Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 30, 2018)

Today, the connection between the first reading and the Gospel jumps out at us. In the first reading, before the Jews entered the Promised Land, God directs Moses to choose seventy elders as helpers and bring them to the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Two, Eldad and Medad, had been chosen, but were absent for the tent blessing, yet they still received the gift of prophecy and Moses approved them. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, expresses the same sentiment, as Jesus’ disciples will later: resentment.

Coincidently, that is the reason why the elders were sometimes numbered as seventy, sometimes as seventy-two and also why the same number of Jesus’ disciples is disputed.

In Jesus’ day, our Gospel passage begins with the issue of how authority is mediated in the Christian community. His disciples are resentful because another, not in the company of Jesus, also has the gift of healing. They are upset because that exorcist does not belong, is an outsider, a threat to their turf, their self-importance. Their issue shows their faulty attitude and sense of competitiveness. It raises the question: why are the disciples not delighted that more were cured, and that the exorcist exorcised in Jesus’ name; that is, through Jesus’ power? It was only shortly before that the disciples themselves were unable to cast out an evil spirit; now they are jealous of an “outsider” who can.

That raises a deeper question. We recognize the basic fight to survive in each of us. When drowning or other dire situation faces us, we fight for our lives – and rightly so. Recognizing the needs of others to physically survive triggers the gut-compassion that is the stuff of heroes. On the other hand, we also recognize a dangerous, competitive spirit that is also a knee-jerk reaction. Sadly, we are so defensive of our egos.

Our effort to attain the consciousness of Jesus impacts the competitive spirit that defends egos:

  • A basic value in Christianity is cooperation, not competition. Growth in love is associated with cooperation, not with competition. We need to recognize this.
  • Our loving relationship with God is the paramount value and trumps all other values; we need to live this reality.
  • We are called to improve ourselves in the physical, emotional, and intellectual realms. Competition enhances all three, but winning is not everything. Sportsmanship – a subset of love of neighbor – tempers competitive athletics. That is sanity.
Today, we hear Jesus scold the disciples for competitiveness and exclusiveness. The disciples see themselves as superior, an in-group. They seem to feel somehow cheated because an outsider can heal in Jesus’ name. Somehow we tend to be exclusive when Jesus calls us to be like himself, inclusive. We remember the words of John’s Gospel [17]. Jesus prayer for unity: “I pray father that all may be one. As you are in me and I in you …”

We all recognize and accept that no one of us is perfect. That is an understatement. We also need to accept the fact that each of us is innately unique and, yes, great. But not perfect. That realization is a wonderful, life-giving truth.

We all have graces and gifts from God. These are not to be hoarded and reveled in as personal possessions, but shared. When we appreciate that this is also true of everyone else, we have neither need nor desire to exclude anyone or to feel superior. It is a perversity within our hearts to be exclusive, to feel somehow superior. Smugness is not virtuous.

Our search, our quest is to become increasingly conscious of what gifts we have been given, what we will do with them, and who we are becoming. On the flip side, unhealthy and foolish envy at what we lack is both counter-productive and unchristian.

The place of competition is to help, not hurt us. Cooperation is an end; competition, only a means. Appreciation of a diminished role of competition is certainly a hard-won victory in my personal evolution. It is surely not what the world taught us years ago.

Let us not forget the principle Jesus lays down for us in today’s Gospel: “He who is not against you is for you.” Our Gospel diminishes the number of those “against” us.

The cooperative life is good!

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2018)

The Book of Wisdom is the last book written in the Old Testament. We just heard from its opening section promoting the wisdom of an other-world view over a this-world view. God sent prophets to try to break through the very common, this-world mindset.

Jesus-as-prophet tries for the second of three attempts in two successive chapters in mark’s gospel to tell his disciples that he is the Messiah, who will suffer, die and rise from death. Mark uses a simple process: prediction, misunderstanding, corrective teaching. I wonder if John copied this idea from mark because the same pattern is frequently present in his “Johannine misunderstanding.” John wrote several decades after Mark. We heard examples of this last month in his bread of life discourse.

Today, Jesus’ disciples changed the subject of Jesus-as-Messiah/Son of Man to their agenda: who is the greatest? Jesus asked what they were discussing, but they did not tell him. Jesus spoke about greatness and said: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He set a child in front of him. He embraced the child and said: “whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not [only] me, but the one who sent me.”

The reason for choosing the child was not because of a child’s innocence and openness. The present context is “greatness.” A child in that culture and, sadly, for many in our culture is the person least valued, yet, Jesus says that the one who becomes like the child will be the greatest. A child – before it learns the word “mine” – does not seek to possess things, does not seek power, does not lord it over others. That is the point that Jesus makes. Neither is he saying that children were unloved or uncared for in Jewish culture. He tries to convince them that status in his other-world view is the reverse of what the wisdom of this-world is. Children were at the bottom on the status scale.

If the task of the prophet is to both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, Jesus is doing both in this scene. He is trying to teach them that the comfortable notion that status, possessions and power make one “number one, first” is wrong; the opposite is correct. The one who becomes poor in spirit and powerless is the one who will be first in the kingdom of God. He reiterates the value of discipleship in rejecting status and accepting servant tasks. Some disciples want none of this. He is also trying to provide comfort for their imminent affliction when they will see him suffer terribly and die.

For those who have self-centeredness as a form of consciousness, the prophet’s words are manipulated to fit their self-centeredness. Their manipulation may be playing the acting-role of a servant in order to achieve recognition; that is, they become a phony-last to become a phony-first with a false humility. Or, they make the prophets the enemy that must be silenced. They will find some “reason,” and never see their self-centeredness.

The real great are those who try to assume the consciousness of Jesus. They try to Live Jesus.

Now, fasten your seatbelt. A spiritual writer like John Shea and a world leader like Dag Hammarskjöld recognize “least” at a deeper level. Carl Rogers, a therapist, without mention of god, achieved wonderful, clinical results with the following.

These accept, welcome and embrace persons considered “least” at their deeper, moral-social level. They accept a person in being a human person – as Jesus did. At your and my “least,” we are: without title, without status, without wealth, without possessions, without color, without race, without political stance, without sexual orientation. At this level, we can see a person with the eyes of Jesus and his father without clutter and without any make-up and accept, welcome and serve every person with god-consciousness. Clearly an other-world view. Perhaps this brings new meaning to the expression: “Less is better.”

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Jesus asks a disarming question: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer with comments they have heard about Jesus. Then Jesus asks his real question, the penetrating question that will live forever. Who do you say that I am? Peter steps up and answers with the title that is correct: “You are the Christ,” “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “messiah,” “the anointed one.” Messiah has more than one meaning. Many, probably most, thought it indicated the one who would free Israel from roman rule, be triumphant in a this-world understanding of messiah.

Jesus tried to correct their understanding with an otherworld understanding as the “son of man.” He, the suffering servant, said he would suffer. Die. And rise in his mission of representing his father to all as love incarnated.

Peter, perhaps still a little high from hearing Jesus’ kudos for coming up with the right title, took Jesus aside to “talk” to him, perhaps get Jesus to put some spin on this horrific sounding statement about suffering, death, and rising.

