Plagiarism is okay when the words are good!

I have so many drafts on my WordPress site, I’m surprised it doesn’t crash. How many times can I start a post only to get turned in another direction and leave it unfinished? The answer, apparently, is quite often.

Today, then, for the sake of actually posting something, I’m not going to attempt to write about my visit to the cathedral and my moments of reflection. Instead, I’m going to turn it over to Bishop Robert Barron, one of my spiritual advisers (although he doesn’t know it). Bishop Barron offers a daily gospel reflection. It pops into my email around 3:30 every morning, and I try to make it the first item I read (around 5:30 or 6). His words explain where Jesus was coming from and where we should be going.

So without further ado, here is Bishop Barron’s gospel reflection for today:

Friends, in today’s Gospel we meet a prudent steward who serves his master wisely. I would like to say something about prudence and wisdom. In the Middle Ages, prudence was called “the queen of the virtues,” because it was the virtue that enabled one to do the right thing in a particular situation.

Prudence is a feel for the moral situation, something like the feel that a quarterback has for the playing field. Justice is a wonderful virtue, but without prudence, it is blind and finally useless. One can be as just as possible, but without a feel for the present situation, his justice will do him no good.

Wisdom, unlike prudence, is a sense of the big picture. It is the view from the hilltop. Most of us look at our lives from the standpoint of our own self-interest. But wisdom is the capacity to survey reality from the vantage point of God. Without wisdom, even the most prudent judgment will be erroneous, short-sighted, inadequate.

The combination, therefore, of prudence and wisdom is especially powerful. Someone who is both wise and prudent will have both a sense of the bigger picture and a feel for the particular situation.

Wait, there were 2 Judases?

Or should that be Judai?

At any rate, how long have I been in this Church and only today do I read the gospel and find that Jesus had two apostles named Judas? Can you imagine being the other Judas? “Oh, no, I’m not the one who took the coins. I’m the good Judas.” You might have a hard time shaking off the perceived reputation of being a traitor.

Today’s gospel tells the story of how Jesus came down from prayer and named the twelve. I would love to know how each of them made the cut. Were there several rounds, like a draft? Were some of the also-ran disciples annoyed? “That Simon Peter is such a kiss-up. He gets picked for everything.” Or perhaps, “I think that Judas Iscariot is a bad choice. I never trusted him.”

Well, everything works out for a reason, including everything related to the story of Jesus.

Everything’s Coming up Mary

I look forward all year to a few of my favorite gospel passages. Imagine my joy this past Sunday when the story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary was featured.

Modern interpretation: Jesus goes to visit sisters Martha and Mary (Lazarus is their brother), and Martha is slaving over a hot kettle while Mary is sitting cross-legged listening to Jesus just like a little kid at story time. Martha is perturbed. “Jesus,” she basically whines, “look at me working so hard to make you a wonderful meal. Tell my lazy sister Mary to get up and help me!”

Jesus, not one to coddle complainers, tells her very nicely, “Thank you for your hospitality, Martha, but you’re always worked up about something, while your sister is calmly learning from me.”

“Hello? Jesus? Look at all this work I’m doing while my sister Mary is sitting at your feet.”

As a true Italian-American, I always imagine Martha, short and stocky with cherubic cheeks, standing in front of a cauldron of boiling hot water as she stirs limp spaghetti strands. Never mind that pasta would not have been on the menu; it helps me to better understand the scripture if I can picture a little old Italian lady worrying more about spaghetti and meatballs than what the guest has come to share.

Mary, of course, is the thinner, more classically beautiful sister, often dismissed as lazy or simple-minded but really she is just totally in tune with her spirituality. She is soaking up her time with the Lord and enjoying what he has to say. That doesn’t make Martha a bad person. If she didn’t stir the sauce and knead the dough, who would feed this man? It’s just that Mary has the opportunity to take full advantage of why Jesus is there: not necessarily to eat but rather to reveal his wisdom.

Martha could have been paying attention to Jesus while she was preparing the meal, just like I could be strengthening myself spiritually while I’m doing laundry or making dinner for my family. Why does it often seem easier to take the woe-is-me attitude? In all honesty, no one really cares. You’re cooking for Jesus? That’s fantastic! You should be so proud. You’re doing 11 loads of laundry? You’re so fortunate to have a family! Sadly, it’s hard to think of your good fortune when you’re busy feeling sorry for yourself.

Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t feel sorry for herself — or for Martha, for that matter. Jesus isn’t throwing Martha a pity party either. As he tells her, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

Yesterday’s gospel featured yet another Mary; this time it’s Mary Magdalene. News flash for Catholics who have been out of the loop for some time: Mary Magdalene is no longer considered to have been a prostitute. Apparently, that was a story grown out of the preaching of a long-ago pope. In fact, Mary Magdalene is right up there with all of the apostles.

She is the one present at the resurrection of Jesus. As one of his most ardent disciples, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb to find the stone has been rolled away. And what transpires next is nothing short of awe-inspiring:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-bo’ni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary Mag’dalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:11-18

As magnificent as this story is, we are left with questions, the most obvious being: Since Mary Magdalene was so important to Jesus and followed him so closely, why isn’t she traditionally considered among the apostles? Why doesn’t she have the same clout as, say, Peter? (And, hello? Peter denied Jesus 3 times the night before he died. You don’t hear of Mary doing that.)

My only guess is that, as much as early Christians embraced the teachings of Jesus, they were either unable or unwilling to give equal billing to a woman. We don’t hear about Mary going out and proclaiming the gospel after Jesus’ death and resurrection; yet, she is now getting more and more attention as someone who helped found the early Church.

As a notoriously old-fashioned Catholic, I’m hesitant to rework the history of the Church; however, as a fellow female, I like the idea of Mary Magdalene being right up there with Peter, James, Timothy and the rest. (We will save the discussion of whether this means women should be priests for another time.) At the same time, I rather enjoy the idea of women being the unsung heroes in the Bible. It may seem like men are doing all the work, but in the background are women carrying a lot of the heavy lifting.

Here’s to the Marys of the Bible for carrying the faith. And let’s not forget the Marthas, who are always making sure that no one preaches on an empty stomach.

May 8: Anniversary blessings

While I did not attend Mass in a church today (listened to it on the radio), I fondly recalled my wedding Mass 20 years ago on this date. It was a windy, overcast day; my father had accidentally dropped my wedding gown on the floor; and my mother was recovering from the removal of some sort of killer corn that clearly was more painful than anything ever experienced by another human being. Still, nothing could cloud the beauty of my wedding day.

To be honest, my parents were nervous, although I don’t understand why. By the time I got married I was 34, so you think they’d have been ready to push me up the aisle. But that’s how my family rolls. And so they had to be forgiven for their clumsy hands and corn complaints. As I recall, absolutely everything else about that day was perfect.

I wish I could remember the words Monsignor Ashton said during his homily. It’s a shame that I don’t, but I do remember kneeling at the foot of Mary’s statue while the organist sang “Ave Maria,” and I remember that our communion song was “One Bread, One Body.” I distinctly remember telling my bridesmaids that they could cut the long black dresses I’d asked them to wear so they could reuse them — a huge lie told by many a bride and one that I had sworn I’d never tell. Getting married makes you do crazy things.

It has been a wild 20 years, and I can honestly say I haven’t been bored for a minute. It’s because of my husband that I’ve chosen to reconsider my faith and what it means to me, and because of him that I’ve gone back to Mass on a regular basis. I’ve also lost the “Catholic guilt” that I carried around for a few decades, while increasing my appreciation of what it means to be a Catholic. At the same time, every Mass I attend or listen to on the radio makes me think about the faults of the Church, especially of the abuse that went on (and possibly still goes on).

If I had the short-sighted faith I once I had, I would have left the Church for good in 2002. Even now, it’s hard to look at a priest and not wonder if he was hurting others. What has made me go on is realizing that the Church is really God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They put mortals in charge of it, and mortals have a tendency to screw up. It’s unfortunate, especially when the problems are so severe and so hurtful to many.

It’s very flawed. And so is marriage, to be honest. So is just about any situation you encounter with another human being. You get angry, become self-involved, hurt someone else, let others hurt you. It’s messy. We don’t expect that kind of a mess when it comes to the Church. Then again, I wasn’t expecting some of the messy moments during my marriage.

