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Roger Karban

Ordained in Rome in 1964, Roger R. Karban was a priest of the Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, until his death, July 10, 2020, at age 80. He received a Licentiate in Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and did his doctoral studies in Scripture at St. Louis University, the genrously and widely shared his scholarly expertise in the Sacred Scriptures.

Karban was the chair of religion departments at Mater Dei and Gibault Catholic High Schools, director of the diocesan diaconate program and the administrator of Our Lady of Good Council Parish, Renault, IL.

A part-time faculty member of St. Louis University and Southwestern Illinois College, he taught the Bible as literature.He also taught adult weekly scripture classes in Belleville, Breese, Carbondale and Lebanon, IL, and with the vision of Vatican II, Karban presented workshops, not only in the diocese, but throughout the country.

FOSIL is determined to keep archives of his teachings online indefinitely.



Roger's Essays

Click here to see Archived Articles



Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48; I John 4:7-11; John 15:9-17

I learned very early in my religious career that one sign the Roman Catholic Church is the one and only “true” church revolves around the conviction that only the Roman Catholic Church has never changed through the centuries. Though other churches have frequently changed, we've toed the line, never altering our beliefs, never modifying our practices. We believe and do whatever Jesus commanded us to believe and do at the Last Supper.

Then I fell into the diabolical heresy of studying Scripture.

Among other things, I learned the earliest followers of Jesus followed the risen, not the historical Jesus. They were much more concerned with what the Christ among them was teaching and expecting of them than what the Galilean carpenter had taught and expected of his original disciples a generation or two before. The historical Jesus certainly wasn't irrelevant, but through his resurrection he had morphed into a new creation, a person who, as Paul believed and taught, was as much a Jew as a Gentile, a free person as a slave, and a woman as a man. He/she not only was concerned with what happened to his fellow Jews in Palestine between 6 BCE and 30 CE, the risen Christ now also cared about those who lived years later, in places far beyond Palestine, Jews and non-Jews alike. That's why the members of this unique community didn't hesitate to change. But they certainly didn't change for change's sake. There was a method behind their “mobility;” a method we hear especially in today's gospel pericope. A method revolving around love.

John's Jesus couldn't be clearer: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Notice, he doesn't say, “Love one another as I have loved you.” The evangelist has him refer to the present, not the past. Jesus of Nazareth didn't show love once upon a time, he/she, as the risen Christ, is giving us love right here and now. It's ongoing.

I frequently reminded my high school marriage course students that there's no one action which to everyone, in every place, at every time shows love. Signs of love change as the people around us and the circumstances they encounter change. We who are commanded to love must always be alert to employing actions which show love to this particular person, in this particular time and place. For Christians, change isn't a curse, it's a loving necessity.

Love of others is at the heart of Jesus' faith, as the author of I John insists in our second reading. “Let us love one another,” he writes, “because love is of God: everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.” Since to biblically know someone or something is to experience someone or something, the author is telling his readers, “The only way we can experience God in our lives is to love one another.” There are no shortcuts.

One of the reasons Luke originally composed his Acts of the Apostles was to let his community know how a church that began as 100 percent Jewish in the 30s, was, in the mid-80s when he wrote, quickly becoming 100 percent Gentile. A real sea change! Though Luke assures us that the Holy Spirit was certainly behind this fundamental switch in membership, most scholars are convinced that, on just a natural level, when Jewish Christians began to love Gentiles as much as the risen Jesus loved them, they couldn't understand why non-Jews couldn't also be other Christs. Love eventually opened up the Christian community to love as the Christ loves.

Though this insight flies in the face of my childhood catechism classes, unchangeableness isn't a sign of divine authenticity; it's simply a sign we've refused to love.


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05/13/2021 or 05/16/2021

MAY 13th or MAY 16th, 2021: ASCENSION OF JESUS

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20

It's far easier simply to say, “Jesus has risen!” than to reflect on the implications of his resurrection. The fact we have four — sometimes contradictory - gospel narratives of the discovery of his empty tomb prove that point. Because of our evangelists' Semitic both/and thought process, each offers us a different dimension and different consequences of that event. Our problem is that we've squeezed these diverse gospel narratives into chronological liturgical readings. That means, because of our Greek either/or thought process, we've “canonized” one of these theologies and left the others behind. We, for instance, overlook that fact there's no definitive ascension of Jesus in either Mark, Matthew, or John. Since we've inserted Luke's ascension theology into our liturgical year, we not only presume that's all there is, we rarely notice the implications Luke's trying to convey in expressing his theology in his unique way.

Among other things, Luke is convinced, in the absence of the historical Jesus, that the Holy Spirit is the force guiding the Christian community. His Jesus couldn't be clearer. Just before he ascends he tells his disciples to expect Pentecost. “In a few days,” he says, “you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “The Spirit will shortly take my place.”

We who faithfully depend on the institutional church to tell us what God wants us to do, have little space for that Spirit in our religious experiences. Growing up Catholic, about the only time we were expected to pray to the Holy Spirit was immediately before we took our school exams. Hopefully the Spirit would remind us what our teachers had taught on various subjects, not enlighten us on what the risen Jesus was telling us to do in our daily lives.

The Pauline disciple who wrote the letter to the Ephesians poetically speaks about the risen Jesus “seated at (God's) right hand in the heavens.” Yet he also reminds his readers about the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” which we received when we first experienced God in our lives. No way we can be other Christs without constantly falling back on that Spirit, whether the risen Jesus is relaxing triumphant in heaven or actively working among us here on earth.

