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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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Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48

Practically nothing in Scripture was written by eyewitness – not even our gospels.

Only after years, or even centuries of reflecting on God’s actions in their lives did our sacred authors eventually compose the writings that make up our Sacred Scriptures. Though many of the people involved in their narratives seemed to understand the implications of those divine actions as they were actually taking place, scholars constantly remind us that such insights most probably didn’t become part of their faith lives until far down the road. Even today we often catch ourselves saying, “I didn’t notice it at the time, but . . . .”

One need only Google Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ famous “Invisible Gorilla” experiment to see how easy it is to miss things that happen right before our eyes. The two professors demonstrated that our eyes normally see only what our minds program them to see. If we’re not expecting it, we usually don’t see it. On a practical level, experts tell us that’s why motorcycles are so frequently involved in highway accidents. Drivers of cars are geared to see other cars, not motorcycles. Based on that insight, yard signs have recently appeared in our area encouraging us to “Watch Out For Motorcycles!’

On a Scriptural level, that also seems why we have today’s three liturgical readings. Our sacred authors are concerned that we not only discover what happened to them, but that we also be prepared to discover those same things and events happening in our own lives. If we’re not prepared to have them take place, we’ll rarely notice them taking place.

Our Wisdom author is convinced that only those enslaved Israelites who were anticipating Yahweh to destroy their foes actually interpreted the Exodus correctly. Historically, according to the Exodus author, the majority of Jews in Egypt argued against Moses. What turned out to be the greatest saving event in Jewish history started as a huge aggravation. Especially the Torah’s Yahwistic author reminds us of the people’s constant “griping.” They’d have been more content eating watermelon as slaves along the Nile than crossing the Reed Sea as free people. What a chosen few saw, most ignored.

The author of Hebrews wants to make certain such blindness never happens to Jesus’ followers. So he constantly hammers away at Abraham and Sarah’s faith. Presuming they’re the first Jews, they don’t have Yahweh’s track record to fall back on. Only their faith helps them see Yahweh’s hand in the daily events of their life. They didn’t emigrate from Ur to Canaan, for instance, simply to acquire more food in a foreign land, but because Yahweh had a unique plan for them and their descendants. Likewise they didn’t engage in intimate relations because of any physical attraction but because that was an essential part of God providing them with an heir. Our sacred authors are convinced that faith enables us to notice what others ignore.

That seems to be why Luke’s Jesus wants us to be certain about where our “treasure” is located. Those who consistently “sell their belongings and give alms” will also be the ones who are consistently prepared to notice the risen Jesus present in their lives. Those who focus on caring for the needs of others will also be focusing on experiencing God’s kingdom in their midst. The historical Jesus presumed his followers would see what he chose to see during his earthly ministry. That was the only way they would be his faithful and prudent stewards.

Perhaps it would be more faith effective to replace some of our elaborate church decorations with simple yard signs reading, “Watch For God Working In Your Lives!”


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Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

Years ago there was a horrible accident at one of our local amusement parks. A woman was thrown from a roller coaster type ride and killed. The investigation following the accident showed her death was totally preventable. She simply hadn’t been “locked in.” The young man in charge of that function was too embarrassed to tell her that because she was overweight he couldn’t click the latch on the belt which would have held her on the ride.

Many of us can identify with that worker. We’d also like to live as hassle-free a life as possible, avoiding situations which would create tension between ourselves and others. On one hand, he certainly avoided the tension which could have resulted from telling her she was too obese to be on that ride. But on the other hand, his reluctance to speak out cost her life.

I presume from today’s three readings that God’s prophets frequently find themselves in parallel situations. They’re chosen by Yahweh or the risen Jesus to be the conscience of the people; they’re to proclaim God’s word. Yet, as we hear in our Jeremiah passage, there are good reasons why they’re often tempted to keep their mouths shut. “Jeremiah ought to be put to death,” the princes say. One way to make certain the prophet doesn’t deliver God’s word is to kill the prophet. Works every time.

Though Jeremiah is eventually delivered from the princes’ hands, I presume every time he opened his mouth again to tell the people what Yahweh wanted of them, he remembered this near miss. The next time he might not be so lucky. No wonder in chapter 20 he wishes he’d never been born.

This “prophecy thing” is very important for Christians. The earliest Christian author, Paul, presumes each of our communities is blessed with at least one person who has the Spirit’s gift of prophecy. He’s convinced other Christs can’t function correctly unless their members understand what the risen Jesus wishes them to do. That seems to be one of the reasons Luke’s Jesus wants his followers to know, “I have come to set the earth on fire . . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Those who dare imitate him must be aware of the divisions in society such an imitation will bring about.

