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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

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Genesis 2:18-24; Hebrews 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16

Most readers of Scripture have no idea that Genesis’ first two chapters contain two contradictory creation stories. Instead of appreciating their differences, we usually treat them as we treat Matthew and Mark’s two contradictory birth of Jesus narratives: combine them and create a third, more acceptable narrative. We’re accustomed to approaching our faith from a catechism mindset, not a biblical perspective; always searching for the either/or answer to every issue. We “Greek-thinking” westerners are understandably uncomfortable with the multiple answers that are an essential part of Scripture’s both/and outlook on life. As the late Fr. Frank Cleary often reminded us, “If you find an internal contradiction in a biblical passage, that’s the sacred author’s way of telling you not to take the passage literally.” This certainly applies to Genesis’ first two chapters.

Though we’re more familiar with the Genesis 1 creation myth – the “six day” one – the Genesis 2 narrative is almost 500 years older. Unlike the God of Genesis 1, this God makes mistakes, e.g., creating man without a helpmate, then thinking one of the animals could take over that role. Yet one of the things prompting the “Yahwistic” author to write seems to be the generally accepted belief that women were created inferior to men. That seems to be why she states that, because the first woman came from the man’s rib, she’s made of the same “stuff” as man. Contrary to popular opinion, she wasn’t created from some throwaway batch of raw material.

In a parallel way, the author’s “etiological” explanation of intercourse challenges the “smutty” accounts circulating in her day and age. Her explanation revolves around a myth that since the man and woman were one in the beginning, their intimate moments are simply attempts to become one again. The gospel Jesus will later employ this story as one of the reasons he prohibits divorce.

Though Judaism, based on Deuteronomy, permitted divorce, Jesus is convinced Moses did so only because of people’s “hardness of heart.” Had Moses dared teach Yahweh’s actual will on the subject, no one would have followed it. So . . . why waste your breath? Yet, in Jesus’ reform of Judaism, we should return to God’s original plan for married couples, not base our lives on the exception.

Obviously this idealistic interpretation of God’s mind created as many problems back then as it does now. It’s certainly more difficult working through marriage problems than it is to quickly end the problems by divorce. Without doubt, some couples should not be together. But it’s important to note Jesus’ no-divorce regulation is, like the law to love our neighbor, more a goal we’re expected to work toward than something we’re obligated to accomplish . . . or else. Being another Christ can at times get complicated. Perhaps that’s why Mark joins his no-divorce narrative to his annoying children story.

Toward the end of my high school teaching career, it became evident more and more of my marriage course students were determined not to have children. When I asked, “Why not?” most replied, “They’re a drag!”

A perceptive response!

But from my experience, they’ve always been a drag. We now simply have more reliable ways of preventing their intrusion into our peaceful existence. Yet when Jesus blesses them, he’s thanking God for even pesky children being a part of our lives. They’re a joy along with being a pain.

The Hebrews author rejoiced over Jesus being one of us. As a human being he gave himself over to suffering through the frustrating evils inherent in relationships in order to eventually experience the unique joys inherent in relationships.

Reminds me of a poster that stated: Grandkids are your reward for not having killed your teenage children. Very theological!


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Wisdom 7:7-11 Hebrews 4:12-13 Mark 10:17-30

Perhaps no passage of the Christian Scriptures is more misunderstood than today’s gospel pericope.

It certainly fits the category of what the author of Hebrews refers to as a “two-edged sword,” cutting no matter which side you grab. It separates boys from men, girls from women, exposing those who are actually in this “faith-thing” for real, and those who are using it just to get into heaven. As the Wisdom writer promises, those who make it part of their lives will discover “all good things come together” because of it.

The man asks Jesus a question all of us has asked: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, “What do I have to do to get into heaven?”

The gospel Jesus answers as a good Pharisee. “Obey Yahweh’s commandments.” When the man assures him he’s already done this, we presume Jesus says, “Great, you’re on the road to heaven.” But he then adds, “There’s more to life than just getting into heaven. How would you like to experience God’s kingdom right here and now? To pull that off you’ve got to sell what you have, give to the poor . . . then come follow me.” Contrary to popular belief, Jesus didn’t begin his public ministry to help people get into heaven. Good Jews were already doing this. He closed his carpentry business and began preaching to help people experience God effectively working in their lives right now, long before they pass through the pearly gates.

Unfortunately, the price to experience God’s kingdom is too high for the man. “His face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” As long as he can get into heaven without it, he’s not going to go for the extra credit.

Jesus’ disciples are also befuddled. That’s not the kind of “salvation” for which they bargained. They don’t think anyone is capable of successfully pulling off such a lifestyle, no matter the rewards. Jesus agrees, even employing an idiom for impossibility: a camel going through a needle’s eye. “If you’re determined to make lots of money in life, you’ve got the chance of a snowball in hell of surfacing God’s kingdom. You can only rely on God’s power, not your own, to pull this off.”

But, on the other hand, if you actually give yourself over to God and “. . . give up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel . . .,” look at the rewards you’ll receive both right here and now and in the future.

No biblical scholar believes these verses are the proof text for the “evangelical virtues,” dividing Christianity between laity (who just follow the commandments) and clergy/religious who also accept the responsibility of poverty, chastity and obedience. Our sacred authors make no such division. The faith of Jesus is offered to all.

