Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Memorize the Old Testament in Under 30 Minutes

So, I’m a Catholic priest. And I was thinking the other day: “It’s kinda embarrassing that I don’t have memorized all of the books of the Old Testament.” Sure, there are 46 books and I’ve read through them and studied them, but I couldn’t recite them to you as one long list. I’d get lost somewhere in the ah-ba-dibah-sounding prophets…

So, if you told me that I could memorize all of the books in half an hour, I would laugh at you. And tell you to get out.

That is, until today.

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with a few brother priests and one of them told me how he had discovered a way of memorizing a lot of material with relative ease—in fact, he memorized all of the books of Scripture. How? He said that he read in a book about how you mentally “build a house” and “fill it” with the things that you are trying to memorize. The pneumonic devices and visual aspects of imagining a house lead to a higher retention rate. So, you pretend that you enter a foyer and there, in the foyer, are the pneumonic objects that lead you to remember the things you wanted to remember. Then, you turn to the next room (a dining room, a kitchen…) and remember the other things that you placed there. Pretty cool stuff, actually.

“It’s worth a shot,” I said to myself.

So, this morning I “built my house” and filled each room with pneumonic devices so that I'd remember each book. And when I was done, I realize that I had memorized all of the books of the Old Testament. In fact, I had all of the books memorized in 25 minutes. In fact, it was so quick and so awesome, I decided to try it on my 6th graders who I would be teaching later that morning. During class, I “built a house” with them and in just half an hour, a vast majority had retained 40 or more books—and in order. I was so proud of their achievement and this discovery, I had to share it here.

So, here is the "house" I “built” for the 46 books of the Old Testament. Enjoy!


Imagine you’re walking up to a house. Any house. But a big house. Maybe a mansion. And you walk up the steps to the door and at the foot of the door you see a floor mat. It says GENESIS. The beginning. As you are about to knock on the door, you see it has a sign on it: Not an Exit, but an EXODUS sign. Weird. You knock on the door and a priest answers the door. His name is LEVITICUS. “Hi, I’m Leviticus” he says. In his hand, he’s holding a book of NUMBERS. Maybe it’s a math book or a geometry book. No, it’s a DEUTERONOMY book! [5 books]

The priest lets you in and you walk in to the foyer. There, in the foyer, you see a man scrubbing the floor. His name is JOSHUA. He’s cleaning up some smudges left by some JUDGES who stepped on a baby RUTH bar. Poor guy. [3 books]

Immediately to the right of the foyer is the living room. In the living room, there is a table with two men at it playing checkers. Strangely, they are both named Samuel—SAMUEL #1 and SAMUEL #2. As they play checkers, you noticed that they only have two kings—1 KINGS, 2 KINGS. Behind them sits a guy in a recliner reading the CHRONICLES of Narnia. (Books 1 & 2). The guy in the La-Z-boy is EZRA. Beside the recliner is a fireplace, where we see two people warming themselves: NEHEMIAH is warming his knees; TOBIT is warming his toes. [9 books]

If we go to the end of the living room, we discover the kitchen. JUDITH and ESTHER are there. They are both swatting at bees—MACCABEES (1&2). That is their JOB. If you look out the kitchen window, you will see a PSALM tree. Turning to the refrigerator, you notice PROVERBS magnets on the door. Open the door and inside the fridge there is a delicious, chocolate ECCLESIASTES. [8 books]

From there, we hear beautiful music coming from the library. In the doorway, we discover a record player playing the SONG OF SONGS. We go in the library and we see look up and see stack upon stack of books—a library full of WISDOM. We enter in and greet SIRACH the librarian. He is watching a table of several guys studying. At that study table, we see ISAIAH with an eye-patch and JEREMIAH has a bullfrog. We see a guy crying—that’s LAMENTATIONS—and he’s crying because BARUCH broke EZEKIEL’s wheel. At the end of the table is DANIEL. He is quiet because he doesn’t want to wake the lion under the table… [9 books]

We leave the library and head up the stairwell…. As we go up the stairs, we see a Santa Claus coming down the stairs! “Ho! Ho! Ho!” he says; but we know that it is Ho-Ho-HOSEA. Behind him is an elf singing “The First JOEL.”  At the top of the stairs, we see a hallway. At one end, AMOS is taking aim with his bow and arrow. He is shooting at OBEDIAH (who thinks this is a bad idea). At the end of the hallway is the bathroom. We go in and see that JONAH is there in the bathtub, playing in the bubbles with his toy whale. [5 books]

We turn and enter the bedroom. There, we see three boys having a pillow fight with feathers everywhere. We ask them their names. “MICAH” says Mike as he’s hit in the face. “My name—um” says another who is hit in the stomach. (NAHUM is his name). The third tries to tell us his name “HABBAKUK”—he is obviously choking on the feathers. Underneath the bed, ZEPHANIAH is playing hide and seek from HAGGAI who is currently looking in the closet. Next to Zephaniah is ZECHARIAH who is also under the bed. MALACHI storms in the room and tells us it’s time to go bye-bye! [7 books]

So.... that's the house I built. Obviously, you can build your own house and use your own pneumonic devices. Strangely, once you've built it, you pretty much have it memorized. In fact, I typed this entire thing from memory. (!)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vanity of Vanities - Homily for the 18th Sunday in OT

A Dumpster of Vanity

            Have you ever seen one of those green street signs that say “End St. Louis County Maintenance”? I don’t know where he got it, but my grandpa had one. He had it placed above the entrance to his basement: “End St. Louis County Maintenance.” You can figure, then, that grandpa had piles and piles of junk in the basement: several televisions that he was “working on”; typewriters; boxes and boxes of electrical equipment and tools…  The joke was that if one of the kids was going down there, be sure to have string tied around its wrist so that it wouldn’t get lost.
            When grandpa died, it was his family who had to clean up the piles of stuff. Piles that he had never got to. So much stuff he had that it filled two dumpsters—and not like the ones on our parking lot. We’re talking semi-truck dumpsters. Grandpa was a hoarder.
            I thought of this when I heard the first reading today: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!” My grandpa had all that stuff, had spent so much money on all the stuff, and the vast majority ended up in the dumpster. “Vanity of vanities!”

Am I Building Bigger Barns?