It's important to know that today's gospel pericope was not originally part of Mark's gospel. Even the bishops at the Council of Trent (1545) agreed someone had tacked verses 9-20 onto Mark's gospel long after the evangelist completed it. (By the way, there are Marcan manuscripts with at least two other non-original endings. Most probably the gospel simply ended with verse 8, as disturbing as that is.)

Since Jesus' followers didn't seem to have regarded the Christian Scriptures as divinely inspired until the latter part of the third century, people could “mess around” with those writings and not worry about divine retribution. Mark's original abrupt ending to his gospel — the risen Jesus is simply “out there somewhere” - seems to have provided a made to order invitation to those who had problems with the different theologies in other writings. Someone eventually strung those passages together in a way that “made sense;” one that fit their either/or Greek mentality.

It doesn't do much harm to read today's addition (except for those churches whose worship services revolve around handling poisonous snakes.) But these verses should be a reminder that our faith originally wasn't a matter of either/or. If we celebrate today's feast knowing Jesus' ascension was one among several ways to surface the implications of Jesus' resurrection, we're correctly looking at this celebration from a biblical point of view. If, on the other hand, we think our liturgical chronology accurately conveys historical chronology, we'd best sign up for a course in Scripture 101 as soon as possible.


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Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; I John 4:11-16; John 17:11b-19

I often mention that today's John 17 gospel pericope was always proclaimed on a very solemn occasion in one of the seminaries I attended: immediately after priestly ordinations, just before the meal commemorating that happy event. In that non-biblical context, we (men) automatically bought into the introduction the lector gave this passage: “Jesus' prayer for his newly ordained priests.” The “them” about whom the gospel Jesus was speaking could only be priests, no one else need apply.

It's difficult for us who grew up with the idea that the Roman Catholic priesthood has always been essential to our faith to admit that particular institution is just as frequently found in Scripture as are electric lights. The priesthood, as we know it, won't evolve until long after the biblical period. It's a shame that a gospel prayer originally intended for all Jesus' followers was eventually limited to just a small portion of those people.

When, during the Last Supper, John's Jesus speaks about those to whom “he gave his word,” who he prays “will be kept from the evil one,” who he's convinced “are in the world, but not of the world,” he's not referring to individuals who have received priestly ordination, but to those who have been baptized, everyone who's determined to carry on his ministry. In a world without clergy and laity, he can't be referring to anyone else.

John's main purpose in this pericope is to remind his community of how unique it is to be a disciple of the risen Jesus. Like himself/herself, they're “new creations.” Not only can't they judge themselves by anyone else's standards, they have to be prepared for a ministry unlike any other. Among other things, as other Christs they have to anticipate the same problems the first Christ experienced. They'll frequently find themselves in a world which hates them, simply because they're carrying on his ministry. “As you sent them into the world,” he states, “so I sent them into the world.” It won't take long to discover they, like Jesus, are committed to a different value system than a lot of the people around them.

Why doesn't he get them quickly out of their misery and take them immediately into heaven? The answer's simple: if they don't hang in there and endure the pain, nothing in this world is ever going to change for the better. The Father didn't rescue him, why should he rescue them? He can only guarantee his community that his care of them will be just as unique as they are.

Luke is also convinced that Jesus' followers are carrying on his ministry. Though those who chose our liturgical readings have conveniently left out Acts' contradictory account of Judas' death, it's still important he be replaced. Luke's convinced the Twelve must be intact when the Spirit arrives on Pentecost. (Notice the next member of the Twelve who dies isn't replaced. Once the Holy Spirit is in charge, we no longer need the Twelve. The community's in the Spirit's hands.)

The exceptional care Jesus has for his followers is driven by one basic principle: “If God so loved us, we also must love one another.” The author of I John couldn't be clearer. “God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in them.” We have one basic mission in life: to love others.

We who've stratified our world by splitting it between clergy and laity are called by the risen Jesus to get rid of that nonsense and return to his faith. His world is populated only with those who love and those who don't love. If we can't pull that off, we're really not “his.” Especially embarrassing for those, I would think, who are the monsignors among us.


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Acts 2:1-11; I Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23

No liturgical feast is more important yet more underrated in our church than Pentecost. Were we to return to its original meaning we’d have to not only change our church government, we’d also have to change the way we picture God working in our lives.

One of the big questions that constantly came up in the early church could be expressed this way, “How do we know what the risen Jesus wants us to do in life?” The Scriptural community was certain they were called to carry on his/her ministry, but how were they practically to do that?

We Catholics long ago stopped asking that question. We learned that we’re simply to obey the hierarchical leaders Jesus set up during his earthly ministry. The pope and his bishops not only set the tone for the church, they dictate every one of our dos and don’ts. Scripture is only for extra credit. (And besides, as Luther showed, it can be horribly misleading!) The thing that eventually will lead us to eternal happiness is our faithfulness to the papacy. Though “good” Protestants can get into heaven by following the Bible, even “lukewarm” Catholics can squeeze through its pearly gates by just following the pope.

Our sacred authors – and all the first Christians – would have been amazed at such a frame of mind. In their theology and experience, Jesus left us not a religious system, but a person to carry on after him. That person was his Spirit. Only by surfacing and following that force could we be certain we’re doing what the risen Jesus wants us to do.

The coming of the Holy Spirit is so significant that, like Jesus’ resurrection, our sacred authors offer us more than one biblical theology to explain it. Luke, whose Spirit-event takes place 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, gives us one in today’s first reading. John, whose Spirit arrives on Easter Sunday night, gives us another in our gospel pericope. And Paul uses our I Corinthian reading to remind us of the Spirit’s gifts. All three theologies are reflections on what happens when the Spirit breaks into our lives.