But, Jesus would not budge from his own explanation of “messiah.” He states that peter must not try to lead him. Peter’s role is to follow him: “get behind me.” He calls him a “Satan,” for he is trying to divert divine design – a satanic ploy tried by Satan before his public ministry began.

Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am’ calls for an ongoing, evolving answer from each of us during the course of our lives. Our answers are at first limited by our very immature, spiritual vision. When very, very young we probably would have answered: “Baby Jesus.” Our answer must change as we mature. Hopefully, we who have reached at least confirmation age will move beyond that answer. We may, still later, answer that Jesus is “the understanding teacher from Nazareth,” we may move on in our difficult times to see Jesus as “the good shepherd.” Hopefully, we will evolve to image Jesus as unconditional love, incarnated. We come to understand his deep compassion for those suffering in body or spirit. He heals on the Sabbath if that is when the sick present themselves. No foolish, pharisaical prohibitions stop him when the Pharisees accuse him of doing forbidden work on the Sabbath.

In our maturity we listen to, understand, and act on Jesus’ admonition that we, like Jesus be intolerant of religious leaders who would hypocritically distort the father’s love into precepts that have no part in compassion.

May each of us evolve toward the fullness of the vision of Jesus’ unconditional love for his father and for all. We may not just bask in that love. We need to come to understand that unconditional love calls for our response just as it called for Jesus’ response to our father.

That response calls us to be servants, not masters in our relationships. Servants do not seek the first places in social gatherings; do not seek honor or recognition. Servants serve! When his thousands of followers were without food, he served their hungry stomachs with loaves of bread and their staple food, fish. When their minds and spirits hungered for wisdom, he served them the bread of wisdom. Ever the servant, he gave example of how we are to serve and work. When time for instruction was running out, he got down on his knees at the last supper and washed his disciples’ feet – the work of a servant.

As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “public servants” and serve themselves generously and let the people who elected them suffer and pay for their “perks.” As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “servants of the servants of god” and then act imperiously and dress as princes with rings and things – not as servants – and investigate those who honestly seek otherworld values.

And the good news is that when we become discouraged at hearing answers and responses other than “messiah-servant” answers and responses, when we see power abused, we have the great consolation of coming home to our parish community and celebrate Eucharist together, here at the table of the Lord.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 9, 2018)

I read a press release on the anniversary of the “Common Ground Initiative.” The saintly, down-to-earth late archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, began this movement. He saw the turmoil in our church: the right vs. the left, conservatives v progressives and called us all to look not upon how we differ, but upon what we have in common. He calls us to build upon what unites us. Hence, the common ground initiative. I could not agree more. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” says Jesus. The power of positive relationship unites.

In line with Jesus’ cure of the deaf man in the gospel, I would like to speak a bit about relationship and spiritual deafness. Communication is absolutely necessary in relationship -- divine or human. Communication is the very life-blood of relationship. Listening is the essential partner in communicating. If someone is deaf to the other, communication stops. Eventually, relationship weakens and possibly dies. We know this from our experience.

So often, the fear, suspicion and anger found in our society creeps into our church. Deep and persistent distrust of persons, motives and viewpoints exists in the Catholic Church: between old and young, laity and clergy, rich and poor, scholars and bishops. Our American pluralism is all too often a source of divisiveness rather than richness. Some people, unfortunately, are simply not interested in conversing with someone with differing opinions. That is sad. We are familiar with the saying: no one is so blind as one who will not see; I think we can safely say, “No one is so deaf as one who will not listen.”

The initiative’s efforts are to get people back communicating with one another - not as correctors, not as mediators, but recalling all that we are all members of the family of Christ and need to talk to one another, to listen to one another. We would improve the quality of our communication and the level of relationship.

I applaud a keynoter’s words: “listening is the necessary foundation for relationships with god and one another. Real listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person; it establishes lasting relationships; it gives substance to words of love and friendship; it heals and allows us to grow in our knowledge of ourselves, others, and of God.” He recognizes all three aspects of our relationships: God - others - self.

We gather each week at Eucharist and speak with our Lord. Do we also listen to god’s word attentively in the readings? Do we listen to our Lord during quiet time after communion, or do we go on about our needs?

Today’s Gospel is helpful. We need to do what the deaf man did: seek out Jesus. Go off with him, away from the crowd. . . Spend time in his healing presence . . .give Jesus a chance to touch our hearts . . . Give Jesus the chance to put his finger in our ears by our being present to him and opening our ears to his word.

In the gathering space after mass, do we listen to one another? Or, do we generally gather only with our friends? A clique is not community. Do we meet and engage folks we do not yet know?

Hearing is a physical sense of our body. Listening is a learned skill. If we hear something affirming about ourselves, we tend to listen eagerly. If we hear criticism, do we react with a knee-jerk of denial? Or, do we listen in silence and slowly and honestly evaluate the criticism?

Let’s listen up!

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 2, 2018)

Today, we leave John’s “bread of life” discourse and return to Mark. Jesus has a few last words to the people of Galilee - the northern area of Palestine where he grew up. It is the last incident mark records of Jesus’ Galilean ministry - just before he headed south to Judea and its capital, Jerusalem, where he would die.

Mark shows the growing opposition of the Jews, instigated by the Jewish, religious leaders who had “come from Jerusalem.” The drama is building.

His listeners were unsettled because the Jerusalem crowd was reminding them of “the tradition of the elders.” The tradition of the elders was the Halakah, the oral law. In the second century, this would be written down as the Mishnah.

The purification/washing rites we heard in the Gospel were the Jewish leaders’ interpretations of the law of God, not the law. Sadly, these were being given equal importance to the law itself [the Torah]. Those washing rituals were meant to express a purification of the heart, not to substitute for it. They had been initially prescribed for the Levites [priests] and were later extended to include all Israelites.

The failure of Jesus’ disciples to observe these purification rites occasions the criticism from the Jews. Jesus quotes Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”

What Jesus asks of them - and us - is simple, but profound and challenging. He wants our hearts. The heart is the center of a person for Jews as well as for us.

Jesus knows well that they and we can appear innocent, look like true followers, but our face does not mirror our heart. We may have an innocent smile on the outside, but our heart, our interior disposition, can be a mess. We may have the words, but not the music. We may carefully observe external rules within our religion, but our hearts, our internal disposition, can be seething with self-will.

What drives your heart? My heart? That question and its answer are what the work of lent is about. Today’s gospel raises this issue toward the end of vacation season. This is the time of year when many activities resume. This time of year is appropriate for a mini spiritual review. The question is Jesus’; our answer is the product of self- examination to produce self-knowledge. Knowledge of self is vital for both spirituality and sanity.

What drives our hearts, our center? The Gospel provided a list for us: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, deceit, envy, arrogance.” Very strong drives.

There are other more subtle drives / drivers of our hearts: religious indifference, because I put self-wants before God’s or neighbor’s. Sloth, because it is just too much work. My persona, because I do not want to appear to others as if I am hot on God. It may be ignorance: too often, we confuse the end, relationship, with the means, laws and devotions that get us into spiritual trouble.

