Digging through the dirt.

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I could have written last weekend, but I didn’t. It’s not that I did not have a thing to say, I did but I decided to do something else. Time often is a precious resource. I decided to do something other than write. My choice.

Today I write about what the kingdom of heaven is like Mt 13:44-52 . In the gospel readings that kingdom is likened to three things. First, an object of great value buried in a field. Second a pearl valued by a merchant. Third, a fisherman’s great catch. In each example the object of desire is appraised by its owner. The person who discovers an object in the field declares it a treasure, the merchant and fisherman do the same. They declare the object valuable. Granted society and culture often have a say in an objects net worth, and each object was valued by society. Jesus chose objects that were recognized as being of value. People often appraise an objects value. Capitalism thrives on appraised value, as do auctions. People are often appraised on looks, or intellect, or social status, or wealth. Objects are often appraised on supply and demand, or rarity, or the sum of its materials and labor.

Merriam-Webster defines Appraise as ” to set a value on :  to estimate the amount of ” and “to evaluate the worth, significance, or status of; especially :  to give an expert judgment of the value or merit of.” I like the word that is buried in that word Appraise, much like the treasure buried in the field. The word is Praise. Merriam gives a definition as ” to glorify (a god or saint) especially by the attribution of perfections” Sadly may glorify objects. Those the praise God are usually wiser. A little commentary there, actually quite a lot buried in a few sentences.

The stories also have an historical consideration, especially that one of finding a treasure in a buried field. Why, after finding one object, would the treasure hunter buy the entire field? That’s where history comes in. When a land was under attack people often buried their treasures in a field as protection from looting. If a valuable object was found buried in the dirt, chances there were more. Those treasures would belong to the landholder. Thus the importance of buying the land. Of course one could investigate the ethics of taking possession of a neighbors goods in such a manner, but who cares to bring up morals? Reburying something to hide it is an act of deception. Who cares! It’s the object that is valuable, not the ethics.

In the second example the merchant discovers a pearl of great wealth, and sells all he has to take ownership of it. The good news is that the merchant found what he had sought. The bad news was that he placed such a high value on an oysters pearl. Pearls are produced when a grain of sand enters and irritates an oyster’s flesh. I don’t know if they knew that in the first century. But the merchant had sold everything he had to possess it. Greed, gluttony, lust for an oyster’s irritant. Where does man place his value? Many do place such an incredible value on earthly goods, while ignoring the damage they can do to the soul.

Of course the story is about “The kingdom of heaven is like.” The point is that entering the kingdom requires this merchant’s single-minded devotion. Entry is not a half-hearted event. In both the story about the field treasure and the pearl, the value of the object is realized; and those folks will do absolutely anything to possess it.

The kingdom of heaven is like way more valuable than anything you dig up in a field, or find at a flea market. Oddly most people don’t realize that. They spend their lives rumbling through the garbage seeking some trinket of value, while ignoring an abundance of splendor in plain view. The kingdom of heaven isn’t tiny or hidden, its magnificence is in plain view. If only folks would assess its value.

That is the lesson from Jesus’s third example, the fisherman’s great catch. The fisherman certainly know that the harvest is valuable by its abundance. To realize that wealth they must make decisions. They must separate the good from the bad. They must make sound decisions. Look at the question given to King Solomon 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12. God tells Solomon “Ask me something and I will give it to you.” Solomon asks for the wisdom to make sound decisions. He didn’t ask for something that could be buried in the dirt.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 109

Saint John Vianney, Curé of Ars

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On occasion I like to dig into the past to recycle a “lightly read” post. This one dates back to 2012:

Saint John Vianney had a tough go of it in becoming a priest. His meager early education left him without adequate academic skills necessary for the seminary and His inability to master Latin too was a great obstacle.Born at the time of the French Revolution, the church was under attack from the population,and many times as a youth his mass attendance was in secret.Drafted into Napoleons Army towards the latter part of the war; an illness kept him from his first enrollment and a missed appointment kept him from the second; with that the threat desertion charges kept him in hiding. In Seminary his academics were so challenged that he nearly was let go, but a priest convinced the seminary to allow him to continue due to his devotion to Christ. Needles to say since he was not the most successful of students, when it came time to receive assignments he was sent somewhere he could do little harm. That place was the small parish of Ars, France; population 230 .