If you’re lucky, you learn from the mistakes and move on. That’s what my husband and I have done. It’s what the Church is trying to do, but it’s hard when new stories emerge on a fairly consistent basis. I feel like I got a do-over more than once in my marriage, and it helped a lot. I demand a do-over for the Church. It’s the only chance of saving the relationship.

Wed., March 10th: Good Deeds

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I would have been annoyed about having to put aside my own activity to help someone else. But recently I read a blog post on some Catholic site (unfortunately, I can’t remember which one) that encouraged readers to think of these disturbances as a chance to grow and to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Fast forward to this morning. Someone in the house forgot an important item needed later in the day, and I immediately volunteered to deliver it in the afternoon. As soon as I agreed to this deal, I realized that meant I couldn’t go to church today, and for a second, I was pretty annoyed (mostly with myself since I volunteered to deliver the item). Then, I remembered that blog post I had read, and I realized that delivering this item to a teenager who otherwise would have been stressed out counts as a type of church activity. It’s not just about listening to a homily and receiving communion — as significant as those might be. Using what you learn in the pew is the perfect complement to attending Mass. And so I happily delivered the item to the grateful child and drove back to work. Sounds so simple, but it didn’t feel that way to me.

From today’s Gospel: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Mon., April 8th: Oh, Susanna!

I believe I found the very first recorded instance of #metoo in today’s first reading.

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim,
who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna,
the daughter of Hilkiah;
her pious parents had trained their daughter
according to the law of Moses.
Joakim was very rich;
he had a garden near his house,
and the Jews had recourse to him often
because he was the most respected of them all.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges,
of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon:
from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.”
These men, to whom all brought their cases,
frequented the house of Joakim.
When the people left at noon,
Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.
When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk,
they began to lust for her.
They suppressed their consciences;
they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven,
and did not keep in mind just judgments.

One day, while they were waiting for the right moment,
she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only.
She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm.
Nobody else was there except the two elders,
who had hidden themselves and were watching her.
“Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids,
“and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

As soon as the maids had left,
the two old men got up and hurried to her.
“Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us;
give in to our desire, and lie with us.
If you refuse, we will testify against you
that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned.
“If I yield, it will be my death;
if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.
Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt
than to sin before the Lord.”
Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her,
as one of them ran to open the garden doors.
When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden,
they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her.
At the accusations by the old men,
the servants felt very much ashamed,
for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day,
the two wicked elders also came,
fully determined to put Susanna to death.
Before all the people they ordered:
“Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah,
the wife of Joakim.”
When she was sent for,
she came with her parents, children and all her relatives.
All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping.

In the midst of the people the two elders rose up
and laid their hands on her head.
Through tears she looked up to heaven,
for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.
The elders made this accusation:
“As we were walking in the garden alone,
this woman entered with two girls
and shut the doors of the garden, dismissing the girls.
A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her.
When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime,
we ran toward them.
We saw them lying together,
but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we;
he opened the doors and ran off.
Then we seized her and asked who the young man was,
but she refused to tell us.
We testify to this.”
The assembly believed them,
since they were elders and judges of the people,
and they condemned her to death.

But Susanna cried aloud:
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me. 
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”

The Lord heard her prayer.
As she was being led to execution,
God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel,
and he cried aloud:
“I will have no part in the death of this woman.”
All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?”
He stood in their midst and continued,
“Are you such fools, O children of Israel! 
To condemn a woman of Israel without examination
and without clear evidence?
Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Then all the people returned in haste.
To Daniel the elders said,
“Come, sit with us and inform us,
since God has given you the prestige of old age.”
But he replied,
“Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.”

After they were separated one from the other,
he called one of them and said:
“How you have grown evil with age!
Now have your past sins come to term:
passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent,
and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says,
‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’
Now, then, if you were a witness,
tell me under what tree you saw them together.”
“Under a mastic tree,” he answered.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head,
for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him
and split you in two.”
Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought.
Daniel said to him,
“Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you,
lust has subverted your conscience.
This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel,
and in their fear they yielded to you;
but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.
Now, then, tell
me under what tree you surprised them together.”
“Under an oak,” he said.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,
for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two
so as to make an end of you both.”

The whole assembly cried aloud,
blessing God who saves those who hope in him.
They rose up against the two elders,
for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury.
According to the law of Moses,
they inflicted on them
the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor:
they put them to death.
Thus was innocent blood spared that day.
— Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 

Tuesday, April 2: Name That Saint

Did you know there are nearly 11,000 saints in the Catholic Church? Neither did I. It seems to me that we hear about the same 30 or 40 saints over and over, and the other 10,960 or so go unnoticed.

