusetts legislature has apologized, thank you! Let us never forget! The trial and appeal records are there for anyone to read, and a more shameful exhibition of ethnic prejudice and hatred can not be found. My Italian mother impressed upon me the meaning of all this, and why we must all come to the defense of any people who are humiliated for their race or their ethnic identity. Lest we forget!

It wasn’t all beer and skittles within the labor movement. Communists vied for control with gangsters. The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists, before and after World War II, set up labor schools all over the country to teach rank-and-file union members how to keep control of their own unions. One of its leaders, my friend John Cort, died just last month at age 92.

Little is known of the part that organized labor played in the great Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, but I know because I was there. I know who paid the bills! My teacher, A.J. Muste, trained Walter and Victor Reuther of the United Auto Workers Union. These names, if you don’t know them, and Cesar Chavez’s, each of them deserves a chapter of its own in every American history book. And they were all connected to Martin Luther King through A.J. Muste. A.J. sent Bayard Rustin to Montgomery in 1956 to assist Doctor King in running the Bus Boycott. Then Bayard put together the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SCLC, Dr. King’s organization.

You have to ask yourself why they are not there in your history book, except for King of course. Many texts don’t even tell you that King was a Christian minister, and they surely don’t tell you anything about his social philosophy. Whose interests does this silence serve? If you want to know the answer to that, look for the people who fought Social Security then and would undo it now, look for those who fought the minimum wage then and now, for those who fought the forty hour week and are fighting still to keep it all for themselves.

When workers band together to secure justice for themselves and their fellows so that they might raise their families in decency, they are acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God. That’s what Dorothy Day taught, and that’s what Cardinal O’Connor taught, and it’s right out of the social encyclicals of the Popes for the last one hundred years.

It was one hundred years ago, in 1906, that Father John Ryan published his book, The Living Wage, arguing that everyone has the right to honest work and that all honest full-time labor deserves compensation at a level sufficient to maintain a family in decency. One hundred years later we still don’t have it, and it takes two full-time jobs to maintain a family with the kids in child-care, educated not by a parent in their family’s beliefs and traditions and values, but by a corps of hirelings in a day-care center where the mention of God is forbidden and the concept of family is, shall we say, flexible.
Young people crave adventure. Do you want a struggle, young people? Here’s a struggle for you! Learn your own history, not the lying pap they feed you in school or in the mass media. You have to search it out for yourself. You have to find it. Then engage yourself, get in gear, take your part in the struggle, the only struggle that can honestly claim that it has God on its side, the nonviolent struggle for justice, peace and equality in this land of the free and home of the brave.

Happy Labor Day, everyone, and remember where you came from. Remember Labor! And as Mother Jones put it, “Pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living!” W


29 Sunday B #146

Is 53, 10-11
Ps 33
Heb 4, 14-16
Mk 10, 35-45

October 18, 2009
Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.

Deacon Tom Cornell

(Is knowing and believing the same? What can we know about God, really know? Everyone has at least a vague intuition of The Other early in life, the Mystery we call God. One opens to the mystery, or one does not, and believes, or does not. And even if one does not, God is known to pursue, the “The Hound of Heaven,” relentlessly. When we open ourselves to God, our consciousness expands. That’s if we pray, not just mouthing words but really pray. Then we are more aware of everything. But human consciousness cannot capture the Infinite. We can not imagine God, that is, make an image of Him. We can not take hold of Him, capture Him. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God is involved in history, God cares. He didn’t just create the world, walk away and leave it at that. He called Abraham out of Ur to form a People and He led the People out of Egypt.)

The Hebrew religion is about a book, and the Muslim religion is about a book. But the Christian religion is about a man, Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, who we believe is the ultimate revelation of God, the God-man. Eternally begotten of the Father, he became one of us. Jesus is what we can know about God, all we need to know.