Among other things, Luke zeros in on the disruptions Jesus’ Spirit brings. Those serious about carrying on her/his ministry, best get used to wind, fire and noise being part of their everyday lives. The Galilean carpenter never promised his historical disciples a tranquil existence; his Spirit follows suite with his post-resurrection disciples. If we really want to surface what God wants us to do in our lives, we’d better emulate Bette Davis’ advice, “Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!”

John wants to make certain that those who dare to receive the Spirit had better zero in on forgiving those around them. Building communities is essential to our faith. Yet there’s no way to pull that off without constantly repairing the bridges we’ve constructed with one another. Communities don’t happen by accident.

Neither does the Body of Christ suddenly appear out of nothing. Paul is convinced the parts of that Spirit-fed body can only maintain their unique diversity when each member contributes to the whole. The Spirit not only blesses us with singular gifts, we’re to use those gifts “for some benefit.” They’re for others, not for ourselves.

Considering the dying that’s an integral part of each of these three theologies, I can see why the church eventually soft-pedaled the Spirit and began to concentrate on hierarchical rules and regulations. Far less demands on forgiving, few discussions about integrating diverse gifts into one body, and practically no wind, fire and noise. No wonder Pope Francis is meeting opposition from some of the church’s conservatives. They simply want us to return to the good old, peaceful, non-Spirit days.


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Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

I grew up with my teachers’ warning, “If you can’t define it, you don’t know it.” No matter how hard I’d try to convince them that I really knew the answer to their question, either I handed over a definition or they marked me wrong. There was no middle ground.

I wonder how today’s sacred authors would fare at my teachers’ hands. Though all three talks about God, none of them provides us with a definition of the Trinity.

It took the “official” church almost 300 years before it even came up with the catechism definition we all learned, the “three persons in one God” one. But as Fr. Bernard Lonergan frequently reminded us Licentiate candidates years ago, the bishops at the Council of Nicaea had to redefine several Greek terms to come up with that well-known, but rarely understood description.

Our Deuteronomic author, Paul and Matthew are much more interested in what God does than in who God is. That’s completely understandable. How does someone define a being one cannot comprehend? Rudolf Bultmann once observed that our sacred authors have a built-in problem. They’re writing about the “other side” for people who inhabit “this side.” Any simile we surface – no matter how insightful - will limp horribly. That’s why we should simply be content to reflect on the Trinity’s actions in our lives, and leave the definitions until we reach the pearly gates.

Among other things, God’s actions constantly demonstrate God’s care. The Hebrew Scriptures begin with and revolved around the Exodus. Yahweh’s freeing of some enslaved Israelites starts the Jewish

“thing.” Their faith doesn’t begin with people learning how to define this new God; it starts with Yahweh breaking into their everyday lives in a forceful way. “Did anything so great ever happen before? . . . Did any god venture to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation . . . ?” If Yahweh demands we first learn a definition, we’d have no salvation history.

Paul agrees. He’s a good Jew. Since he doesn’t worry about defining Yahweh, why should he worry about defining Jesus as God? He’s simply concerned with what the risen Jesus does in our lives. Above everything else, the Christ gives us a new personality. Paul reminds the Romans that we’ve been transformed into God’s unique children. No longer God’s fearful slaves, we’re now on an equal level with God’s son. The only kicker is that, like him/her, we have to suffer. There’s no other way to attain real life.

But we’re not in “this” by ourselves. One of the most significant things the risen Jesus does is simply to be with us.

Years ago, one of our local bishops ended his installation homily by quoting today’s gospel pericope. Good choice. But there was one problem. He prefaced the quote by saying, “Never forget that this is what Jesus promised right before he ascended into heaven.”

He inadvertently mixed up Matthew with Luke. There’s no ascension in Matthew. The end of today’s gospel pericope is the end of his gospel. Matthew’s Jesus doesn’t go anywhere. He’s still “out there” somewhere with us. If Faith Hill is so close to the person she loves that she can feel him breathe, I presume the risen Jesus is so close to us that we can not only feel him/her breathe, the Christ can also feel us breathe. We’re never in this faith thing by ourselves.

If today’s feast prompts us to mentally return to our grade school catechism classes, we’re celebrating it in a non-biblical way. Only those who, by nightfall, can come up with one or two more ways God’s working in our lives have really listened to our readings.


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06/03/2021 or 06/06/2021


Exodus 24:3-8; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

I’ve always been amazed at tourists who, at arriving at a famous site, simply park their car, get out, take a picture of it, return to their car, and drive away, never once spending even a few minutes actually looking at the site. They’ve got a picture of it, why do they need to spend their valuable time looking at it? As crazy as that seems, in my lifetime that’s almost exactly what we did with the Eucharist.

When I was a child, almost no one went to communion. I can remember Sundays when more than 200 people were in church, yet fewer than 20 came up for communion. (In some parishes more than half the congregation stood up at communion time, but it was simply the first step in leaving church!)

People’s reluctance to participate in the Eucharist was one of the reasons the church instituted today’s feast. By specifically gearing readings, music, and liturgical prayers to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper it was hoped the Eucharist itself wouldn’t fade into the background. Something at the center of the earliest biblical Christian community was in danger of disappearing from its field of vision.

The reason was simple. The late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes figured it out years ago. When asked why he rarely permitted his quarterbacks to throw passes, Hayes always responded, “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.”

