Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 25, 2017)

Market researchers studied three thousand persons, asking: “ What are you most afraid of? You can guess most of the responses: heights, financial insecurity, snakes, dying. The big surprise is that the #1 fear was speaking in front of a group. Today’s first and third readings deal with that fear of speaking before groups.

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet who feared shame and death. Jeremiah tells us what his fear felt like: “terror from every side.” His faith in God pushed him through that fear. He “did the right thing;” he spoke out for God in spite of his fear.

In our Gospel, Jesus counsels his disciples as they set out on their missionary journey to speak to their fellow Jews. They are not to fear; they are to proclaim the good news -- even from the housetops.

We acknowledge and step up for our friends when they are unjustly accused or scoffed at . . . Or we are not much of a friend. But, before we actually do that, we are fearful of being rejected and shunned. Pushing through those fears, we acknowledge and step up for our friends. That is a part of the price of friendship.

There are times when our god is not spoken well of. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” He calls us friends. Do we reciprocate? Do we step up for our Lord, as a friend when god is scoffed at? Are we fearful that we will be thought of as “different” -- labeled a “religious fanatic,” a “Jesus freak,” a “wacko”? Do we play it cool, do we become cowardly and give in to the temptation with an eyes-lowered-“yeah.” That would be unfaithful to our friend, Jesus. We need to choose fidelity as our “default.”

The Gospel concluded with strong words from Jesus: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly father.”

Unlike Jeremiah whom history indicates was later murdered in Egypt, unlike Jesus himself who “did the right thing” then suffered rejection, torture, and the cross, unlike ten of the apostles, who suffered death, as martyrs for their faith, we will most surely never come near to being physically tortured or killed for standing up for our Lord. Jesus never said that our worldly reputation would not suffer. Being labeled may be “the” cost of discipleship for us.

In the Gospel Jesus invites us to entertain two fears: the fear of the one who can destroy body and soul together and the fear of developing a “hardened heart.” In my experience, a hardened heart is often observable. A hardened heart is visible in one who does not have “soft eyes.” In one-on-one conversations, where the appropriate direction for someone is very clear, he hardens his eyes, inhales, raises his head slightly and looks away, avoiding eye contact. If we choose god and “harden not our hearts,” embrace his words and then enflesh his love, we will then have no one and nothing to fear in the big picture.

Let’s recall the prayer of Thomas Merton, the Trappist priest, famous spiritual author, peace activist who died under suspicious circumstances while in the Far East:

“I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end...
I know that you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

therefore I trust you always;
I will not fear for you are with me;
and you never leave me to face my perils alone.”

If we do not look at our weak selves, but toward our god we will have the courage to face our fears. We will be able to show the world what it means to live as fearless disciples of Jesus the Christ when the occasion calls for it.

Body and Blood of Christ (June 18, 2017)

The readings for this year’s cycle, [Year A], used to be the only set of readings for about 400 of the last 440 years on this Sunday. Ancient church liturgists tried to pick the very best readings from the bible. These are what we just heard today as we celebrate the solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ.

One curiosity of John’s Gospel is that five of the twenty original chapters of his Gospel are devoted to the Last Supper. And, yet, there is zero mention of bread or wine at the meal. Why? Because John had written extensively about Eucharist back in his magnificent chapter six.

In today’s gospel from chapter 6, we heard: “if you do not eat of the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John does not use the ordinary word for “eat” in this last verse; he uses the Greek verb trogein - to tear with the teeth, to gnaw. The strongest, most vivid language! And, he uses it four times in this section for emphasis.

The earliest church communities understood these words to be literally true. The bread and wine really becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

In ancient Judaism this would not have been so strange as it sounds to us. Back then, there were two sacrificial practices: first, there was the holocaust, the total incineration of the animal -- asking for divine acceptance. The second practice was called a “sin offering” to achieve at-one-ment with god through the shedding of blood. While the whole animal was offered to God, a portion of the flesh could be given to the priests and the rest could be given back to the worshiper who could then feast on it. Since the animal had been offered to God, something of god was thought to dwell in the offering. Therefore, the worshiper left the feast with a sense of God within. So, there was a Jewish precedent for divine presence and food.

I’d like to make two points: one, theological and the other, personal.

First: this miracle of bread and wine changed into body and blood was later given by catholic-theologians the fancy name “transubstantiation.” There are some who find this unacceptable. Real presence is just too “unscientific” for them. But, when we stop to think, is it any more difficult to accept that bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ than to accept the fact that broccoli, French fries, and chocolate ice cream become the body and blood of you and me -- using the fancy name of biologists: “assimilation”?

Assimilation is accepted as a scientific fact. Transubstantiation is rejected by some in spite of the biblical evidence in John’s Gospel.

Second: if we really believe that this particle, this sip, is really the body and blood of Jesus, why are we not more awed than we are when we receive our lord?

Do we need to take time to remind ourselves of the magnificent miracle, the awesome reality of Jesus coming into you and me at mass with a fervent amen when we receive our lord and then take time to “be” with Jesus, to speak with him . . . And to listen?

The Eucharist is not about some “thing” to be “received.” It is so much deeper. It is mutual presence, at-one-ment, the relationship. This is the personal aspect of Eucharist. It is a giant step beyond the second kind of Jewish sacrifice, the sin offering. We have personal encounter with him and we gradually change in the encounter. The encounter changes us. We eventually live Jesus.