As I’ve mentioned before, spiritual writer Jack Shea once observed that the historical Jesus was concerned with answering just three questions: What do you want from life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost? The inquisitive man who interrupted Jesus’ journey didn’t like the answer he gave for the third question. Yet because most of us have studied our faith from a catechism instead of Scripture, we might not even know what first question to ask. The gospel Jesus shows us we can actually ask for more than we were taught to ask. What a waste just to be limited to the afterlife. Look at what we’re missing between then and now. Jesus not only provides the answers to Shea’s questions, he also provides the questions, whether we want them or not.


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Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

Finally, Mark’s third prediction/misunderstanding/clarification passage.

This time James and John are given the honor of completely misunderstanding Jesus’ insistence on dying and rising with him. Their request isn’t complicated: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” They simply lust after prominent places in the glorified Jesus’ kingdom.

We teachers learn in Education 101 never to tell a student, “You’re too dumb to even know what question to ask.” Yet that’s exactly how Jesus answers the overly-ambitious brothers. They’re clearly on the wrong road. They can’t get to where Jesus is unless they turn around and restart their faith journey.

The third way of dying with Jesus is the most difficult to achieve. It’ll turn our world upside down. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” I always remind my students that when the historical Jesus says these words, he lives in a culture in which real slaves exist. He’s not speaking metaphorically. Slaves are at least three or four steps below the social ladder.

He employs only one argument for such a drastic turnabout: himself. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He’s certain this upside-down lifestyle will bring life to his followers; it’s already brought life to him. A ransom is worth nothing in itself. Its value comes from the value of the person being ransomed. Should someone hold me for ransom, I presume he or she could get no more than a dollar fifty on a good day. Should they hold the pope, I’m certain they’d demand and get a few dollars more. Unbelievably, Jesus is telling us his value is determined not by his personal worth but by the value of the people he serves. He’s important only because they’re important.

As the author of Hebrew’s high priest, Jesus is to be praised not because God created him without sin, but because Jesus lowered himself to become one with us, in spite of our sins. Hard to explain to two brothers who only have their eyes focused on the glory seats.

In a similar way, the disciples of Deutero-Isaiah who composed the fourth song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh are convinced their mentor provided them with an image of greatness most people would instantly reject. This unnamed prophet “justified many” through his infirmity and afflictions, not through his strength and victories. No wonder the earliest followers of Jesus frequently read Deutero-Isaiah’s four songs. It was akin to looking into the eyes of Jesus.

With all the words of Christian saints and heroes which adorn the walls of our churches I’ve yet to see seven that are at the heart of both the historical and risen Jesus’ faith: “It shall not be so among you!” Our gospels – along with all Scripture – weren’t written and saved in order to give people faith. They were composed to help people understand the faith they already had. That means, when someone picked up Mark’s scroll and began to read his third prediction/misunderstanding/clarification passage, they had already tried to die with Jesus. That experience alone set them apart from others around them. They look at reality through completely different eyes.

That’s why those seven words should always be emblazoned in a conspicuous place where Jesus’ followers gather. The temptation is always present for us to judge our actions against the value systems the world provides. If we cave in to those systems, we’ll never die enough to completely change the world in which we live.


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Jeremiah 31:7-9; Hebrews 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

Today’s gospel passage should be read immediately following last week’s gospel. Mark certainly intended them to be read together. Both are essential for correctly appreciating his last prediction/misunderstand-ing/clarification pericope. Jesus has just informed James and John that they have to give themselves so generously to others that they actually become their ransom. At that point he encounters Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and, for the time being, wraps up this “dying thing.”

Mark wants us to zero in on being called. (The word is used three times in two verses.) Bartimaeus is the evangelist’s perfect example of a called Christian: he instantly leaves everything (his cloak), springs up and hastens to Jesus, who asks him the same question he just asked James and John. “What do you want me to do for you?”

We heard the consequences when the brothers selfishly asked for the glory seats. But now how does a “perfect” disciple respond to the same question? Bartimaeus’ request is a simple, “Master, I want to see.” Mark seems to believe that brief prayer should constantly be on the lips of every Christian. What does the risen Christ want us to see, who does he/she want us to help, how are we to specifically help others? Just as Deutero-Isaiah prays every morning to hear, Bartimaeus prays to see.

Jesus’ response to the beggar’s request is quite significant. He doesn’t directly cure Bartimaeus’ blindness. Bartimaeus already has the wherewithal to see. “Go your way;” Jesus commands, “your faith has saved you.” Our faith provides us with the sight the risen Jesus wants us to have. Our faith helps us see what Jesus sees.

The last verse of the passage is also quite significant. “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.” The way to where? Mark’s next pericope is “Palm Sunday!” Bartimaeus is following behind Jesus to Jerusalem; to his suffering, death and resurrection. Remember in the first narrative of this series, Jesus tells Simon, “Get behind me, Satan?” In other words, “Be a ‘go-behinder,’ instead of an obstacle to my ministry!” Finally, after three chapters, in this blind beggar we have the perfect other Christ, a person who actually follows in the footsteps of his mentor.