Perhaps that’s why the unknown author of the Letter to the Hebrews insists we constantly “keep our eyes fixed on him (Jesus).” Only by focusing on him will we be able “to persevere in running the race that lies before us.”

Before any of Jesus’ disciples suspected he was divine, they were certain he was a prophet. Though he never demanded they imitate his divinity, they knew from the beginning he expected them to integrate some of his burning prophetic charism into their own lives.

Normally we expect our sacred authors to tear into their readers for not listening to the prophets and carrying out their words. But today the author of Hebrews and Luke’s gospel look at prophecy from the other side. Both tear into us for not being brave enough to proclaim even the small bit of God’s word with which the Spirit has gifted us. Though the vast majority of us aren’t “full-time” prophets, as other Christs we frequently run into situations in which we say nothing where something should be said. We shouldn’t pretend to be overly pious, but especially among family and friends neither, for instance, should we hesitate to confront racial or prejudicial remarks. Certainly wouldn’t want anyone close to us to be flung off the ride.


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Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30

Most of us don’t like to hear the word “discipline,” especially when it’s applied to us. We presume it’s geared to take away our freedom, and in the long run always comes with some sort of punishment. Yet a typical dictionary definition of the term says it’s simply the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior. So when the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes about the “discipline of the Lord,” he’s simply talking about the unique rules and behavior patterns the risen Jesus expects us to obey.

Growing up Catholic, I methodically learned all the dos and don’ts my catechism listed. But being a typical, concrete thinking child, I concentrated on the don’ts, especially since they were hooked up to the fiery punishments of purgatory and hell that scared the bejeebers out of me. Unlike the dos, the don’ts were hard to forget. Though the Hebrews’ author reminds us that “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines,” not only didn’t I feel much love coming out of the pages of my catechism, I secretly envied my Protestant friends who didn’t seem to be restrained or burdened by any fear of committing mortal sins.

Yet listening to today’s first and third readings, it’s clear that the discipline to which both sacred authors refer doesn’t restrict our behavior; it expands it.

Active shortly after Israel’s 6th century BCE Babylonian captivity, Third-Isaiah is concerned not only with encouraging the recently freed Jews to return to the Promised Land, he wants them to come back to their ancestral home with a new mentality toward Gentiles. No longer are they to regard them simply as “non-Jews:” people incapable of having a meaningful relationship with Yahweh. God’s now including these foreigners in his/her plan of salvation. Unbelievably, some will even be included in the special category of priests and Levites: individuals who were granted their special ministry and privileges by birth. No one went to the seminary to become a priest or Levite; they were born that way. Yet now Yahweh’s saying that some Gentiles are by nature just as important as some Jews. I’m certain a number of holy, pious Jews would have petitioned the Holy Office – had one existed back them - to have Third-Isaiah officially declared a heretic. Such openness certainly wasn’t the divine discipline they’d learned and followed as children. The prophet was now demanding they expand their behavior to now be open to Yahweh working with all people, not just the Chosen People.

Because of our emphasis on the don’ts of our faith, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the historical Jesus demanded similar discipline from his followers. Today’s Lucan pericope leaves us little wiggle room. “There will be wailing and grinding of teeth,” Jesus warns, “when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out.” The “saved” will include people we presumed were nowhere near being listed in that category. Neither belonging to the “true church,” saying the right prayers, or knowing all the rules and regulations will save us. Our only hope is to imitate the mentality of Jesus.

“People will come from the east and the west,” Luke’s Jesus insists, “and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.” His salvation rule of thumb can be easily summarized: “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Ironically the “narrow gate” for entering God’s kingdom among us revolves around our developing a very broad mind, something many of us conveniently forgot when we were studying Jesus’ dos.


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Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Luke 14:1, 7-14

Most of us take movie background music for granted. Even we old-timers have grown up with it, rarely reflecting on it’s being an artificial element. Yet, Jaws, for instance, certainly wouldn’t have become the great classic film it is without John Williams’ suspense filled soundtrack.

The problem is, as far as I can tell, that none of us have special music playing in the background as we live our lives. What we take for granted in movies, we omit from our day by day existence. Such things just aren’t there in real life.

But that’s not totally correct. In some sense, Scripture is the background music our faith lives. To those who read and study this special library, it’s always there, giving significance to our following of the risen Jesus, constantly running through our minds like a movie soundtrack.

Even before that First Century CE Galilean carpenter began his itinerant preaching ministry, followers of Yahweh were familiar with such a soundtrack. About 500 years before Jesus’ birth, the Torah – Scripture’s first five books – had taken the form with which we’re familiar today. Through the years, other books, like Sirach, were also added to the themes faithful Jews surfaced as they tried to give themselves over to Yahweh’s will. As we hear in today’s first reading, humility, wisdom and almsgiving were always playing in the back of the minds of true Israelites. They gave deeper meaning to the life of all Jews.