Jesus draws us to a deeper level of spiritual truth and life. He also tries to wean us from spiritual baby food, the “things” of religion. Childish practices that, at an earlier stage, were all that we could manage, today, they would keep us undernourished. He cultivates our spiritual taste for the awesome,

And, he bluntly tells us those who eat live; those who don’t, die.

Trinity Sunday (June 11, 2017)

When we read all that Jesus is quoted as saying, we conclude that god is surely one -- as the Jews believe. But, god is also, somehow, three. All Christian faiths accept this truth. It is absolutely the deepest mystery, for it concerns the very nature of God. For us to discuss it is like a colony of ants trying to put a human person under a microscope and then determine what human nature really is. As ants are to us, we are to God . . . With an even greater, an infinite gap between God and us.

Our god is 3 persons so in love with one another that they are one and so in love with us that they do everything possible to share the joy of our life and love and make us one with themselves -- closing the gap to some degree.

That said, let us turn our attention to today’s Gospel. No verse of the Bible is better known than the first verse of today’s Gospel, designated as Jn 3:16. We see “Jn 3:16” on TV. --- Hanging on banners on stadium walls at sports events. It has become a sort of Magna Carta of the Christian faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Everything that the church at its best believes and teaches and does --grows out of that. It is a summary statement of Christian theology, the inspiration of Christian service, the basis of Christian ethics.

To understand Jn 3:16, the context of the verse needs to be understood. The context is the relationship between Jesus and a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus appears only in John’s Gospel; he appears three times.

Nicodemus first came to see Jesus at night. In John’s Gospel the author uses darkness to indicate unbelief. Night indicates that he was “still in the dark” about who Jesus really was. Perhaps it also indicates that he did not want to be seen by his fellow Pharisees. Perhaps, both.

We see him a second time after he saw the worth of Jesus’ words. He steps up to defend Jesus among his fellow Pharisees. He comes closer to the light.

Finally, when Nicodemus witnessed the death Jesus bravely died without recanting his words of love, Nicodemus steps boldly into the light as a Jesus-man. He brings the myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. Nicodemus comes to belief slowly, but he comes. He comes out of the darkness into the light, just as you and I come in stages into deepening our belief in Jesus.

Jesus spoke today’s words to Nicodemus about God’s love the first time they met. I’d like to briefly talk about 3 words in this Magna Carta of Christianity. The material universe, in terms of magnitude, is measured in a phrase that had to be invented: light years . The spiritual magnitude of God’s love for you and me is even greater, but it is expressed here in one, puny word: “so.”

God so loved the world, not God the father was so . . . angry . . .with the world that Jesus obediently had to come to come and suffer and die to appease the father - as an older theology tries to teach us. We need to remind ourselves of the depth of god’s love from time to time because we see so much of the lack of love in our world.

The second and third words are eternal life. Eternal life in the New Testament does not simply mean perpetual existence. Eternal life is not about quantity of existence, but a new and better quality of life.

To try, albeit poorly, to illustrate, imagine that you invited three extremely talented athletic worshipers to perform a demonstration of the trinity with arms tightly linked around each other’s waists. They begin to whirl around so fast that they become an indistinguishable blur. They appear as one though they remain three distinct persons. That is the dance into which we are swept at our death. Something like that is “eternal life.”

This is not about a statement of creedal faith, which we recite. This is about biblical faith, by which we are saved. Eternal life does not come from believing that “things” are true, but from being “born from above,” believing in Jesus, throwing in our lot with Jesus, entering a sphere of existence where Jesus is number one in our lives.

We recall the holy picture of the gentle Jesus, standing outside a door with no doorknob on his side and recall those words described in the Book of Revelation [3:20]: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” A dinner dance!

When we open the door to our hearts to the lord, things are never the same. It is as though we are given new eyes. We have a new perception of reality, a new awareness of how things really are. We hear an echo of Jn 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.”

Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)

Since we were tiny tots we have been learning that some things are hot and some are cold. We learned that it is good to know about this before we touch something. When something is hot, we say it’s hot as fire . . . Or, in August, we might say: Today was hot as hell. When something is cold, we say, “It’s ice-cold.”

Fire and ice are effective metaphors for personal, relational, and spiritual realities. In fact, we categorize our relationships by their temperatures. Our emotions are the thermometers. I hear, “She is hot stuff . . . a real hotty.” [But, what would a simple priest know about that?] “He really burns me up.” At the other end of the thermometer, ice is associated with the absence of passion. We talk about an “icy stare,” a “cold shoulder,” we speak of relationships “warming up” or “cooling off”.

With long-term relationships, couples, good friends, find a comfortable temperature between fire and ice. Warm is used for daily life. Of course there will be occasional spikes of higher and lower temperatures - and that is normal in relationships; that is life. But. On balance, warm is good; we want warmth in our valued relationships - the warmth of security and trust, the warmth of understanding and acceptance, the warmth of devotion and care.