We are often not aware of some of these drivers. They simply slip quietly into our lives without conscious effort. They may belittle our dark side that needs to be brought into the light by introspection. Once in the light, they are seen for what they are: barriers to becoming who we are called to be.

William Glasser developed a method he called “reality therapy” that focuses on changing our behavior patterns. He calls it “positive addiction,” and gave the examples of jogging and meditation. Beginning either of these or any new discipline is difficult. As we continue jogging or meditating, it becomes easier. If we stick with it, it becomes a healthy addiction that we simply cannot seem to do without.

This practice has a spin-off in the spiritual life. An ancient, nameless, wise person said: “The act is the parent of the habit; the habit is the parent of the virtue.” Perseverance is key. Per-severa: through the hard/severe stuff to habitually praying, doing good, attending mass.

As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This time of year is a good time for a heart check-up.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26, 2018)

Today brings to conclusion the bread of life summer insertion. We have seen in the last two weeks, Jesus the bread of life as food for thought; then as real food, real presence. The liturgical fact that the first reading is connected to the Gospel reading in theme is very apparent today.

Joshua had been a boy when Israel began its long march to freedom across the desert. Moses was his hero: how could Joshua have imagined that one day he would be Moses’ successor and have to confront the children of Israel . We hear: “if it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve: the gods of our fathers beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling?” Joshua adds his personal answer and commitment: “As for me and my household, we will serve the lord.”

Failure to say “yes” to Joshua’s challenging question would have shown tremendous ingratitude for all that god had done in freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt and guiding them to freedom in a new land.

Today, in our appendix to the bread of life discourse from john, we hear that after the discourse many followers of Jesus strongly reacted to his teaching on real presence: “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?”

We hear: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

Because many of his followers were leaving, Jesus, like Joshua many years earlier, had to confront directly his remaining followers on his critical teaching on Eucharist. He asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” With this pointed question, he drew a line in the sand. Are you with me, or not? Defecate or abdicate. Fish or cut bait.

During Jesus’ life, peter seemed to put his foot in his mouth more than anyone else. But, peter’s answer today hits the nail right on the head. Peter answered with those never-to-be-forgotten words: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.” Perfect. “We have come to believe and are convinced.” The twelve have been eating the sapiential bread of life, the teachings of Jesus. In their time together, Jesus has given them much to think about, much to chew on. They trusted, [had faith], Jesus was the bread of life. They “believed,” as Peter said. And Peter added, they “are convinced,” they “know.”

They did not trust as much as they would later. They did not know as much as they would know later. They trusted and knew enough to stay with Jesus. Trusting and knowing comprise the process of us pilgrim followers.

At the beginning of this discourse, Jesus fed 5000 with some barley loaves and fish. Their understanding of him as a compassionate, holy man grew. They proclaimed him as “the prophet” - an important step forward on the faith journey.

Spiritual growth is trusting Jesus [faith] and coming to a deeper understanding. If we are convinced, as peter was, that Jesus is the holy one of God, then we believe that there is no better place to go apart from his presence. Progress in any relationship happens when we deepen trust and knowledge of the other. Is it not that way with friends, spouses? As time passes in good relationships, we more deeply trust the other based on our positive experience, and we know them better. A wonderful, mutual consciousness evolves.

This understanding is new wine that did not sit well with the departing followers of Jesus whose baggage was old wine skins; they broke ranks from Jesus with burst wine skins.

Those who believe and accept the truth of Jesus’ real presence in Eucharist participate and increasingly experience his presence in that intimate moment of Holy Communion. We have opportunity in that moment of union to pour out our hearts to him and listen. Sometimes, he speaks to us with non-verbal answers that come to us as at no other time. Sometimes, there is just silence. Silence is perfectly acceptable for those who love each other.

The departing ex-followers made a statement and asked a question: “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” like Joshua and peter and the other apostles, I answer in faith: “I can. I do.”

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 19, 2018)

What a wonderful gift the Eucharist is! Jesus gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. And he commands us to eat and drink that we might have life – His life, eternal life.

Like Wisdom in today’s first reading, Jesus invites us to the meal he has prepared for us – a meal that enables us to unite ourselves to his saving death and resurrection. On the Cross, Jesus’ flesh was pierced and his blood shed for others,for you and me. As we eat and drink, we are called to “forsake foolishness that (we) might live; advance in the way of understanding.”

The words of Wisdom remind us that this is a sacred meal, a meal of covenant. God has given Jesus for our sake. In Jesus, God’s great love and mercy become visible, tangible. When we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, we are expressing our willingness to be one with Jesus in his saving mission to the world. We become his “good news” to today’s world.

Each day we seek to understand better how we are to live as members of this covenant community. In this meal, we become one with Jesus and one with the community – one in the Body of Christ. As we leave this sacred meal, we are challenged to live the daily reality of our oneness.

St. Francis de Sales offers us some practical advice on how to make this happen more effectively. He writes: “After Communion, consider Jesus seated in your heart and bring before him each of your faculties and senses in order to hear his commands and promise him fidelity.” This exercise can become our thanksgiving and our commitment to living out what we have celebrated and received. Jesus will offer us a way of using our intellect, our will, our memory, our hearing, our touching, our speaking today so that we can witness to God’s loving presence in the world.

We heard St. Paul encourage us: “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise.” Our eating and drinking at the table of the Lord makes all of us one. May the wise way we live today and everyday make visible the oneness we experience here in Eucharist.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 12, 2018)

Jesus explained to them: “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.”

Today is week 3 of the 5 weeks dedicated to john’s sixth chapter on the bread of life.

The first reading from 1 Kings tells of Elijah’s eating bread, a hearth cake. It also tells us that this was quite the “power bar.” After eating two of them, we read that he walked for 40 days and 40 nights to Mt. Horeb where he re-examined his fear-ridden life, accepted once more the word of God and renews his trust in God.

The Hebrew bible has a tradition of knowledge being called the bread of the spirit. In Deuteronomy, we read a famous and familiar quote: “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the Lord. [8:3]

In John 6 we read of two different senses of Jesus’ speaking of himself as the bread of life. John follows a clear outline. He first quotes Jesus claim: “I am the bread of life.” Next, there is murmuring from the Jews. Finally, there is Jesus’ explanation of his saying, “I am the bread of life.” Today’s Gospel addresses the first sense in which Jesus uses the phrase: “I am the bread of life.”

Key to understanding the two parallel passages are the verbs that Jesus uses when he speaks about the “bread.” Let’s review today’s reading:

“No one comes to me shall ever be hungry, no one who believes in me shall ever thirst.” It is written in the prophets: God shall teach them all. Everyone who listens to my father and learns from him comes to me…this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.

Do you see how these verses correspond to the quote from Deuteronomy? “Not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the lord? We heard the verb - phrases: believes – taught by God – listens to my father – learns from him - eat[s] [this bread].