In the Gospel, we see vanity clearly: the rich man has a bountiful harvest, but in trying to hold on to it all, he finds himself anxious: “What shall I do?” he worries. So he comes up with the idea that he will simply organize his riches better and then he goes to bed content. But he dies that night. And he loses all of his stuff. To that man God says, “You fool!”
(Not too often that you hear Jesus saying that!)
            So, the question is: at what point do our possessions make us foolish?
            Perhaps we need to take an inventory of what we own and why we own it. Does a girl of 9, for example, need 20 My Little Ponies and 14 Barbie Dolls to be happy? And if she does, what does that say about her and her parents? Or the boy: does he need 140 matchbox cars, 15 lego sets, 3 light sabers, and a few baseball gloves to be happy? If so, then we are all foolish. All of these items have been given from good intention—we want our children to be happy—but all of this “stuff” can easily make our lives miserable. 

For the parents, we find ourselves harping on our children to put away their stuff. And sometimes there is just so much stuff that it is impossible for the brain to organize it—especially a little brain as a child’s. So, we think and we think and then we come up with the solution: let’s buy organizers! Yes, spend more money for organizers—that will solve the problem! And so we “organize” our stuff as the rich man did with barns. How foolish!
            And we rationalize it, don’t we? We say “I might need it… later…” And later becomes tomorrow and tomorrow becomes a month and a month becomes a year and then five years, fifteen, … and then we’re dead and it’s thrown in the dumpster—and we never used it. How foolish!

The Weakened Imagination

For the child, the seed has been planted. Our children grow up with the mentality that this is “normal”—that to have a lot of stuff and to organize it is the way to go. So, when they become parents, they think that this is what they need to do. And when they can’t afford giving their children as much stuff as they had, they feel like they are bad parents. And even if they can afford all of the stuff, they feel overwhelmed by it all.
            This has side-effects too for the greater community. Take for example the current cultural revolution. If you haven’t noticed, fewer and fewer kids are going outside to play. Why is it that fewer are riding bikes? or playing hide-and-seek? or playing in the mud? Sure, parents might be more protective, but I think another big part of this is the electronic devices we throw at kids. The iphones, ipods, ds’s and whatnot—while they are not bad in themselves—they do not stimulate the active imagination of a child. In fact, these devices retard the active imagination because the device itself is what does the imagining. Thus, the child is trained to have things imagined for it. As a result, the child never is challenged to create: wonder, imagination, and the desire to seek the adventure of what lays beyond us is weakened and oftentimes destroyed. (We wonder why we have teenagers, 20-somethings, and even grown ups who can’t think outside the box, create, imagine, wonder, go outside—and instead prefer to sit and have a device imagine a world for them). They have become neutralized, perfectly content to stay indoors. (I find it lamentable that most kids have never seen the Milky Way. Instead, they think it is a candy bar).

The “New Normal

            And it’s not just about going outdoors; it’s about being able to go outside of ourselves. Study after study is showing that material contentment does not lead to community life; it leads to isolation—like a dragon that sits on its gold alone. We can see this in the declining rate of marriages and families, and a declining rate of feeling responsible to take active part in the greater community.
This not only has a detrimental effect on making our world a better place, but it makes it nearly impossible for young adults to find that suitable spouse. And if they should find that special someone, they face the worry of sharing money and finances, and they worry about how their lifestyle might change. So they don’t marry or they get a “pre-nup.”
            All of this has developed a “new normal” in our American culture. “Normal” is now marrying at 30 with separate bank accounts and a pile of debt because of student loans. The couple believes that they must have a house—and typically a house the size of their parents’ last house: the house that their parents had saved and saved and started saving by starting out with an apartment—that house. So the young couple mortgages themselves into such a spot that they will have 2 kids, max—and Catholic education? Don’t even start on that! It is just too expensive! Fools!

(On a personal note: I am convinced that student loans and mortgages are the newest and worst form of contraception today).

            When did the mentality arise that said that there had to be only one child living in only one bedroom? This is crazy. When my mom was raising four of us by herself (and gosh, I sound like an old codger: “when I was a young boy…!”) I lived in a 10X10 room with my sister (ew!) and a bunk bed. Was it a cross? Yes. But how many lessons were learned there! About how to get along when times were tough; about sharing; about community; about not killing each other in the middle of the night… We learned about sacrifice and compassion and family.

An Opportunity Missed: The Catholic School

            When we vainly spend the money God has given to us—and it is His harvest, not ours—not only do we miss out on developing an imagination, community, and greater learning, but we also miss opportunities to spend our money on the things that really matter.
            I think of our own Catholic school. It is a CATHOLIC school—and so it is specifically your school. Our Catholic school! Many think it is expensive because it costs just under $5,000 to send a child here. I agree. I wish it could be free to all. This is something Monsignor and I are working on. Let’s pray for this!
But look at the public schools in the area. I mean no disrespect to them; but people see them as free. But they aren’t. Whereas our school costs $5,000 per child, public schools cost Joe Taxpayer an average of $16,000 per child in Jefferson County. The government is providing a “service” that we can do for a third of the cost. I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t Joe Taxpayer be better off if he could spend $11,000 less per student? But the current mentality out there is costing him and is going to lead to the closing of our Catholic school. We have a choice here—oh, if only ALL CATHOLICS would support THEIR CATHOLIC school! It is our duty, whether we have a child there or not, whether we have supported in the past or not, whether we have two dollars or two million dollars—we have a duty to support our Catholic school. And we know that the Lord cherishes those who give from their living and not simply from their excess.

            I think of the woman who, in her religious fervor, has 20 different pieces of religious art in her kitchen or the grandma who has 30 “precious moments” dolls. I have nothing against them, but there comes a point when the clutter prevents us from enjoying the one thing. Have two pieces of art and two dolls! Sell the rest to sponsor a child at our school! Follow the example of Pope Francis who asks us to consider: why drive a Cadillac when a Chevy will do? Why add on an extra room for your stuff when your brother is homeless?