Two thousan years ago Jesus and the early church -- building on human experience -- spoke and wrote most eloquently. Today, on this feast of Pentecost, we hear Luke’s spectacular account of Pentecost: hearing a noise like a strong driving wind, with miraculous communication and fire! “Tongues” - - because they would preach the word - - “as of fire,” rested on each.” Think of it! Fire from heaven, dramatic manifestations of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Almost terrifying in its drama. The drama did not occur again in this book or anyplace else in scripture - no later sounds of rushing winds and no more tongues of fire. But. There was enthusiasm; there was excitement in relationship of persons with God and God in Jesus -- and among the members of the community.

The Holy Spirit is the fire of god that inspires, incites warmth in our sometimes-chilly hearts toward each other and toward all of God’s children. Within us the Holy Spirit is the fire that stands over against the ice of our cold- heartedness, our selfishness, our deadness. The fire burns with us, not to produce some sort of visible, celestial pyrotechnics, but to incite us to be loving. We recall Paul writing to the Corinthians in regard to the various gifts of the Holy Spirit; he concluded: “The greatest of these is love.”

The fire ignited at our baptism burns within our depths; it needs to be nurtured on this feast. The essence of sin is the attempt to put the flame out or say that less-than-warm is good. Is “being cool” good? ... A question for pondering.

When we speak of hot and cold in relationships, we recall the glorified Jesus spoke some scary words to the Laodiceans in the Book of Revelation: “I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold! But, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,” --- and now the scary part --- “I will spew you out of my mouth.” Our Lord gives hope a few verses later: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” Warm. This is the picture on the holy card with a gentle Jesus standing by a door with no handle on the outside. We must open the door from the inside of our hearts.

Today is the feast of Pentecost. The first Christian community moved from fear and inertia to pants-on-fire enthusiasm. We have fire within us. We also have some chill within us. This feast reminds us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love who reminds us of our baptism, and calls us to moments of fire and the realization of warmth -- for the long haul.

The Holy Spirit has called each of us by our own name. St. Francis de sales stated so clearly the manner of our call: “Be who you are and be it well.” Today is a day to become very aware of our gifts, not our shortfalls. A day to pray: “Come holy spirit.” Today is a day to examine how we are developing the individual, unique gifts that the Lord has given us. Today is a day of warmth - even of fire.

Today is Pentecost, the day of the great gathering and the day of the great sending out. We have been waiting for the spirit; let’s show our faith to the world.

Seventh Sunday Of Easter (May 28, 2017)

Has this been a glorious spring? We seemed to go from winter to summer the last few years. The bright yellow of the forsythia this year was glorious. The vivid colors of the azaleas and wisterias as they bloom in their full glory are . . . glorious.

Glory is a curious word.

Five times in the Gospel and three times in the second reading we hear a form of the word “glory”:

  • glory given to God,

  • glory received by Jesus,

  • glory passed on,

  • glory of suffering for faithfulness to God.

That word “glory” always puzzled me until I found a biblical scholar who made sense of it. “Glory” as used in John’s Gospel is “the manifestation of God’s majesty.”

Jesus is the perfect revealer of God’s glory:

  • his healing, a manifestation of god’s majestic power

  • his preaching, a manifestation of god’s majestic wisdom

  • his forgiveness, a manifestation of god’s majestic

  • his teaching, a manifestation of god’s majestic truth

  • his compassion, a manifestation of god’s majestic love and graciousness

Jesus’ obedience -listening - to the father was the critical mass. Listening has consequences, the consequences of his telling the truth about the father and the state of religious practice led inexorably to his passion and death.

Those who were here on Good Friday may remember the homily about the last supper being the turning point in Jesus’ life. The time of action in his life when he got up from the table and went to the garden of gethsemane. In the garden the passive voice began to be operative. Jesus was arrested, was bound, was tried, was found guilty, was stripped, was flogged, was made to carry his cross, and was crucified. All passive voice.

Action ceased and passiveness began: passion in this context of “passion and death” is the flip side of action. Jesus had completed his actions of preaching, teaching and healing.

Now we recall the words of today’s Gospel when he prayed to his father:

“Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son that your son may give glory to you. I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Father, give me glory at your side.”

At Jesus’ “hour of glory” passersby’s scoffed at him and jeered. There was nothing outwardly glorious in him as he hung on the cross. Yet it was precisely in this “hour” that God’s glory was most present, even if unrecognized. Jesus manifested the Father’s majesty as much in his passivity as in his activity.

We glorify our father both by doing the work God sends us - action- and working through those things that “happen” to us - passion. We hear Jesus continue in his last supper discourse: “I have given them the glory you gave me that they may be one, as we are one - I living in them, you living in me - that their unity may be complete.”

We glorify God and are glorified by God in being united to him.

Spring flowers manifest God’s majesty in their visible, glorious beauty. We manifest God’s majesty in the not always visible-to-us beauty of our lives. Our glory will follow as day follows night.

Sixth Sunday Of Easter (May 21, 2017)

Easter is now five weeks behind us. Many of the flowers that celebrated Easter with us need a resurrection of their own.

We have reveled in the new life of the risen Jesus and followed his path of appearances from tomb side to Emmaus to upper room to Galilee to five hundred seeing him at one time. Today, Jesus speaks of orphans: “I will not leave you orphans.” Are we aware that “orphan,” a word used over forty times in the bible, is used only once in all four Gospels? I got to thinking about orphans and how Jesus assures us about its opposite. Would it be that he is going to leave his followers in one way [physical presence] and Jesus with us in a new way?