Of course, as I mentioned above, music isn’t actually playing as we live our lives. It only plays when we want it to play. Most of the time we don’t reflect on the important things, people or situations we daily experience until long after we encounter them. Luke’s Jesus seems to take that for granted. Though the risen Jesus’ soundtrack doesn’t automatically become part of our personal soundtrack when we awake each morning, he wants us to do what’s necessary to have it kick in.

According to Jesus, there’s significance in everything we do, even to where we sit during a formal dinner. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,” he insists, “do not recline at table in the place of honor.” Somehow we’re to be so honest that we appreciate not only our own importance, but also the importance of others. That’s biblical humility. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He even expects us to concretize that humble theme music when we throw a party. “Do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather . . . invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.”

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews certainly turns up the volume, putting our simple Christian actions on a level of symbolism anyone would enjoy hearing. In the ordinary events of our lives, we can actually “touch” the God among us, come in contact with “the spirits of the just made perfect,” and even encounter the risen Jesus.

But perhaps the music which best keeps us on the road the risen Jesus expects us to take is in the last line of our gospel passage: “You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” This creates the soundtrack for all Christian lives. We constantly look beyond. If we don’t, then as Paul said in I Corinthians, we’re the most ridiculous of all people. We’re going through life without hearing the music which gives meaning to that life.


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Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

One of the shortest books in the Christian Scriptures packs one of the biggest wallops. Paul’s letter to Philemon isn’t long enough to have chapters, yet its message has challenged Christians for almost 2,000 years.

The Apostle was faced with a unique problem when he dictated these few lines and mailed them to his old friend, a problem with which none of us today (hopefully) will ever have to deal: a runaway slave. Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, had not only escaped from his master’s house after destroying some of his property, but eventually he ran to Paul, expecting the Apostle to protect him. Does he keep him or return him? The problem becomes even more complicated when Onesimus converts to Christianity and Paul baptizes him.

Obviously our faith had not yet evolved to the point where slavery, as such, would be unconditionally prohibited. (That wouldn’t happen for about another 1,800 years!) That’s why it’s important to note the principles Paul employs to come to a conclusion. He couldn’t just check the latest papal documents or look up some conciliar decrees. He didn’t even have a catechism to flip through to find the answer.

It’s clear that he basically agrees with the Wisdom author that our first moral principle is always to do “what Yahweh intends.” But as we hear in today’s reading, at times that’s hard to do. “Scarce do we guess the things on earth . . . ,” the author reflects, “but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?” Such certainty can come only from Yahweh’s holy spirit. Without that force in our daily lives, the paths of those on earth could never be made straight.

Luke’s Jesus presumes we must be completely committed to that spirit. Nothing – or no one – can be more important than that commitment, not even life itself. And it’s certainly not something that comes easy. It can take as much planning as building a tower or waging a war. We simply can’t be other Christs without it. There’s no other way to daily carry our cross.

Perhaps the first principle Paul operates from is Jesus’ – and modern moral theologians’ - belief that whatever we do, we do freely. Things done from force or fear don’t count toward our eternal salvation. As difficult as it might to achieve such freedom, the Apostle expects both Philemon and Onesimus to have no force or fear in whatever they do. That means he first respectfully asks Philemon to free Onesimus and permit him to help Paul. But on the other hand, he also expects Onesimus to freely return to his former owner and permit himself to again be in his power before he asks for his release. In each case, Philemon could freely say, “No!” just as Onesimus could freely say, “I’m not going back!”

Since this letter is in our biblical canon, we presume both said yes. But there’s no way to definitively prove that. It’s an essential part of carrying our cross that we create situations in which people are free to do the unpredictable. With such a commitment to freedom it was only a matter of (a long) time before slavery would be condemned by the church.

But Paul is also guided by his belief that, once baptized, we each become a new creation. So according to his theology, Onesimus is just as much a free person as Philemon, and Philemon is just as much a slave as Onesimus. We’re all one. Perhaps one of the reasons we’re more comfortable in just following rules and regulations instead of making decisions based on Christian principles is that there’s much less personal dying in the rules and regulation. Someone else already made the decision for us.


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Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; I Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

If the majority of our biblical books weren’t self-critical they wouldn’t be in the Bible. One of the reasons people of faith saved these writings was because they helped them reflect on their own weaknesses. If we’re not willing to be analyzed, we probably shouldn’t read Scripture.

Yet, because our sacred authors didn’t have us in mind when they wrote, it’s easy to miss some of the self-critical aspects of their writings. This is especially true of today’s first reading.