It seemed though that this simple minded priest was just what this religiously challenged population needed. The French Revolution had addressed the political and social structure of the country. The Church had been a great part of the Political landscape; and a large part of the revolution was against its power and its wealth.France was moving towards a secular society.  Perhaps in that great struggle that was going on nationwide, the personal struggles of John Vianney proved to be his greatest asset. In the turmoil of the revolution, perhaps a eloquently educated Priest of letters would have raised suspicion or even contempt, being socially and intellectually so far removed from struggling small town parishioners. Perhaps rather than academics it was simplicity and sincerity that won these town-folks over. While the cure of Ars might have been challenged in the academics of Christianity, he was a champion in the practice of the faith, and he could guide his flock in that faith in a language they could understand. He understood Christ and he lived his teachings.John Vianney understood Jesus’s language,he understood what it meant when he said: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
IN that town of Ars, population 230; John Vianney greeted 20,000 pilgrims and was known to spend 10 hours listening to their confessions. Perhaps John Vianney’s greatest skill in academics was something his teachers failed to grasp, the value of humble sincerity and the faithful practice of what you preach

Martha

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I could write about Martha , sister of Mary and Lazarus. She is the one that treated Lord Jesus as a guest, a welcome guest. She welcomed him into home. Her sister, Mary, graciously sought entry into the “house of the Lord.” There is the difference. Jesus corrects Martha, she should cross HIS threshold and enter under His roof,  and not simply let the LORD enter what is hers, the earthly and temporary domain. Martha , what bad  can be said of such a gracious host? Both gracious and welcoming in her service. Sure, she did not understand what gates the Lord had opened for her; but should she be faulted for that? Few understood the redemption on a cross, few followed her call to serve the Lord. And so, think of those that do serve. Many do. Perhaps today many understand HIM better, but still many do  neglect the temporal needs of the Lord. There is need for those that labor on earth, so that others might enter the kingdom of the Lord. Unselfish love and devotion. That is Martha.

Prayer for a journey

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I read the news headlines today and think good grief this cannot be.

In those days, the LORD said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,
and their sin so grave,
that I must go down and see whether or not their actions
fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me.
I mean to find out.” Gn 18:20-32

The outcry, the outcry? There is no outcry, what this story condemns is precisely what my society promotes. It is what my leaders have been promoting for thirty years. It has been promoted every hour and every day for thirty years. Incredible! What Abraham thinks God will destroy, is today asked to be blessed. Vice has become virtue, and that is not merely the perversion of flesh. Ours also is greed, and abuse of authority, and perversion of the mind. It is not what the divine declares ‘good versus evil’, it is what man declares. It is not Abraham that should ask God, but God should consult with man. The cities I wander today.

I look at Abrahams questions, his “what if” scenarios. What if 50 people are innocent, will you destroy it? I think, wrong question. History tells that evil cannot prevail. The question to me is not will God destroy it, my plea is will it destroy me? With certainty I know the fate of evil, I pray that I might recognize it. I pray I survive it. Abraham had his prayers, and I have mine. Abrahams is a prayer of reason, mine a plea for safety. It matters not though, we both do the same thing. We pray.

That is what the disciples ask of the Lord. Lord teach us to pray. There were and are so many styles of prayer in the world, and those disciples wanted one that would work. The style of the day was long, and elegantly worded. It spoke as much of the person reciting it as it did to God. It showcased a rank and an authority, and it was not always directed toward the heavenly. No matter though, it was still prayer.  Lk 11:1-13

Jesus understood the power of prayer, and He made use of it often. The disciples noticed the Lord in prayer, and they witnessed how it changed Him. They understood its power, and they wanted the same. When those disciples asked Jesus “teach us to pray” he knew both their needs, and their challenges. Just like today, they needed the power of prayer to navigate their world. The Lord knew they needed a prayer of perspective, one that put God and man in the proper order. “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Jesus knew the prayer needed to help them reach their destination. They are nomads, they need a prayer that is compact, one that can be carried with them and not recited over them. They were on a journey, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done, on earth as in Heaven.” That was their destination, and their prayer reminded them of that.