You have surely picked up on my worldview - seeing relationship as the basic category for talking about god and the people and things of God. The theologian and author, John Shea, is very helpful in developing the relational flow. I will use some of his thoughts in this homily. This gets a bit lofty, so fasten your seatbelts.

At the physical level we come into existence when sperm joins egg and we are nourished for nine months in a relationship with our mother’s blood. Then we pass into a new and larger womb where we are in relationship with air, and with food and drink for nourishment.

At the psychological/social level, we are cared for by others and internalize their influences to become who we are. Relationship is key in all theories of human development. We often name others in relational terms: mother, father, son, daughter, wife, husband, friend, enemy, boss, brothers and sisters, neighbors.

At the spiritual level, we may develop our belief system with a philosophy from Nazism to humanism or many another. We may choose to believe in god and follow a theology of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism or other. Or, we may choose to put our faith in Jesus Christ. At times, we may think that “we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps,” but this self-reliant posturing sooner or later gets dropped. “No man is an island.” Relationship is key.

Jesus’ greatest teaching and greatest example concerns itself with the greatest relationship: love of both of God and of others.

Now, late in Easter time we followers of Jesus hear him speaking of life after life. He tells us that the spirit is eternally present in created spirits, sustaining us in existence and filling us with life in a dance that survives death.

Perichoresis is the technical term Christian theologians have for the inner life of the trinity. It literally means a dance, a life-giving movement that goes round and round without beginning or end. It is the love and the life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We hear in the gospels at this time that this Trinitarian dance is not for the divine persons only. God invites human persons to this dance. It is this invitation that Jesus reveals and imparts to his followers. Jesus speaks of his father and the spirit and himself dwelling within us. Our relationship is the beginning of life after life - we are already with our God in a real way.

When we accept him in faith and respond to him directly by bringing our presence into his presence and communing with him in Eucharist. When we accept him indirectly in our neighbor by bringing our presence to our neighbor’s presence in loving response, we are never alone, never orphans.

Remember the phrase, “the state of grace”? How static and lifeless that now sounds. The dynamic reality is the presence of the father - who made us, the son - who saved us, the spirit - who makes us holy - all dwelling within us. That is grace. That is the eternal dance. We become united to them more closely than we are united to ourselves.

I hope that today’s homily may bring some peek into what “heaven” – eternal life with God - will be like.

I hope that the understanding of our eastern brothers and sisters will make more sense in their saying: “God became man so that man might become God.” It seems that the church of the east is more conscious of this reality of presence. When they greet each other, they join their hands like this, bow, and say/pray. Namaste, that is, “The spirit within me greets the spirit within you.”

With the Lord, we will never be orphans. We begin the indwelling, now we will dance forever, later.

Fifth Sunday Of Easter (May 14, 2017)

Doesn’t it seem strange to hear part of Jesus’ last supper discourse repeated during late Eastertime? It makes sense only in its liturgical context: Jesus’ words at the time of his saying goodbye.

The disciples sound much like young children when parents tell them that they are going out. Where are you going? When are you coming back? Who is going to stay with us? Did you notice that the disciples – like young children - did not ask what is going to happen with Jesus; they ask only what is going to happen to them. Our generation is not the inventor of self-centeredness.

Thomas and Philip are the disciples who are the “straight-men” in this scene of “Johanine misunderstanding.” Johanine misunderstanding is the name for a device the author, john, uses to introduce and set up a “Jesus explanation.’

Jesus is not talking about where he is going as a place with an address; nor does he call it heaven. Jesus is talking about relationship, his and our relationship with the father. Through faith, the disciples will be able to recognize the relationship that already exists between Jesus and his father. Ultimately, faith, trust in God, will allow his followers to enter fully into that divine relationship: mutual indwelling. That is “the way, the life” in his truthfully proclaiming himself: “The way, the truth and the life.”

This same reality is what he calls elsewhere “the Kingdom of the Father.” The interpenetrating of the divine and our human consciousness is “the belonging” that we all desire in the depths of our hearts. This is the heart of John’s message. A bit lofty? Absolutely! John is depicted as an eagle in Christian art because of his lofty, theological soaring, not because he had feathers.

This surely transcends a description of heaven as “pie in the sky when you die.” This is not the notion of heaven for Muslim men - being with “72 dark-eyed virgins.” Yet, Jesus’ words give us only an inkling, because it is impossible to adequately describe what being with Jesus and the father actually is. As Paul in 1 Corinthians said: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what god has prepared for those who love him.” [1 Cor 2: 9,10]

Jesus assures his listeners that they who believe in him will do the works he does—and even greater works. The list is long: caring for the sick, forgiving, comforting those in pain, protecting the weak and vulnerable, embracing the poor, eating with sinners, defending the rights of the victimized, denouncing injustice . . . and more.

Our first reading from the acts of the apostles speaks to this and tells us of perhaps the first political moments in the new-born church where the spiritual needs of the church were not being matched by the material needs of some of the people of God. The work of the Twelve: preaching did not leave sufficient time for tending to the material needs; the office of deacons was created to care for needs of the Greek-speaking Christians. It was clearly a division of labor in the church. It had nothing to do with the establishing of a hierarchy. Deacons were co-workers.