Jesus is proclaiming in today’s passage that he is “the bread of life” in the sense that he is food for the mind / heart. He gives us “something to chew on.” He is sapiential food. He is wisdom for those who listen to him, to those who accept him as the center of their lives. This food provides the one who accepts him with a life that is not at mere subsistence level, not simple existing. Bread is seen as something that is necessary for living a life that is fully alive. This bread of life provides an answer to the question of what living is for.

We can never underestimate the intelligence and the ingenuity of John the author. It is well accepted that this section of john 6 was calculated to express what we call “the liturgy of the word” in the celebration of Eucharist. It is at this time of our celebration that we turn our attention to a theme that is present in each Sunday celebration of Eucharist.

We first hear a connection to the Hebrew bible; we then usually hear a passage from the apostle, Paul; the final reading is from one of the four gospels. When we listen carefully each week, we hear the great themes from scripture in carefully chosen seasons of the year. These give us the history of salvation, the interventions of our god in the lives of those who have gone before us. During the season of Easter, the first reading is from the Acts of the Apostles that tells us the formative experiences of the early Christian church.

This is bread that thoroughly nourishes us. We realize that our concerns, our worries, our burdens, our joys are not unique to us. We hear of others who walked before us and experienced similar times. In a sense, these people are brought into ours lives in our day. We digest the bread of life and are eternally nourished on our journey.

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 5, 2018)

This passage from John follows the multiplication that we heard last week and precedes the heart of the “bread of life” discourse in weeks 3 and 4 and the curious conclusion in week 5. In today’s gospel, we see that the central dynamic between Jesus and the crowd is one familiar to us: Johannine misunderstanding – where we hear something that makes Jesus’ adversary sound “less enlightened, dumber” than we and, of course, not as smart as Jesus. It is like watching Sherlock Holmes and hearing Dr. Watson make some not-so-smart comments that make us smile.

The crowd did not get it. They thought after last week’s episode with the bread and fish that either he was a great source of inspiration that moved their hearts to share, or he was a wonderful, magical provider.

He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Now, with this claim, he requires faith from them.

But . . . they want more proof. There was a strong rabbinic belief that when the messiah came into the world, he would bring a return of the manna. We recall that Jews believed that Moses’ greatest work was the gift of the manna, and also that the Messiah’s work would even surpass that. Moses and the Messiah would form highpoints of Jewish history. Their question, “What can you do?” was a challenge. The miracle of the 5000 was insufficient for them because in their judgment it was not certainly bread from God. It was ordinary bread from Moses. Is it not curious that the Hebrew word, manna, means, “What is it?”

Jesus reminded them that the manna was from God, not Moses and that the manna was only symbolic of the bread of life that came from God. He was claiming that complete satisfaction of hunger and thirst came from him, Jesus, who came from God.

Because “the bread of life” is the spiritual nourishment that god consistently gives to everyone, and because Jesus is the word who connects our father to us, it is Jesus who is the “bread of life” and whose relationship with you and me empowers us never to experience spiritual hunger or thirst. Never to experience spiritual hunger or thirst is a not as good way of saying that “Jesus is life.” as in “the way, the truth, and the life.”

In this climactic exchange, he claims that the reality of God is present in the person of Jesus.

This is heady stuff. It is why an eagle in Christian art symbolizes John the evangelist, the traditional author of the fourth Gospel. He soars with us to the heights of theology. He never calls what we refer to as “miracles” as “miracles.” He calls them “signs.” He neatly included them after the prologue in the first twelve of the twenty-five chapters in his Gospel, and before the “book of glory” – the story of his passion and death with an added appendix.

Next week and the following week we will get to the heart of the bread of life discourse.

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 29, 2015)

Our first reading provides a mini-parallel from the Old Testament. It tells of Elisha feeding 100 people with 20 barley loaves.

The setting for today’s gospel is the place where God and man traditionally meet: a mountain - Mount Sinai where the 10 commandments were given, the mountain of the transfiguration, the mount of the beatitudes, and today, the mountain for the feeding of the 5000. The exact location is not recorded. We know that the place was near the Sea of Galilee. The time is near Passover, which appropriately conjures up the time of the Last Supper. Although place and time are sketchy, it is a story so important that it is the only miracle story that is found in all four gospels.

The traditional story of their lack of food is the segue for Jesus to begin to speak of himself as the bread of life. A difficulty with the traditional understanding is that it was precisely the temptation to make bread had been a temptation that Jesus rejected outright in the desert before he began his public ministry.

There is an alternative explanation for the miracle that has come more recently. Jews of Jesus’ day were seasoned travelers. They well knew that there were no golden arches of McDonald’s, or KFC’s or other fast food places. Ancient Jews were famous for always carrying a bottled-shaped basket called a kophinos in which they carried kosher food to avoid ritual impurity.

So, an alternative interpretation is that when the Jewish followers saw that Jesus had them sit down and then Jesus took the boy’s barley loaves and fish and shared them, they were moved and followed his good example and also shared what they carried. This interpretation is surely in line with Jesus’ many sayings about sharing: he praised the poor widow who gave the little she had, two pennies. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We recall the Good Samaritan who generously shared with an “outsider” in need. We recall how the enthusiastic Zacchaeus gave half of what he possessed to the poor.

Which of the two interpretations is correct? The traditional, almost magical interpretation has been preached for a long time, but the innovative interpretation does give us pause. Pause is good. The second interpretation stirs many reminders besides the words of Jesus just mentioned.

  • It reminds us of the then current Jewish practice of carrying food.
  • It reminds us that the bread came from barley, not wheat; barley was the bread of the poor – a reminder to us of simplicity.
  • It reminds us that the bread came from barley, not wheat; barley was the It reminds us of the difference in two disciples: Phillip, a native of that area, said, in effect, feeding the large crowd was a hopeless endeavor, while Andrew, the apostle famous for bringing people to Jesus, brought the boy to Jesus. He did something – a reminder to us to do something.
It reminds us that our Lord can take what we bring and do wonders. Remember Alex’s lemonade stand and how a little girl stole the hearts of us all with her simple, generous, loving heart with amazing results to this day.

It reminds you and me that in our cooperating with our lord in the coming of the kingdom, an even greater miracle than making bread is softening the hearts of others.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 22, 2018)

Last Sunday we heard Jesus sending out the twelve on their first missionary journey. Today, we hear of their return from ministry. This is the only time in mark’s gospel that the term “apostle” appears, referring to the twelve.

Jesus compassionately reads the situation. He does not encourage them to do more or to do better. In his compassionate wisdom, he knows that they need time to rest and to relax.

I think that Jesus would add a third r to our secular notion of R&R. Rest and relaxation are absolutely necessary, but so is a third R: reflection -- to determine where we are, where we are going. Jesus guides his apostles toward a quiet place.

It turns out to be not so quiet, so he takes over the teaching and allows the twelve to rest. The three R’s can be delayed, but never omitted. After all, Jesus promised refreshment for the tired: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened; I will refresh you.”

You are disciples. Many - no, most - of you minister to the community. Often, when you do not name what you are doing as ministry you minister to an elderly parent or lonely relative, - listening to oft’ repeated stories, adjusting to slowness of gait. You minister to a needy child - taking the time to play, to answer a hundred questions. You minister to a hurting friend by your presence. You minister to a sick neighbor by shopping, preparing a meal. Besides all that, you work at keeping yourself and your household going.