By the first part of the 20th century, we had so many rules and regulations revolving around receiving communion that we frequently ran the risk of something bad happening when we walked up to the communion rail. For instance, if we were in the state of sin, we’d commit another one by going to communion; since we had to abstain from food and water from midnight on, even a sip of toothpaste water would be sinful. It was best to make only a “spiritual” communion. Couldn’t commit any sins that way.

Thankfully by the ‘50s priests (and popes) began to encourage everyone to receive communion every time they participated in the Eucharist. Nowhere was this stressed more than on First Fridays, when nine of them in a row guaranteed you’d eventually get into heaven. We stopped taking pictures and began to actually experience the site.

Yet some of us are still reaching for our cameras at communion time. We refuse – for whatever reason – to receive from the cup. We habitually walk past the minister of the cup, believing it’s for extra credit, something we don’t need.

Listen carefully to today’s Exodus passage. Those who have the blood sprinkled on them are showing they’ve made the covenant with Yahweh. The red blotches on their skin and clothes are the covenant’s outward sign. Just as a wedding ring is an outward sign two people are committed to one another, the covenant blood is a sign they’ve formed a special relationship with Yahweh.

We know from I Corinthians 11, that Jesus also gave his followers an outward sign they’re willing to carry on his ministry after his death and resurrection: receiving his blood. In some sense, receiving from the cup is more important than receiving the bread. If we’re not going to carry on Jesus’ ministry, he’s died in vain. Perhaps Jesus intended us to first receive the bread simply to strengthen us to receive the cup.

We’ve still got a long way to go before we completely put our cameras away, and begin to rely on our experiences. If today’s feast helps us do that, we’re using it the right way. Just remember, the people who gave us our readings never saw a camera. It was all first-hand experiences for them, or nothing.


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JUNE 6th, 2021: TENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR (in some countries and dioceses)

Genesis 3:9-15; II Corinthians 4:13-5:1; Mark 3:20-35

Can’t emphasize enough the importance of today’s Genesis reading. One of the earliest writings of the Hebrew Scriptures, it not only sets the theme for many of the writings which follow, but more important for Christians, Jesus of Nazareth seems to have grounded his reform of Judaism in its theology.

Though frequently referred to as God’s punishments for original sin, these verses are simply the Yahwistic author’s reflections on the “human condition” we’re all forced to experience. We have to endure certain things simply because we’re alive. We have no choice.

In this specific pericope, the author reflects on our quest to eradicate evil – personified by the serpent. Employing the metaphor of someone stomping a snake to death with one’s bare feet, she reminds her readers that only those willing to endure the pain that comes from being bit by the snake will eventually crush the snake. Our heel is never quicker than a snake’s fangs. We’ll kill the snake, but we’ll limp for a long time.

Our Genesis author certainly wants her readers to eradicate evil, but she’s realistic about the process. No one just snaps his or her finger and evil disappears. Before we tackle evil, we’d best check the height of our pain threshold. That’s the main reason evil persists in our lives. There’s not a lot of people willing to suffer through its eradication.

For Christians, here’s where Jesus of Nazareth comes in. This first century CE Palestinian preacher was convinced the Yahwistic author had hit the nail on the head. There’s no other way to make this world better. Unless someone is willing to suffer, evil remains. But he takes this snake-killing thing one step further. If our evil-destroying stomping includes giving ourselves to others, we’ll not only help rid the world of this scourge, we’ll also gain life for ourselves.

Our earliest Christian author, Paul, must constantly remind the people he’s brought into the faith to simply “hang in there.” We have no exact idea what motivates him to write today’s II Corinthians passage, but we logically presume it has something to do with the struggle all Christians endure, simply keeping up the fight to get rid of the evil around us.

The first miracle Jesus worked in Mark’s gospel was exorcising a demoniac. I mentioned when I commented on it several months ago that the first miracle in each gospel is very significant; it sets the theme for the whole gospel. It basically tells us what Jesus expects of his disciples. If, before anything else, he exorcises a demon, he’s telling his followers they, like he, are to get rid of evil, no matter what it costs, no matter how painfully we limp.

That seems to be one of the reasons Mark composed today’s gospel pericope. How can we expect to avoid suffering if Jesus couldn’t avoid suffering? In this case, the suffering that comes from being misunderstood by those closest to us.

We can understand why some of Jesus’ enemies – the Jerusalem scribes – interpret his snake-killing actions as coming from the devil himself. But what’s worse, even his relatives – later identified as his “mother(!) and brothers” – are also convinced he’s “out of his mind.” The preaching that brings life to so many tears his own family apart.

How many of us, for family peace and tranquility, frequently keep our mouths shut instead of speaking up when we discover evil? Why would we create more evil by pointing out the evil that’s already there?

If we eventually leave this world in the same condition in which we found it, we, and those around us might experience a peaceful, painless existence, but we’ll never do what God put us on earth to do.


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Ezekiel 17:22-24; II Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34

One of the first questions Scripture scholars must answer is, “What was going on in the biblical community to prompt the author to write this particular passage?” No one sits down on a beautiful, sunny day, no problems in sight, and writes the Bible. Scripture is only written because our sacred authors discover something is the matter in their communities. No problems, no Bible.

It doesn’t take a doctorate in Scripture to discover the reason our three authors composed today’s readings. Paul states the overriding issue in his II Corinthians pericope: “We walk by faith, not by sight.” People of faith don’t normally see the consequences of their actions. That’s the problem our sacred authors feel compelled to address. Their communities go through life taking for granted their acts of love are having good results though they themselves usually experience few of those results. According to the Apostle, the instant gratification we long for will only take place after “we leave the body and go home to the Lord.” In the meantime, we’re forced to do a lot of hoping.

