The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 2

“Study the generations long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?”  What a great line!  It’s right in the middle of Chapter 2 (verse 10).  If we’re looking for a subject for medication, I think this verse is it.

There’s a lot more to this chapter, eighteen verses in fact.  But I’m going to leave you with just this one to think about.  If you’re hungry for more, here’s a link to the entire chapter.

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The Wisdom of Sirach, Chapter 1

Thanks  for joining me today as we begin to explore the Book of Sirach, or the Wisdom of Sirach as it was once called.  The book begins with “Praise of Wisdom.”  Sirach tells us that “all wisdom comes from the Lord and with Him it remains forever.”

Wisdom was the first creation.  “To whom has wisdom’s root been revealed?”  The answer is pretty obvious..  “There is but one, wise and truly awe-inspiring, seated upon His throne;  It is the Lord; He created her, has seen her, and has taken note of her.”

Moving on to verse 12, we read that “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which is formed with the faithful in the womb.”  That certainly puts a different spin on the abortion debate, doesn’t it?  Wisdom is formed in the womb.

I’m going to stop there and suggest that you read the rest of Chapter 1 on your own.  Either find your Bible, or here’s a link to the USCCB page.  Either way, I think you’ll find plenty to think about without my commentary.  In fact, as we dig further into this amazing book, some days you won’t find any commentary at all, just Sirach’s words.

Please feel free to add your own comments below.

Ash Wednesday

Well,  here it is Ash Wednesday.  The warm-up to Lent.  I’ve never been quite sure about this, but in 2019, counting today, there are there are forty four days until Holy Thursday, the official end of Lent.  So where do we get forty days?  I’ve decided at this point to just stop worrying about it and accept it for what it is.

Anyway, I’ve decided this year to read the book of Sirach during Lent.  It works out nicely as there are 52 pages of Sirach in my Bible or just over 1.1 pages per day.  I chose Sirach because it is one of the most practical books in the Old Testament.  Originally called The Wisdom of Sirach,iIt’s full of good advice on how to live your life.  If you follow Sirach’s teaching you will be a better person for it.

The book was actually written by Jesus, Son of Eleazar, Son of Sirach.  (Yes, people in Old Testament times did name their kids Jesus, just as they do in Latin American countries today.)

The book was written in Hebrew between 200 and 175 BC.  It was translated into Greek sometime after 132 BC by the author’s grandson who included his own forward.

Sirach is not included in the Hebrew Bible after the first Century AD or in protestant Bibles, which is too bad.  The Catholic Church uses this book often in its Liturgy.

As Lent goes by, I will share parts of Sirach with you along with my thoughts.

Have a blessed Lent!

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This is my homily for the 8th week of Ordinary Time.  We seldom have an 8th week because Lent has usually started by the first of March, but this year we do.  So enjoy some readings that you may not have heard in a while.  

We live in a world of sound bites.  CBS claims to have “real news”. Those two four letter words mean a lot more than their ordinary meaning.  Fox News is “fair and balanced”. I don’t think anybody, even their biggest fans, believe that they don’t lean to the conservative side.  Coca Cola is the “real thing” .  Here in Saint Louis hockey fans bleed blue and we shop at Carroll House because we like nice things. KMOX is “the voice of Saint Louis,” Commercials tell us not to smell like Walter.

 

We have a President who communicates in 140 character tweets.  And most of us carry a telephone around in our pockets or purses even though we may never actually talk to anyone.  If I want to meet my wife for lunch I’ll send her a text message: Lunch? And she’ll reply: ok. Where & when? I’ll text her back Chick-Fil-A @ 1:00.  And she’ll answer back: ok. Seven words and two characters, assuming “ok” is a word. We have the most advanced communication system in history and nobody talks to anybody anymore.  We have to go to the history books to find the great presidential speeches. Imagine if Lincoln had had Twitter at Gettysburg.