Mark’s Jesus tells us how to actually achieve the salvation Jeremiah hopes for in our first reading. Not only will the Chosen People eventually return from exile, but everyone will rejoice in Yahweh’s parental care. Sharing the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, these outcasts will be saved only when we personally become one with them.

Yet, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, this Galilean carpenter didn’t push his own agenda, he gave himself over to God’s agenda. Adopting the Hebrew Scriptures’ imagery of the Jerusalem high priest, the writer emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. Though Jesus did superhuman things, he was just as fragile as the human priest who alone entered the Holy of Holies. In some sense, he had to get “his own act together” before he could help others. God achieved the actual salvation. In the Hebrews author’s theology, Jesus, like the Jewish high priest, was just God’s instrument to bring it about.

No matter what Christian theology we personally find most helpful, nothing can supplant the giving of ourselves for one another. Such self-giving can’t be replaced by making a novena, having a Mass said for someone, or even paying for the education of a priest. It’s our responsibility to respond to the needs of those around us. If we’re going to spend our lives following behind Jesus, we’d best made certain we can see the road. Only our faith can help us do that. But when the path gets a little hazy, we can always let Bartimaeus be our guide.


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Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28b-34

Mark packs a lot in Jesus’ last five days of life. He’s not only in constant conflict with his enemies, he delivers some of his most important teachings. Today’s pericope is a well-known example of the latter.

With 613 laws to choose from, Jewish scholars often debated which one should be at the top of the list. As a conscientious Pharisee, Jesus’ response surprised none of those experts. He would have raised a few eyebrows only by combining numbers one and two. Everyone agrees a dedication to Yahweh must be the beginning of our relationship with Yahweh. But by joining the Deuteronomy 6 command to give oneself completely over to Yahweh with the Leviticus 19 law to love our neighbors as ourselves, Jesus is insisting his followers “concretize” their love of God in the people they daily encounter around them.

Both the historical and risen Jesus would find it difficult to defend our church’s insistence we keep our eyes cast down and our faces looking straight ahead when we come back from receiving communion, never to be distracted by the people in our pew who would sinfully break our concentration on the Jesus now inside us. I presume the gospel Jesus would expect us to be looking all around especially at that time, checking on how God is now personified in everyone in front of, beside and behind us.

Probably the most important word in our Deuteronomy reading is “grow.” Our sacred author takes for granted our dedication to God is an ongoing process. With that in mind, I presume most of our gawking around as children after receiving the Eucharist could legitimately be classified as a distraction. At that young age we’re probably unable to experience the risen Christ in anyone occupying our pew, including ourselves.

We frequently need to be reminded that Christianity is a faith for adults, not children. Being another Christ demands a certain amount of maturity. (A priest friend often points out, “The historical Jesus played with children and taught adults; but today we Catholics usually teach children and play with adults!”) We shouldn’t think we’re failures if some of our “youth” don’t get it. As long as we’re teaching the faith of Jesus correctly they’ll eventually understand. I presume we adults don’t appreciate our faith today in the same way we appreciated it twenty years ago.

But it’s important to understand that our “prospering” also evolves. What gives us life and fulfillment constantly changes. Our values – and our rewards - are always on the move. A local radio personality frequently reminded his listeners that few fathers, on their deathbeds, wish they’d spent more time at the office. As time goes on, people – and our relationships with them – eventually become more important than things.

Perhaps that’s why the author of Hebrews reflects on the permanence of Jesus offering himself for us. No matter what happens in our lifetime, his gift of himself is a constant. Unlike the Jewish priests he encountered during his earthly ministry, once Jesus engaged in sacrificing himself for us, he didn’t have to do it over and over again. It’s good for all people at all times. But because we’ve yet to share in his perfection, we’re constantly expected to offer ourselves for others, every day of our imperfect lives.

Teilhard de Chardin discovered that the only thing on this planet that doesn’t change is change. That’s why we’d best listen to today’s gospel pericope as often and as intently as possible. No matter what changes in and around us, we can be certain today’s two laws aren’t part of that change. They guarantee our evolution will always go in the right direction. Keeping them is the only way to eventually achieve perfection.


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I Kings 17:10-16; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark12:38-44

The vast majority of people hearing today’s gospel pericope will get the wrong message; certainly not the message Mark’s Jesus conveys.

From “time immemorial” religious preachers have employed this passage whenever they want their people to give to causes they’re touting. Seems Jesus directly had them and their causes in mind when he pointed out a desperately poor widow in the Jerusalem temple who had just deposited her last two mites in the collection plate. “This poor widow,” he says, “put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. They have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” In other words, “Go and do likewise! Give till it hurts!”

There are several obvious problems with this interpretation, problems most of us don’t see.

Notice the gospel Jesus never praises the woman, nor encourages his disciples to imitate her behavior. He simply wants people to notice what she did. No more than that.

But, in what context did he point her out? Since WWII, gospel scholars have stressed “redaction criticism.” They’re very interested not only in what Jesus says, but what happened right before or after he says it. What’s the context of the verse? It’s also important to notice how one evangelist changes – redacts - what a prior evangelist has written. Each is trying to convey his unique theology. If he weren’t concerned with that endeavor, we’d have just one gospel: Mark’s. One surfaces his theology in his redactions. (Just as people can surface my theology on clericalism by noticing I always redact the Eucharistic “And with your spirit” to “And with you.”) Since Mark wrote the first gospel, we don’t have to worry about redaction here. But we do have to worry about context.