Becoming Rich in God

            But it’s not just about living more simply or even about living more equitably with one’s brother.
You see, an anonymous “Someone in the crowd” asked Jesus to resolve his financial dilemma. Jesus rebukes that man. Why? Because the man in his vanity had overlooked the reality that an eternal inheritance stood right in front of him! JESUS WAS RIGHT THERE. The dispute about money was petty in comparison to the riches of God that were open before him. If only that man would have asked for an eternal inheritance! But no: he was blind with vanity.
            Paul exhorts us:
If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died….
He means our baptism!
Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly….
And rise to the glory of God!

            Maybe you feel convicted by this. Maybe you realize that we all need to grow in simplicity in life and have a paradigm change in the way we spend our money. And maybe some of you feel sad that you have spent your money poorly and are in a hole.
See Jesus in front of you!

And so, if your house is a mess, have you ever asked God to help you clean it?
Lord, please help me clean my house. Please bring order to it. Please help me to let go of stuff and to be freed from the slavery of things!

If you are in a hole because of vanity, then we need to ask for God’s mercy. God’s mercy is stronger than our past vanity! Let’s run to him and ask him for his merciful help.
And then, perhaps, we need to seek someone in the parish for good financial advice. Maybe we need someone to instruct us in good habits of spending and taking care of ourselves.

            Or maybe you feel enslaved by what you own, enslaved by image and by vanity. To you, hear the words of our Lord: He says:

do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious …? … All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides…

Elsewhere, He says:
where your treasure is, there is your heart as well.
And also:
What does it profit a man if he should gain the whole world and yet forfeit his soul?

Brothers and sisters: Seek God above all else. Sell all the rest. Become rich in what matters to him!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who is the Good Samaritan? - Homily for the 15th Sunday in OT

            Have you ever been robbed? It’s happened to me a couple of times. When I was 20, my car was broken into and my CDs were stolen. And when I was 9, I remember being with my dad when we came home one afternoon and discovered that our home had been broken into. It’s a horrible feeling: we feel violated, as though something of our own self has been taken; we feel anxious as our sense of peace has been stolen; and we feel vulnerable. I remember after our home was broken into that I would once again return to my parents’ bed at night, being once again afraid of the dark. And I remember how the locks on the doors were used with more frequency. And that’s another result of feeling robbed: we feel the need to lock up and to protect ourselves.
            I mention all of this because at the heart of today’s Gospel is the fact that someone has been robbed. It’s easy to overlook this detail because we are focused on the overall moral of Jesus’ parable: namely, that we must love our neighbor. But, before we arrive at the moral of the story, there is this important detail. Remember: Jesus could have used any other image to describe how to love our neighbor. But of all images and stories to use, he chose a story about a man who was robbed. So, the question is: who was robbed?

The Old Covenant Cannot Help Robbed Humanity

            If we zoom out and look at human history, we can say that the one who was robbed was Adam himself.  He was robbed of heaven and original grace and left half-dead. And who was the robber? The devil.
In this way, we can see that all of humanity is, in fact, the one by side of the road: robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. All of humanity had been robbed of that joy and peace that comes from being in the presence of God. We were half-dead in our toils and in our journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
            Who could restore what humanity had lost? Who could repair the breach between man and God and return the order of grace and the treasures to man? No one but God could! This is why Jesus says that a priest and a man of the law (that is, a Levite) passed by the man.
            When I first heard of these two passing by, I wanted to judge them. But we must realize the reasons why they did not help. On the one hand, they did not help because they loved God. This sounds odd and misguided, of course, but that’s because we already understand how love of God and love of neighbor must necessarily go together. They did not necessarily have this union of the two commandments in their heart. So, they passed by. They passed by because, as good Jewish men, they knew that to touch a man and to get his blood on their hands—as they most certainly would if they were to help a man beaten so much that he was half-dead—they knew that to touch him would defile them and they would have to be purified before being able to worship in the temple again. So, that’s the one hand.
            On the other hand, the reality is that they couldn’t help the man. The priest, representing the old testament temple sacrifices, could not help restore the lost treasures of heaven to Adam. Those sacrifices could not make atonement, nor could they open the gates of heaven. Similarly, the Levite, who represents the old testament law, could not bring new life and a restoration of grace. The law could only bring death. Therefore, both the priest and the Levite, the old sacrifices and the old law, must pass by the robbed man. Neither can save him.

The Love of the Good Samaritan

Only God can. And God comes as the unexpected Samaritan (for no one expected God to become lowly man to save man!). This Good Samaritan approaches the man, bends down, and lifts him up, inevitably having the blood of the man on his own hands. The Good Samaritan enters into the very reality and world of the man’s problems. And the Good Samaritan does this because he loves us.
            Yes, we must reiterate that point once more. God enters into our daily world because he loves us. He does love us! If God had a wallet, your picture would be inside it! If God had a refrigerator, your family’s photo would be on it! You are important to God. You are His beloved.
            And so, imagine if you discovered your beloved along the side of the road. The one who you invested so much in, who you spend night and day with, whose laugh makes you smile, and whose very presence brings you delight—imagine that you see your beloved on the side of the road, beaten and robbed. We would run over to them! “What has happened to you?” we would cry out. We would immediately pick them up and care for them.
            And this is the point: God loves us! We are his beloved. He sees us there along the side of the road, having been robbed of our peace. He knows that we feel broken, that we have felt violated and are now afraid of relationships and love—and much less so, to be loved by God. He knows that we are vulnerable and anxious and suffering. We have been robbed!
            He does not chide us for falling into the robbers hands. No, as the Psalm says today:
the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not
He comes to free and heal us!
            Therefore, as Jesus approaches, let us not lock up our hearts and protect ourselves as though we were to be robbed again! God love us! He is here to save us. Let him pick you up and help you! Only in this way can we help others: Only when we allow God to become the Good Samaritan to our lives can we become the Good Samaritan to others. Only when we allow Jesus to help us will we be able to be Jesus to others.