If you want to know what God is like, then look to Jesus. You want to get closer to God? Then develop a personal relationship with Jesus, a real, a personal relationship. Picture him in your mind. That’s what the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross are meant to do, to help us to imagine Jesus, to picture in our minds the scenes of his life, and his mother’s life, and to enter into them. Make a mental image. Imagine. Talk to him, every day, several times a day. And know that no matter what happens, good or bad, Jesus is with you, by your side, your best friend. He will never abandon you. He taught us to pray “Thy will be done.” “Let it be,” said his mother, “Let it be done unto me according to thy word.” But we have our part to play too in God’s plan. Pray “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Then turn to Jesus.

Picture Jesus? The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus looked like, the color of his eyes, his height or weight or complexion or build or voice. Did he have blue eyes, and wavy blond hair? If you want to imagine him that way, go ahead, but that’s not likely. He was a Palestinian Jew. So he probably had brown eyes and skin darkened by the desert sun. But picture him as you will. The Shroud of Turin may or may not be the burial cloth of Jesus. But it’s easy to imagine that Jesus looked like the mysterious, unaccountable imprint on that cloth. I see a well-built man with a manly face, a large nose and full firm jaw and chin, with deep-set eyes, not beautiful, not even handsome really, but strong, commanding attention. His strength radiates gentleness by the way he carries himself. His voice is strong too, but it is soothing, reassuring with quiet authority.

People gathered around him to hear him preach, thousands of people at a time. He taught sitting down. That was the custom. There were no microphones in those days, no loudspeakers, so he must have had a powerful voice. He went on for hours, long enough for people to get hungry and need to eat a meal. So he must have had a strong voice. And he must have had physical stamina too.

He died after only three hours on the Cross. Of course he had lost a lot of blood from the scourging. He fell, maybe even passed out three times on the way to Golgotha. A large man will die sooner on a cross than a small man because the weight of his body will pull him forward and inhibit breathing. So there is every reason to believe that Jesus was a large man, imposing, dark, with piercing black eyes and a powerful voice. But at the same time, he was gentle and kindly, humble, meek even, seldom moved to anger. But then he could ring out condemnation like thunder. The meek and gentle Jesus could in a moment rise up in righteous wrath casting the money changers from the Temple, or castigating hypocrites, pious frauds.

God looked upon his creation and saw that is was good. Jesus looked upon the Father’s creation and saw that is was good. He was intensely aware, of everything. That is what happens when we allow God into our lives. Our consciousness expands; we become more aware. We can see His traces in a grain of sand or the starry skies or the eyes of a child. And at the same time we are able, as Jesus was, to empty our minds, to peer into the void. For some few destined for the highest spiritual development, God hides in a “dark night of the soul,” as with Mother Theresa. God seems to withdraw, to be absent; all spiritual consolation is withheld, only to purify the soul of any delusion. Even Jesus had a moment like that when he cried out, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

All through his life Jesus loved everything he saw, the earth, the sea, the sky, birds, his home, his tools, flowers, rocks, rain and sun and children. He loved people, not with a sentimental love. The love that moved God at the Creation is Jesus’ love, the love he revealed. Men had turned away; they rejected God’s love in mythic Eden. But Jesus revealed it once again, to take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, eyes to see, ears to hear, to love as he loved, even to the Cross. He loved everyone, but especially the lowly, the outcast, the ones nobody else wanted. He ate with them. That was the ultimate sign and act of friendship, solidarity in those days in Palestine, to eat together, and it still is. Jesus ate with tax collectors, even fallen women, and public sinners. He did not encourage sin. Quite the contrary. When Jesus rescued the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned, he forgave her but he told her to go and sin no more! But the fact is he forgave. And he still calls sinners to the table. And forgives.

Think of the titles given to Jesus: Lord, Messiah-Christ, Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God, High Priest and Prophet, Savior, Redeemer, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Teacher, Rabbi Rabboni, Good Shepherd, Morning Star, Dawn from on High, Comforter, Everlasting Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Lamb of God, Way, Truth, Life. He is all of that and more, Holy, Mighty Immortal! And yet so close, so near, Emmanuel, God-with-us, brother, friend. Need we ever fear, can we ever be thankful enough?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

His Mercy, Our Mercy?