As with all biblical writings we must know what was going on in the community when the writing was actually composed, not what was going on during the period the work describes. For instance, today we shouldn’t be asking about Egyptian calf gods during the 12th century BCE – the period of the Exodus. Serious students of Scripture want to know what was going on “calf-wise” in 8th century BCE Israel, where and when today’s Exodus passage was actually created.

Hosea, prophesying in Israel during that time, twice mentions problems with calves – 8:4-6, & 13:2 – demanding that Samaria “cast (their) calves away” and condemning men for “throwing kisses to calves.” Scholars tell us that Hosea’s calves are actually cherubim set up as symbols of Yahweh’s presence in various Jewish shrines and temples. A cherub is a mythological animal: head of a human, wings of an eagle and body of a bull – hence the derisive term “calf.” It was presumed gods got from point A to point B on their backs. And when they got there, they would sit enthroned astride them. So, for Jews, making and putting a cherub in a sacred place was an outward sign Yahweh was in that place. (Sort of like a sanctuary candle is a Catholic sign Jesus is present in the tabernacle.) The Ark of the Covenant even sported two cherubs. But, due to bad catechesis, many Jews eventually began to believe the cherub actually was Yahweh; they began to worship the statue, even blowing kisses to it.

Prophets, like Hosea, didn’t tolerate such practices. They blew off the argument that the cherubs originally came from the priests – Aaron in this case. The idolatrous “calves” had to go. They were drawing people from true faith. The original readers would have known this Exodus story was directed to what they were doing in 8th century Israel, not to what their ancestors had done 400 years before in the Sinai. They had created the golden calves in the shrines they frequented.

In a similar way, Luke’s original readers automatically knew the key person in Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable is the unforgiving older brother. Throughout Luke/Acts, Luke’s Jesus constantly conveys God’s mercy to individuals who have no legitimate claim to such mercy. In each of today’s three parables, Jesus’ God seems to have no problem with forgiving. We, not God, are the obstacles to that process. Rarely does anyone ever criticize us for “welcoming and eating with sinners.” Perhaps we other Christs need more forgiveness than the sinners in our midst.

The Pauline disciple who wrote I Timothy doesn’t hesitate to point out his mentor’s shortcomings: blasphemer, persecutor, arrogant. Fortunately, the Apostle reminds the readers, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” Who, hearing these words, would not immediately think of his or her own unworthiness to carry on Jesus’ ministry? Yet, each can testify, “I was mercifully treated.”

Of course, just as we critically applied Luke and I Timothy’s passages to ourselves, we can do likewise with the Exodus pericope. What golden calves have we as a church created through the centuries? Thankfully the risen Jesus, not the church will judge us at the pearly gates.


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Amos 8:47; I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

Contrary to popular Christian belief, the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures weren’t sent by Yahweh to predict the coming of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The late Raymond Brown always reminded his students and readers, “There are no Old Testament predictions of Jesus as we know Jesus.” Through the centuries we’ve given prophetic statements meanings which the original prophets never intended to convey. If prophets simply predicted an event which would only take place hundreds of years down the road, why did so many of them die with their sandals on?

It’s essential to see prophets as part of their day and age, not our day and age. They’re the conscience of the people, reminding them of how God wants them to live their lives, constantly pointing out how they’re living counter to God’s plan. No one does this better than the first of the “book prophets:” Amos.

Active in 8th century BCE Israel, Amos does what all prophets do: he goes to the “good folk,” showing how they’re practicing a faith which isn’t Yahweh’s faith. It’s historically easy to practice a religion which at times actually leads people away from God’s plan. If the prophet’s audiences aren’t at least outwardly committed to carrying out God’s will the prophet doesn’t have much of an argument when he or she proclaims God’s message.

That’s why Amos delivers the oracles in today’s first reading at the national shrine of Bethel: one of Israel’s most sacred sanctuaries. He’s addressing people who think they’re good Jews, individuals who among other things keep the religious regulations surrounding the new moon and the Sabbath. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be at Bethel. But he points out that once these holy times are over those who so faithfully frequent the national shrine “trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land.” They use false weights when they sell their grain, and are willing to accept bribes (“a pair of sandals”) in their dealings with the poor and lowly. They go so far as to even sell “the refuse of the wheat” to those whose severe hunger forces them to buy it.

It’s no accident that the Pauline disciple responsible for I Timothy longs for followers of Jesus “to lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” We share his wish that people “should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” All of us hope to live a peaceful existence. Yet the gospel Jesus teaches that because of the prophetic aspect of being other Christs, that isn’t always possible.