Mark’s Jesus is constantly concerned for the poor. But in today’s pericope he’s also concerned with how some of them became poor. The evangelist begins this passage not with the widow, but with a warning: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers.” The gospel Jesus points out these revered functionaries use their “clerical” relationships with widows to eventually impoverish them. But not to worry; “I’ll say one for you.”

The impoverished widow is “exhibit A.” Jesus wants all his followers to know these religious dignitaries have no shame. Even after they devour the woman’s house, they even take her last two mites. Instead of caring for her, they continue to expect her to care for them. No wonder Jesus only lived six days after he arrived in Jerusalem. He’s an immediate danger to the institution.

Mark doesn’t just say the poor must defend themselves against the institution, he also wants the institution to know one of their main tasks is to help the poor . . . always.

Certainly the widow of Zarephath is to be praised for her generosity toward Elijah, and Yahweh is to be praised for his/her caring for her and her son. But on the other hand, the author of Hebrews couldn’t have foreseen the day when Christian communities would actually have “sanctuaries made by hands” that needed to be cared for – often over the needs of the poor. The writer is impressed that Jesus, freely sacrificing himself for us, has stamped “no charge” on our receipt.

Institutional church finances will always be a problem. But if we actually create the very abomination Mark’s Jesus refers to in today’s gospel passage, we certainly have no idea how his/her risen presence should be redacting our lives.


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Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

Scholars remind us that one of the three basic changes in early Christianity was the switch from a short-term faith to a long-term faith. For one reason or another, Jesus’ earliest followers believed he would triumphantly return in a short period of time. Everyone would recognize his presence and those who imitated his dying and rising would share in his glory. We need only glance at chapter four of the earliest Christian writing we possess – I Thessalonians – to read a brief description of Jesus’ “Parousia.” According to Paul, Christ’s return will happen so soon that those unfortunate individuals who died before that glorious event will simply have to “tread water” in their graves until he comes back. The Apostle presumes he’ll still be alive when he returns.

But by the mid-80s, reality sets in. When Luke writes his gospel and Acts – more than 20 years after Paul’s martyrdom - he takes for granted he and his readers will live their whole natural lives and physically die before the Parousia. Either Christianity begins to plan for the long haul, or it becomes extinct. Jesus’ disciples have no choice but to be other Christs “for the duration.”

Mark writes at least 10 or 15 years before Luke. He’s still waiting for the Parousia when he composes today’s gospel pericope. Though he can click off all the preliminaries to the event, his Jesus still claims he doesn’t know its exact date. He simply states he’ll be around for it, and no matter what happens, his teachings will still be valid – forever. People just have to hang in there.

These first- and second-generation Christians often fell back on “apocalyptic” literature to help understand their situation. The authors of that particular genre – usually suffering persecution – constantly zeroed in on Yahweh’s guarantee to deliver them from their cruel treatment. That’s certainly what we find in today’s Daniel passage. With the help of Michael, Yahweh’s angelic champion, the faithful will not only be able to endure this terrific “distress,” they’ll actually conquer the evil that’s beating them down. If they keep the faith they’ll eventually “be like the stars forever.”

The Hebrew’s author doesn’t seem to be worried about a delayed Parousia, nor a persecution. He simply seems content to just reflect on the significance of having the risen Jesus in our midst. Employing an image foreign to Gentile Christians – the Jewish priesthood – he endeavors to point out that the historical Jesus did more than just imitate their ministry. What these functionaries accomplished daily for a limited group of people, Jesus accomplished once for everyone. Technically we no longer need to be forgiven. Jesus has already taken care of that. Our role is to just accept that forgiveness and offer it to others.

Reflecting on the crisis facing our church today, I presume we’re also going to have to experience some basic changes. If we don’t, like the first century church, we’ll also be in danger of become extinct. We can never forget, as our sacred authors insisted, that the risen Jesus is among us, even if he isn’t helping us in the ways we once took for granted he would. Like the earliest Christians, it’s up to us to change our ideas of his presence. If, as Pope Francis believes, clericalism is stopping us from carrying on Jesus’ ministry, we simply have to adapt, just as the gospel authors had to adapt to his delayed Parousia. Without a new image of church, Jesus’ words will never get through as he intended. I presume those words are immortal; but the way we proclaim them isn’t. Though we’re rarely called to be as courageous as our faith ancestors, this might be one of those times.


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Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37

Today’s feast always creates problems. One word is at the root of the problem: king. What does it mean? How is it applied to Jesus? What’s been made of it through the centuries? If Christians are to imitate Jesus of Nazareth, are we expected to make part of his regal personality our own?

Given the gospel Jesus’ reflections on his ministry, “kingly” would be the last adjective anyone would employ to describe it. Though many of his followers believed he was the Messiah they and their fellow Jews had been expecting for centuries, he frequently not only rejected that title, but on those rare occasions when he applied it to himself, he always defined the word at right angles to the way First Century CE Jews defined it. On Palm Sunday, for instance, instead of triumphantly riding into Jerusalem on horseback – the military Messiah Jews anticipated – he rides into the Holy City astride a donkey. The crowd would have done a double take. He isn’t the messianic savior for whom they’re waiting.