2 Easter B #44 Divine Mercy

Acts 4, 32-35
Ps 118
1 Jn 5, 1-6
Jn 20, 19-31

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
April 15, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

Christ is risen. He is truly risen! “What good would life have been to us had not Christ risen from the dead?” He rose to take us with him. Otherwise life has no meaning at all: death is the end, a void, nothingness, an absurdity, even a mockery. We have hope, we have faith, all due to God’s mercy. Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. We have never done anything to deserve God’s mercy. Nor can we ever. It is a free gift, grace: saved by the gift of faith and hope, saved from death, saved from meaninglessness.

We really don’t know much about the life of the world to come, heaven, hell, purgatory. George Bernanos said that hell is not to love any more, and Fyodor Dostoevsky said the same. We don’t hear much about purgatory these days. What if Hitler and Stalin had the grace of final repentance? Would they then sit at the same table with Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day in heaven? Not for a while, I venture to say, not for a while.

Our first reading today is about the Jerusalem commune. Yes, the earliest Christians were communists. It’s likely that many of their fellow Jews in Jerusalem thought of them as some kind of hippies, as we might say. People who really believe tend to look funny to an unbelieving world. They certainly weren’t living the way most people did. They shared their goods, everything they had so that there was no one needy among them, “to each according to his need.” They didn’t say, “Is this person worthy of our help? She’s a drunk. She brought this need upon herself!” Or “He’s a mooch, says he’s too fat to work. He made his bed now let him lie in it! Why should we pick up the pieces of their broken lives when it’s not our fault but their own?” The Jerusalem disciples didn’t ask these questions. They didn’t distinguish between the “deserving” as opposed to the “undeserving” poor; they just shared.

Karl Marx thought that was a good line, from Acts, “to each according to his need.” He adopted it and added, “from each according to his ability.” That’s not a bad idea either! Marx’s mistake was to deny God, and to deny the freedom of the children of God, and so millions perished, tens of millions, for a utopian dream! When Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Declaration of Universal Human Rights to the United Nations in 1948, even though that declaration did not admit the divine origin of human rights, Mrs. Roosevelt warned that these rights will never be implemented without the world’s churches and synagogues weighing in. And we do.

God created this world for all to share. That teaching of the Church is called “the universal destination of goods,” and it has been explicit Catholic doctrine since 1891: that God did not create this beautiful world just for the children and grandchildren of the rich and powerful, but for all, since we are all are God’s children. Does that mean that people don’t have the right to private property and the profits of their own honest labor? No, not at all! Human freedom and human dignity depend upon it. We have a right to the fruits of our labor. But not to the fruits of other peoples’ labor. Man is to live by the sweat of his brow, we learn in Genesis, not the sweat of other peoples’ brows. You see there is some tension between these two ideas. We must share with those in need but at the same time we have a moral obligation to try to make our own way in the world, to support ourselves and our families.

The right to private property is not absolute but must be harmonized with the common good. That’s a hard lesson for many people to learn. Unspeakable human grief has been caused in our own living memory by those who would force the issue with grand schemes. What if twenty or thirty million men and women and children had to be sacrificed for the utopian dream? The future would be heaven on earth! A heaven without a God! In other words, a hell. And by neglect too. Indifference is worse than hatred. Too many just turn their backs, and again millions die, 16,000 children every day die from hunger, malnutrition. It doesn’t have to be.

There is no safe foundation for human rights other than the Hebrew belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God and the Christian conviction that we are saved by the blood of Christ, saved for the kingdom of God, a kingdom that can not be built by human hands alone, a kingdom that will only be realized in the fullness of time by his own return when we will share Christ’s divinity, who humbled himself to share our own humanity. That’s what Easter means. God has been good to us, generous, so merciful. So let us stop judging and show each other mercy. If we got what we deserve, none of us would get off easy! That too is what Easter means. Can we live this faith?