Salvation History: The Plan of the Good Samaritan

But how does Jesus want to help us? How are we being called to let him help us? The second half of the story holds the key. In the second half, after Jesus lifts the man up, it says that the Good Samaritan bandages the man’s wounds, fills his wounds with wine and oil, and takes him to an inn. These are not insignificant details. So, what do they mean?
First, it says that Jesus bandages our wounds. (Little did we know that the Good Samaritan is the Divine Physician!). Jesus is the one who helps our hearts to heal. This comes about in many ways, but one way is particularly important here—and that is the word “bandaged.”  Another word for this is to “bind.” We hear this word when Jesus talks to the apostles about forgiving sins: “whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven….” To bind the man’s wounds is to forgive him. This is what makes the Good Samaritan so able to help the man, robbed by the effects of sin: the Good Samaritan can forgive unlike the old priest and the old law. It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that we see this.
            Then, it says that Jesus fills the man’s wounds with oil. Oil was used as medicine in those times. But it was also used to consecrate priests, prophets, and kings. Another word for “anointed” is the Greek “Christos” from which we get Christ, or in Hebrew “Messiah.” Here, the Good Samaritan, after having forgiven the man, restores the man’s dignity and even elevates it by giving him a share in His own anointing as priest, prophet, and king. Do we not see this as the newly baptized are anointed with chrism? or at confirmation? and at Holy Orders?—all healed too when they receive the anointing of the sick!
            Next, it says that Jesus fills the man’s wounds with wine. You’re thinking, I know, so it’s obvious that wine was used at the Last Supper and at the Wedding Feast of Cana. Wine is the sign of God’s superabundant and divine love poured into our hearts. That’s why there is a superabundance and a super-tasty wine given at the Wedding Feast. That’s why, at the Last Supper, the wine becomes transformed into the superabundance of God’s love himself, Jesus Our Lord. The robbed man’s wounds are filled with this new wine. And so are ours at the Eucharist.
            We see, therefore, that all seven sacraments are presented to us on this road between the two cities! This is how Jesus wants to help us! In the sacraments, Jesus restores to us what was lost in the great robbery: He restores to us the life of grace and His very divine presence into our lives!

Life at the Inn until the Second Coming

            And note: this takes place on the road between Jericho and the heavenly Jerusalem—which together represents life. It is there at that we see the Good Samaritan taking the robbed man to an inn. What is this inn? Well, you are sitting in it! The inn is the Church. And we hear that there is an innkeeper there. (… At your service!)—the priests and bishops, the Apostles, Peter. Jesus gives the innkeeper two coins—two coins taken from the treasury of God’s love, representing His graces—and tells him,
Take care of him.
If you spend more than what I have given you,
I shall repay you on my way back.
“Take care of him.” We hear this when Jesus says to Peter, “Peter, feed my lambs.” And to the disciples: “Go, therefore and teach… baptize…” Yes, Church, “Take care of him”!
            But, then it says, “if you spend more than what I have given you…”
What does this mean? It means our sufferings. In our care for our neighbor, we will bank on the coins of God’s grace, but we will also spend ourselves, offering our very lives in payment. We will suffer as we care for our neighbor.
            To this, Jesus says, “I shall repay you…” This is God’s promise of eternal reward. And when is this eternal reward given? “On my way back”—when Jesus returns! This is the Second Coming. At the Second Coming, we see our Lord fulfilling his promises of eternal life full of reward or of punishment.

The Robbed, Good Samaritan

            This brings us back to the very beginning of today’s Gospel! Do you remember how this whole conversation about the Good Samaritan began? It began with a scholar asking Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Here, we see the answer. the answer begins with a corrective to the Pharisaical attitude which loved God at the expense of neighbor (which we saw in the priest and Levite passing by the robbed man). The answer continues in the union of the two commandments— that is, to love God and neighbor—which are seen at in the way people are judged at the end of time.
            It is there that we hear something very interesting. And it’s worth hearing the passage in its entirety. So, at the Second Coming,

Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Ok, so we see here that those who become like Jesus, the Good Samaritan, and helped their neighbor, shall receive the Good Samaritan’s kingdom: that is, the inheritance of heaven.
            But we also see something peculiar and it is found in the words: “What ever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” What does this mean? It means that Jesus identifies himself not only as the Good Samaritan, but also as the one who was robbed, who was stripped and beaten and left for dead—which He was.
            So, Jesus is not only the Good Samaritan that lifts up our robbed selves to become like the Good Samaritan, but Jesus is also the one who, by taking upon himself our sins, becomes the robbed man in need of a Good Samaritan.
            Therefore, when we see those who have been physically or spiritually robbed by the devil or the world, we are not simply seeing a robbed man. We are seeing Jesus. Our loving response to our neighbor, therefore, is never divorced from love of God; for we see that God has become our neighbor! "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."
            This is why we must become like the Good Samaritan: for not only were we once robbed and now restored, but our God has become like the one robbed and is now awaiting our coming. All of this requires that we first recognize where we have been robbed and allow ourselves to be helped by the God who comes to save us. Only then can we really hear the words of the first reading.

This command that I enjoin on you today
is not too mysterious and remote for you.
It is not up in the sky…
Nor is it across the sea…
No, it is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What Happened in the Supreme Court Today - The Power Grab

The more I look at today’s Supreme Court decision regarding the DOMA case, the more I don’t like it; not only because it pushes wide open the door to same-sex union (and other things regarding that), but also because it solidifies as precedent a creeping attitude change regarding the balance of power in our three-branch government.

Therefore, I’m going to write a little on this landmark case, extensively quoting from Justice Scalia’s brilliant dissenting opinion. This is the first post of two.

But before I do that, do a quick read of what this case was all about (and what it wasn't about). 

So, let’s talk first about the first aspect of this case. From Scalia:

This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter [the Supreme Court], with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former [Yours]. We [the Supremes] have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America. (1)

That’s the argument: the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds. But how? Let’s dive in!

They [the People of the US] gave judges, in Article III [of the Constitution], only the “judicial Power,” a power to decide not abstract questions but real, concrete “Cases” and “Controversies.” (1-2)

Scalia is laying the foundation here that the Supreme Court exists, as established by the Constitution, to address actual cases. What is an actual case? It is case where at least two parties have a disagreement. This sounds stupid, common-sensical, but this is what is at issue. (Oy.)