In today’s gospel pericope, Luke’s Jesus reminds us that carrying on his ministry doesn’t happen by accident. It usually takes a lot of planning. He conveys that reality by pointing out the obvious: people work at doing evil much harder than they work at doing good. The unjust steward is ingenious in making certain his master’s debtors “will welcome (him) into their homes” after he’s been fired. Jesus demands his followers deliberately spend their lives giving themselves over to God, not to evil.

I’ve frequently suggested that we stop examining our conscience before we go to sleep at night, and begin to examine it when we get up in the morning. With the day in front of us, we can more easily figure out at what point we can squeeze in a good action for a friend, do an unrequested favor for someone, or simply be a loving person in a particular situation. It makes more sense to plot and connive good than just to instinctively do good when it comes to mind. Such precise planning could really make us prophetic Christians “dangerous” people in the world.


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Amos 6:1a, 4-7; I Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

Many of us, as children in a fit of anger, once turned to our parents and yelled, “I hate you!” I trust none of us have lost any sleep over such an encounter. We all realize it’s one thing to say those words at the age of three, and another thing to say them at the age of thirty. The words are the same, but there are implications to saying them as a child that we simply don’t understand until we get older. That’s why most parents also don’t lose any sleep over their child’s angry outburst.

Yet some implications of our actions and words are harder to appreciate than others. The gospel Jesus is notoriously concerned with pointing out some specific implications that some of us never seem to notice no matter how old we are.

He follows in the footsteps of the classic Hebrew prophets, like Amos, the first of the “book prophets.” (Prophets like Elijah and Elisha preceded Amos by a century. But there’s no “book” of Elijah or Elisha.) Active in Israel during the 8th century BCE, Amos points out that even the “good folk” who frequent the national shrine at Bethel don’t give a darn about the collapse of the country around them. Though they’d never admit it, their actions are a sign of their lack of empathy for all but themselves. Complacent in their plush lifestyle, they don’t even notice the disconnect between themselves and the vast number of poor living around them.

Among other things, Amos accuses them of practicing something many of us take for granted today: “eating calves from the stall.” These animals aren’t fattened by grazing in the field, but are fed grain the poor could eat, just so their meat would eventually be a better grade than that produced by grass-fed animals.

We could not have a better gospel pericope today. It dovetails perfectly with our Amos passage. Just as the faithful at Bethel don’t notice the implications of their lifestyle, so Luke’s rich man never seems to notice Lazarus “lying at his door.” He’s consumed with the quality of his clothes and the items on his banquet menus. Stray dogs pay more attention to Lazarus than does the wealthy owner of the house.

Jesus, as a Pharisee who believes in an eternal life after this life, warns their roles will be reversed after death, when it’s too late to do anything to effect the after-life. According to his theology, such a belief can be based not just on his resurrection from the dead, but on a proper reading of the Hebrew Scriptures (Moses and the prophets). He’s convinced the way we live our lives right here and now has eternal implications.

No wonder the unknown author of I Timothy encourages us to “compete well for the faith.” Just as, on a natural level, we continue, with age, to better understand the effects of our words and actions, so our faith takes us beyond the present state of our knowledge and experiences, to surface the deeper implications of what we say and do; to find meaning in people, things, and situations which many around us never seem to notice. Faith really is a life-long “competition” with ourselves. We’re expected to see those people, things and situations with different eyes today than the eyes with which we saw them yesterday.

One of the greatest obstacles to our becoming other Christs is our complacency with the way things are, especially when others are being hurt by the way things are. I worry the risen Jesus might not give me a bye at the pearly gates just because “I didn’t notice.”


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Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; II Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

(originally published 2016)

According to most scholars of the Christian Scriptures, Luke is the first author to write presuming he and all the members of his community would die natural deaths before Jesus returned in the Parousia. What Jesus’ original disciples believed would be a short interval between his death/resurrection and his Second Coming, now by the mid-80s, second and third generation Christians were discovering it would comprise an entire lifetime. Though prior authors had trained their communities to be sprinters, Luke was in the business of training the members of his church to be long distance runners. There was now an unforeseen element of time present in carrying on the ministry of Jesus. People now were being asked to be other Christs for much longer than the historical Jesus had originally carried on his ministry.

More than six centuries before this particular Capernaum carpenter shuttered his shop and began his itinerant preaching ministry, the prophet Habakkuk also must deal with a divine delay: Yahweh’s rewards and punishments. Habakkuk wants to make certain God knows what’s happening. “How Long, O Yahweh? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” God’s simply not doing what the prophet presumed God would immediately do. Though Yahweh assures him he will not “disappoint,” that’s not very helpful to Habakkuk in the here and now.

