Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breaking the Bubble...

A lot has been said recently about how people tend to live in their own "bubble" of influence. That is to say, they build themselves into a sort of "cocoon of comfort" around their own ideologies, their own accepted reality or "truths" that can be very hard to penetrate.

One of the most frustrating "truths" for me is this seemingly common understanding that science and religious faith can't mix. It can only be one or the other. I have two problems with this. First is that this idea completely ignores the idea that there is any intellectualism within religious faith. We Catholics have this in abundance! Second is this idea assumes that God can't be at work when it comes to scientific endeavors. Here again, we Catholics know that God can be seen in his creation regardless of how that creation is studied, be it the mechanics of the building blocks of life or the discover of new possibly habitable planets.

Now by way of full disclosure, I lived my elementary and high school life in Catholic schools. That's my "bubble of influence." But as anyone with similar experience knows, the study of the sciences and the scientific method is alive, well, and thriving in our Catholic schools. Least there be any doubt about this, I'm reminded of what my sophomore Biology teacher, who among other things was a Capuchin Franciscan priest, told us the first day of class: "That the theory of evolution does not contradict anything about our faith. Science and religion can live together. In fact, science can show us how God built his creation, allowing us to grow closer to him." Or something to that affect... it was 40 years ago for me... so while the quote might not be exact, the sentiment surely is.

Need more proof? The article referenced here ( is a great interview with Vatican Astronomer Br. Guy Consolmagno where they discuss the intersection of faith and science. Here again, the Church has had a very fruitful relationship with science, yet all anyone can remember is how the pope put Galileo under house arrest (forgetting for the moment that this was politically motivated; a battle between a particular pope and a particularly egotistical scientist, and not some epic battle between the Church and science). Read the article for some enlightenment.

And that takes me back to "bubbles" of influence. The best way to crack these bubbles is through education and experience... and that includes education and experience outside of our normal personal cocoons of comfort.

When I first started college in 1980, a great state university (and a real culture shock from my small Catholic high school), we were taught that the definition of "university" was an "open forum for ideas." Any ideas. And all these ideas got subjected to the same credible academic rigor in order to help us inform our own minds so we could come to our own reasoned conclusions. And there were no ideas or "beliefs" that were immune to this scrutiny. There should be no ideas or beliefs that are immune to this scrutiny. And if there's anything I learned from 12 years of formal Catholic education, is that our Catholic tradition has a solid intellectual footing to withstand this level scrutiny without undermining those elements that require faith in God.

During and after college I also took advantage of opportunities to travel, both around the US and outside the US. Here again, by becoming exposed to different people and cultures, by hearing their perspectives from their points of view, I could see my own "bubble" starting to crack in some unexpected and enlightening ways. Like almost all Americans, my ancestors took a leap of faith and immigrated to the US to build a better life. People having the courage to leave their cocoons of comfort (or at least, familiarity) to step into the unknown and unexpected. Daring to break the bubble in the hopes of a better life for them and their children.

When I was growing up, I was taught that the bubble needs to be broken. That we need to expose ourselves to new things, new ideas. Only then can we know who we are. We also learned that even by breaking that bubble, we still had two things we could fall back on... our family and our faith.

Today, however, I am concerned. There are those who feel that the bubble is sacred. That the bubble shouldn't be broken. That they have the right to live in that bubble. And the bubble should be insulated and reinforced so nothing can get in. And worse, they believe that everything else should conform to their bubble. And those things that don't fit in their bubble are by their very nature something to be feared or destroyed. I have a problem with this. This is not our faith. This is not Christ.

Jesus did not teach us to hide in a bubble. Jesus taught us to reach out to others. Jesus taught us that we had a duty to those in need. He taught us that he did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. That same Mosaic Law that specifically called for caring of widows, orphans, and foreigners... the outcast, those who are in need, to become their benefactors to bring them into community. Jesus didn't eat with just the Pharisees, he also ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and those reviled by polite society. He wanted to heal them and bring them into the kingdom. We are called to break the bubble, and in doing so, find the Lord.
After all, cocoons are meant to be broken, for only then can the beauty within be revealed.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

8th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Our readings this week remind us of God’s ever-caring, ever-loving nature.  But sometimes we spend so much time worrying about our own lives and the future, we don’t take the time to “stop and smell the roses.”  We focus so much attention focusing on our physical and fiscal needs that we end up ignoring our spiritual needs and those other parts of our lives that, in the end, are more important.