So, with actual cases, lower courts usually remedy the disagreement between the two parties. Only when the disagreement continues after the lower courts does the case comes before the Supreme Court. Scalia writes that the matter was settled in the lower courts. So, he writes:

the plaintiff [Windsor] and the Government agree entirely on what should happen in this lawsuit. They agree that the court below got it right; and they agreed in the court below that the court below that one got it right as well. What, then, are we doing here? (2)

The answer to the question is that the other judges of the Supreme Court believe that the Constitution disagrees with DOMA (an act of congress) and that, in this disagreement, it is the “province and duty” of the judicial branch—in this case, the Supreme Court—to “say what the law is.” (2). Scalia is shocked by that line of argument because

It is an assertion of [the Judicial Branch’s] supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress [who passed DOMA] and the Executive [that is, the President who signed the bill]. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government, empowered to decide all constitutional questions, always and everywhere “primary” in its role. [As opposed to being co-equal with the other two branches of government]. (2)

Scalia notes how the founders established this separation of power so that the people’s right to self-rule would be guarded and that they would be protected from “the black-robed supremacy” of the judicial branch.

And so Scalia insists that

For this reason [of guarding and protecting the people] we are quite forbidden to say what the law is whenever “‘an Act of Congress is alleged to conflict with the Constitution.’” (3)

But,…  wait. I thought that was the role of the Supreme Court…

It is, but there is a requirement for it. Scalia explains:

We can do so only when that allegation will determine the outcome of a lawsuit, and is contradicted by the other party. (3)
So, the Supreme Court can only say what the law is when the allegation will determine the outcome of a lawsuit, AND is contradicted by the other party. Since the plantiff, Windsor, and the US Government have AGREED in this case, Scalia rightly argues that the Supreme Court has no place to hear this “case” because there is no contradiction by the other party:

Neither party [Windsor or the US Government] sought to undo the judgment for Windsor, and so that [lower] court should have dismissed the appeal (just as we [the Supreme Court] should dismiss this case) for lack of jurisdiction. (5)


The question here is not whether, as the majority puts it, “the United States retains a stake
sufficient to support Article III jurisdiction,” ibid. The question is whether there is any controversy [that is, contradiction] between the United States and Ms. Windsor. There is not. (7-8)

Scalia then notes that to do what the Supreme Court is doing by hearing this case has no precedent

We have never before agreed to speak—to “say what the law is”—where there is no controversy before us. In the more than two centuries that this Court has existed as an institution, we have never suggested that we have the power to decide a question when every party agrees with both its nominal opponent and the court below on that question’s answer. The [lawyers of the] United States reluctantly conceded that at oral argument. (5)

Good point.

in fact, past precedent dictates that the case be dismissed. Scalia notes the opinion of Chief Justice Taney in Lord v. Veazie in 1850 who, when confronted with two parties who agreed but who were pushing for the court to “say what the law is,” said:

The whole proceeding was in contempt of the court, and highly reprehensible . . . . A judgment in form, thus procured, in the eye of the law is no judgment of the court. It is a
nullity, and no writ of error will lie upon it. This writ is, therefore, dismissed.” (11)

This concerns Scalia: why isn’t this court today considering past precedent and the ordinary understanding of the balance of power?

Scalia then goes so far as to wonder out loud about whether the other justices have a malicious intent about hearing this case: that is, to set a precedent for the Supreme Court itself: and that precedent is to “say what the law is” even when it doesn’t have the power to do so, and secondarily, to universally make precedent same-sex unions.

The further proceedings have been a contrivance, having no object in mind except to elevate a District Court judgment that has no precedential effect in other courts, to one that has precedential effect throughout the Second Circuit, and then (in this Court) precedential effect throughout the United States. (5)

Scalia is calling this whole charade a power-grab.

He continues his critique by noting how the justices rationalized their decision. He says that they “relegate[d] a jurisdictional requirement” to the level of being simply a matter of “prudence,” which in turn, he says “enabl[es] courts to ignore the requirement whenever they believe it “prudent”—which is to say, a good idea.”

In other words, the justices side-stepped actual law and precedent, citing reasons of prudence—which is just another way of relativizing law so as to get what one wants.

Scalia takes offense at this. He says,

the existence of a controversy [in a case] is not a “prudential” requirement that we have invented, but an essential element of an Article III case or controversy. [What the other justices have done is] a breathtaking revolution in our Article III jurisprudence. (9)


Scalia cites a 1968 court case (Flast v. Cohen) that employed the same argument, saying that

We have been living with the chaos created by that power-grabbing decision ever since, [see Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.,(2007)], as we will have to live with the chaos created by this one. (8)


So, what should have happened? Scalia writes that Congress passed DOMA in 1996. President Clinton (!) signed DOMA into law. Now President Clinton, if he felt the law was constitutional, had a right to refuse to sign DOMA into law. At which point,

the [lower] District Court could not have refereed this friendly scrimmage, and the [President’s] determination of unconstitutionality would have escaped this Court’s [the Supreme’s] desire to blurt out its view of the law. The matter would have been left, as so many matters ought to be left, to a tug of war between the President and the Congress, which has innumerable means (up to and including impeachment) of compelling the President to enforce the laws it has written. (10)

That would have been the correct way to address the issue under the Constitution.

But instead, says Scalia, the Supreme Court simply enacted its desire to “place this Court at the center of the Nation’s life.” (11). This is problematic for many reasons, but the one reason that Scalia addresses specifically is the matter of confrontation; that is, the three-branch system of government requires that each branch, when it disagrees with another branch, should confront the other in the manner that confrontation is expected by each branch. So, for example,

If majorities in both Houses of Congress care enough about the matter, they have available innumerable ways to compel executive action without a lawsuit—from refusing to confirm Presidential appointees to the elimination of funding. (Nothing says “enforce the Act” quite like “. . . or you will have money for little else.”) But the condition is crucial; Congress must care enough to act against the President itself, not merely enough to instruct its lawyers to ask us to do so. (14)

Because the Supreme Court has amassed to itself too much power, this confrontation no longer (or, will no longer) exists. Thus, a new branch of government will arise: lawyers. And that's what the world needs, right? More lawyers? Yes, 

Placing the Constitution’s entirely anticipated political arm wrestling into permanent judicial receivership does not do the system a favor. (14)

So, that's the first part. Check back for part two when I discuss the same-sex union aspect of this.....

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Homily Notes - To the Graduates of JP II Prep: May Your Study Be a Crucifixion

Good evening. Once again, congratulations to all of you graduates. Tonight for this Baccalaureate Mass, I want to give you a homily that is more academic than I normally would give at the parish. If it goes over your head—well, all the more reason for college.