Jesus always insists on giving new definitions to traditional words, especially when it comes to his unique concept of leadership.

The author of today’s Daniel reading clearly describes the Messiah the vast majority of Jews were expecting during Jesus’ historical ministry. According to their apocalyptic theology, when he eventually makes his presence known, Yahweh will give him “dominion, glory and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages (will) serve him.” A complete turnabout from the gospel Jesus’ determination to spend his life in service to others. No wonder most Jews saw only a Capernaum carpenter when they looked at him.

Though the author of Revelation regards the risen Jesus as “the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth,” he seems to be falling back on the importance this new creation has in his life. He appears to be much more poetic than realistic. The Christ certainly is the dead’s firstborn, but I don’t think the writer expected his readers to take his claim of Jesus being the ruler of the earth’s kings literally, especially when we hear what the gospel Jesus says about the issue.

Our gospel pericope from John is just one among several in which Jesus tells us not to celebrate today’s feast. Or, if we insist on celebrating it, to be careful how we do so.

The important thing to remember is that in every gospel passage in which Pilate asks Jesus about his kingship, he basically responds, “No! I’m not!” Had the Roman prefect taken Jesus’ response as a “Yes!” he would have had him crucified on the spot. This upstart preacher would have been making himself a rival to Tiberius the Roman emperor – high treason.

In today’s passage, John’s Jesus is basically saying, “If you insist on calling me a king, you have to give a brand-new definition to the title. I’m here to tell people about truths only God can reveal to them; not the kind of work in which kings normally engage.”

Jesus couldn’t be clearer: “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” He obviously expects those who carry on his ministry after his death and resurrection to also be proclaimers of the truth.

Perhaps the question we face today doesn’t revolve around telling the truth about who Jesus is, but telling the truth about who (or what) the church is. The sexual abuse scandal we’re experiencing is rooted in giving a royal definition to the church, something the gospel Jesus rejects. If we don’t define our terms as Jesus defines them, we’re certainly going to have problems.


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Jeremiah 33:14-16; I Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

One of the problems with looking forward to celebrating Christmas in a month is that we often spend a lot of that period looking backward instead of forward. We zero in on past Christmases, trying to replicate the best of them. Without remembering such ideal celebrations, Christmas wouldn’t have its proper meaning.

Yet considering it was more than three or four centuries before the feast of Christmas came into existence, that’s not the way Jesus’ earliest followers celebrated his entering their lives. They were never interested in just forming schmaltzy memories that they could conjure up every year.

Of course, their images of him were different from our own. Given their Jewish background, once his disciples understood him to be the long-awaited Messiah, he was burdened with the “baggage” attached to that title. For instance, as we hear in today’s Jeremiah passage, Jesus the Messiah will not only be the one bringing peace to the two Jewish nations of Israel and Judah, he’ll also do whatever’s just and right for everyone in the land; demonstrating, as a good Jew, how to have the proper relationships with God and those around us.

In the earliest Christian writing we possess – I Thessalonians – Paul couldn’t be clearer about those relationships. Having taken the unheard-of step of permitting non-Jews to follow Jesus without first becoming Jews, the Apostle can’t encourage his Gentile converts to include Jewish laws and culture in their following of the risen Christ. He can only insist on forming just relationships with Jesus and others. He has no better prayer for his community than, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you . . . .” Jesus in our lives makes all the difference in our lives.

But his/her presence also changes the way we look at the future. Luke testifies to that phenomenon in today’s gospel pericope: the well-known “apocalyptic” section of his gospel. It’s significant that this type of literature was the most frequently employed genre in religious writings shortly before and after Jesus’ birth. Many would-be sacred authors spoke about the end of the world and the phenomena accompanying it, using esoteric, symbolic language to avoid being sued for breach of promise. Knowing how frequently this genre was utilized, it’s amazing only two biblical books – Daniel and Revelation - plus a chapter in each Synoptic gospel, were written in this style.

In some sense, in today’s passage Luke is only informing his community about one thing. Though many people, not only Christians, are awaiting the world’s imminent end, the evangelist only wants Jesus’ followers to know that when it finally happens Jesus will play an essential role. When this world as we know it goes down the tubes, followers of Jesus will experience “. . . the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

But Luke is convinced we can’t go around with our heads in that cloud just waiting for Jesus’ arrival. There’s lots to do in the meantime. We can’t sit on our hands taking bets on the time of the Parousia, nor risk becoming “drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life . . . .”

If the world as we know it is going to end with all these distressing signs, we’ve got to keep in shape, else we’ll get bowled over. Staying vigilant will be our main occupation. Jesus’ first followers were always warned to get out of the past and appreciate the present and the future, no matter how comfortable and non-challenging their past was. Jesus’ coming always means there’s more to life than just memories.


This essay comes to you from FOSIL, The Faithful of Southern Illinois,
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Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

“When things get better, I’ll make my move.”

Ever say that or something similar under your breath? It’s certainly a valid excuse for not doing what the risen Jesus asks us to do. “This just isn’t the right platform. There’re too many grey areas in my life. I’ve got good intentions, but this isn’t the time and place to carry them out. God knows I have dreams for a better world in my heart. Eventually I’ll carry through on them, but in the meantime . . . .”