Isaiah 49:14-15
Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Our first reading is a very short passage from Isaiah.  Here the prophet (2nd Isaiah, or Deutero-Isaiah) tells about how God could never abandon us.  Here Isaiah, in one of his most poetic visuals, equates God’s love with that of a of a mother and her infant.  We can’t possibly think of a caring mother forgetting about the child she carried, but, Isaiah states, even if she were, God could not.  Isaiah’s intent is to remind Israel, currently in Exile in Babylon, that like a loving mother, God has not forsaken them.  Our Psalm complements this passage by reminding us that we should, “Rest in God alone, my soul.”  That our salvation still lies in the caring embrace of the Lord.

As an interesting sidebar to our first reading, I should also note how Isaiah had no problem using a feminine image, that of a mother and child, to explain the Lord’s love for his people.  In fact, Hebrew Scripture has many similar examples.  It should serve as a reminder that while our Christian tradition has embraced an image of God as “father,” we should also remember that God’s nature is so far beyond our own that we should be cautious when it comes to assigning gender to the Almighty.

Our Gospel from Matthew, continuing our study of the Sermon on the Mount, complements our first reading by reminding us we shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about taking care of ourselves, but instead know that God will take care of us… that is, those that serve him.  Jesus uses very poetic terms, to make his point, but that point also comes with a warning:  that we cannot serve two masters:  God and “mammon” (mammon being an Aramaic word meaning wealth or property).  Jesus is trying to give us practical advice here… that our efforts are misspent if we focus too much on the things of this world and of our own troubles.  That we should instead be focused on reaching out to others, and in turn God will make sure we are cared for.

It is also important to note that Matthew continues to employ the use of hyperbole in this passage in order to make his point and get to the truth.  While it is surely prudent to make provisions for our physical needs, both now and for the future, neither should we allow ourselves to be consumed by this.  Even the squirrels store nuts for the winter.  But here Jesus is trying to show us a simpler, more fulfilling way of living.  I like to think of this as his call to frugality… that perhaps a leaner lifestyle will help us better focus on what’s really important.

Our second reading concludes our stud of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Here we are reminded that we are called to be servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  This should be our primary concern.  Further, Paul advises that no one is in a position to judge.  Not him, not anyone in the Corinthian community, only God can judge, at the appointed time.  He reminds us that God knows our hearts, and it is the motivation of our hearts on which we will be judged.

Final Thoughts:
This Sunday marks the last Sunday before entering the Season of Lent.  Throughout this entire Winter stretch of Ordinary time we’ve been listening to some of the most profound teachings Jesus provides from his Sermon on the Mount.  In a way, it serves as the perfect launch pad for Lent.  Lent, after all, is a season of penitent reflection.  Our 40 days in the desert to consider how well we’re living up to our call to follow Christ.  Our readings, this week and for the past several weeks have taught us what’s important:  Blessed are the poor.  Love your neighbor.  You cannot serve both God and mammon.  These are some of the most profound teachings, and we’ve spent time digging into what they mean.  But now with Lent just around the corner, it’s a good time to reflect back on these teachings and ask ourselves how well we’ve lived up to these ideals.

We are all too familiar with the tradition of “giving something up” for Lent.  But in our readings for this Sunday before Lent, we are reminded that we shouldn’t focus on the mammon of our lives, but instead honestly assess how we are living up to what Christ taught us.  Instead of looking for something to give up for Lent, I suggest looking for something you can ADD during Lent.  Maybe spending extra time in prayer.  Maybe attending daily Mass.  Maybe taking opportunities to reach out to the poor and those in need.  Maybe it’s taking time to clean out your closet or garage.  Lent is a time to assess our own worthiness to enter the Kingdom.  Our readings these past weeks have given us a roadmap…now it’s time to plan how we intend to get there.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An "Obligation" or a "Community"?