Studying: A Crucifixion

St. Thomas Aquinas once said: “Study is crucifixion at a desk.” It is the hardest work in the world, says Chesterton, because hard work, he says, is repugnant to our nature.
What is interesting to me is that Aquinas should call study a crucifixion. The crucifixion is the place where Jesus dies for us, where Love reveals His true nature: that love is self-sacrificial, total, faithful, and (on this tree of life) it is fruitful. It is there that the deep truth about God is revealed: that God is a loving God. But it is also on that same cross that the deep truth about humanity is revealed: that man is most fully man when he ascends this wooden ladder in love, for it is there that man achieves his ultimate reality—that is, as St. Athanasius once said: that man might become gods.
So, when Aquinas calls study a crucifixion, he isn’t merely saying that study is hard. He is also saying that, in study, we encounter Love and Truth. Indeed, it is in study that we begin to encounter God and also our humanity’s dignity and vocation. Thinking, therefore, is not only the search and expression of Truth, but it is also a labor of one who loves. Yes, study and friendship—like Truth and Charity—are married.
And we know this from experience: your friends: you got to know them by spending time together, by expressing and receiving ideas, and by having your friendship tested through trial. This was study. The desk might have been the local McDonald’s or your mom’s kitchen table as your played cards, but the book was one of the most interesting (and, paradoxically, one of the most unread): the book of humanity.
Friendship, we hear in the first reading, is a treasure beyond price, like fire tried in gold, or a sturdy shelter built on rock that can withstand winds and storms—unlike sand. And friendship—yes, even friendship—required study. And thus, friendship requires both loving and thinking.
And if such is the case with human friends, then should not even more be the case for God?

The Status of the Non-Crucified Culture

Now, let me be frank with you, graduates: our world today avoids study of God and his friendship and has therefore lost its ability to think and to love. If you haven’t already encountered this, you will encounter it soon. You’ll see it in the words people use. Do you notice the words people use? Let me give you a few examples. [Inspired by Dale Alquist’s book “Chesterton, the Complete Thinker”]
Whatever. Whatever reveals the default position of the world: “Whatever. I’m not going to think about this. It’s too hard. Or I don’t care. Or whatever.” As the world has lost its ability to think, so too has it lost its ability for true friendship. You can be unfriended at a bad glance, at the click of the “unfriend” button, or through boredom. This is because the world doesn’t stop to think when the storms of emotion and gossip begin to swirl. And without thinking, it never encounters Truth, that thing that protects the treasure of friendship, the home of charity. With no thinking and no truth, such homes and friends crumble into the sand. Just like whatever.
Like. No, I’m not talking Facebook. But I could say a lot about Facebook and friendship, but I would digress… “Like” is a lack of precision, that something is vaguely similar. It expresses mere opinion. “I like this.” Or “this is like something.” In itself, there is no problem to liking something. The problem is, however, as we have seen in Facebook, that everything is a status update; everything is an opinion. Our world is full of opinions (mine here included). But I’m tired of opinions. I want the truth! The world uses “like” a lot because it cannot say what something “is.” I don’t want a “like” button on Facebook. I want an “is” button. I want truth. Yes, this… IS.

            You know? That’s the last of these words. You know? “You know” means “I don’t know… but I hope you know because I don’t. You know?”
             Um, yeah. Um—like, that’s what we are reduced to. You know? Yeah. Whatever.

             Why can’t the world talk? Because it doesn’t think. And why doesn’t it think? Because it either does not want to do the work—which, in a microwaveable, give-it-to-me-now world, is easy to avoid, or because it has never been taught how to think.
And how frustrating it is for a society that cannot think or talk! This is the quickest way for isolation—which is the opposite of friendship and love.

Results of a Society that Unfriends Jesus

How does society react? Often with anger because it is the easiest emotion when one cannot think or encounters things too hard to think about. Society reacts with even more anger because it doesn’t know how to express its anger since it cannot speak. And so the rage is released in the most brutal and unimaginable ways—in terrorism, in shootings at school, in mindless video game violence, in loud music that fills empty minds with sound instead of logos, and in empty, soulless and mindless sex.

        And, if you think about it, isn’t this what the devil wanted from the beginning? He didn’t want Adam or Eve to think because that would have an effect on how they loved. Thinking and loving, the devil knows, are the things that make us godly in the first place. And Satan hates God. So Satan hates thinking and loving.
            This is why sin is stupid.

        And what is the result of sin? What is the result of all this lack of thinking and loving? It’s slavery. That is not where our culture is going—it is where our culture is. People are enslaved to their stuff because they can’t think beyond their stuff. And because they can’t think beyond their stuff, they can’t love anything beyond their stuff. And so they become isolated in lives of quiet desperation. Or not-so-quiet rebellion. Remember: the Crucifixion was a result of a lot of enslaved people not thinking.

         The strange thing is: in such a state of slavery, you will find that the non-thinkers will accuse the thinkers of something ludicrous: namely, of being unreasonable.
         We are told to believe that the Catholic Church wants to return the world to the Dark Ages, that moment in history that was supposedly freed by the Enlightenment. We heard this when Cardinal Burke was Archbishop of St. Louis. “He wants to return the Church to the Dark Ages!” they said. This couldn’t be further from the Truth.
           When the Visigoths and Barbarians—Barbarians, from which we get our word today—were destroying civilization in murderous, non-sensical ways, it was the Catholic Church that preserved civilization, persevered its languages and literature and philosophy and sciences and art and architecture and music. The only reason why we can read Virgil and Plato and Socrates today is because the Catholic Church preserved such works from the book-burning Barbarian barbarians. It was in such ways that the Catholic Church brought the world out of the Dark Ages and into a renaissance. The Catholic Church held thinking close to her breast.
        Later, when the “Enlightenment” began, we did not see the shining of light into man’s minds, but the dark clouds of doubt and despair, the fruits of which we have reaped by the greatest genocides, wars, and New Barbarianism ever known to man.
And yet we are told that we are unreasonable and, even worse, we are told that we are intolerant. We are told that we are the ones causing this mess, that we are behind the times, that we need to learn the truth of charity and friendship.
        But, as Chesterton once said, there is nothing more fanatical and intolerant than the fanatical hatred of morality—especially of Christian morality.
        And it is this world’s fanatical intolerance of Truth and Charity that is rapidly spinning our world into a new slavery: a slavery of the passions and emotions. And this might be the worst of all slaveries, because the slave-master happens to be our self, and his demeanor is often unpredictable.