The early church, open to the work of the spirit, was not slow to move to see that the material and spiritual needs were met. We pray that we the church of the 21st century will do no less. We now share in Jesus’ ministry, there is a saying in Africa: “The path is made by walking.” Each time we demonstrate our faith by living Jesus both spiritually and materially. We take another step in making our next venturesome step easier and more light-footed.

Fourth Sunday Of Easter (May 7, 2017)

Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” referring, of course, to Jesus. But, did you notice that Jesus does not call himself the “good shepherd” – at least, not directly?

He calls himself the sheep gate - and for good reason. In those days, flocks of sheep were kept overnight in a common enclosure; the walls were stone - and high enough that the top was beyond the claws and the jaws of the wolves and other predators that prowled the countryside. Such is the case, even today. At nightfall each shepherd leads his sheep into the sheepfold. In the morning, the shepherd leads his flock out again. The sheep know the sound of the shepherd’s voice.

A visitor to the Holy Land asked why there were not gates to the sheepfolds. The guide replied, “That is an easy one; that is where the shepherds sleep.” The sheep gate and the shepherd are one and the same.

The shepherd is the only defense for the sheep. He remains at the most vulnerable point. He lies down between the sheep and any predators - to protect them and even possibly to give his life for them.

As we know, sheep are not particularly intelligent. Jesus’ point is the fidelity and the vigilance of the shepherd; it is always a mistake to try to carry a metaphor beyond the point being made; here, shepherding is the point. Jesus is not referring to us as dumb animals.

When we stop to think about it, the metaphor, shepherding, actually denotes a relationship, a relationship of faithfulness, of protection, of nourishment, and care. If we think of shepherds, only as an office in the church, we can become disillusioned in these our days. And who of us has not experienced that in recent times.

The chief priest in a parish is called “the pastor.” The chief pastor in a diocese is called “the bishop.” [He even carries the shepherd’s crook during liturgy]. The highest pastor worldwide is called “the Pope.”

Most of us in church this day are shepherds, leaders in one way or another: within our family, within our parish, within our community. The Gospel challenges us to look to ourselves to examine our relationship of shepherding towards those in our care. Are we faithful to our task? Are we courageous? Are we watchful of what nourishment of food and drink as well as TV viewing and computer using? Of places we allow those under our care to go? Or have we, perhaps, somewhat abdicated our responsibility and thereby abused and allowed harm to come to our lambs by our negligence?

Jesus is the supreme shepherd. He is the example to each of us in our roles as shepherds. He gave even his life for his sheep. Jesus as good and faithful shepherd inspires us to lead “ours” through the dark valleys of life.

All of us need to keep our eyes on Jesus, the good shepherd and see the institutional church as a means, not an end, to foster our relationship with Jesus. In turn, we strive to improve our Vatican II understanding of church, the people of God, so that united to Christ, we may become all that we are called to become.

As we just heard at the end of the Gospel, recognition of Jesus as supreme shepherd leads us to enjoy the promise of life in abundance. The good shepherd tells us that to give us life in abundance is why he came.

Third Sunday Of Easter (April 30, 2017)

The final chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Chapter 24) tells of a wonderful episode that occurred on Easter afternoon. This account appears only in Luke.

Two disciples, Cleopas - and perhaps his wife - were travelling the seven-mile journey to Emmaus. They were crestfallen. Jesus had been killed. Some strange stories about “sightings” of Jesus were circulating. These stories were not compelling enough to detain them in Jerusalem. This is the story that forms the context of where we may meet the living Jesus: faith in the Resurrection comes from experience of the risen Lord.

The two were heading westward, away from the light of the world. Their hope in a warrior-king Messiah was dashed. A stranger falls into step with them. To them he was an outsider, one who neither shared their loss nor understood their grief. He asks, “What are you discussing as you go your way?” They respond by asking, “Are you the only resident of Jerusalem who does not know what went on there these past few days?” Jesus counters by asking, “What things?”

He came as a stranger. They did not recognize him. Nor did others who were close to him.

We may well ask why people did not immediately recognize him after the resurrection. There may be two reasons for this:

  • Jesus as risen must have looked somewhat different than before he died.

  • What the mind does not anticipate, the eye does not see. Our expectations! Our expectations create selective perceptions, i.e., Mary Magdalene’s initial inability to recognize Jesus dressed as a gardener.

What eventually enables the two to finally recognize Jesus? Two things:

First, there was a discussion along the road. Crises play a big role in our road to spiritual development and maturity. God provides/provokes many crises by asking questions. After all, questions have a knack for putting us on the spot. Some standouts among Jesus’ questions include:

Who do you say that I am?
Where is your husband?
“What are you discussing as you go your way?”
“What things?”

They had to articulate where they were with all of this.

Then, he gifted them with a new experience: “How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced.” Their selective perception of the prophets was narrow. They expected him to be a warrior-king who would free Israel from Rome. They failed to consider texts that referred to the suffering and death of god’s servant. They avoided the cross as Peter had done, and probably Judas as well, as perhaps, we all do. In his response, Jesus made sense of things. Unfortunately, his words to them were never recorded. Their hearts burned within them.

Then, there was a real meal for them in Emmaus.