The gospel Jesus certainly didn’t feed his followers any “fake news” when he talked about what they could expect as his disciples. He couldn’t have been more truthful or realistic. As a first century CE Palestinian Jew, only one basic metaphor applied: farming.

“The kingdom of God,” he warns, “is as if people scatter seed on the land, sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed sprouts and grows, they know not how.” As I quickly discovered when I first planted nasturtium seeds with my dad, nothing’s going to come up out of the ground for a long time, no matter how often you sneak a look, hoping for something to appear above ground.

Though Jesus engages in “Semitic exaggeration” when he refers to a mustard seed as “the smallest of all the seeds on earth,” and to a mustard plant as “the largest of plants,” his point is clear: if we’re not willing to start small we’ll never end up big. We always have to presume growth, even in our encounters with God.

It’s significant that Mark’s Jesus employs the phrase “the kingdom of God” in this passage. That’s how this Galilean carpenter normally refers to God working effectively in our lives. It’s not how we’re personally working, it’s how God’s working. That’s where we encounter the problem. More than five centuries before Jesus’ birth, Ezekiel also realized that when you’re dealing with Yahweh, you’ve got to be patient. Eventually God will cause the cedar tree of our life “to put forth branches and bear fruit,” but it’s in God’s time, not ours.

Through the years, one of my most popular commentaries was the one in which I used the image of monarch butterfly migrations as a way of understanding our role in God’s kingdom. It takes up to at least four generations of butterflies to complete the 3,000-mile trip from Mexico to Canada, and back to Mexico every year. No one butterfly is able to pull the migration off by itself. Most of the insects experience only a small portion of the trip. They have no idea what the whole trip is like or where it’s taking them. I don’t know if butterflies are capable of faith, but they certainly are a terrific metaphor for our going through life on faith.

Since monarchs aren’t indigenous to Palestine it’s no wonder the historical Jesus didn’t employ them when talking about our walking by faith and not by sight. But there’s no need to exaggerate the metaphor the next time we see one of those little critters fly past. Their connection with us is evident.


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Job 38:1, 8-11; II Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41

The summer before I left to study theology in Rome one of the older Sisters who did domestic chores in the hospital in which I worked gave me one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received. It was a funeral home calendar picture of the scene depicted in today’s gospel: Jesus calming the storm. She’d carefully put it between two sheets of plastic, woven boondoggle around the perimeter and glued a cardboard stand on its backside. “I know you’re going to have a hard time in Rome,” she said. “I’ve heard seminarians really have to study hard there. But when you’re tempted to give up, look at this picture. If Jesus could calm that storm at sea, he can also calm the storms in your life.”

Though her fear of my having to work hard was obviously engendered by seminarian “propaganda,” Sister Baptist’s message that afternoon completely mirrored the message Mark was trying to convey by including this miracle story in his gospel.

Marcan scholars are convinced Mark accomplished this by first taking a miracle story used by preachers to emphasize Jesus’ power over nature and adding several phrases to make it applicable to his readers’ everyday lives. The added lines are, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing? . . . Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? . . . Even the wind and sea obey him.”

Mark presumed all people of faith often feel abandoned by the person in whom they’ve placed their faith. They sense they’re “perishing” and no one – even Jesus – gives a darn about them.

Yet it’s in the very midst of our feeling abandoned that we most encounter the risen Jesus, assuring us that we need to put more of our faith in him/her, not less. The evangelist believes that it’s precisely during those times that Jesus expects us to give ourselves more intensely to others, and not give into the temptation to back off from those acts of faith which our imitation of Jesus demand.

After all, someone whom even the “sea and wind obey” must be powerful enough, as Sister Baptist pointed out, to calm the storm of abandonment in our own personal lives. When we’re dealing with God, we’re dealing with a unique person.

As we hear in today’s first reading, Yahweh’s “otherness” was the only thing which could explain the sudden, devastating influx of evil in Job’s life. Job eventually came to understand that Yahweh could do things which he could only dream about. If we presume God’s unexplainable actions in nature, why should we question God’s unexplainable actions in our own lives? Yahweh operates on levels we humans can’t comprehend.

But, as Paul reminds the other Christs in the Corinthian church, we’re expected to do more than just admire the way God operates. Our becoming one with the risen Jesus means we’ve also become part of God’s incomprehensible world. We, like the risen Jesus, are now “new creations,” expected to live our lives on a new level; a level on which “we no longer live for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised.”

It’s significant that Paul never personally knew the historical Jesus: the itinerant preacher who lived in Palestine during 6 BCE and 30 CE. Like ourselves, the Apostle experienced only the risen Jesus. That means he wasn’t “distracted” by Jesus’ humanity. On the Damascus road, Paul stepped instantly into a new world; a world in which his faith in Jesus’ presence grew even in those moments when he felt most deserted by God - something we need to be assured of every day of our lives.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
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Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; II Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

I can’t stress enough the importance of today’s Wisdom reading. It contains a biblical smoking gun, something for which scholars searched for centuries.

The idea of an afterlife didn’t come into Jewish theology until a century before Jesus’ birth. Before then, this present life was the only life we could expect. Everything had to happen between our physical birth and death. Then, almost out of nowhere, Pharisees begin to teach that, if we keep our noses clean, we can live eternally with Yahweh. Though most Jews eventually accepted some form of that belief, the big question was, “Where did they get such a faith-changing insight?” Yahweh doesn’t seem to have simply appeared to someone and let them in on the secret.