Perhaps we have an advantage over Habakkuk and Luke’s community: our belief in evolution. When people of faith thought the world, as they knew it, came into existence just as they knew it, it must have been much more difficult to tolerate the time it took for God to carry out God’s promises. But since the days of Darwin and especially since the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, we’re more accustomed than our ancestors to things happening over a long period of time. This world and we humans didn’t pop up in the blink of an eye.

Teilhard was convinced it was the weakest – not the strongest – link in the evolutionary chain that eventually evolved. When push comes to shove, the strongest doesn’t have the ability to adapt. Like the ultra-strong dinosaurs who couldn’t adapt to a post-meteorite world, it simply ceases to exist. According to Teilhard, what makes us Christians the weakest link in the evolutionary chain is our determination to love those around us. Nothing weakens us more than to love another person. To survive we must adapt and change. In our case, the change and adaptation only happens by loving. Centuries of loving has eventually helped us eliminate slavery, give women the right to vote, and regard all people as our sisters and brothers, no matter their race. The only problem is that it took centuries to pull this off, to evolve to this point. It didn’t happen on Easter Sunday night.

The unknown author of II Timothy would no doubt agree that enduring such a long period of time before change happens is one of “the hardships we bear for the sake of the gospel.” Likewise, when Luke’s Jesus assures us we only need “faith the size of a mustard seed,” to uproot and replant trees, he mercifully doesn’t tell us how long that process will take. We’re simply his servants, people who are trying to implement his 2,000 year old vision for this world, people constantly amazed at the evolving world we’re creating, the “unprofitable servants” who are simply doing what we’re “obliged to do.” It’s just taking a little bit longer to experience the results of our loving than many of us had originally planned.


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II Kings 5:14-17; II Timothy 2:8-12; Luke 17:11-19

Today’s II Kings reading is one of Scripture’s most significant passages. It not only shows us how Jewish faith changed through the centuries, it also challenges us to live up to the unchanging ideals of that faith. Three points.

First, this particular sacred author - along with all other biblical authors - insists Yahweh’s actions are never limited to just one group of individuals, even if they’re God’s Chosen People. Naaman is a Gentile, a Syrian army officer, a frequent enemy of the Jews. He only comes to Elisha seeking a cure of his leprosy because his Jewish slave girl told him about the healing powers of this 9th century BCE prophet and encouraged him to make the politically delicate trip. Nine hundred years later, Jesus would get into trouble with some in his Nazareth synagogue audience when he reminded them that Yahweh ignored many Jewish lepers to take care of this non-Jew.

Second, though it flies in the face of our Catholic tradition of clergy receiving stipends and stole fees, the II Kings author is adamant about Elisha’s refusal to accept any sort of gift from Naaman. “As Yahweh lives whom I serve,” the prophet insists, “I will not take it.” The reason is simple and irrefutable: if we’re rewarded for channeling God’s actions, it would appear they’re our actions and not God’s. I don’t remember that law ever being changed in Scripture.

Third, there’s a theology in the Naaman story that we’ve gone beyond: the belief that Yahweh’s a territorial God. He/she is obligated only to take care of people who reside in Canaan. Take one step across the border and you’re in the domain of another god or goddess. That’s why Naaman asks to take “two mule-loads of earth” back with him to Damascus. We presume he’s going to spread that dirt over his property, creating an extra-territorial piece of Canaan, obligating Yahweh to take care of anyone who lives (and worships) on that soil. He says as much: “I will no longer offer holocaust or sacrifice to any other god except to Yahweh.” The sixth century BCE Babylonian Exile would put an end to that restrictive theology. Jews forced to live hundreds of miles from the Promised Land eventually began to experience Yahweh’s presence and power in a country that technically “belonged” to other gods. No longer was Yahweh limited to just one piece of geography.

Luke’s Jesus mirrors some of the Naaman/Elisha story. Though the leprous Samaritan isn’t a Gentile, he’s regarded as being outside “acceptable Judaism.” His heresy excludes him under pain of death from even going into the sacred confines of the Jerusalem temple. Obviously the God whom Jesus channels and has become can work beyond the restrictions with which people limit him/her. Not only that, but the heretic alone returns to thank Jesus for the cure. The other nine orthodox recipients of God’s favor seem to have forgotten their manners.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the unknown author of II Timothy zeroes in on our obligation to die with Jesus. He’s convinced that only those who have died with him will live with him. It doesn’t make any difference who we are or where we are, the one essential, never changing aspect of our faith is a willingness to die with Jesus by giving ourselves to others. No future theology will ever contradict that. No matter who we are or where we are, we’re expected to always pull that off. What an insight!

Yet, I suspect you, like me, rarely thank the historical Jesus for sharing that insight with us. We just take it for granted and walk away from the person who died for us.