Perhaps these justifications for our inaction are why Luke begins his gospel with today’s historical overview of the historical Jesus’ day and age. Why did God choose this particular time and place in which to send his/her son into the world? They certainly weren’t ideal. In some sense, they were just like any other time and place. They had their good points and their bad points. Galilee was just as significant as Illinois; Herod and Caiaphas as any of our political and religious leaders today. John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth had no choice but to play the hands they were dealt. Neither could set up ideal conditions in advance. Long before anyone created poster art, both learned to grow where they were planted. Had they waited for a better time and place, God’s will would never have been accomplished.

They’re not the first followers of God to experience similar, challenging situations. Baruch, who seems to have worked with the prophet Jeremiah, lived in a world that was falling apart. His mentor had finally reached a point in which he was convinced Yahweh’s Chosen People were incapable of reform. His only hope was for an enemy to wipe them out, drag the remnant of the people into exile and start their faith experience over again. Only this time they’d better not screw things up.

Baruch has no choice but to prophesy against this “iffy” background. He’s not even certain Israel will continue to exist for more than a few years. Yet the prophet is convinced Yahweh will eventually take care of the people even though both Jerusalem’s present and immediate future aren’t very promising. Baruch has terrific faith in an imperfect history. He doesn’t have any other history in which he’s involved.

Reflecting on the importance of our historical context, perhaps the most helpful of today’s readings is our Philippians pericope. Paul is convinced the specific day and age in which he and his community are involved is actually an ongoing process. Their experiences are constantly evolving. “I am confident,” he writes, “that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” One thing is certain: “Your love (will) increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception to discern what is of value . . . .” Eventually “things” will become clearer, though at the present moment I’m still wondering what I’m doing here.

We, like John the Baptizer, have no control over when the word of God comes to us. We’re simply expected to recognize and use it the way he/she expects us to. The historical John seems to have been a member of the Dead Sea scroll community, ministering in a place that has less than an inch of rain a year, preaching to someone who not only doesn’t want to hear him, but eventually has him killed.

The late Cardinal John Wright once asked us North American College students, “What would you do if you’re the best preacher in the diocese and your bishop assigns you as chaplain to an institution for the hearing impaired?” Certainly wouldn’t be the first time only God knows what I’m doing here.


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Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18

There’s a reason why John the Baptizer’s demands in today’s gospel pericope are similar to the gospel Jesus’ demands. Though some Christians don’t like to admit it, the carpenter who lived and worked in Capernaum was originally one of John’s disciples. It seems this wilderness prophet first turned Jesus on to the faith he later publicly proclaimed.

It’s quite probable Jesus originally seemed content just to be one of John’s disciples. Only after the Baptizer’s arrest – or martyrdom – did Jesus step forward and pick up the prophet’s mantle. No wonder he was so concerned with how we relate to others. He had a good teacher and mentor.

“Whoever has two cloaks,” John insists, “should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” True faith revolves not around worship and rubrics, but around how we give ourselves to others, especially those over whom we exercise power.

The historical John and Jesus were so similar in their messages that Jesus’ earliest disciples thought it necessary to frequently point out his superiority to the Baptizer, even employing the Baptizer himself to convey their message. “One mightier than I is coming,” the gospel John proclaims, “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” No matter how great John is, Jesus is always at least one degree better. “I am baptizing with water . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

As I mentioned above, some Christians are uncomfortable with this explanation. In their mind, the historical Jesus was independent from any outside influence. As God, Jesus accomplished everything on his own. Yet the author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminded his community that Jesus was more than just God; he was also human. With that in mind, the Council of Chalcedon actually stated in 451 CE: “Jesus of Nazareth was a human being like all of us in everything except sin.” That means, if I can be influenced by others, so can Jesus. As unfamiliar as it might sound, we’re grateful John the Baptizer came into his life. John’s personality seems to have made a significant difference in Jesus’ personality.

I’ve often confessed that what originally attracted me to Scripture wasn’t Scripture but the people who taught me Scripture. I was impressed by the mentality they brought to religion and the attitude toward faith revealed through their teachings. Though I never thought, as a diocesan priest, I’d have an opportunity to study and teach Scripture, down deep I wanted to spend my ministry doing so. More than anything, I wanted my personality to be shaped by the same experiences that shaped the personalities of the people I admired. Thankfully, I was eventually given that opportunity.

There’s nothing more rewarding than proclaiming and agreeing with the joy Zephaniah found in experiencing Yahweh, or the happiness Paul discovered in following the risen Jesus. Yet if it hadn’t been for the Scripture scholars who came into my life years ago, I probably would never have gone that deep into my faith.

Considering Jesus spent at least three hours on the cross, I sometimes wonder what went through his mind during that time. Could he have spent some of those three hours thanking God for the people who came into his life? If he did, I’m certain John the Baptizer would have been near the top of his list. Though we Catholics often wax eloquent on the influence Jesus’ mother had on him, I presume she wasn’t alone. Jesus might not have been dying that Friday afternoon had it not been for the example the Baptizer provided for him. Things could have been quite different for him, as they’d also be for some of those we’ve influenced.