 

Do you remember when you were in grade school?  Every year you’d get a new wooden ruler. It had the Golden Rule on it and was sponsored by Coke.  I went to a public school, so I don’t know if they do that anymore or not, but fifty years later I still remember those rulers.  On the front it said “A good rule…Do unto others as you wouldhave them do unto you.” Then on the back it said compliments of the Coca Cola Bottling Company.”  That was back when public schools and public corporations didn’t mind being associated with the Bible.ruler

For around ten bucks, plus shipping, you can buy one of those rulers on ebay.

But, this isn’t a new thing.  Oh, the technology may be new but sound bites date back to the time before Christ.  In the first reading today Sirach, who wrote from 200-175 BC, or about two centuries before Christ,  gives us four sound bites, three of them about speech.:

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks.”  We may not be familiar with a sieve, but it’s the way they used to separate the grain from the husks.  You’d put the grain in the sieve and shake it. The holes were a certain size and the grain would be separated from the husks.  Sirach is telling us that when we speak our faults fall out of our mouths just like the husks fall out of the sieve.

 

Then he tells us that:  “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so too does ones speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”  This is a similar message to the first one and finally he says:”Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”

 

It was either Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain who said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”  Same thought, just expressed in a different way.

 

Saint Steven was the first deacon and also the first martyr.  He was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel. They told us in formation that Steven was doing just fine until he opened his mouth.

 

In the middle of the reading, Sirach goes off on a different track and says: “As the test of what the potter molds is in the furnace, so in tribulation is the test of the just.”  If you’ve ever gone to Silver Dollar City, chances you’ve watched the potters at work.  After they complete a piece it goes in the oven to be cured. If the clay isn’t right, the oven will crack it and destroy the piece.  So, tribulation will destroy us if our souls aren’t just.

 

If we turn to Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus speaking in the same type of sound bite.  “Can a blind person lead a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit.”  Two thousand years later this saying is part of our language.  How often have you heard someone say “that’s like the blind leading the blind.”  Of course Jesus’ meaning is a little deeper here. He’s not talking about two blind guys falling into a hole.  He’s talking about us following false prophets. How can someone lead you to heaven if they don’t know how to get there themselves.  We see these people on television on Sunday morning, but they’ve been around a lot longer than TV.

 

“No disciple is superior to the teacher but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”  That one’s pretty obvious.

 

But then He asks the disciples a question.  “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”  Think about your basement at home.  Or, if you don’t have a basement, think about the attic.  Think about the wooden beams that hold the whole thing together.  Then imagine one of them sticking out of your eye. Go ahead. I’ll wait.  Got it? OK, now imagine trying to get a splinter out of someone else’s eye with that big beam sticking out of your eye.  You couldn’t even get close enough to see the splinter.

 

YOU HYPOCRITE!  Get your own house in order before you try to help somebody else.  Don’t be like the blind leading the blind.

 

Finally Luke takes us back to Sirach and talks about the quality of the tree producing good fruit.  “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil, for out ot the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.

Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

 

Have a great Lent!

 

Southern Baptist leader vows changes

after report alleges widespread abuse.

Let’s be clear about two things right at the outset.  First, I, in no way, mean to diss anyone’s faith tradition.  I was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and have no issue with the 70 million Americans who belong to the church.

Second, any abuse of any child, at any time, any place, by anyone is wrong, wrong, wrong.  There’s no justification for it and there’s certainly no justification for anyone covering it up.

Having said that, I bring this article to your attention for a couple of reasons.  First, it appeared on page 11 A of my local newspaper.  That’s the second-last page of the news section, after the obituaries.  Now maybe I’m getting paranoid, but I can’t help thinking that if the headline had read “Roman Catholic leader vows change”,  this AP article would have appeared on the front page.  Historically any time there’s an article about abuse involving the Catholic Church it always appears on page 1 A.  And any time there’s an article about abuse that doesn’t involve the Church, it gets buried.

The point of the article is that a report by the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle found about 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and workers who were accused of sexual misconduct since 1998.  Note that year:  1998.  This is recent stuff, folks.  In fact, quoting the article, “In 2008, a victim implored SBC leaders to track sexual predators, act against congregations that harbored or concealed abusers and establish prevention policies such as those adopted by other faiths, including the Roman Catholic Church.  (emphasis mine)  That request was rejected.