Approaching Emmaus, Jesus appeared to be continuing on, reminiscent of Revelation 3:20: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him and he with me.” We recall the picture with Jesus standing at the door without an exterior handle.

The two had the power to break off the new relationship with the stranger, to side step the obligation of hospitality. Another crisis provoked by Jesus, “And then, they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.”

Both the words on the road and the action of the meal join to form Eucharistic language:

On the road, Jesus spoke of the law, prophets, writings that are a summary of Jewish scriptures. We hear that today as the liturgy of the word. At home there is the breaking of the bread: Eucharistic language. Took bread, pronounced the blessing, broke.

Of to Jerusalem, energized by the Good News.

In the meantime, Peter had had a similar experience and had also returned to the community. That appearance is also one of the great untold stories. Only when we recognize Him in word + sacrament in the stranger, and in ourselves, will our hearts burn brightly enough to attract others to Christ’s fire.

When we open ourselves to the uninvited stranger that God sets in our path, Jesus makes himself known to us in new ways. He becomes visible in the Middle Eastern immigrant with an impossible-to-pronounce name, in the shabby person with an impossible-to-believe story, and in the neighbor with impossible-to-accept irritating habits. Christ is “made known to us” every time we seek to be bread for others or when they do the same for us. May the stirrings of our hearts cause them to burn with desire to make Christ known to still others throughout the blessedness, brokenness, and sharing of our lives.

Second Sunday Of Easter (April 23, 2017)

Nicknames can be cute, but sometimes they are far from that; they can be downright demeaning. “Doubting Thomas” is an age old nickname for an apostle who, previous today’s episode, proved himself to be a searcher of truth and the apostle who on hearing of Jesus’ possible trouble by going to Jerusalem, said, “let us also go, that we may die with him.” Why was he not known as “Thomas the searcher” or “Thomas the bold?”

Truth to tell, Thomas did nothing more than ask for physical evidence, the kind of evidence that the other apostles enjoyed. He happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

During this time of the liturgical year, our first reading does not come from the Old Testament, but from the Acts of the Apostles - a chronicle by Luke of the earliest days of the Christian community in the aftermath of the resurrection. It tells of what difference the resurrection made in the community members’ lives.

Today, we hear about the praying, caring and sharing Jerusalem community that gathered to break bread [celebrate Eucharist]. They were trying a different way of living and working together. In just a few chapters, we shall hear others quarreling over who is getting more attention than whom, what some leaders are saying that is different from other leaders.

On balance, thousands came to the Lord.

How about us? What difference has the resurrection really made in our lives in the last week? Who among us cannot say we have not seen the lord? It is probably not through a weeping statue or a miraculous smell of roses, but haven’t we seen him in his care for us, seen him in a miraculous recovery from an accident of someone we know? Haven’t we seen him in someone who has turned his/her life around after a painful divorce? A sudden death? A terrible loss?

Haven’t we marveled at the wisdom that springs from the mouth of a child? From our own mouth at times we didn’t know what to say and whispered an urgent prayer . . . and it worked? Haven’t we felt his presence as we prayed, as we sang in a moving liturgy?

We have seen him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus said: “ as the father has sent me, so I send y ou. What Thomas encountered in the locked room did not stay there. The apostles spread the good news as they were directed . . . To Rome, to Greece, to Eastern Europe. Tradition has it that Thomas carried the good news even to India.

We need to witness, too. We need to be contagiously enthusiastic. The name for this is evangelization. Too often we associate this word with TV, preachers and snake oil religion. Evangelization simply means us telling the good news.

I invite you to celebrate the resurrection with something more substantial than frothy egg nag and possibly a new outfit - to reach out to someone with the good news of the resurrection. To offer someone the life of the risen Jesus, the compassion of Jesus Christ.

Resurrection Of The Lord (April 16, 2017)

Today, we celebrate what surpasses and transcends every other Christian, religious celebration: the rising to new life of Jesus.

Today’s gospel expresses john’s focus on the events of Easter morning: the reaction of three persons to the empty tomb.

First, Mary of Magdala. What did Mary understand when she stood in the chilly early morning and saw the stone rolled back and no Jesus? In the light of the terrible Friday past, she thought that “they” heaped on one more indignity: now “they” stole his body. Ironically, later, the “they” that Mary speaks about will accuse the apostles of the same crime, saying that the apostles stole the body to make it look like a resurrection. Mary runs to tell peter and the beloved disciple.

Interesting that the politics surrounding Jesus’ death were so acute that they eclipsed any spiritual reflection.

Peter and the beloved disciple, arrive. The Gospel author makes a note that perinea leadership is slow by comparison: the beloved disciple knows early on not to supersede an authority figure. Peter, true to form in all four Gospels, rushes in and sees only what is readily apparent. . Neatly folded cloths indicate a peaceful event – not the messiness of the theft of a body as Mary thought. He sees, but he doesn’t see. [A week later, Jesus will reprimand Thomas for making physical sight a requirement for believing.]

The beloved disciple is the hero of the 4th Gospel, though we are never told his actual name, he is thought to be the apostle, John. That he was beloved was more important than his name.

His initial understanding is cryptic. The Gospel says: “He saw and believed.” Yet, the gospel writer’s next verse reads: “For they [Peter and the beloved disciple] did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” So, what, exactly, did he believe?