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Micah 5:1-4a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

One reason our sacred authors compose their writings springs from a desire to make certain their communities always “look” in the right direction. They’re convinced it’s possible to ignore God’s message simply because we don’t notice it, even when it’s right in front of us. Our biblical writers are determined this isn’t going to happen “on their watch.” They remind their readers that we follow a God constantly working through unexpected people, in unexpected, subtle ways. In God’s eyes, one’s “worldly” importance doesn’t count; one’s social acceptability is worthless. God demands we experience the whole world, not just the part and the people with which we’re comfortable.

I’m old enough to actually remember playing the “Pong” video game when it first came out in the 1970s--an excellent way to develop my reflexes. I never knew from where the ball was coming. I simply had to be constantly ready. Yet, as a student of Scripture, I was aware a “biblical pong” game existed long before the 20th century. From the beginning of faith, God’s followers were forced to acknowledge they had no idea from where God’s word and presence were coming. They could appear anywhere. The faithful could only work on developing their faith reflexes by listening to Scripture texts like today’s three readings.

More than 700 years before Jesus’ birth, Micah prophetically warns the people of Judah to be careful about the direction from which they’re expecting the Messiah to come. They might miss him; he could be coming from a clan and tribe they’re not anticipating. In this case, from of all places, Bethlehem-Ephrathah. Of course, everyone listening to Micah was familiar with King David and the I Samuel story in which this greatest of all Jewish kings not only came from the same town, but whose own father had no idea Yahweh had chosen the “runt” of the family for such a prestigious position. Just like no one saw “that one coming,” so no one can predict from where the Messiah’s coming. If the nation’s royal salvation once came from such an unexpected place, it could just as unpredictably come from there again.

Mary of Nazareth’s relative Elizabeth had a similar experience 1,000 years after David’s coronation. How could she have anticipated someone she’d known all her life would eventually become “the mother of (her) Lord?” Though, as a good Jew, she’d been expecting the Messiah’s arrival, she certainly hadn’t been looking in Mary’s direction. Elizabeth’s Yahweh-inspired surprises didn’t stop with the conception of her and Zechariah’s son. The “best” was yet to come.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews hints at why unexpectedness is built into our faith. Instead of revolving our lives around “sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings,” followers of Jesus are simply committed to doing God’s will. The risen Jesus has freed us from the law mandating all those rituals, and replacing it with an obligation just to imitate him/her. As we know from Scripture – beginning with the Yahwistic author of Genesis 38 – we follow a God who’s notorious for taking us down roads we could never have predicted. Nothing or no one is off limits. Just when we’ve outlined the perimeters with which we’re comfortable, we discover God has created not just new rules, but a whole new game.

No wonder the gospel Jesus frequently warns his followers, “Stay awake!” Just as marriages begin to die the moment the partners start to predict one another’s actions, so our faith starts to die the moment we start to predict God’s actions in our lives.

Perhaps we should encourage our parish banner makers to create a big one with an image of the Pong game . . . unless it makes us too nervous.


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Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222


Eucharist at Midnight

Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

Especially tonight it’s important to remember that our two infancy narratives were the last parts of Matthew and Luke’s gospels to be written. Though the evangelists eventually put them at the beginning, they didn’t come into existence until after the rest of their gospels had taken shape.

The most important thing to keep in mind tonight isn’t that Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, but that Jesus of Nazareth dies and rises through us every day of our lives. Christianity begins with Easter, not Christmas.

Each evangelist chooses at one point of salvation history he’ll begin to tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark starts with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptizer, Matthew and Luke take us back to the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth, and John trumps everyone by asking us to reach into “the beginning” of Jesus’ eternal preexistence. Yet before each writer picks up his stylus, he has already experienced the unique life which comes from being another Christ. The beginning of his gospel isn’t the beginning of his dying and rising. He’s simply putting something into words which goes far beyond words.

Biblically rooted, it’s understandable that the earliest Christians turned to Scripture to help understand what had happened to them when they encountered the risen Jesus. They could, for instance, identify with the 8th century BCE people of Judah who rejoiced over the birth of Hezekiah, their future king. Isaiah looks forward in tonight’s first reading to the drastic changes that longed-for prince will eventually bring into the life of each Israelite. Yet the transformation Jesus of Nazareth has already brought into the lives of Christians is far superior. There’s nothing that can compare to their dying and rising.

The unknown author of the Letter to Titus was someone who can describe that dying/rising process first hand. He or she has already rejected “godless ways and worldly desires” and is trying “to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age . . . eager to do what is good.” There’s been a 180-degree turnabout in this person’s life, forcing him/her to write about Jesus’ birth in completely different terms than an historian whose goal is simply “to set the record straight.” The Titus writer is intimately involved in what’s written.

Luke, on the other hand, continues his habit of naming names and referring to geographic places. We know precisely who the civil leaders are and where Joseph and Mary’s trip takes them. The evangelist thinks it important to let his community know that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t magically float down from heaven and land in a magical never-never land. He related with real people in real places. (Only recently has the village of Nazareth been located, named on an ancient mile marker. No wonder Nathaniel sarcastically asked, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” It was the Podunk of Palestine.)

Though angels join in praising the newborn child, the crowd they’re entertaining isn’t high on the social ladder. Parents normally lock up their daughters when shepherds come to town, and according to some Jewish customs and laws, a shepherd’s word is never to be accepted in court. They’re notorious liars; they’ll say whatever they’re paid to say. Shepherds are among the scum of the earth.