Originally most scholars reasoned these particular Pharisees must have somehow come in contact with Greek thinkers who believed we have an immaterial soul, a part of us than never decays. It’ll live on forever, even after our physical deaths. The only problem with that explanation was that no one could find an actual contact between Jews and Greeks. There was no smoking gun.

Then, about thirty years ago, some experts, like the late Roland Murphy, began to realize the weapon is right in front of us, in Wisdom 1:15: “For justice is undying.”

Since justice is the biblical way of referring to the proper relationships we have with God and those around us, it appears the Pharisees figured because Yahweh is immortal, anyone in a just relationship with Yahweh will also be immortal. If God wants to keep their relationship going after death, they’ll live forever.

Certainly more meaningful to root immortality in a union with God instead of an “accident” of nature. That also seems why the prophets and Jesus of Nazareth so frequently stress our tie-in with God and the people around us. Those relations guarantee eternity.

Paul is deeply convinced that interacting with the people we encounter in our lives is how we work out our salvation, but only if we do so in a giving relationship. He reminds his Corinthian community that we’re simply to imitate Jesus’ oneness with ourselves. “Though he was rich,” the Apostle writes, “for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” By giving life to others, we gain eternal life.

Mark’s Jesus does precisely that in today’s gospel pericope, resuscitating Jairus’ daughter and healing the woman with the uterine bleeding. Notice in doing the latter, the evangelist remarks Jesus was “. . . aware that power had gone out of him.” Often we imagine the historical Jesus simply snapped his fingers and good things happened. We don’t realize those good things drained Jesus. He was weakened every time he helped someone.

Perhaps that’s why one of the elements joining both the afflicted woman and Jairus is their faith. Dozens of people touch Jesus on the way to Jairus’ house. But only one touches him with faith. When Jairus is informed his quest to get Jesus to heal is daughter is futile - she’s died – Jesus simply says, “Do not be afraid, just have faith.”

Life-giving relationships are always faith relationships. Just like eternity is beyond our present understanding, so the actions that guarantee us eternity are also beyond our present understanding. On face value they don’t always seem to be worth the effort and draining they demand.

Since in Romans 1 Paul seems to believe Jesus only becomes God at his death and resurrection, in his theology Jesus gains his own eternal life by relating in a giving way with people like the woman along the road and Jairus’ daughter. If it’s good enough for Jesus . . . .


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Ezekiel 2:2-5; II Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6a

The earliest Christian author, Paul, reached that tough conclusion very quickly after his conversion. “I will . . . boast most gladly of my weaknesses,” he tells the Corinthians, “in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Seems to be a total contradiction in terms, something that doesn’t make sense on paper.

Yet it works! Using a modern idiom, the Apostle’s telling his community, “Try it! You’ll like it!” It’s a hard to explain faith experience. Unless we’re courageous enough to actually experience it, it’s something only theologians discuss, rarely a truth we make our own. But if we’re serious about becoming other Christs, we have to be willing to imitate the first Christ.

With that imitation in mind, it’s important to listen carefully to our gospel pericope. Though this passage is from Mark, subconsciously we’re probably hearing Matthew, the account which better fits into our catechism theology, especially at two points in the narrative.

First, Mark initially mentions that one of the reasons Jesus’ hometown folks put him down is because he’s a nobody. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother . . . .?” Obviously carpenters were far down on every first century CE Palestinian economic ladder. It didn’t take a lot of smarts to make your living just sawing and hammering nails in wood. Certainly didn’t make anyone an expert in theology, nor provide them a platform from which to preach Yahweh’s word. No good Jew is obligated to listen to an uneducated bumpkin.

Second, at the end of the passage Mark makes an unbelievable (for Christians) statement: “He (Jesus) was not able to perform any mighty deed there, apart from . . . . He was amazed at their lack of faith.” How can this be? We were taught Jesus, as God, is able to do anything. (We even had a grade school discussion on the possibility of his drawing a “square/circle!”) You mean Mark’s informing us there’s something not even God can do? Without peoples’ faith in him, Jesus is helpless.

In copying Mark, Matthew took care of these two missteps. First, he changed Jesus from being the carpenter to being the “son of the carpenter.” Quite a switch. This itinerant preacher no longer has a lowly occupation. The gospel Jesus becomes, like Ward Cleaver, a man without a profession. No longer can he be put down for where, or how he works.

Second, Matthew also changes Mark’s comment that Jesus “could not” work any miracles to Jesus “did not work” any miracles. The presupposition is he could have done so, but for some reason, freely decided not to. A huge difference.

In both situations, Mark, agreeing with Paul, provides us with a weaker Jesus than Matthew. We presume the historical Jesus found no problem serving Yahweh in a way that exposed his weaknesses. No doubt he frequently reflected on the problems Ezekiel experienced as a prophet in today’s first reading.

The late Rudolf Bultmann often reminded his students that Jesus, the preacher, eventually became Jesus, the preached. Long before his followers began to preach him, the historical Jesus had to deal with the weakness that accompanies preaching God’s word. If we’re really another Christ, we’re the preaching, not the preached other Christ. We imitate a mentor who had to discover the strength that comes from falling back on God’s strength, not his own. There’s no other way to do what God expects us to do.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

The historical Jesus wasn’t a one-man show, literally. One of the reasons our evangelists composed their gospels was to demonstrate how the individuals this Galilean carpenter inspired were to work together in expanding his ministry. From the beginning, he shares his dream and his ministry with his followers. Today’s gospel pericope is classic. “Jesus summoned the Twelve,” Mark writes, “and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.”