In the Creed: an Encounter with the yet-Uncrucified Jesus

        Into this mess, Jesus comes, saying: “I no longer call you slaves,… but friends.” This escape from slavery and into friendship came when Truth in Charity was revealed through the 10 Commandments. Have you ever noticed how they begin? It says: “I am the Lord your God who freed you… from slavery.” Does this not invite us to consider a deeper friendship with the Lord?
            Friendship involves commitment. And so, to the 10 Commandments I offer my 10 Commitments:
God says, “You will not have any other gods.” To which I respond: “I won’t have any other gods. I commit to that, Lord.” I commit to using His Sacred Name only in blessing and in prayer and praise. I commit to keeping Sunday sacred and every Holy Day of Obligation. I commit to loving my parents. I commit to protecting life. I commit to a life of holy purity and chastity, seeing people as they are and not for my own use. I commit to using what I have been given and never to steal. I commit to telling the truth and never to gossip. I commit to being thankful for what I have and faithful to the relationships to which I have given my promise.
        In the simple words of St. Dominic: “I’d rather die than sin.”
            Because sin is stupid. And it hurts my friend.

            Probably the most poignant reminder for me to lead a life of thinking and of charity comes every Sunday when we say the Creed. During the creed, we profess our belief in God the Father, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church. We even mention Mary and the communion of saints.
            But what is odd for me and what is the most poignant reminder is that we also name Pontius Pilate by name. Why? Because Charity and Truth stood in the flesh before him, inviting him into friendship.
        How did Pontius Pilate respond? He said, “What is truth?”
        This is the modern response to the Catholic faith. This is the modern response to Truth. This is the modern response to Charity. This is the modern response to thinking. “What is truth?” the world asks—not in a thinking way, but in a distant, I-don’t-really-care-about-the-truth-but-I’ll-at-least-sound-sophisticated-if-I-pose-the-question kind of way.
            This is a lack of integrity. And for this reason we recite in the Creed: “And he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
            Truth. Charity. They were both crucified under the apathetic Pontius Pilate who feigned to think and to care, but who could really care less.
            When I say his name every Sunday, it serves as a remind to me to examine my conscience: How am I responding to Jesus’ invitation to friendship in Charity and Truth? Am I responding to the crucifixion at a desk or am the one doing the crucifying?

        Pope Benedict XVI once wrote:
Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). (Caritas in Veritate, 1).

Yes, to know and articulate and defend the truth in charity are exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Truth and charity helps us to let go of our “subjective opinions and impressions, [and allows us] to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things” (Caritas in veritate, 4).
            In other words, to study God and to enter into his friendship helps free us from the dictatorship and slavery of relativism and mere opinion.
            To practice this helps us “to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development. A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance. In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.” (CV 4)
            This is what led St. Thomas Aquinas to say that the greatest work of mercy was to instruct the ignorant.


            On this note, I wish to thank your parents and the faculty and administration and priests here. We were all once ignoramuses, and they have set us free. This is the greatest work of charity: to instruct us in the truth.
            Now you must go and do the same.
            Go out into the world. Do not enter into a Catholic ghetto. Be like the yeast which leavens the entire loaf. And remember: it only takes a little yeast—just a little!—to make the whole loaf rise.
            And yes, you’ll be crucified. But you won’t be afraid, because you’ve been on that cross for a while now. You’ve been on that cross while on your knees and at your desk. You’ll have been at the place where Truth and Charity meet, where there is friendship and joy with the God who loves you.
            And so, this is my prayer for you: that in all your studies, they may be such a place to encounter God’s Truth and Charity. Yes, may your study always be a crucifixion.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tending to Wounded Butterflies - Homily Notes for Pentecost

The Commandments and Pentecost

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always.

I found it interesting that the Gospel reading for today should mention the commandments. I thought that Pentecost and living by the Spirit superseded, in a sense, these commands from long ago. What is the relation?

Pentecost means fifty: it’s been fifty days since the Resurrection, the days of the Lord’s Passover. This “fifty” is important; for, what happens fifty days after the first Passover? Fifty days after the first Passover, we see Moses on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. These Commandments were the doctrine, the one confession, which united the people of Israel. The Commandments were not meant to enslave or restrict freedom, but to keep Israel from returning to the slavery of the world.

In much the same way, Pentecost today unites us in one confession of faith—and with a new command: a command to love. This is not a minimum as the Commandments are, but a maximum without limit: “Love one another as I have loved you.” And the way that Jesus loves us is infinite, eternal, perfect, divine, and without limit. Pentecost infuses us with this Holy Spirit so that we might not just do the minimum, but live the maximum in love.

The Spiritual Responses to a Wounded Butterfly

Earlier this week, I noticed this maximum of love being lived out—and, in all places, it happened on the playground. One of our little fourth graders found a butterfly who wasn’t able to fly. She held it in her hands, protecting it and almost praying for it. Kids around her asked, “Whatcha got in your hands?” And, upon discovering that it was a butterfly, they insisted that she let it go. But it wasn’t able to fly, she tried to explain, and she was going to take care of it. She took care of it for the duration of recess, for as long as she could. Eventually, recess ended and, as she and I walked to the school, she asked what would happen to her butterfly.

To this story, the spirit of our age might react with a couple of opinions:

First, the spirit of our age might respond with words like “oh, how cute” or “what a child-like faith” and other such niceties. But rarely does the spirit of the age actually slow down, process the matter, question itself and ask: When was the last time that I looked close enough around me to see a wounded butterfly?—and even more so, to feel responsibility towards it?” These are the more painful questions that the spirit of our age will not ask because not only does it require us to slow down and take valuable time (for to do so would mean to question our schedule), but it also puts us into the painful reality of our modern situation: that we need healing from a life too busy or too bored or too self-absorbed to see wounded butterflies, and much less so to be so recollected and loving that we would pick one up to take care of it. Yes, the spirit of our world does have a heart and an initial outpouring of emotion, but it doesn’t let such experiences “sink in” and “hit home.” Sadly, the world does not allow the fruit of love to ripen because the world doesn’t allow itself the time to process and to think deeply about what it has experienced. Here, time acts as a means of purification.