The point of this rant is that child sexual abuse is not a Catholic problem.  It’s societal problem that must be addressed by our society.  Have Catholic priests abused children?  There’s no doubt that they have.  But children have also been abused by ministers of other faiths, by teachers, and coaches, and scout leaders.  God help us, they’ve even been molested by their own parents.

The Catholic Church may be the organization best equipped to address this problem, but not as long as we’re thought to be the enemy.  The changes put in place are working.

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time–Ezra

Here’s my homily for this weekend,  Enjoy

 

People love stories.  We enjoy stories that entertain us and stories that teach us things.  Stories are powerful. The Book of the Gospels is full of stories about Jesus and stories Jesus told which we call parables.  Jesus parables make up roughly 30% of the New Testament. In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel the Apostles ask Jesus why He speaks to the people in parables.  Jesus answers that while they, the Apostles, know the secrets of God’s kingdom, the people aren’t ready yet so He must speak to them in parables.

 

For example, He could have told them to pray constantly, but they wouldn’t get it.  Instead He told them the story of the judge and the persistent widow. That they understood.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Here’s a more modern parable.  Some of us are cat people and some of us are dog people.   Some of us are neither. I happen to be a cat person. But suppose you don’t know anything about dogs or cats.  I could try to explain the difference or I could tell you a story.

 

A German shepherd, a doberman, and a cat die.  All three meet God and He wants to know what they believe in.  

 

The German shepherd says, “I believe in discipline, training, and loyalty to my master.”  God says “that’s good. You may sit at my right side.”

 

The doberman says, “”I believe in  the love, care, and protection of my master.  “Ah, God says, “you may sit at my left side.” Then God looks at the cat.  “And what do you believe?” The cat answers, “I believe you’re sitting in my seat.”

 

That’s the difference between dogs and cats.

 

Jan and I babysat our 18 month-old grandson last  night.  This morning he and Momo were reading this book. It’s by Dr, Seuss and it’s called “Mr, Brown Can Moo, Can You?” a typical, silly Dr, Seuss book.  You know one of the first things we teach little kids is animal sounds. You know, “the cow goes moo”. Well this book is full of all kinds of sounds and goofy pictures, and my grandson can repeat most of the sounds.

mr brown

 

But, l think if you just sat him down with a list of sounds, he probably wouldn’t get it nearly as fast as he’s gotten it from good old Dr, Seuss.  Again, stories are powerful.

 

In the first reading today from the Book of Nehemiah the Hebrew people have been in exile in Babylon for more than 100 years.  There’s nobody alive who remembers what it was like before they were captured. There are some people, like Ezra the priest who have kept the traditions alive, but to most of the people it’s just ancient history.  Living among the Babylonians for more than a century, most of the people have adopted the Babylonian lifestyle.

But, now they’re back.   They’ve returned to Jerusalem and Ezra has brought them all together, “all the men, the women, and all the children old enough to understand.”  They’re gathered in front of the Water Gate, which isn’t a hotel in Washington DC, but it’s the gap in the city wall where the water comes in. They’re outside in the sun and they’re going to need a lot of water.  Ezra is standing on a wooden platform that’s been built just for the occasion. He opens the scroll and begins to read from the Torah. Notice he read from dawn to midday, around six or seven hours. If you’re one of those people who think mass should never take more than 45 minutes, preferably less, think about that.  They stood out in the sun for six or seven hours. I told you they would need a lot of water,

 

They weren’t just standing around.  They had their hands raised high and were shouting “Amen!  Amen! Then they prostrated themselves on the ground. They were all weeping because they realized what they had been missing; how they had let the Lord down.  Have you ever cried at mass, other than maybe at a funeral? Has it ever occurred to you how undeserving you are of God’s love? Well, that’s how the people were feeling.

 

Then Nehemiah, who was governer, said to the people, “Don’t be sad.  Don’t weep! Today is holy to the Lord, your God. Rejoice in the Lord! Have a party!”  That was some powerful story that Ezra read to the people.