It’s essential to remember that, according to Mark, the most important ministry for Jesus’ followers is to engage in eradicating evil. That’s why the first miracle his Jesus works is to exorcize a demoniac. In 1st century CE Palestine, demons were responsible for all sorts of evil; moral, physical, psychological. You name an evil, a demon caused it. So when Jesus gives some of his followers the power to eradicate demons, he’s actually giving them the power to eradicate evil, wherever and in whomever it’s found.

It’s also important that the Twelve are mentioned in this context. Flying in the face of our grade school catechisms, they’re not the first bishops or priests. They’re simply symbolic of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. (That’s why no women are included in their number. These Twelve Tribes began with Jacob’s twelve sons. You throw one woman in with them and the symbolism the historical Jesus tries to convey will be destroyed.)

According to modern scholars, the historical Jesus had no intention of founding a church as we know it; he simply wanted to reform Judaism – all of Judaism, not just the two preeminent tribes of Judah and Benjamin. In his plan, minor tribes like Dan and Naphtali were to play just as much a role in that reform as the two major tribes. It was a wide open reform; all are empowered to eradicate evil, not just the “privileged.” In this passage, Jesus intentionally sends out representatives of all, to all.

We smile at some of the practical helps Mark’s Jesus gives his disciples to aid in carrying out their ministry: where to stay, what to wear, how much money to take along, even what to do when rejected. Yet, no matter the obstacles they encountered, they “drove out many demons.” They wiped out evil.

Yet, as the author of Ephesians writes, no matter the results, they should simply be grateful they, of all people, were chosen for this life and world-changing work. For some reason, they “heard the word of truth, the good news of salvation, and have believed in him (Jesus).” No one can argue with God’s choice.

This is especially true when we cross paths with the earliest “book prophet:” Amos. As a wilderness shepherd he’s most unlikely to be chosen one of Yahweh’s prophets. I wish we had a snapshot of his encounter with Amaziah, or just a whiff of the smell emanating from the prophet. The contrast between the two was memorable. Carroll Stuhlmueller once commented, “If Amos took a bath once a year, he’d have been filthy clean. Besides, can you picture him ever using a handkerchief to blow his nose?” Yet, “Yahweh took (him) from following the flock, and said to (him), ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’” The word of Yahweh he proclaimed was infinitely more powerful than Amaziah’s priestly robes and the office he held. Which of the two eradicated more evil?

My oncologist recently inquired about our acute priest shortage. “It’s easy to understand,” I replied. “Can you imagine how many oncologists we’d have if we limited them to male celibates?”

I’d really be careful about who we, the church, refuses to call for ministry. If we’re not imitating Jesus’ openness, we’ll have to answer for a lot of the evil we encounter.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:13-18; Mark 6:30-34

When John McKenzie wrote his now classic Authority in the Church in the late 60s, he shook up lots of Catholics, pointing out that our sacred authors are much more concerned with the authority sins of our leaders than those of the general populace. Followers of God should be more conscious of how authority is exercised than how it’s obeyed. Today’s three readings certainly reinforce the late Jesuit’s thesis.

Many of us don’t appreciate the biblical separation of ministries and/or gifts. For instance, we frequently confuse those who exercise authority – the administrators – with those who proclaim God’s will – the prophets. Prophets are the people’s conscience; unique individuals who give us the future implications of our present actions. Administrators, on the other hand, surface and listen to the prophets and put their words into concrete actions, demonstrating how to make God’s will part of our everyday lives. (Carroll Stuhlmueller was convinced prophets normally make lousy administrators; administrators, lousy prophets.)

When our sacred authors challenge those in authority to get their act together, they’re accusing them of not instructing people to live their faith as God wants it to be lived. Almost always, these administrators aren’t living it correctly themselves, so it’s no wonder those in their care aren’t living it correctly.

The message God wants prophets to proclaim and administrators to carry out certainly isn’t easy to accept. It has nothing to do with religious rituals or catechism trivia. It goes to the heart not only of one’s faith, but to one’s personal value system.

The Pauline disciple responsible for Ephesians leaves no doubt about how difficult it is to be committed to the message he proclaims. As a disciple of the risen Jesus, he’s expected to work on forming diverse people into one community of faith. In this situation, it’s those who are “far off” (Gentiles) and those who are “near” (Jews). He’s expected to “break down the dividing wall of enmity” that separates them, something we haven’t been able to successfully pull off to this day.

Six hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Jeremiah realized his fellow Jews couldn’t even unify their own people. Yahweh had prophetically sent the right message, but the “shepherds” – the kings – hadn’t passed it on to the ordinary people. The prophet saw only one solution: replace the shepherds, and send one special, prophetic shepherd – the messiah – to take care of the problem once and for all. That’s where today’s gospel comes in.

Jesus has just sent out his disciples to eradicate evil (last week’s commentary.) Now they’ve returned for a little r&r. In the process Jesus mentions one of the main things motivating his ministry. “When he . . . saw the vast crowd his heart was moved with pity . . . for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” If they’re not blessed with good leaders, Jesus simply must step in and personally exercise that ministry. But, just as he did in the prior passage, he shares his ministry with his followers.

Sadly, we never hear that part of Mark’s theology. It’s contained in a passage omitted from our liturgical readings: the miraculous feeding of the people. In Mark’s version of the event, the disciples do the actual feeding. Jesus’ role is simply to motivate them to share their meager food, then bless it before they distribute it. It’s their food; they do the sharing.

Jesus’ message is that we become one by sharing what little we have with others. We no longer need to fall back on what our leaders say, or don’t say. We carry on the ministry of Jesus. We don’t need more authority than that.