For those of you who are not aware, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been focusing on improving their "on-line" presence and communication.  It began with the re-branding of our old weekly newspaper, the Tidings, into the new Angelus news magazine.   Included in this media blitz is the Monday-Friday daily email from the Angelus team that not only highlights the saint of the day and other Angelus news items, but they highlight interesting articles of interest from other publications (usually from other Catholic media, but not exclusively).

Today's Angelus email highlighted an article from the Catholic Herold, a Catholic publication from the UK:

This article from Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith makes some very valuable observations between Catholic parishes and other Christian parishes.  In it he notes that we Catholics have a tendency to view Church through the prism of "obligation" rather than "community." An "obligation" is something you're told you have to do. Joining a "community" is something you do because you want to.

I've been a Catholic all my life. I was raised in the faith and educated through Catholic schools.  Even after all that indoctrination, as an adult, I made the conscious decision to embrace my faith.  I became active in my own parish, and with the larger young adult community at that time.  Whether going to Mass with friends or seeking out opportunities to go to Mass while traveling, I have been to quite a number of parishes for Mass.  While Fr. Luce-Smith's article may make it seem like all Catholic parishes are in dire straights, I can say confidently that I have been to many parishes that do have a genuine sense of "community."  Even so, I'm forced to admit that even among those parishes with a a strong and vibrant community, there are still those parishioners who see their faith as an obligation rather than a gift that should be freely accepted.  The go to church because they think, they believe, they have to... not because they want to.

So while I don't think the sense of community is entirely missing from Catholic life, I do have to admit that Fr. Lucie-Smith has some very valid points, and that I too have been to a few parishes where all sense of "community" has been left to die on the vine.

But what is causing this?  Fr. Lucie-Smith notes that this lack of community starts at the top with our pastors.  He makes a good point about how our parish priests have an every growing amount of responsibility put on them... responsibilities that were not part of their calling to the priesthood and pastoral life. And yes, with fewer priests, the responsibilities on those that we have only increased.  I have to concede his point has some validity.  After all, we the members of a parish, take our queues from our pastors.  I've noticed that a very active and vibrant parish typically has an active and vibrant shepherd giving direction.  These are active living communities.  Similarly, unfortunately, I've seen parishes that look as tired as their pastors, hanging on only through a sense of obligation instead of a sense of life from the Holy Spirit.  These are extremes, of course, but there are many parishes that fit somewhere in-between.

So how do we fix this?  The clarion cry for these past 20 years has been a call for "more vocations."  It's a valid call.  We do need more vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and we do need people to see a vocation like this as a viable life choice.  But while I cannot deny that this isn't needed or desired, I don't think it's the "silver bullet" so many think it will be.  We could double vocations and we still won't resolve a lot of the root issues plaguing the institutional church and parish life in our modern age.  We owe it to both her priests and her laity to look more deeply into these issues so as to re-invigorate community into parish life.

Now least I be called a rebel on the side of liberalism and modernity, I need to point out that any considerations for any issues we face must also include a careful and honest study of the past.  Only by knowing where we've been can we determine where best to go.

And here is one truth we cannot escape:  that in times past, and still in some countries today, the seminary or the convent was a "way out" of their current situation.  One cannot deny that a vocation in the Church can provide opportunities for those living in poverty or oppression in the undeveloped nations of the world... opportunities that would not be available outside the Church.  Without giving any disrespect to these servants and their vocations, we also have to admit that one of the reasons vocations are down in the developed countries of the world is because people have so many more options for meeting both their physical means and their  educational and personal aspirations.  If you were growing up in the poverty and famine of Ireland 150 years ago, it's easy to see how one might more easily act on a calling from God if it meant a better life.  Mind you, I'm not commenting on the sincerity of their vocation, I'm just recognizing that certain life circumstances can make it easier to hear that calling.