On that same Easter morning, we read that Mary Magdalene first comes to realize the resurrection when she hears Jesus’ voice call her name: “Mary.”

We learn, elsewhere, that Jesus appeared to Peter later that day. Unfortunately, nothing is recorded of that visit – just the fact of it. Faith increased in Peter to the point where we heard his bold, fearless words in today’s first reading. His outspoken faith will lead to his death

From John’s progressive understanding, an important truth emerges later in the letter attributed to him in 1 John 4: “God is love” and “whoever is without love does not know God.” [Conversely: one who loves does know God, for God is love.]

What is my point? My point in all this is that the first Christian community came to the truth of the resurrection only gradually. We can expect no more for ourselves. The faith, earlier accepted from our parents needs to be claimed personally, individually by us.

So, what evidence do we have for the resurrection that would convince the skeptic within each of us as well as “professional skeptics? Can we absolutely prove our case in human opinion court?

The truth is, we can’t prove it with irrefutable evidence. There were no eyewitnesses to life entering the dead body of Jesus. There was no CSI Jerusalem to help. There must be some leap of faith.

Having said this, do we have anything to at least strongly indicate the reality of the resurrection? Yes! There is strong evidence that points the way for the one who honestly seeks. We remember the state of the disciples on Good Friday night. They were terrified; they were in fear for their lives. Those leaders had neither the courage nor the faith even to appear in public.

As time passed, the very existence of the church, the people of God, is the best sign of the resurrection. The church [people of God] continued to believe that Jesus rose from the dead during three centuries of unrelenting, bloody persecution. In Rome, persecuted Christians fled from their homes and were forced to live in the catacombs. Why would they leave their homes to live in caves and risk a merciless, tortuous death unless they were absolutely certain of Jesus’ resurrection? Who would go through that if one were in doubt?

Why didn’t Jesus also appear to the chief priests, Annas and Caiaphas, and the scribes, and Pharisees, and the Sanhedrin, and to the roman, Pontius Pilate? Simple: because their hearts were hardened.

The lesson to be learned is: the hardness of heart in people who walk among us today is no softer than the people of Jesus’ day who do not listen. To listen would mean we’d have to change. We don’t want to.

We, like our super-courageous spiritual forebears are not called to be convincers, debaters, we are called to be witnesses. Our “job’” as witness is to have the courage to tell the truth about Jesus when opportunity presents itself. Our task is to live lives that profess our faith each week in celebrating at mass with our community his and our resurrection. We witness to at least our neighbors by mass attendance.

We are Easter people. May the risen lord go before each of you to guide you and behind you to protect you. May the risen lord go beneath you to sustain you - and most of all – may the risen lord go within you to enlighten others by your witness.

Fifth Sunday Of Lent (April 2, 2017)

The sports-caster pushes through the crowd for a postgame interview. “Congratulations, coach, what was the turning point in the win?

The retired general or admiral is writing his memoirs. He reveals unknown details and strategies in the war. The most important chapter is his conclusion: his interpretation of the turning point. In the Napoleonic wars, it was the battle of Waterloo; in WWII, the battle of Midway. The author analyzes the hinge on which the large door of victory swung open. The beginning of the end.

John tells the story of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. He writes to inspire faith in unbelievers and to encourage the faith of believers.

What was the crucial moment for the writer of the 4th gospel? It is today’s gospel: the raising of Lazarus. The raising of Lazarus was the point of critical mass of his enemies’ anger; Jesus’ popularity reached its highpoint with this miracle. The level of threat to the status quo -leadership now exploded. Jesus had to go! The beginning of the end.

People will commit great evil to protect their positions of power.

--- The Watergate scandal in American politics
--- The Enron executives in Houston
--- Some American bishops in regard to the sex-abuse scandal
--- Martha Stuart - provide examples.

Some folks, who normally attend church, hold responsible positions, treat their families and friends with kindness will commit acts of cruel deception if their power is threatened.

Jesus was a threat, absolutely. The people were judging that he spoke and acted more authoritatively than the Pharisees.

Today, Jesus stood alone, in the midst of a crowd. For Jesus to raise Lazarus was tantamount to entering the tomb himself. John sees this as the beginning of the end for Jesus

John gives us clues in the text. Although those present interpreted his tears as human tears for his friend’s death, scripture scholars argue that the reason he wept was not only for Lazarus; but he weeps in the agony of his present situation. To do what he felt called to do would bring about his death. Thomas the apostle recognized the danger before they left for Judea; he speaks of going to Judea to die with Jesus.

John writes a “high Christology;” that is, he portrays Jesus as being more god than man. Read john’s sanitized passion:

-- No mention of Jesus’ sweat of blood in the garden.
      Scholars say his agony was here at the tomb in john’s version of the agony “in the garden”
--- Jesus defends himself brilliantly before the authorities.
--- Jesus carries his cross by himself; john says so explicitly.
--- Finally, john does not say Jesus dies, but “he delivers over his spirit.”

Though that day may have been bright and sunny, Jesus saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon beyond Lazarus’ tomb. Standing alone, he saw the rising fury of the Jewish leadership. He knew that doing what he felt called to do would push them over the edge. He may have surmised that the next time he looked at a tomb - it would be his own - and he would look at it from the inside.

John saw this as the final turning point, the beginning of the end.