When the boat crunches up on the sand on the far side of the lake, Jesus, without complaint, ministers to the people who interrupted his plan. The Twelve are not mentioned. Likely, Jesus sent them off for rest, relaxation, and reflection on the conversation they had while crossing the four miles on the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus has something to say to you today. You, too, need to take time for the 3 R’s. Rest, relax, and reflect. Deliberate rest and relaxation are essential for healthy living. Reflection is essential for establishing a balance between work and R&R.

Jesus did not push the twelve beyond their limits, nor does he push you. He may be leading you by posing some questions:

  • Where am I on the continuum of work and the three R’s? Extremes are easy to reach. Extreme work leads to burnout. Extreme rest leads to rust. Extreme introspection leads to scrupulosity or spiritual self-centeredness. The alternative extreme leads to being a workaholic. There will always be something to do or some “reason” to do little or nothing. Balance is the challenge.

  • What is the quality of my rest? Am I renewed after rest/relaxation? Does my rest usually make me feel good about returning to activity? Downtime is not “one size fits all.” It is relative to where one is in life at any given time. Once again, we need balance.

  • How can I allow Jesus to minister to me? Do I need more interior, prayer to discern god’s will? Rote prayer can become a regimen of “busy work” that actually avoids honest conversation with our Lord.
Summer provides weather for relaxation and the suspension and slowdown of many church ministries. For active parishioners who are weary, summer provides a needed break from ministry. For not-so-active parishioners, it provides a time for reflection on choices for a fresh start in September.

We need to meet Jesus in the quiet place before we meet him in the market place.

In Eucharist we meet our Lord. Let’s receive him and follow him into both ministry and into the three R’s.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 15, 2018)

We hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ sending out the apostles. We have heard about Jesus’ instructions on single-mindedness: traveling light and not being picky about personal accommodations. We are missionaries, not vacationers.

I thought today I would address two tips that are not usually talked about: a companion and rejection.

Jesus formed a community around him, but when it came to getting the word out, he did not send his followers out as a large community or as individuals. Jesus sent them out in pairs. For many good reasons:

  • Two can support each other when the going gets tough or one gets discouraged;
  • Two can bounce ideas off each other because two heads are better than one;
  • Two can hold each other accountable;
  • Two can travel more safely -- especially if the message is not being well received;
  • Two are stronger witnesses; what one doesn’t think of the other very well may, and two have more credibility; for this reason, two were required to witness in a Jewish court.
This is a good rule of thumb for us as well. In our attempts at missionary encounters -- to which every one of us is called -- it is good to have a companion. Jehovah’s witnesses know this well and practice it. We hear Jesus’ call for a walking stick and sandals. Action gear, not a TV remote and house slippers for oneself and a companion.

The second point I’d like to make is about shaking the dust from our feet if we are rejected. This is a tricky, a dangerous passage. We can misuse it either to justify our anger if we feel it or to reject folks and then stand in judgment, as did James and John, wanting to call fire from heaven on rejecters.

In a nutshell, Jesus wanted his followers simply to recognize their limits in converting and move on, leaving the situation to god and his later sending someone else to them. It is not anyone’s gift to ring everyone’s bell.

The previous passage to today’s reading was last Sunday’s rejection by Jesus ‘ own people -- the folks with whom he grew up in Nazareth. Jesus did not doggedly stay. We read: “He made the rounds of the neighboring villages instead.”

Jesus’ wisdom is echoed by Kenny Rogers, the C&W singer. He tells us that you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. There is wisdom in the gambler’s song.

Before he began his public life, Jesus was in the desert with Satan who made attractive offers -- and Jesus walked. He knew when to walk and also when to let others walk: as, when the rich young man chose to walk away rather than give up his riches, Jesus was sad, but he did not run after him.

We don’t know the number of times the disciples had to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Satan didn’t always fall like lightning from the sky.

There is a principle here for every one of us. A mature assessment of ourselves involves our willingness to recognize our limits, in our missionary relationship with others.

At another level, Dr. Scott Peck said that his practice of psychotherapy would be enjoyable and relatively easy if it were not for a single reality -- resistance. “People who come to psychotherapy do so saying they want to change, and then from the moment therapy starts they usually begin acting as if the last thing on god’s earth they want to do is change.”

It is God’s spirit in a person’s life that has the persuasive power to deal with resistance -- not our fervor, not our intelligence, not our cleverness. And some folks we think are resisting God’s truth may simply be resisting us.

We are not to quit easily, but there is wisdom in knowing when to let go. Parents, like priests, do not have control, here. Like St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, we pray. We do not badger. We take the opportunities to speak positively about god and the things of God. A former, poor situation should not discourage us in reaching out later to others.

The serenity prayer is helpful: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 8, 2018)

Have you had the experience of losing your glasses and looking everywhere and then finding them on your head or around your neck? Or, think you lost something and find it just about where you first thought you lost it? Humbling!

Jesus, after a successful road trip, was in Nazareth, preaching in his home synagogue before those who knew him best. Luke tells us that what Jesus reads to them was a messianic prophecy from Isaiah. He finished and said. ‘This scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Mark omits this provocative line from his gospel. We may be tempted to look down on Jesus’ critics, but we can’t be too hard on the folks of Nazareth. We may be more like them than not. You might think this would be his most sympathetic audience, but the crowd dismissed him.

I can think of three possible forces at play in Jesus’ experience of being written off from which we may learn. First, the crowd thought they knew him. He was a carpenter - just “one of the home townies.” Oldsters thought of him as the kid around the corner, Joseph and Mary’s son. Dismissal of messenger and message happened to Ezekiel and Paul of Tarsus in today’s other two readings

A second possibility for not hearing is that any part of Jesus’ message that threatens one’s self-interest can be dismissed as “too controversial” or “too political.” Folks prefer the comfortable status quo. That is “being reasonable.” We tend to think we already “have it right.” Rocking the boat is often not accepted as good news. Jesus was drastically closing the gap between God and themselves. If he were right, the great act of god --to save, to punish -- was not all behind them as great stories to be told at Passover at the Seder. If he were right, this young man was saying that god was not only among them, but he was also calling them to make major changes in their lives.

Third, there is a tendency to elevate the importance of the new. This is why consultants arrive from the airport or the long drive, carrying laptops and PowerPoint presentations, bringing wisdom and insight. Organizations pay big bucks to hear them, but the reason we value this imported wisdom may be because the consultant is from out of town. If they live far away, their insight must be more valuable, more global. An irony is that when we go to their town, we are considered the “expert.”

It is a fact that what is close at hand is often missed. About the only way we wake up to value the ordinary blessings of our lives is to have them taken away, or to view them from a distance, or to have a visitor help us to see them again, as if for the first time.