Now with fewer priests and religious, the same amount of work needs to be done by fewer hands.  Not only that, the day-to-day business of running a parish has gotten much more complicated.  Running today's parish is like running a small business, dealing with an array of civil regulations and obligations unimagined in years past.  Back in the day, when rectories and convents were full, it was easy to fill certain jobs with those individuals who had particular knowledge and skills.  One would take care of the finances while one would take care of the personnel while one would take care of the community's Sacramental needs.  Today, this all falls on one pastor, sometimes spread between more than one parish.  The job they signed up for, the job they trained for, to be a priest for God and his community, has a much different reality.

Not only has the nature of vocations changed, but the medieval model that has been governing the Church is woefully insufficient to her needs.  The world has left behind these ancient forms of governance in recognition of the education, skills, and resources found in her citizens.  While recognition of the role of the laity has been greatly advanced since the Second Vatican Council, it still falls short of its potential.  Part of building a community is allowing the community explore and use their gifts in service to the greater community.  To make them feel a part of something larger than themselves.  To give them the chance to contribute, learn and grow.  To be "invited" rather than to feel "obligated."  To give them the chance to do the work that needs to be done.  To be of service, rather than being served by their priests and ministers.

There are a lot of issues here, and a lot of points of view and perspectives to be looked at.  I only point out a few.  Our way out of this current community and vocations crisis isn't going to be solved by prayers for more vocations.  Prayers also need a call to action.  The Second Vatican Council was not an accident nor was it an extraordinary moment for the Church.  It was an example of how we come together to get things done.  A problem or issue arises and the Church calls for a Council.  How does that happen?  We start talking.  To our deacons, our priests and our pastors.  To our bishops and local bishops councils.  It happens with local Synods.  It happens with theologians and historians and experts, not all of whom might be ordained, researching and writing and speaking.  It even starts with perhaps a few rambling thoughts from blogs like this.  I've said it before and I'll continue saying it... there's a lot of issues around ordination, priestly and religious service, and church governance that need to be looked at... not only to help resolve the problems we've seen in recent years, but to rebuild the foundation for the future.  It's time for another Council.

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

As Christians know we are “called to be holy.”  We hear this phrase often, and yet few Catholics can say where it came or can explain what it really means.  Our readings this week give us some answers…

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

Our first reading comes from the book of Leviticus… the second retelling of the Moses story only this time through prism of priestly (Levite) Law.  In this rather short passage, we are given two powerful commands.  First, God commands us to be holy.  But what does he mean?  While the intervening passages (verses 2-16) provide some clarity, the real understanding comes from the second commandment in the passage, “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Period.  Before we can even utter an inquisitive “why” God says, “I am the Lord.”  the scriptural equivalent of “because I said so” from a parent to a child.  But before we get too concerned over this command and our ability to follow it, our Psalm reminds us that “the Lord is kind and merciful.”  Our Lord is also one of compassion.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Christians know this as part of Jesus’ Great Commandment… the “Golden Rule.”  But as we’ve been hearing in recent weeks from the Gospel of Matthew, much of what Jesus is teaching isn’t new.  In fact, it’s quite ancient as we see by our passage from Leviticus.  This week is now different as our Gospel passage continues where we left off with the Sermon on the Mount.  Just as with last week’s passage, Jesus makes use of some common rhetorical oratory.  He starts with “you have heard it said…” and then tells us that we need to take it to the next level, to go beyond what we’ve been traditionally taught.  Don’t do the bare minimum, go beyond.  He teaches us to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  A tall order indeed, but remember our Psalm, “the Lord is kind and merciful.”  We need to at least try.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul continues to address the problems that have developed around the different cults of personality (Paul, Apollos, Cephas).  Paul has been telling us that we should have only one focus, which is Christ.  Bringing his argument full circle, this week’s passage has Paul teaching us that we are temples of God… that God dwells within us all, and that is what makes us all holy.  Further, it is through that holiness that we belong to each other, who in turn belongs to Christ, who belongs to God.  It’s an endless loop of connection that goes beyond the wisdom of the any age. 

Final Thoughts:
What does it mean to be holy?  When I pose this question to most people, they tend to think of people like priests or nuns or saints.  They think of people living a sort of monastic existence dedicating their lives to God or prayer.  Still others think of people who devoutly follow some form of religious practice without deviation from established orthodoxy.  While these perceptions are not entirely wrong, they're not entirely right either. So what then is holiness?  Our Gospel this week told us... 