We just can’t forget what Scripture says about those in authority.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222

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2021 Essays
May 23 through July 18, 2021, Pentecost through 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
April 11 through May 16, 2021
February 14 through April 4
January 17 through February 7, 2021
January 3 & 10, 2021

2020 Essays
December 27, 2020, and January 1, 2021
December 20 & 25, 2020
December 6 & 13, 2020
November 22 & 29, 2020
November 8 & 15, 2020
October 25 & November 1, 2020
October 11 & 18, 2020
September 27 & October 4, 2020
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August 2 & 9, 2020
July 19 & 26, 2020
July 5 & 12, 2020
June 21 & 28, 2020
June 7 & 14, 2020
May 21, 24 & 31, 2020
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2019 Essays
June 30 & July 6, 2019
June 16 & 23, 2019
May 30 or June 2 & June 9, 2019
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April 20 & 28, 2019
April 14 & 18, 2019
March 31 & April 7, 2019
March 17 & 24, 2019
March 3 & 10, 2019
February 17 & 24, 2019
February 3 & 10, 2019
January 20 & 27, 2019
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2018 Essays

December 25 & 30, 2018
December 16 & 23, 2018
December 2 & 9, 2018
November 18 & 25, 2018
November 4 & 11, 2018
October 21 & 28, 2018
October 7 & 14, 2018
September 23 & 30, 2018
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March 31 (vigil) & April, 2018
March 25 & 29, 2018
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February 25 & March 4, 2018
February 11 & 18, 2018
January 28 & February 4, 2018
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2017 Essays

December 31, 2017, & January 7, 2018
December 24 & 25, 2017
December 10 & 17, 2017
November 26 & December 3, 2017
November 12 & 19, 2017
October 29 & November 5, 2017
October 15 & 22, 2017
October 1 & 8, 2017
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April 2 & 9, 2017
March 19 & 26, 2017
March 5 & 12, 2017
February 19 & 26, 2017
February 5 & 12, 2017
January 22 & 29, 2017
January 8 & 15, 2017

2016 Essays

December 25, 2016, & January 1, 2017
December 11 & 18, 2016
November 27 & December 4, 2016
November 13 & 20, 2016
October 30 & November 6, 2016
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March 24 & 26, 2016
March 13 & 20, 2016
February 28 and March 6, 2016
February 14 and 21, 2016
January 31 and February 7, 2016
January 17 and 24, 2016
January 3 and 10, 2016

2015 Essays
December 25 and 27, 2015
December 13, 20 and 25, 2015
November 29 and December 6, 2015
November 15 and 22, 2015
November 1 and 8, 2015
October 18 and 25, 2015
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September 20 and 27, 2015
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April 26 and May 3, 2015
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March 29 and April 2, 2015
March 15 and 22, 2015
March 1 and 8, 2015
February 15 and 22, 2015
February 1 and 8, 2015
January 18 and 25, 2015
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2014 Essays
December 25 & 28, 2014
December 14 & 21, 2014
November 30 & December 7, 2014
November 16 & 23, 2014
November 2 and 9, 2014
October 19 & 26, 2014
October 5 & 12, 2014
September 21 & 28, 2014
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July 27 and August 3, 2014
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June 15 and June 22, 2014
June 1 and June 8, 2014
May 25 and May 29, 2014
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April 27 and May 4, 2014
April 19 & 20, 2014
April 13 & 17, 2014
March 30 & April 6, 2014
March 16 & 23, 2014
March 2 & 9, 2014
February 16 & 23, 2014
February 2 & 9, 2014
January 19 & 26, 2014
January 5 & 12, 2014

2013 Essays
December 25 & 29, 2013
December 15 & 22, 2013
December 1 & 8, 2013
November 17 & 24, 2013
November 3 & 10, 2013
October 20 and 27, 2013
October 6 and 13, 2013
September 22 and 29, 2013
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May 19 & 26, 2013
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March 24 and 28, 2013
March 10 and 17, 2013
February 24 and March 3, 2013
February 10 and 17, 2013
January 27 and February 3, 2013
January 13 and 20, 2013
December 30, 2012, and January 6, 2013

2012 Essays
December 23 & 25, 2012
December 9 & 16, 2012
November 25 and December 2, 2012
November 11 and 18, 2012
October 28 and November 4, 2012
October 14 and October 21, 2012
September 30 and October 7, 2012
September 16 and September 23, 2012
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June 24 and July 1, 2012
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May 27 and June 3, 2012
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April 7 (Easter Vigil) and April 15, 2012
March 25 and April 1, 2012
March 11 and March 18, 2012
February 26 and March 4, 2012
February 12 and February 19, 2012
January 29 and February 5, 2012
January 15 and January 22, 2012
January 1 and January 8, 2012

2011 Essays
December 18 and December 25, 2011
December 4 and December 11, 2011
November 20 and November 27, 2011
November 6 and November 13, 2011
October 23 and October 30, 2011
October 9 and October 16, 2011
September 25 and October 2, 2011
September 18, 2011
September 4, 2011
August 21, 2011
August 07, 2011
July 24, 2011
July 10, 2011
June 26, 2011
June 12, 2011
June 6, 2011
May 22, 2011
May 5, 2011
April 10, 2011
May 8th, 2011
April 24, 2011
April 3, 2011
March 20, 2011
March 6, 2011
February 20, 2011
February 6, 2011
January 30, 2011
January 16, 2011
January 2, 2011

2010 Essays
December 25, 2010
December 10, 2010
November 28, 2010
November 14, 2010



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