Failing to see the extraordinary in the ordinary of our lives does have consequences. A troubling phrase of today’s gospel stands out because of their lack of faith; Jesus was “not able to perform any mighty deed there.” Jesus was “unable” because his infinite power was bound by the father’s gift of free will to the townsfolk and us. Jesus cannot mediate his father’s power without a faith response; there was little response in Nazareth. He could do only little. They do not even mention what he spoke in their synagogue; they dismiss his right to teach anything about god.

The people were “full of themselves.” There was no room in their minds for a new insight -- or any new revelation. And . . . “familiarity breeds contempt” as the saying goes.

Also, please notice their lack of belief amazed Jesus. Seldom is Jesus astonished, but when he is, it is about people’s faith. It is either extraordinary faith or it is the extraordinary lack of it.

A “few” listened. Those few save the world that refuses to listen to a prophet. Small groups listen and take up the prophet’s call and become prophetic themselves in word and deed. Some will stand against the power of fear and greed. Some will risk unpopularity and contempt, even imprisonment or death to be the voice of God in our time. They begin as rebels – even canon or civil law-breakers - and end as “founding fathers,” heroes, and, occasionally, martyrs for the cause.

Always looking forward to what is not yet, or getting stuck in what used to be, we can be crucified, like Jesus, between two thieves, the past and the future. It has been well said: “The past is history; the future is mystery --- we have only the gift of the now -- and that is why they call it “present.” Let’s recognize Jesus in the present and live our lives in the now, trying always to be open to the movement of the Spirit.

Starting with those closest to you -- let’s be present to them and present to the presence of God in our midst.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 1, 2018)

Mark is an action reporter. His short gospel includes relatively few words of Jesus, but much action, related in vivid detail - often with the human tensions surrounding Jesus’ ministry.

Today’s gospel is a double-header of action. As we know, mark uses a technique that has come to be known as the “Markan sandwich.” He will relate an action, and then have another action contained within; he intends that the two be interpreted in relation to each other. He uses the technique here and three times later. [Chapters 6,11, and 14]

Today, the story of Jairus and his daughter are the bread-slices; the woman with the hemorrhage is the lunchmeat.

At first, Jesus seems annoyed that he was touched. But he wants to be more than a healing energy-supply. He wants to meet the person whose faith was sufficient to reach out and touch him. He wants their relationship to be personal, face-to-face.

In mark, faith must be a radical relationship of trust in God; it is actually a way of seeing, a manner of living. Mark’s Jesus does not want miracles to be a magic show. Jesus wants miracles as examples of divine compassion as a response to trust/faith.

The woman and the little girl are more alike than they are different:

  • Both are women; both are nameless;
  • The little girl is 12; the woman has had her hemorrhage for twelve years – the lifetime of the little girl;
  • The ruler refers to the girl as “my daughter”; Jesus calls the woman “daughter.” Personal!
  • Both situations regard blood. In the situation of the woman, Jesus makes blood stop flowing; in the situation of the girl, he makes the life/blood flow once more;
  • In both cases, Jesus touched someone who was unclean, making himself unclean: a woman bleeding is unfit for worship in the synagogue - unclean; the leader’s daughter, a dead girl, is also unclean. Both are untouchables under the law;
  • The woman comes forward in fear of overstepping. The leader of the synagogue feared offending his fellow leaders who would regularly stare contemptuously at Jesus. Fear is a common denominator in both action-stories.
Both stories are miracle stories; both have as their point: the presence of faith in the believer and the merciful response of Jesus.

Today, let’s talk about fear. Young or old, weak or strong, we all experience fear. Fear is an emotion we share with animals - as Charles Darwin showed over a century ago. If we are in extreme physical danger, fear is normal, necessary, and good. It “juices” us.

Spiritual fear is bad. Jesus told us that fear is the lack of faith. Faith is what we are called to most basically.

Fear is so universal and potentially dangerous that we would be surprised if Jesus did not address it. He did: “Fear is useless.” He said on many occasions “do not be afraid.” Both at Jesus conception and transfiguration, the angels said: “fear not.” When we put aside fear, the power of faith is able to generate new life. “Perfect love casts out all fear.” [1 JN: 4:18}

We are not talking about fear of the lord as the beginning of wisdom. As we know, this “ fear” is really not fear, but the feeling of awe and reverence in the presence of the lord. That is the beginning of wisdom.

One of our deepest fears is being rejected, being totally alone. The Christian is saved from that fear. We have the assurance of Jesus of God’s unconditional love for us; we have the assurance as a member of our faith community that we are not alone - unless, sadly, we choose to be alone. We rightly feel part of a community here; we have prayer support. We have food banks in time of need, counseling services, and especially parish friends for emotional support.

When we gather around the altar on Sunday, we celebrate and indicate that we have the active support of others who share the same vision.

A final observation. We have seen what Jesus did in today’s gospel and why he did it. I think it is significant also to see how he did it. Jesus surely did not get up in the morning and say: “what would you like to do today, guys?” We may be sure that he had an agenda that flowed from his ongoing prayer. Today’s lesson about healing shows his flexibility. Sometimes reacting is more needed than acting. Having children reminds many of you of that. This gospel reminds us all of Jesus’ flexibility and teaches us that to “live Jesus” includes “hanging loose,” maintaining a flexibility to the important needs of others.

Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24, 2018)

Francis de Sales wrote: "I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one of two days' journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother's womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ's presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until Our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John's spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have him so close and not enjoy his presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God's will and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur." (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

"How truly mortified was John the Baptist's spirit." What does Francis de Sales mean? The American Heritage Dictionary defines mortify as "to discipline by self-denial or self-inflicted privation." John did, indeed, discipline himself: he denied himself many things in order to be faithful to his understanding of who God wanted him to be: a light to the nations, a light to highlight the coming of Jesus.

Think about it: John spends thirty years in the desert preparing to announce Christ's coming. Despite growing up in the same general area, John meets Christ only once - when he baptized him at the Jordan River - only to remain behind as Jesus recruited others to be his apostles and disciples! John never sees his cousin again before dying in prison at the hands of one of King Herod's executioners.

John was faithful to the role God wanted him to play in the plan of salvation: John played that role supremely well. Listen to what Jesus himself said: "I tell you the truth: among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." (Matthew 11:11) "Yet," Jesus continues, "Anyone who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." John shows us that being faithful to God's will often requires that we deprive ourselves of the desire to "have it all" and to dedicate ourselves to discerning - and embracing - our unique roles in God's plan of salvation.

In ways unique to our states and stages of life, God calls us, too, to be "a light to the nations." Are we prepared to practice the discipline that being that light may require? Are we prepared to follow Christ by staying right where we are?

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17, 2018)

Parents of growing children sometimes have a heart-breaking experience. A child of theirs does not “catch” the faith that they have tried to teach and “have caught.”

Recently, I heard a good story from grandparents who were in that situation. Their only child was indifferent to God and church as he grew up. He graduated, dated and married. He and his wife had a child. The grandmother was a real, grandmother. She told her grandchild stories of Jesus and how Jesus loved him, [she planted the seeds of faith.] The grandfather took the child for walks and took him fishing. He said God bless you to the child even when he didn’t sneeze. [He cultivated the seed that his wife had planted].