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



Exodus 17:8-13; II Timothy 3:14-4:2; Luke 18:1-8

We have to be careful how we interpret today’s Exodus reading. One of my Catholic grade school teachers once encouraged us to pray with upraised hands, like Moses, if we wanted to make certain God would hear our prayers and grant our requests.

I’m afraid that teacher never heard of ancient “fertility cults.” The biblical prophets certainly did; they constantly warned their people against employing such religious practices. One of my Scripture profs once defined fertility cults as simple answers to complicated questions, comparing them to modern TV commercials. Having trouble getting a date? Just change your toothpaste! Is your life boring? You’re probably driving the wrong car!

The goal of fertility cults is simple: if you use special words or employ special actions the proper amount to times, you can tie God’s hands behind God’s back. He’s forced to give you whatever you ask, even if he doesn’t want to. God has no choice. It’s akin to holding a piece of kryptonite in front of Superman.

That’s why biblical Jews were forbidden to do anything that even smacked of fertility cults: to plow a field with a donkey and ox yoked together, wear garments made from two different kinds of material, or even boil a kid goat to death in its mother’s milk. The prophets were convinced that no one should engage in any rituals which attempted to control Yahweh’s actions in their lives. The Chosen People were expected to relate to their God, not control God.

Though Scripture scholars can’t agree on the meaning of Moses’ raised hands in our first reading, they’re certain his gestures have nothing to do with controlling Yahweh’s actions during the battle.

Luke’s Jesus enters the fertility cult fray by insisting that those who have a proper relationship with God shouldn’t have to worry about using gimmicks to have their prayers answered. God isn’t a judge who will cave in under pressure. On the contrary, God is always interested in “securing the rights of his/her chosen ones.” The question doesn’t revolve around God’s response to our prayers. It’s about the frame of mind with which we say those prayers. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Serious students of Scripture couldn’t agree more with the emphasis put on the importance of Scripture in today’s II Timothy pericope. The unknown author is certain “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Of course, the author is referring only to the Hebrew Scriptures. (The Christian Scriptures wouldn’t be regarded as “inspired” for another 150 years!) And she/he is certainly not thinking about using those writings just as a source of “proof texts.” The sacred writer obviously wants us to imitate the faith of those who composed them. Their faith is the word we should be “proclaiming, whether convenient or inconvenient.”

I’ve discovered after almost 50 years of teaching Scripture that such a proclamation is often “inconvenient” in a church which has traditionally emphasized its own fertility cults. As a child, I used to worry about my non-Catholic cousins’ eternal salvation. They knew nothing about receiving communion on nine straight First Fridays, making novenas to the Blessed Virgin, or the requirements for gaining plenary indulgences.

My mother once received a prayer card from a well-meaning friend. The novena to St. Joseph which it touted came with a warning: “You had better want what you’re praying for to St. Joseph. You’re going to receive it whether you want it or not.”

We Catholics obviously are notorious for cornering the kryptonite market.


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



Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; II Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Last week’s readings zeroed in on the relationship expected of all people of faith with God. A life based on faith demands we relate with God, not try to control him/her. Today’s gospel passage outlines the first step in building and maintaining such a relationship: honesty.

No two people could be further apart on a 1st century CE Palestinian religious scale than a Pharisee and a tax collector. The former was akin to a “super-Jew,” spending his life studying, teaching and keeping the 613 Laws of Moses. Everything he did revolved around those Sinai regulations. Scanning his temple competition, he could logically say, “I’m not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.”

The latter, on the other hand, really didn’t give much thought to those Mosaic precepts. As a collector of taxes, he centered his life on a different value system. He would have daily done things forbidden to main stream Jews. The money he so faithfully amassed went not to his fellow Jews, but to his country’s enemies: the Romans. A traitor to his people, he helped keep their oppressors in power. And he usually acquired those taxes by “immoral” means: extortion, blackmail and strong arm tactics. He not only was hated by everyone, but because of his profession, he constantly was at odds with the very regulations the Pharisee esteemed. Though tax collectors weren’t forbidden under pain of death, like Samaritans, to enter the temple precincts, his presence in that sacred space would have surprised other worshipers. “What’s someone like that doing in a place like this? There goes the neighborhood!”

Yet Jesus praises this religious scoundrel at the same time he brushes aside the religious perfectionist. Out of the two, the tax collector alone leaves “justified:” doing what Yahweh wants him to do, simply being honest about himself. His only prayer is, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Unlike the Pharisee he doesn’t compare himself with anyone else. He just zeros in on his own moral condition.