For instance, today is the feast day of St. Francis of Paola. He lived in Italy in the 1400s, preferring the life of a hermit. By the time he was 20, he had followers who wanted to emulate his way of life. In the late 1400s, Francis founded a hermetic community that he called the Minims, or the least, because he wanted to be seen as the least among God’s people. Now there’s a guy with no ego.

Even though he liked solitude, Francis knew that God wanted him to help other people. He became an advocate for the poor, and he traveled to France to help Louis XI prepare for his death. Francis himself died while he was in France. Although Francis of Paola is not as well known as other saints, he seems to have lived a notable religious life.

While I was searching for information about the life of today’s saint, I read about the large number of saints recognized by the Church throughout the centuries. Some of their stories are something of a legend. Christopher and Valentine, for example, have a bit of fantasy around their life stories.

Then there are the saints who were more of local heroes. The most bizarre one I found was St. Guinefort, who apparently earned his sainthood because he saved his master’s child from a deadly snakebite. Guinefort was a dog living in rural France in the 13th century. I happen to believe that dogs were created to bring happiness to humans, but I’m not so sure they should reach the level of sainthood.

Modern-day saints have a relatable story, even if their faith seems light years beyond our own. One of the most intriguing saints of this century, in my opinion, is Gianna Molla. She was an Italian physician and mother who seemed to live a routine life based on faith. During her sixth pregnancy, Gianna was diagnosed with a tumor. She had the tumor removed, but she refused to lose the child. A week after giving birth to a healthy baby, Gianna died. Talk about putting the life of another above your own.

We can always learn something from a saint, even if it’s a dog. Be kind to others, put yourself last, take out a snake when you have to.

Monday, April 1: Who you callin’ fool, fool?

The first of April is one of those days that you either love or hate. When I was a kid, I loved it. I remember one time I woke up very early to spread bright blue toothpaste on the inside of our bathroom sink. Now that was funny. As I got older, I realized that some of the stuff I thought was hilarious was actually kind of dumb and immature. And then I was horrified to find that some adults still thought they were funny.

The truth is, I am terrified of looking like a fool, so I am especially careful not to try to fool anyone else. In other words, I am no fun when it comes to practical jokes.

The patron saint for today doesn’t seem like he messed around either. St. Hugh of Grenoble lived in the late 1000s and early 1100s. He served as a bishop in France for just two years before he got fed up and tried fading into a monastery. But the pope had other plans for him.

At the time, the Church was a bit of a mess. As Franciscan Media tells it, “Corruption seemed to loom in every direction: the buying and selling of Church offices, violations of clerical celibacy, lay control of Church property, religious indifference and/or ignorance.” Does any of this sound familiar?

The pope entrusted Hugh to fix up some of the problems. “Hugh was reasonably effective in the role of reformer—surely because of his devotion to the Church but also because of his strong character,” Franciscan Media notes. For his work, Hugh was canonized a saint just two years after his death in 1132.

Reading about St. Hugh, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, why aren’t we praying 24/7 to this guy? He appears to have lived through a time that, morally, was similar to ours, and he remained steadfast in his commitment to God. Second of all, why does the Church seem to get out of whack every so often? I know what you may be thinking: If a woman was running this outfit, we wouldn’t have so much trouble. That may very well be true. But the fact of the matter is that anyone who is running Christ’s church should be doing it honorably.

So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But maybe St. Hugh does.

Sunday, March 10: Find Your Way Back

Today is the annual Mother-Son Mass & Brunch at St. Ignatius! Just a quick note here to say how happy I am that I can share Mass with my son and several hundred other students and parents.

I like to live the fantasy that a lot of parents do, the one where they assume their kids will be faithful churchgoers even after they don’t live under your roof. Considering I was a lapsed Catholic from my late-20s to my early-30s, this seems totally unrealistic. I like to think, however naively, that my kids have a more solid foundation of faith than I did. I can’t say for sure that’s true, and even if they do, does that guarantee they’ll remain Catholic?

Maybe the better thing to wish for is that, should they decide to leave, they eventually find their way back.