Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Today we look as the Magi? They were quite interesting characters. Astrologers and astronomers, keepers of ancient wisdom and dabblers in black arts. They Jews saw them as evil because they did many things condemned by the Old Testament, fortune telling, communicating with the dead, magic potions, etc. Yet they might have been influenced by Jews that were exiled to Babylon. Not all of them came back. The Magi were capable of passing on ideas through  the centuries and were known to borrow knowledge from a wide variety of sources. So the idea of a Messiah might have been on their radar.

God gives them the most dramatic, supernatural sign yet. He sends a star. He is speaking their language. They knew stars well. It would not have had to be that bright to get their attention. Yet God sent them something. There is lots of speculation about what that might have been. Fun stuff.

The important thing is they responded. They packed up their stuff and crossed a dessert into Roman territory. Lots of risks. They discern a call of God and obey it. Echoes of Abram's journey in Gen 12. They go.

The gifts have received a lot of attention as well.  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh correspond roughly to the 3 vows of religious life of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Gold obviously goes with poverty. The idea of offering God our money and our possession. Frankincense corresponds with obedience. Incense is something we worship with. Obedience is how we live out that worship. Myrrh is a bit more of a stretch but it is a burial perfume. It is associated with death. It is offering our life to God. Celibacy is connected with that. It is offering a key part of your life to God. There is the notion of missing out on some of physical pleasure associated with being young and alive fro the sake of a higher good. So it is a martyrdom of a sort.

The Magi have been analyzed a lot considering how little mention they get in the bible. King Herod is the opposite. We like to forget him. Many Christmas pageants omit him. The almost never mention the massacre of the Holy Innocents. But Herod and the Magi shed light on each other. The Magi show faith and a willingness to embrace the kingship of Christ. Herod shows belief and a determination to resist it.

Herod does not ignore Jesus. He does not assume the Magi are just stupid. He is aware of the Messianic prophecies. He basically assumes they are legit. Think about that. He believes God predicted centuries earlier that a child would be born in Bethlehem. He believes that same God put a star in the sky and led these Magi to Judea. Yet he responds not by bowing down to this God but by fighting him. If God is really that big then what makes him think he can win such a fight? Pride. Really an irrational reaction.

Yet how often don't we play that game? How often do we look at God and His call on our lives and play it halfway? We don't dismiss God as a myth but we don't fully worship Him either. We try and manipulate Him. If we think about who God is and who we are that is pretty stupid. Yet we do it. At least I do.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Family

We are now past Christmas and on to the feast of the Holy Family. We see Joseph again. He is acting as the head of his family. Moving them to Egypt and then back to Nazareth. It is good that he is a builder rather than a farmer or a fisherman. He has skills that will travel. Still traveling is not easy in the first century. Just having a dream and suddenly you are on the road again.

Even though Mary is sinless it is Joseph that is given the dreams. Take the child and His mother. He acts as the head of the family. Mary plays the submissive wife. We get that in the first reading. Col 3:18-21:
Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Christmas Story

Someone was discussing the greatest Christmas movie ever. Movies like Gremlins and Die Hard were being mentioned. Of course there are a zillion adaptions of Santa and Scrooge. I wondered why none of them told about or even referenced the birth of Jesus. Sure there is The Nativity Story but that is the exception that proves the rule. It is the only movie Hollywood has ever made of the nativity story. That is a story almost everyone knows yet the movie industry basically ignored it until 2006. Why is that?

One problem is the Christmas story is supernatural at every turn. Modern man does not like the supernatural yet every scene in the Christmas story has it. Angels are all over the place. An impossible birth of John the Baptist to an elderly woman and then an even more impossible birth of Jesus to a virgin. Then there is a star in the East and people being warned in dreams. Simeon makes impossible predictions. It just goes on and on.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Proof

People want proof that God exists. It is not clear what would work. It would have to be something unexplainable in any other way. Not just that people would not know the explanation but they could not even imagine an explanation being discovered someday. Then you can question the data. Maybe it was a hoax. Maybe the witnesses were crazy or lying or something. Any proof would have to completely eliminate all these possibilities. Is there such a proof?

There really is only one proof for God and that is Jesus. Can He be explained another way? Not really. Could someone have made Him up? You can always say that. Knee-jerk skepticism is always an option. Still can this man be made up? Not if you really examine Him. Born into a Jewish tradition expecting a Messiah. Fits the prophecies but not the expectations of most Jews. A theme with Jesus that God does what He says but not what we expect despite the fact that we know what He said.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Godless Church

There is a new idea in church. Get rid of God.
It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.
Dozens of gatherings dubbed "atheist mega-churches" by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke.
It is interesting to me because churches have been moving in this direction for a long time. They have been trying to reach people by meeting their wants and needs. They need community. They want an entertaining Sunday morning experience. They want practical advice about relationships. They need to be accepted and encouraged to better themselves. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They want good moral lessons for their children

Monday, December 16, 2013


This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Am I Missing Something?

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ,
he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question,
“Are you the one who is to come,
or should we look for another?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus loves to give cryptic replies. He is asked a direct question and He gives and answer that seems non-responsive at first. The question is an important one. Are you the one? Are you the messiah? Are the one God has promised. John the Baptist should know, should he not? I mean he was the one who called Jesus, "The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." If that is what you say about Jesus then why would you look for anyone else? Yet he somehow gets confused. Jesus does not seem anything like what John or most Jews imagined the Messiah would be. He is walking around Galilee and collecting a few disciples and doing a few miracles and it is nice but it is disappointingly small. The Romans remain firmly in power. John knows this well because he is in King Herod's prison and will soon be executed. So he starts to wonder. Is is really Him? Am I missing something?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Obama and Pope Francis

Lots being written about Pope Francis by people on the political right. Adam Shaw from FOX News has a typical piece.
Pope Francis is undergoing a popularity surge comparable to the way Barack Obama was greeted by the world in 2008. And just as President Obama has been a disappointment for America, Pope Francis will prove a disaster for the Catholic Church.
This used to be typical of the left to compare popes to politicians. It is about the man. It is about the surge. It is not about the Holy Spirit leading the church. The comparison is always made to a person the audience is not going to like.

Does it ring true? The big difference is that Pope Francis is not young and inexperienced. He has been the head of  a large diocese for a long time. The other difference is Obama created his hope/change image while he was campaigning to become president. Pope Francis was already pope when he burst onto the scene. So he has no need to impress the public. He has no need to impress anyone but God.

Update: Turns out Mark Shea has written something on this same article.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Turn Or Burn

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John the Baptist preaches a typical protestant call to conversion. Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. It  worked too. People were coming from miles around and and getting baptized. People say this is not a very Catholic thing to do. Nonsense. The church has a long tradition of powerful preachers. Many of them are saints.