Years passed and the grandparents were overjoyed when the grandchild wanted to know God, to have a relationship with God, like his grandparents - and completed the RCIC. After his confirmation, the parents saw the faith in their child and returned to the Lord as well. The story had a very happy ending.

The parables of Jesus do two things: the stories, first, arrest our attention; they also tease us to puzzle about their meaning. Today we heard two of the kingdom-parables: one made the point that the seed grows on its own, silently. The other is the fact that the kingdom of God begins small and grows beyond expectation.

I wonder how true those two points are in our day. It seems that like the grandparents’ experience with their son and grandson, the seed needs to be watered, cultivated and fertilized. Our surroundings “out there” today are hostile to the quiet, unattended growing of the seed of the word of God.

Barbara Walters once interviewed Stephen Spielberg before the Oscar presentations. She asked him: “How do you feel about making Schindler’s List? How do you feel about being a Jew? His reply: “I feel I am about something.”

We are about something. We are all about something in our effort to make the kingdom of god a reality in our land. It is our task to do all that we can to facilitate the birth of the kingdom of God in our generation, because the kingdom of God is not a once-and-for-all accomplishment. It must be grown anew in each generation.

Harry Smith on CBS interviewed the actress Geena Davis. She made an insightful remark: “Life is messy and awful and complicated and beautiful - all at the same time.” So true! It is an apt description of our situation and the challenge and the growth process of the kingdom of God.

The Lord gives meaning to our lives; having meaning makes living our lives a positive experience. Is it our task to contribute to the growth of the kingdom, so that the messy is less, and the beautiful, more? That is what happens in the day-to-day living out of our lives when we understand that that is “what we are about.”

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 10, 2018)

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales does not equate happiness with self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-obsession. However, Francis does equate happiness with what he calls self-possession. The Gentleman Saint writes:

“It is man’s great happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls.”

What happiness it is to know and accept yourself for who you are in the sight of God! What delight it is to be comfortable – without being complacent – in your own skin! What joy it is to be essentially at home – to be at peace – with the person that God made you to be! Why, it’s the next best thing to Paradise.

Tragically enough, the ability to be at home with ourselves became the first – and the most fundamental – casualty of The Fall. No sooner had Adam and Eve eaten from the fruit of the tree of knowledge than their natural state – their nakedness, their transparency – became a reproach. They were embarrassed – they were ashamed – of who they were. Literally, they were no longer comfortable in their own skin. Suddenly sullied by self-alienation and self-loathing, Paradise was lost…and life became a burden.

As we know all-too-well, so much of the misery, sin and sadness that plagues the human family to this very day comes from either (1) the inability to be who we really are, or (2) the fruitless attempt to become someone we’re not.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales exclaimed:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one should be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose through Creation God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’, whereas through the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness.”

The redemptive grace of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the happiness that comes from possessing our own souls. The restorative power of the Incarnation makes it possible for us to experience once again the joy of being essentially at home with who we are in the sight of God. Wounded as we are by sin, our practice of devotion – our quest to possess our own souls – no longer comes effortlessly as it originally did in Paradise. It requires perpetual practice; it demands tremendous patience.

That said, God not only promises us the joy and peace born of this heavenly self-acceptance; God also shows us how to achieve it on this earth in the person of his Son.

Jesus embodies the power of self-possession. Jesus exhibits the joy of self-acceptance. Jesus exudes the peace of self-direction. Who better than Jesus shows us what it looks like to be comfortable in one’s own skin? Who better than Jesus demonstrates what it looks like to invite - and to empower - others to do the same?

Not unlike what he did with our first parents, The Evil One hits us where it hurts. Sometimes Satan tempts us to believe that we can’t possibly be happy by being who we are. Other times, Satan tempts us to believe that we’d be happier if we were someone else – perhaps anybody else – other than who we are. In very deep, dark places within our minds and hearts, each and every one of us is tempted to ask this question:

Sinner as I am, weak as I am, wounded as I am and imperfect as I am, why should I believe that God wants me to be comfortable – at home - in my own skin?

The Body and Blood Of Jesus Christ (June 3, 2018)

The events of Holy Week are tremendous in importance, but, unfortunately, overwhelmingly crammed into a few days. Holy Thursday is revisited at the beginning of post-Easter, ordinary time. When we review Holy Thursday, we call it “the Feast the Body and Blood of Christ.”

The setting for the last supper is the Seder meal of Passover, the great Jewish celebration of the “passing over” the Jews by the angel of death and the passing from slavery to freedom from Egypt.

The ritual telling of the Jewish story at Seder was called Haggadah – the explanation of Passover to those present, especially children. Our liturgy of the word came out of this.

The second part of our mass also comes from the Seder. The Jews ate unleavened bread, matzo. Because of their urgency in leaving Egypt, there was not time to bake with yeast.

Our first reading today comes from the book of exodus, the story of the ratification of a covenant. Moses relates god’s wishes, and the Jews promise to obey the laws which god enjoins on them as their part of the covenant. The sealing of the covenant takes place at an altar that Moses sets up.

Blood, for a Jew of that day, was equated with life. Understandable! If a warrior bleeds out in battle, he loses his life. They concluded, somehow logically, but not factually, that blood was life.

The blood of the sacrificed lamb offering was put into two bowls. The contents of one are splashed on the altar to symbolize the binding nature of the covenant on God’s part. The other bowl is sprinkled on the people as a sign of their binding to God. Thus, the common life-blood ratifies the union of God and his people in the unity of family blood.

During the Seder, Jesus interrupted the flow of this ritual Jewish meal. After he said the blessing, he interjected the words over the bread: “This is my body.” This is I.

Later, at the third of four cups of wine, called “the cup of blessing,” symbolizing the blood of the Passover lamb, Jesus said the blessing and again interrupted the normal flow of the Seder and said: “This is the cup of my blood.” This is I. Just as the former covenant was ratified with blood [Ex 24:8; Zech 9:11], Jesus establishes a new covenant ratified with his own blood to be shed the next day.

The renowned liturgist, Godfrey Diekmann, after discussing the various theories of what happened to the bread and wine used to challenge his students with these words: “What good is it if the bread is changed and we are not? Do you accept your own participation in God’s divinity? Are you ready to become the food you rise to receive?” Diekmann was saying, “We are what we eat” at Mass.

We may need to remind ourselves of Diekmann’s question; receiving Eucharist is not magic. The celebrant is not a wizard and you, “Muggles” – Harry Potter. Being in church does not any more make us a Christian than standing in a garage makes us a car.

To receive Eucharist requires our awareness of what we are about as Christians; that is, being consciously present to Jesus, being focused on Jesus at the moment of communion – and afterwards for a while.

Being present in that manner will change us just as a weekly visit to Mother Teresa would have changed us.

To say the same thing in a more scholarly way: there is a philosophical – slash – theological principle: “Whatever is received is received by the quality of the recipient.”

Sounds strange, but it is the principle that underlies familiar experiences. It is the principle that underlies our experience of the sun:

  • The same sun will harden clay and melt wax.
  • The same sun may give you a savage tan, but will sunburn this Irishman.
  • The sun is the same, the receivers receive it differently.
Different effects.