Like the exodus they needed nourishment, on that journey there was no time to leaven the bread. “Give us our daily bread” will be understood when Jesus says “take this bread and eat it” That bread does not simply nourish a body, it powers a soul. It strengthens a covenant. It gives them strength to march forward to the kingdom preached. It is prayer of strength.

It also is a prayer of forgiveness, it is the reason their Lord entered into creation. That was for the forgiveness of sins. The Lords Prayer is a gentle reminder to offer the same forgiveness to neighbors that God grants us. That is the essential message of the good news of Jesus. It defines Jesus’s disciples. The prayer reminds them of who they are, Christians. Col 2:12-14

Jesus knew well the world the disciples lived in as He walked among them. He knew their Sodom and Gomorrah’s just as the Lord knows ours. His ministry opens with the devils temptations. Jesus knows our opponent, and reminds us we are being challenged. To gain victory is to recognize the opponent. It is to keep a watchful eye and that is essential. To reach our destination, is not to fall into temptation.

Interesting how “The Lord’s Prayer” fits the traveler who must walk through those cities Abraham speaks of. Abraham asks God if He will destroy the innocent with the guilty. Jesus prayer gives the means by which God will protect them. Have a safe trip.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 111

life, death and the 17th Sunday of ordinary time

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The multiplication of the loaves and fishes is a gospel story full of meaning, it is a miracle that can be interpreted on many levels. The first reading from the Book of Kings brings to mind that the story describes Jesus in a historical context, likening Him to the Old Testament prophets. The Apostles at this stage of their discipleship had not yet learned who the Christ truly is, they begin to see Him as a prophet.

Jesus had just finished healing many and was to withdraw when the crowd followed Him. The question posed to the disciple, and that also refers to us today, is how that many people would be fed. To that question, their is first the answer of the novice disciple; there is not enough to meet these peoples needs.  Christ’s response though is that God provides abundantly for the people. Christ’s message is one of Eucharist or Thanksgiving. God provides.Does God provide abundantly, yes or no?

“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”

Even today, these two views of life are relevant. On one hand there is that negative outlook of there not being enough resources , versus the positive outlook of God provides. Both, I think, can be exploited for good or bad. To look at a good outlook turned bad, God provides can introduce an element of complacency or laziness. One can run the risk of apathy, but even for that God provides. Along with the food, God provides the hunger. God provides. Does God provide abundantly, yes or no? Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.

Look now at the propaganda that the Lord does not provide. Where does the disciples initial response lead? What happens when “We can not feed these people” What happens when God does not provide, and therefore man must take charge? What type of culture does that lead to?

Pope Francis has been talking a lot about the poor. His discussion on that topic hints that those struggling do not have enough, and they strongly suggest that those with an abundance of resources should be more generous. To the rich, there is the fear that God will not replenish their basket once they give their contents to others. There is the fear that they will become slaves to the poor. God though provided them with an intellect, one that allowed them to accumulate wealth. Do they then think God will not provide a rationale for accommodating those struggling in a humane and dignified manner? Perhaps some spend too much time dwelling on the Lords opponent. Such is the nature of propaganda, such is the nature of the devil. It is the peddling of fear rather than thanksgiving. Does God provide abundantly, yes or no?

“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,

Another great area of the culture of fear gaining ground over a culture of thanksgiving has been in societies attitudes towards the unborn. To the fear mongers, the abortionists, there is that propaganda notion again of God will not provide and therefore we must do something. They are in the news again, this time for profiting from aborted fetus body parts. They provide death, while God inspires life. There is that current culture of death versus the culture of life. God provides in abundance, and how do we show our thanksgiving?

In this bible passage, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, God provides in abundance for our needs. The passage also amply illustrates that we do not always recognize that plain fact. We are often duped into thinking that there is not enough to go around. Often though that fear is propagated by those hoarding Gods plenty. Both fear and thanksgiving can be propagated, both can be multiplied. One the culture of death, the other of life. Who do we listen to? What do we do with the Lords generosity?  Who are we listening to? There are after all two voices speaking, and only one is the Lords.Does God provide abundantly, yes or no?