The Apostle Thomas’ faith faltered. He had followed Jesus through Galilee and Samaria to Jerusalem. He was there at the Sermon on the Mount. He was there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes. He was there at the Last Supper and so he was among Christ’s first priests. And yet he could say, “I’ll never believe unless….” Thomas’s doubt is a grace to all of us whose faith sometimes falters or grows weak. If we have the gift of faith, even as small as a mustard seed, we can water it, nurture it; it can grow, as the mustard seed, and shelter many. God has been merciful to us. Let us then be merciful to one another. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prayer Is First

1 Lent 2012 B #23

Gn 9, 8-15
Ps 25
1Pt 3, 18-22
Mk 1, 12-15

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
February 26, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

Have you lost any weight yet? Just last Wednesday I realized that I won’t be able to get into my suit trousers if I don’t lose a few pounds. Lent is just in time. It’s a very good idea to revive the old Lenten fast, not because we have to, but because we want to. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving: these cover a multitude of sins, and they are the three essential elements of the penitential season. Prayer comes first!

It’s really so good to see you here, every Sunday. You are the faithful ones. You are here. Where are the others? Father Bader and Deacon Vinny and I and the lay ministers of the Eucharist, when we stand at the foot of the altar to give you Communion: every time we feel the same warmth of recognition. We are native born and foreign born, liberals and conservatives, of many different racial and ethnic strains, but here we are all one, together, united in the love of God and Jesus Christ and all our differences fade away into insignificance. Communion: that’s what the word means. We are one with God in Christ Jesus who died for us, who showed us a way to live and who rose again to take us with him; and we are one with each other. The sacrament makes it real. Where are the others? Don’t they know what they’re missing?

Let’s get back to the subject, the penitential season of Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer comes first. If I fast seriously enough to get back into those trousers, that’s all well and good. But if my fast did not begin in with prayer, if it was not carried out in prayer and if it does not end in prayer, then it is of no spiritual benefit whatever. If I tithe and write a substantial check to the Campaign for Human Development, that’s all well and good. But if my charity does not begin in prayer, if it is not sustained in prayer, if it does not end in prayer, again, it avails me nothing in the realm of the spirit.

Saint Paul counsels “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5,17). How do you do that? One way is to start the day with The Morning Offering.
There are many forms of that prayer. Here’s the one I learned as a boy:

O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world.
I offer them for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart;
the salvation of souls, reparation for sin, the reunion of Christians; and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.

The Rosary is a very good way to pray. We let our fingers do the walking, as it were, counting the beads. Giving our hands something to do helps us to concentrate on the prayers itself. The repetition of the words of the Hail Mary, especially, are supposed to become automatic, freeing our minds to concentrate on the mysteries, from the Annunciation to the Birth of Jesus, from the Agony in the Garden to the Crucifixion, from the Resurrection to the Coronation of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. If you want, you can concentrate on other events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. Of course your mind will wander. When that happens, just bring it back!

Then there is silent prayer, contemplative prayer. Don’t be frightened off by the idea that this form of prayer is only for the spiritually advanced, monks and cloistered nuns. Not at all; we can all do it. One way is to read a short passage of Scripture, just to get in the right frame of mind. You’ll have to have a quiet place, nobody else around, no radio or TV noise in the background. You’ll have to set aside a few minutes, just a few at first. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight. Take a deep breath in through your nose, as deep as you can, then let it out through your lips, slowly. Do it again, and a third time. Now as you empty your lungs, empty your mind. There’s a lot of noise in our heads, so many thoughts, a lot of busy-ness. Breathe it all out as best you can. Empty you mind. Some people focus on a word or a short phrase, a “prayer word” or a “mantra.” Many people use the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I use the beads for this prayer too, repeating it over and over. Again, inevitably, your mind wanders. All right, just call it back. Shorten the prayer, to just two words, “Jesus, mercy,” or one word if you like, “Jesus”! If you try this once a day, you will find that you will need just the word to call you back when you are distracted. Then maybe you can try it twice a day.

Let us pray! By the end of Lent may we all be prepared to meet the Risen Lord; may our waist lines be a little smaller and may some people living in poverty have some relief from our giving in Jesus’ name. 