The second response would be to simply dismiss the whole matter as a giant waste of time: after all, it’s just a butterfly. I have more important things to do—like watch TV, update my Facebook, or take the kids to volleyball—very important things. This response is summed up in that great word that summarizes today’s culture: Whatever. And it is this response that is not spiritual at all; for not only does spirituality require that we think, but also that we love.

It was at the end of recess that the little girl realized that she couldn’t take the butterfly back into the classroom with her. And at the same time, she realized that if she let the butterfly go, the butterfly was going to die. She was thinking and she was loving, and initially she wanted to hold on; she wanted her will to be done: that is, she wanted to take the butterfly inside even if that meant making herself the authority, like the principal. Or, at the very least, she wanted to construct her own fantasy world where she could have the butterfly live forever and not actually be wounded.

But neither were the will of God.

In the spirit of the world, the girl could have simply dropped the butterfly and said, “I don’t care, it’s just a butterfly.” But this girl had a heart—and a mind. She looked at me and asked: “Father Gerber, will God take care of the butterfly?”
            “I have no reason to doubt otherwise; He made the butterfly, after all.”
“But if I let the butterfly go, he will surely die.”
I nodded.
Then she paused and thought. Then she asked, “Father, do you think God brings butterflies to heaven?”
            “That’s a good question. I don’t know, my dear. I hope so.”
At which point, she walked a few more steps, stopped, and then reverently placed the butterfly on the ground and began to walk away. Together, we walked to the school and as we neared the doors, she told me, “Father, I’m going to pray for him.”

In this decision, this little girl laid down her own desires in order for the deeper desire of God’s will be done. This is a holy act of charity. And an act of charity done with a drop of the Holy Spirit is worth far more than all of our human endeavors done with a bucketful of the spirit of the world.

And I believe she had the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit she received in her baptism, the Holy Spirit she received at each confession, the Holy Spirit which she receives at every sacrament and which I received in Holy Orders. The Holy Spirit which concludes the prayer which is the Sign of the Cross.

The Human Spirit at Babel and the Babbling at Pentecost

Here, then, is our entry into really understanding Pentecost.

At Pentecost, we see how the disciples were touched by fiery tongues while some onlookers scoffed, thinking their babbling was meaningless gibberish resulting from drunkenness due to new wine. The disciples might as well have been children tending to butterflies. Many of the onlookers failed to see the greater principle at work. That there was a new wine and it was being placed in new wine skins—for the old wine skins had grown old: humanity had grown tired and worn out and dry.

Behind this story of Pentecost, there is the older relative: the Tower of Babel. In that story, certain men with an overdeveloped sense of independence and pride, and motivated by the belief that all was up to their will, attempted to build a tower that would reach to heaven. They did not consult God nor consider whether they were building the foundation on sand. Rather, their action was, in a sense, a declaration of independence from the will of God and from his grace. They were saying to God: “I can do this myself. My will be done.” But as their tower fell, so did man into the confusion of many languages to be scattered across the world.

This is the fate of the spirit of the world: confusion and a disintegration of the human family, a confusion and disintegration which ultimately leads our human endeavors—as well-intentioned as they might be—into ruin.
Today, Pentecost does not unite the tongues of man, but unites man in the tongue of the Holy Spirit so as to unite man not simply in man’s own endeavors that fade, but into authentic Truth and Love—truth and love found in the charity and teachings of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church who is the mystical body of Christ and Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost makes us realize that our modern culture is characterized by a superficial existence and even a hostility towards authentic charity and truth, a hostility that builds towers against opportunities of service and authentic expressions of love as found in the caring for “wounded butterflies,” or the standing up for injustices against the most vulnerable like the unborn, the poor, and the elderly—not to mention the human family (… and is there a more “wounded butterfly” that the family today?).

Such hostility and superficiality doesn’t even free us to give fifteen minutes to God in prayer each day or to family at the dinner table. Rather, the spirit of the world builds tower after tower against things, calling them a waste of time or a practice for some other holy person, but not for me.

This modern-day slavery can only be remedied by the infusing of a new spirit. “New wine in new wine skins.” And this requires us to rediscover the Holy Spirit and to invite Him into our hearts and homes.

Many Catholics respond to this invitation in much the same way that the world responds to wounded butterflies: we tend to overlook Him as simply a nice extra to the faith that, really, only applies to holy people. He really isn’t for me and I really don’t need Him.

But the Holy Spirit is God. And Pentecost invites us to rediscover Him, to ask who He is, to probe deeper and not simply dismiss.

Spiritually Tending the Wounded Butterfly

And in so doing, Pentecost invites us to ask which spirit moves us today. Or, in other words: why do we do what we do? Is it the spirit of personal accomplishment and pride that moves us to do what we do? Is it the spirit of comparison and lifestyle that moves us? What motivates our calendars? What motivates our purchase and the ways that we spend our time? And, strangely, are we moved by sheer boredom? If our actions are not rooted in the solid bedrock of the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and love, then our actions might as well be the Tower of Babel. We are the wounded butterfly in need of care.

Yes, let us invite the Holy Spirit into our lives! Holy Spirit, come into my life! Come into my schedule and into the choices that I make each day! Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind and my heart and expand my often near-sighted vision! Keep me from choosing the things that fade, but help me to choose the things that are eternal.

My friends, as we rediscover God the Holy Spirit and put away the spirit of the world, we will then rediscover the “wounded butterflies” around us that need our assistance. And as we rediscover the God who is love, we will also rediscover (or perhaps even discover for the first time) the world beyond ourselves and we will be alert and able to respond to the needs of our family, the needs of our parish, and the needs of our community.

It is then that our spirit will become holy for we will have received the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life and the God who is love! We will be united in one language of love that confesses the power of love that lives the new commandment of love.

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,
but you received a Spirit of adoption,
through whom we cry, “Abba, Father!”
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit
that we are children of God,
and if children, then heirs,
heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,
if only we suffer with him
so that we may also be glorified with him.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.