What is true of the liturgy of the Eucharist is as true for the liturgy of the word. Jesus taught that when he taught about the same grain falling on different kinds of soil: the rocky, the hard, and the fertile. The Word of God will change us only if we are open to it by attentive listening.

At resurrection we have a built-in reminder. There is a period of silence and dimmed lights to minimize distractions after communion. That helps us to concentrate and to enter within ourselves – and both listen to and talk to our Lord.

We will probably not hear an audible answer, but we find that we somehow get ideas that were not there before we made ourselves present to Jesus. We need to open our minds, our hearts, our spirits and we will change through presence in Eucharist.

Trinity Sunday (May 27, 2018)

Last Sunday, the church marked the end of the celebration of Easter, with the celebration of Pentecost - the celebration of the birthday of the Church. The Church uses the next two Sundays to reflect on two of the most important ways God continues to share: today, who God is; next Sunday, the gift of God’s presence in his Body and Blood.

We know that there is one God - God revealed himself to the Jews. But, Jesus revealed that it is not as simple as that: God is not simply one; he is somehow three. Jesus never said, listen up, guys, today I want to tell you about the Trinity. He never used the word. He did say:

  • “The Father and I are one.”
  • He talked about sending “the Spirit.”
  • In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus’ command to baptize in the name of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Two different groups heard those words and tried to figure them out: Jews, who were the staunchest of monotheists, were not an analytic people. Some were concerned only that Jesus made himself equal to god by speaking of his father - and blasphemously saying that he and the father were one. Therefore, the Jewish solution was rejection of Jesus. They were more interested in obeying the law than listening to god.

Greeks who were analytic [and you and I are cultural descendants of the Greeks], the question arose among Greek Christians of how to handle this father - son - spirit “stuff.” Did you know that the Trinity was not a clear Christian teaching until the 4th century?

So, there is one God, but there is not aloneness in God. There is a loving community within God. There are, as it were, three aspects of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which we call “the Trinity.”

The Trinity, a non-scriptural word that is a figure of speech, is an effort to speak of the variety of our experience of God as family relationships: father and son. By its very nature, love gives. Love, in the threeness of God, gives. God gives to us both jointly and individually. The church “appropriates”:

  • To the Father - the work of creation
  • To the Son - the work of redemption and the revelation of God’s love.
  • To the Holy Spirit - the work of sanctification
The catechism told us correctly that we are made in God’s image and likeness. So, community/relationship is central to human life as well. Loving is at the very heart of being human and becoming divine. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we are capable of being God-like in our giving to others, too.

What does the feast of the Holy Trinity have to say to us? It tells us about: Being creative - like the Father. Coming up with creative solutions to our own and others’ difficulties. It challenges us to be creative in our lives.

Being redemptive - like the Son. Each of us has individual talents that empower us, like Jesus, to free others from bondage, to free others from loneliness, to free a neighbor or relative from need.

Being a sanctifier - that is tricky, because there is only one sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. One of the easiest forgotten truths of our faith is that we can make neither ourselves nor others holy. So, what is our part in sanctification? We can help sanctify:

  • By removing obstacles that block the work of the spirit who alone sanctifies;
  • By being flexible and re-arranging work-schedules so that a spouse can more easily get to Mass;
  • By resisting peer pressure and stepping up for our need to worship our loving, Trinitarian God;
  • By refusing social gatherings that impact our worship of God.
  • We can protect our children from invasive, weekend sports schedules;
  • We can protect our families by overseeing their TV entertainment and computer use. By driving to mass our neighbors’ children who might not otherwise be able to go.
  • By encouraging someone whose faith is getting blurry by being present as a catholic Christian friend.
The Trinity is not only “mystery;” it is also agenda; it is not only a home, but also our destiny.

Many of these things we already do; others we may need to think about and work on - in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday (May 20, 2018)

John and Luke have two very different time-lines for the event: Pentecost. In john’s version, the event takes place in the evening of Easter, the same day as the resurrection. Luke, in his acts of the apostles, tells us that the Holy Spirit came fifty days after the feast of the Passover that had been celebrated on Holy Thursday. Pentecost was a Jewish feast of thanksgiving to god for both the wheat harvest and the giving of the law on mount Sinai. Two different scenarios. Conflict? Dissension?

I remember a scholarly convert who became a catholic after reading such contradictions in scripture. He said that differences in reporting gave credibility to scripture. In real life, eyewitnesses contradict each other; if the reports in scripture all agreed, he would have thought there was collusion and he could not have believed. He would not have converted.

Red is the color of excitement - from red convertibles and red roses & valentines to red fire apparatus and even vestments. It is no wonder the scriptures favor fire for the presence of God. God appears to Moses in a burning bush; he leads the people as a cloud by day and a fire by night. God is described as a consuming fire that will destroy the enemies of the children of Israel. Jesus uses the dramatic image when he says, “I have come to light a fire on the earth; how I wish the blaze were ignited.”

We read in the acts of the apostles: “Suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Jesus’ wish was fulfilled! The blasé was ignited.

All who received the spirit worshiped together, shared their possessions with others according to their need.

The spirit lavished the presence and love of god on everyone present on Pentecost. Like champagne poured on the heads of all in a locker room after a championship, the spirit poured freely on all. The hero of the day gets swamped with champagne and hugs and high fives; but, so do the coach and the ones who sat on the bench, and the ones on injured reserve and the trainers. When there is great joy, no one cares who gets in on the celebration.

The disciples had been huddled in terror in the upper room; they now charge out as fiery preachers courageously proclaiming the risen Lord. Not only their words but also their very lives became proclamation. The time of shock and awe is over. The age of the spirit is inaugurated as they preach, teach, heal, forgive enemies, and love all.

Jesus sets fire to the world by sending his spirit. The spirit comes to make a tired world into a new creation. The spirit fires up the disciples to continue the work that Jesus began. Without that fire, we are “the bland leading the bland.” Going nowhere.

Our bishops, have made the first of two targets for evangelization the already baptized. Why? Because many have lost the fire of enthusiasm - have become “cool” become lukewarm. The second target of evangelization is our neighbor, the one Jesus talks about in the Gospel.

The Holy Spirit reminds us - as Jesus said she would. The Spirit helps us bring back the vision of a personal relationship with Jesus, the relationship that the early Christians had - with fire in their hearts and love in their eyes

What was most basic to the presence of the Holy Spirit? Paul, in Galatians says that the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In 1 Corinthians, he speaks of other gifts: wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and their interpretation. He emphasizes that all of the above are not for individual gratification, but for the common good, the community good, which is the common denominator of the gifts of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is the living spirit of Jesus. All of the above gifts have in common the living of Jesus and the common good of all. The Holy Spirit is called the advocate, the consoler. The emerging sense of the Spirit is the strengthener. She acts as a spiritual blood transfusion for each of us and all of us together.

Angelo Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, convoked the ecumenical council, Vatican II, in 1958 to be nothing less than “a new Pentecost,” which he prophetically believed that the church needed. How can we continue to be sources of that spirit of Pentecost today?