Jesus tells us that we must go beyond what we have been taught with regard to following the established Law. He uses concrete examples. He says, "you have heard it said, an eye for an eye..." and then tell us we must turn the other cheek. He says, "you have heard it said you must love your neighbors..." and then tells us we must love our enemies. For Jesus, being holy isn't just following the letter of the law, it's following the spirit of the law to extremes. Holiness isn't passive... it's active. Holiness isn't just finding a quiet place to pray every day, but putting those prayers into action... every day. A call to holiness isn't just practicing one's faith, it's living one's faith.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Right is right, and wrong is wrong.  Is the world really that black and white?  While some might argue that it’s just that simple, our Catholic tradition recognizes that it’s not.  The extremes of darkness and light are easy to see, but much of our everyday life lives operate somewhere in-between.  The time we spend studying scripture and Church tradition are not so much to point out the obvious light and dark, but in learning how to, as I often say, “navigate the gray”.  Or put another way, finding the right balance between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.  On the surface, our Gospel this week takes a fairly strong, even harsh line with regard to the Law, but to view this passage literally is to miss the deeper meaning that Jesus is trying to teach…

Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37 or Matthew 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Our first reading comes from the book of Sirach, named for the sage who lived around 200 BCE.  Ben Sira had a love of the Law and often wrote of relationships between one another and with God.  Originally written in Hebrew, it was translated into Greek around 132 BCE, and it is the Greek translation that survived, and consequently caused it to be left out of the Hebrew cannon, but is often used in the Roman Liturgy.  This week’s passage is a poetic and poignant take on human free will.  God, the wise creator, gives us a choice… water or fire, life or death.  How shall we choose?  The answer should be obvious when the author speaks of God’s immense wisdom (considered a prized possession in ancient Hebrew and later Greek society), but the choice remains ours.  Choosing to follow the Law, as emphasized in our Psalm (“Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord”), shows us the wise path and sets us up for our Gospel.

Moving directly to our Gospel from Matthew, this week’s passage comes in both an edited version and a longer version.  In most cases, the longer version of a Sunday reading provides helpful context that leads to greater clarity, but I would argue that the longer version of this week’s gospel can also muddy the waters a bit… but let’s unpack it:

Our setting is exactly where we left off last week, with Jesus giving added instructions to his disciples.  Continuing with our theme of free will (as setup by Sirach) Jesus asks us to use that free will to do what is right.  To help us (and Matthew’s Jewish audience) he uses examples of the Law, and takes it one step further.  This is another of Matthew’s rhetorical devices… using the Law (which his audience already knows), and taking it to the next level. 

At the time of Jesus there were many followers of many other “messiahs” that felt that the old Law was antiquated and needed to be tossed out… but for Jesus, this was not the case.  For Jesus (and the Church), not only was the old Law still valid, but he expected a much stronger commitment to it.  Matthew isn’t saying so much that we should literally do what Jesus is saying here (because in the longer text, much of this sounds quite harsh), but instead we should be focusing on the depth of our commitment.  We should remind ourselves that for Jesus, the new Law (love God and love your neighbor) is an extension of the old Law… a clarification that makes it easier to understand.  We need to also recognize that from the mouth of Matthew all these points made by Jesus now open themselves up for debate in the greatest of Hebrew traditions.  In writing these teachings down Matthew invites us to question what Jesus is saying in order to find the underlying truth in the same way the Talmud or the Midrash would do for Jewish Rabbis centuries later.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians.  Continuing from where we left off last week, Paul tells us that we don’t speak using the “wisdom of the age” (that is, of his age whre contemporary Greek philosophy was all the rage), but rather with the wisdom of God as revealed by the Spirit.  Just as Jesus doesn’t want to toss away the old Law, Paul is telling us that we shouldn’t toss out the wisdom of previous ages.  The Spirit reveals this to us.