 

Now, normally this is where I would talk about the Gospel.  But since this week’s Gospel and next weeks are basically part 1 and 2 of the same story I’m just going to point out how Jesus reading from the scroll is just like Ezra’s doing it in the first reading and say again that there is tremendous power in stories.  This is the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and he addresses it to “most excellent Theophilus.” The word means “lover of God” so Luke probably isn’t writing to any particular person.

 

Jesus has returned after being tempted and today finds Himself in Nazareth, His home town.  He attends synagogue on the Sabbath and stands up and reads from the scroll just like Ezra had.  He finishes by telling His listeners “today this scripture reading is fulfilled in your hearing.”  But come back next weekend and you’ll hear that the outcome is very different. Stay tuned.

 

All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints.  It’s a day when we remember the hundreds of saints who don’t have their own feast day.  But our non-Catholic friends might ask us, “Why do Catholics pray to the saints. Only God can answer prayers.”

True enough.  Only God can answer our prayers.  The fact is that we don’t pray to the saints.  We ask the saints to pray for us. The “litany of the saints” that we say on special occasions concludes with the words “pray for us.”  No Catholic, at least no Catholic who understand his or her faith, ever prays to a saint.

 

So, what’s the deal?  First of all, we believe that the saints are in heaven.  They are in God’s presence. Second, we believe that saints have a special connection to us either through our location, through our occupation, through our station in life, or in some other way.  When Catholics are confirmed, we take the name of a saint. In my case, it’s Saint Patrick.  When I pray, I ask Patrick to pray for me.  Since I’ve adopted him as my personal patron, I believe that he will intercede for me.  I think of him as a friend who lives in heaven.

 

Periodically the Church will canonize a new saint.  It’s important to remember that the Church isn’t making that person a saint.  She’s just recognizing the person’s holiness. Bernadette didn’t become a saint because Pope Pius said so.  All he did was recognize Bernadette’s holy life and add her to the list.

 

I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Saint Louis IX is the patron of the Archdiocese.  I believe that he takes a special interest in those of us who live in his namesake city.  Saint Rose Phillipine Du Chesne and Saint Vincent De Paul are also patrons of our Archdiocese.

The Church has designated certain saints as patrons of vocations and occupations.  Saint Stephen, the first deacon, is the patron of deacons, along with Saint Lawrence, and Saint Francis of Assissi.  All three were deacons.  According to saints.sqpn.com, there are 23 saints who were deacons, and that doesn’t include the three that I’ve listed.

Maybe you, or someone you love has cancer.  Saints.sqpn.com lists six patrons saints for you to choose from.  On his feast day, February 3, we pray to Saint Blaise, patron of diseases of the throat.  Here’s a good example of praying through a saint.  When the congregation present themselves for the blessing, the deacon or priest lays crossed candles around the neck and prays,”Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be free from all diseases of the throat and every other illness.” The key word here is “intercession”.  We’re not praying to Saint Blaise. We’re asking him to pray for us.

 

Maybe you’re a nurse.  You have eight patrons.  Soldiers, you have sixteen.  Even lawyers have eleven patron saints.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that none of these folks can answer your prayers, but they can put in a good word for you.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters think it’s scandalous that we try to sneak up on God through this spiritual back door.  But the same people will ask you or me to pray for them.

 

When I had my brain surgery in March, the members of my son’s Baptist church in Alabama prayed for me.  It’s the same thing. Remember the parable of the persistent widow? She kept coming back over and over again until the judge relented.  Likewise, I can ask God to bless my ministry. Or, I can flood heaven with prayers from my patron saints, my friends, and my family. This takes nothing from God.  It just moves the process along. I can ask for something 100 times, or I can ask ten people (living and dead) to pray for me ten times. The result is the same.

 

Of course, only God answers prayers.  To think otherwise is not Christian. But if you have friends who have His ear, it doesn’t hurt if they put in a good word for you.

Saints of God, pray for us.