If all valid relationships revolve around giving ourselves to others, they can only work when we begin the process by being honest about who it is who’s actually doing the giving. Yet we “fake it” so often during our encounters with others, that we also fall into that same trap when we’re really trying to build relationships with significant others. Luke’s Jesus reminds us that faking it with God in a no-no. God simply expects us to tell him/her who we really are. That’s a given.

Sirach, in our first reading, encourages us not to worry: God treats everyone with total impartiality. Yahweh is a God of justice: a God of relationships. He/she gives everyone an even break. If our relationship isn’t working, it can only be because we’re holding back from giving our true selves to God, often because of something embarrassing in that true self.

The unknown author of II Timothy has no problem conveying his insights into Paul’s personality, even when they suggest some of the Apostle’s weaknesses. Though he’s writing about a larger than life figure, he doesn’t hesitate to get down to the nitty gritty. Paul certainly wasn’t the kind of individual who appealed to everyone. “At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me.” Some of us would also pause before stepping forward to defend such a radical person of faith. Paul wasn’t perfect.

Perhaps that’s why he, like us, constantly falls back on his relationship with the risen Jesus: the one person who presumes we’re not perfect, and is grateful whenever we admit it.


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



Wisdom 11:22-12:2; II Thessalonians 1:11-2:2; Luke 19:1-10

On one hand, our sacred authors presume their readers are committed to seeing things other people overlook. But on the other hand, if they actually did see those things, there’d be no need for our authors to write. It’s precisely because people of God don’t always live up to their commitments that we have our Scriptures. In some sense, our biblical authors are in the “reminding” business, making certain we don’t forget the essentials of our faith.

Today’s Wisdom author has no problem assuming this role. Though he or she seems to be one of the first sacred authors to believe in an afterlife the writer also deals with the problem of evil in the world right here and now, especially when that evil is personified in certain individuals. The author’s first principle is that Yahweh created the world in which we live, a world in which evil is always mixed with good. That’s why Yahweh constantly shows mercy to the creation Yahweh brought into existence. But even more important, Yahweh’s “imperishable spirit is in all things!” No matter if there’s evil in us, Yahweh’s undying spirit is also in us, a spirit which will continue to exist even beyond our earthly existence. Long before we meet God face to face, people of faith are committed to noticing God right here and now in all God’s creation. If we acknowledge that presence, we always have an opportunity to “abandon” the evil which at times permeates us.

The disciple of Paul responsible for writing II Thessalonians zeros in on that same commitment. Yet he goes beyond just recognizing God’s spirit in creation. He also recognizes the risen Jesus in those around him. His goal is to make certain “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him.”

Yet, we live in a world in which we experience a lot of distractions, impeding us from surfacing the risen Jesus in our daily lives. This particular writer especially has to deal with the community’s preoccupation with Jesus’ Parousia. Many are so anxious for his Second Coming that they fail to notice how, in his risen presence, he’s already come into the lives of each of them.

But of course, the greatest obstacle always revolves around the actual people in whom God and the risen Jesus is present. Luke deals with this problem in today’s gospel pericope. As we saw two weeks ago, tax collectors were probably the most despised and evil people in the historical Jesus’ lifetime. Though it’s not too hard to commit ourselves to experiencing God’s presence in all people in the abstract, it’s another thing to actually pick out one specific individual and surface God in him or her, especially if that person is a thief and a traitor to the country you love. Zacchaeus perfectly fits that category.

It’s important to note that Jericho is the last stop before Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, the last stop on a journey that began more than 10 chapters ago. All along the Jerusalem road, Luke’s been emphasizing Jesus’ teachings and personality for those who are on the same road to dying and rising with him. After all those miles, can we find God in someone like Zacchaeus? Perhaps in narrating this encounter Luke is telling us the best way to surface God in others is to help them surface God in themselves, especially by showing our honest concern for them, no matter what other people think or say.

If we think the “lost” are going to be saved by God without our participation, then we’re refusing to notice God’s presence in ourselves.


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
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2020 Essays
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2018 Essays

December 25 & 30, 2018
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2017 Essays

December 31, 2017, & January 7, 2018
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2016 Essays

December 25, 2016, & January 1, 2017
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November 27 & December 4, 2016
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January 31 and February 7, 2016
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2015 Essays
December 25 and 27, 2015
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2014 Essays
December 25 & 28, 2014
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November 30 & December 7, 2014
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November 2 and 9, 2014
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2013 Essays
December 25 & 29, 2013
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December 30, 2012, and January 6, 2013

2012 Essays
December 23 & 25, 2012
December 9 & 16, 2012
November 25 and December 2, 2012
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October 28 and November 4, 2012
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March 25 and April 1, 2012
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2011 Essays
December 18 and December 25, 2011
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September 25 and October 2, 2011
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April 24, 2011
April 3, 2011
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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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