Final Thoughts:
When something doesn’t seem to be working, our human nature has a tendency to “toss the baby out with the bathwater.”  That is, just throw out what we have now because it doesn’t seem to be working and replace it with something new.  Something different.  We think that replacing whatever it is with something new will be the answer.  It will make things right.

The trouble with this philosophy is that it’s short sighted and uninformed.  It tends to ignore the wisdom of the past in favor of the wisdom of the present (whether actual or only perceived).  The wisdom of the past is too quickly indicted and dismissed while the current wisdom is allowed to take hold without adequate vetting and examination.

Our readings teach us God’s wisdom gave us the Law (the Law of Moses, the Torah, the Ten Commandments).  God’s wisdom is immense and leads us on the path to love and redemption.  Jesus, when faced with rivals and alternative points of view, pauses, and forces us to re-examine what the Law was trying to teach us.  Per Jesus’ own words, he did not come to “abolish the Law,” but to “fulfill” it.  When the world around him is demanding change, Jesus doubles-down on what all the great prophets have been teaching us all along.  By loving God, and by loving one another, we gain wisdom and salvation.  Jesus’ point is that it’s not the Law that’s the problem… it’s how well we’re following it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

We  Catholics sometimes have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be.  Take for instance our use of certain words, like catechesis or liturgy to describe certain regular activities of Catholic life (to teach and to pray).  Their meaning gets lost because they’re just not part of everyday life.  Take for example the phrase Social Justice.  Within Catholic leadership circles this has certain meaning for a wide array of Church activity, but if you were to ask the rest of us what “Catholic social justice” means, you might be hard pressed to explain.  Perhaps this Sunday’s readings can help…

Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

Our first reading comes from later Isaiah, where we are reminded of what it is that God really wants to see of his people.  Not festivals, but works of mercy.  This passage comes from a period after the Exile… the people are back in the land… but a land not like what was there before.  The Israelites are practicing their ceremonies, but God does not respond.  Why?  Because God has grown weary of sacrifices and festivals.  He wants to see some action… to spread some of that love around to those who really need it.  God instead wants them to look around, and as in the old Mosaic tradition, reach out and help those in need.  Our Psalm reflects this desire of God from us as we sing, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.”  If we respond to people’s needs with mercy and justice, then we are like a light in the darkness, making us exalted in the eyes of the Lord.

Our Gospel from Matthew echoes this sentiment.  After Jesus speaks of the Beatitudes to the large crowd gathered around him on the mountain, (from last week’s Gospel), Jesus then turns back to his Disciples to charge them with the call to be the Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World.  Jesus has just explained to the crowd what is needed, and now he expects his most trusted disciples to carry out this message (justice for the poor) by their actions.  To become that light to the world.

Jesus gave us two simple rules to remember… Love God.  Love your neighbor.  and then he makes it even simpler… how do you love God… by loving your neighbor.  And when it comes to defining who your neighbor is, Jesus and the other prophets have been quite clear… not just a select few, but everyone, especially those in need.  As Jesus himself showed by his example, to be of service to one another.  Sacrifice is the language of love… giving of oneself for the benefit of others.  In its simplest form, this is what we mean when we speak of Catholic Social Justice.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Continuing from where we left off last week, Paul wants to refocus the community’s attention back to Christ.  Using himself as an example, he states that he knows nothing except Christ.  In other words, using the logic of a more cast-driven society, “beware of having ideas above one’s station.”  Remember, there are divisions among the Corinthians that he is trying to heal… divisions driven by cults of personality.  Here his message is that we should not let our faith rest on human wisdom, but on the power of the Spirit, as demonstrated by Christ’s resurrection.

Final Thoughts:

Practicing social justice isn’t hard.  It’s built into our guiding Christian ethic.  Jesus gave us two simple rules to remember… Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Then he makes it even simpler… how do you love God?  By loving your neighbor.  And when it comes to defining who your neighbor is, Jesus and the other prophets have been quite clear… not just a select few, but everyone, especially those in need.  As Jesus himself showed by his example, by being of service to one another.  Sacrifice is the language of love… giving of oneself for the benefit of others.  In its simplest form, this is what we mean when we speak of Catholic Social Justice.