The poor and homeless are all around us. As we approach winter, their plight is worsened with the effort to stay warm. What are you willing to do to help?

Saint Martin of Tours, whose memorial the Catholic Church celebrates today, was willing to truly give what he had. Martin was a convert to Christianity and the first person to be named a saint who was not a martyr.

Legend has it that while Martin was still a catechumen (before he was baptized), he came upon a poor man who was begging at the city gate on a bitterly cold day. Seeing the naked, trembling man, Martin was moved with compassion. Having nothing on him but his sword and the clothes on his back. he cut his cloak into two pieces, giving half to the poor man and wrapping himself in the other half. It is said that many laughed at his appearance, and he must have looked strange walking around in half a coat.

Martin saw Jesus in a dream that evening. Jesus was wearing the garment half Martin had given away and Martin heard him say, “Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his garment.”

What Martin heard Jesus say was this: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

Most of us have more than the coat on our back. Let’s be especially generous as we approach the cold winter months.

Pope Francis just gave a powerful address to Italian Catholics in Florence. (You can find a summary here.)

In it, he described what he termed a “new humanism,” mentioning three sentiments of Jesus that describe that humanism. They are:

Humility: “The obsession with preserving one’s glory, one’s “dignity”, one’s influence, must not form part of our sentiments. We must pursue God’s glory and this does not coincide with ours.”

Disinterest: “[T]he happiness of those by our side. A Chriastian’s humanity is always outgoing. It is not narcissistic or self-referential…. “Our duty is to work to make this world a better place and to fight. Our faith is revolutionary due to an impulse that comes from the Holy Spirit.”

Blessedness: To live a live of blessedness is to live in accordance with the Beatitudes.

These three sentiments “tell us we must not be obsessed with “power”, even when this may appear useful and functional to the social image of the Church. If the Church does not adopt Jesus’ sentiments, it becomes disoriented, it loses the sense. Jesus’ sentiments tell us that a Church that thinks of itself and its own interests is a sad Church.”

There is much more in the sermon, but these three seem to offer great fruit for our daily examen. To what extent do I reflect these three sentiments of Jesus?

Who Are Your Heroes?

I am again teaching an undergraduate honors seminar this J-term at the University of St. Thomas. When I taught the course last year, the figures we focused on were Malala Yousafzai, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Helen Prejean.

As I am planning how to teach the course this semester (something I spent the bulk of yesterday doing), I thought it would be a good exercise to ask you to consider the questions I ask my students on the first day of the seminar:

How do you define heroism? What is it that makes you call someone a hero?

Name three people to whom you personally apply the label hero and explain why?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments here. It might give me some ideas for people to talk about in class. :)

My friend Bill Nolan, Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle Church, writes a weekly column for his parish. I receive it by e-mail each week.

This week, Bill wrote about what is known colloquially as “The Jefferson Bible.” This is the version of the Bible created by Thomas Jefferson with the aim of creating a condensed compilation of “the doctrines of Jesus, what he believed to be the essential elements of a Christian life.” Bill describes the work as “essentially a biographical chronology and collection of Jesus’ more famous speeches and parables.

What most interests Bill is what Jefferson cut from the original Gospels, both in and of itself and in comparison with what many people would be most likely to cut today. He writes

[I]t is the “cutting” from the original that makes the Jefferson Bible so intriguing. For what Jefferson also sought to do was eliminate from the story that which made him uncomfortable. And what made him most uncomfortable were the stories of the supernatural, the miracle stories, the divinity references, and the Resurrection. In summary, what makes Jesus who he is, at least in the eyes of mainstream Christian tradition.

What I find most interesting in the composition of the Jefferson Bible is that it eliminates – and retains – exactly the opposite of what I find most Catholics would eliminate and retain when it comes to the story of Jesus. It is not the divinity of Christ that we tend to have the most trouble with, it is the humanity of Jesus, the real person, the flesh and blood. It is not the supernatural, but the natural; not the miraculous, but the everyday; not the Resurrection, but the suffering and death.

Bill ends his column with a great thought exercises: If you could cut and paste the Gospels to your liking, what would you keep and what would you cut? I suspect Bill is correct that “your answers might reveal much about the Jesus – and the Christ – you need to know.

Thanks to Bill for allowing me to share his thoughts.

One Body, Many Parts

Today’s first Mass reading from Romans is one of those I think we could all benefit from taking to heart. Paul reminds us that

We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,
let us exercise them:
if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
if ministry, in ministering;
if one is a teacher, in teaching;
if one exhorts, in exhortation;
if one contributes, in generosity;
if one is over others, with diligence;
if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Many parts, one body: with each part given different gifts. If I can remember that then

– I can rejoice in the contributions and successes of others without jealousy because they are doing their part to further God’s plan.

– I can do my part without comparing myself to others, knowing that my task is simply to do the best I can with the gifts I have been given, and it is no matter whether my part is smaller or bigger than the part of others.

– I can avoid pride and embrace the humility of knowing that my gifts are not my own, but gifts from God.

– I can remember that it is God’s plan I am about, not my own.

It is a simple passage but one worth sitting with. It can make a tremendous difference in how we approach our work and our lives.

Reach out and touch someone.

No, not by calling them or texting them or sending them an e-mail. I mean reach out and physically touch someone.

If you have read my posts the last two days, you know I am at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh giving a weekend retreat for Marquette University faculty and staff. We ended our retreat session last night with a simple water blessing. After leading the participants in a guided meditation, I invited them to come up two-by-two and bless each other with water (really, be a conduit of God’s blessing) from the bowl I had placed on a table in front of the room. (I told them they could bless each other in any way they wished – other than dumping the whole bowl of water on the other person.)

It was a very sacred experience. Sitting in the back watching the retreatants come two-by-two and prayerfully bless each other almost brought me to tears. Some made crosses on each others foreheads and hands. Some held their hands together in the water. Many hugged.

Later, one of the retreatants came to me to tell me how powerful he found the experience. And then he remarked, “People don’t touch each other enough.”

I woke up with that line on my mind. I’m of Italian descent, so we touch everyone. We kiss and hug everyone hello and good-bye. But that is clearly not the case with everyone. And yet we benefit so much from the touch of another. There is actually quite a bit of scientific research documenting the emotional and physical health benefits that come from touch.

I recognize that some people have particular wounds that may make touching difficult for them, and I don’t want to minimize that. But for the rest of us: Reach out and touch someone!

God in the Rain

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain. It turns out the forecast is for rain all day today in the vicinity of the retreat house.

My first thought was one of disappointment that the retreatants would not be able to wander over to the Sacred Heart chapel (one of my favorite spots; I wrote about it here), sit out on the dock that juts into Lake Winnebago, walk on the nature trail, or pray the outdoors stations of the cross.

But then I began to settle into the cocoon of silence the rain enhances. The retreatants are already in the silence of not speaking (and I hope also refraining checking e-mails or surfing the net).

Somehow the rain seems to intensify the silence of my surroundings. As I sit here writing this, the only sounds I hear are the quiet movements of the chefs preparing breakfast (the staff here does a better job of respecting the silence of retreats than any other retreat house I’ve been to) and the rain falling against the window of my room.

I also remind myself that God always gives people on retreat exactly what they need. And that the retreatants can and will find God in the rain just as they would have found God at the lake, the trail, the chapel or the stations.

Please keep me and the retreatants in your prayers.


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