Luke’s community, because of their experiences of the risen Jesus, now look at these outcasts through different eyes. Just as Moses could see fire in a bush, so the community hearing this gospel didn’t necessarily change the world in which they lived nor the people with whom they related; they simply changed how they looked at that world and those people. Something all of us should be doing tonight.


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Email:, or write FOSIL, P.O. Box 31, Belleville, IL, 62222



Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:41-52

The late Raymond Brown’s writings and lectures cleared up a lot of the problems I had with the gospel infancy narratives – especially today’s well-known pericope. Even as a kid, this “lost in the temple” passage didn’t make sense. Why would God’s parents miss a second’s sleep over “losing” him? He’s God! He can take care of himself, no matter how old he is or where he finds himself.

Brown helps us understand something all modern Scripture scholars take for granted: our sacred authors frequently employ sources. They don’t begin writing with just a stylus and blank sheet of papyrus in front of them. They have other sheets of papyrus on their desk, papyrus already written on, writings they’ll eventually integrate into their finished work. Sometimes, as in today’s gospel, it’s easy to notice when one source stops and another begins; at times, other sources have been so closely integrated that it takes an expert to point them out.

Luke used at least two different sources for his infancy narrative. He employed one in which the author included an annunciation to Mary, a narrative which had an angel inform the virgin beforehand about the divinity of her son. In the other, exemplified by today’s lost-in-the-temple passage, the writer seems to have presumed Mary and Joseph only found out about Jesus’ divinity after his resurrection. The child’s parents were legitimately worried when he was inadvertently left behind in the Jerusalem temple. They certainly weren’t faking it.

Among other things, these different sources tell us the early church was convinced there’s more than one way to understand the gospel Jesus in our lives – even contradictory ways. Since all the first Christians thought semitically, they were always interested in the both/and of their faith, not the either/or. Such Greek, analytic thinking didn’t hijack the church until late in the second century, long after our Christian Scriptures took shape.

It might especially be good to remember our biblical sources on this Holy Family Sunday. In my limited experience, no two families are alike; each encounters reality in a unique way. Not only do we experience things differently, we react differently, and, in the process, we and things around us constantly change. Physical punishment, for instance, which I simply took for granted as a child, could now get a parent arrested. Thankfully we see implications of our actions today that we never noticed yesterday. As we grow, families grow; and as families grow, we individually grow.

This directly applies to the Colossian author’s command for wives “to be subordinate to your husbands.” Though such a strict marriage hierarchy makes for smooth running, it reduces one partner to a non-entity. (Just as our church hierarchy often does to the laity.) In order to become the people Jesus intends, we need more than just one source commenting on our relationships.

Some behavior is basic Christianity, no matter what’s going on around us. Husbands, for instance, should love their wives and fathers shouldn’t provoke their children. At all times, as other Christs, we should “put on . . . heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience . . . .” And as Sirach insisted, we should never “grieve” our parents. Even if a father’s mind fail, there’s never an excuse for “reviling” him. When positions switch and we’re caring for those who once cared for us, love should always remain.

But once these essentials are covered, each family must make its own path through life. It’s always good to appreciate that fact, especially during today’s feast. If Luke didn’t think it necessary to employ just one source to tell the story of Jesus’ family, then we shouldn’t be content just to employ one way to imitate Jesus’ love in our families.


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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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
May 19 & 26, 2019
May 5 & 12, 2019
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
January 6 & 13, 2019

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
March 11 & 18, 2018
February 25 & March 4, 2018
February 11 & 18, 2018
January 28 & February 4, 2018
January 14 & 21, 2018

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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September 3 & 10, 2017
August 20 & 27, 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
October 16 & 23, 2016
October 2 & 9, 2016
September 18 & 25, 2016
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June 26 and July 3, 2016
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April 24 & May 1, 2016
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March 27 and April 3, 2016
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
October 4 and 11, 2015
September 20 and 27, 2015
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July 26 and August 2, 2015
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June 28 and July 5, 2015
June 14 and 21, 2015
May 31 and June 7, 2015
May 17 and 24, 2015
May 10 and May 14 or 17, 2015
April 26 and May 3, 2015
April 12 and 19, 2015
April 4 and 5, 2015
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
January 4 and 11, 2015

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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August 24 and 31, 2014
August 10 and 17, 2014
July 27 and August 3, 2014
July 13 and July 20, 2014
June 29 and July 6, 2014
June 15 and June 22, 2014
June 1 and June 8, 2014
May 25 and May 29, 2014
May 11 and May 18, 2014
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
September 8 and 15, 2013
August 25 and September 1, 2013
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July 28 and August 4, 2013
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June 30 and July 7, 2013
Jun 16 & 23, 2013
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May 19 & 26, 2013
May 9 & 12, 2013
April 28 and May 5, 2013
April 14 and 21, 2013
March 30 and April 7, 2013
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
September 2 and September 9, 2012
August 19 and August 26, 2012
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July 22 and July 29, 2012
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June 24 and July 1, 2012
June 10 and 17, 2012
May 27 and June 3, 2012
May 17 and May 20, 2012
May 6 and May 13, 2012
April 22 and April 29, 2012
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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