My image of god, our father, does not allow me to believe that the father exacted from his son the torture of a crucifixion-death as payment to him for our sins. That seems to make the father an ogre, not an Abba.

I believe that the father sent his son to model for us how a person is to live a life of love - regardless of the consequences.

I believe that that is what is meant by “taking up one’s cross” taking up one’s cross does not mean to me beating oneself on the head for love of god. [To me, that is foolishness.]

As Jesus stood before Lazarus’ tomb, he knew what the loving thing to do was: he called Lazarus forth, to restore him to his sisters and relieve their terrible grief as a sign of his and his father’s love. But, that, in effect, meant that he would be killed.

And us. Let’s humbly thank / congratulate him for showing us what it means to have the courage of loving conviction.

Let’s look deeply into our lives. Are we avoiding, perhaps looking the other way, distracting ourselves from loving things that we are called to do?

What will we do in these final two weeks of Lent?

Fourth Sunday Of Lent (March 26, 2017)

Many centuries ago, the church used drama to teach. We saw this even in the Middle Ages in the morality plays. The church building provided the theatre. About the year 100 A.D., when john wrote his gospel, he did so in a dramatic narrative. Today we shall present his words, just as he wrote them -- interspersed with commentary, of course.

Please be seated.

In chapter 8 of John’s gospel, Jesus says “ I am the light of the world; no follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness. No, he shall possess the light of life.“

Chapter 9 tells the story of a man born blind, a man born in darkness. It is the story of a man who will come into the light - the light of Jesus, the light of the world. It is a story dramatized in 7 scenes. Let’s listen to the first scene with Jesus, his disciples, and a blind man.

Scene I

N : 1. As he walked along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2. His disciples asked him:

D : “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?”

J: 3. “Neither,” [answered Jesus] “it was no sin, either of this man or of

his parents.

In the disciples’ minds, there is no question whether sin causes blindness; there is only the question of who it was that sinned. It was the teaching of the Hebrews, the old Deuteronomic code, that the sins of the individual or his ancestors were visited on the individual.

Jews of Jesus’ day asked the same question that people ask even today when they suffer affliction: what did I do to deserve this? Affliction is thought to come as punishment. Jesus rejects this notion. [Rather, it was to let god’s works show forth in him. 4. We must do the deeds of him who sent me while it is day. The night comes on when no one can work. 5. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.”]

N : 6. With that Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and smeared the man’s eyes with the mud. 7 then he told him:

J : “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”

N : (This name means “one who has been sent,”) so the man went off and washed, and came back able to see.

Jesus was a wise physician; he used the customs of his day to work his signs; spittle was thought to have curative power. Even today, don’t I stick my finger in my mouth if I burn it? It was not that Jesus believed that spittle could heal blindness, but it kindled expectation in the blind man.

Just as god had made light the first item of creation and then formed man from clay, so john has Jesus use clay that will lead this man to the light of day and eventually to the light of the world.

The second scene involves the blind man’s neighbors, those who frequently saw him.

Scene II

N : 8. His neighbors and the people who had been accustomed to see him begging began to ask:

P : “Isn’t this the fellow who used to sit and beg?”

N : 9. Some were claiming it was he; others maintained it was not but someone who looked like him. The man himself said:

B : “I am the one.”

N : 10. they said to him then,

P : “How were your eyes opened?”

N : 11. He answered:

B : “That man they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes, telling me to go to Siloam and wash. When I did go and wash, I was able to


P : 12. “Where is he?”

N : They asked. He replied,

B : “I have no idea.”

We shall see that the human author of the gospel tells of two miracles: 1. The healing of blindness that brings eyesight; 2. The birth of faith, through insight. He indicates the progression of the man-born-blind’s insight by the progression of the man’s names for Jesus [--as in last weeks story of the Samaritan woman.] We have just heard the first of five: “that man they call Jesus.”

Scene three brings on stage the Pharisees - the villains of the drama.

Scene III

N : 13. Next, they took the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14. (Note that it was on a Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened his eyes.) The Pharisees, in turn, began to inquire how he had recovered his sight. He told them,

B : “He put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.”

N : 16. This prompted some of the Pharisees to assert,

Ph: “This man cannot be from god because he does not keep the Sabbath.”

N : Others objected:

Ph : “If a man is a sinner, how can he perform signs like these?”

N: They were sharply divided over him.

17. Then they addressed the blind man again:

Ph: “Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about him?”

B : “He is a prophet.”

N : He replied.

The Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews, claim to see; Jesus broke a Sabbath prohibition by kneading spittle and earth, which a “devout” Jew would not do. Yet some were puzzled because a sinner should not be able to cure anyone. The Pharisees do not “see.” They do not understand. While their opportunity for insight increases, they become blinder.

Upon further questioning, the former blind man has a new and deeper insight; he calls Jesus a “prophet,” one who brings god’s word to humans.

The Pharisees decide to ‘broaden the investigation’ with a fourth scene as the rather wary and cagy parents of the man are introduced…

Scene IV

N : 18. The Jews refused to believe that he had really been born blind and had begun to see, until they summoned the parents of this man who now could see.

Ph : 19. “Is this your son?”

N : They asked,

Ph : “And if so, do you attest that he was blind at birth? How do you account for the fact that now he can see?”

N: 20. the parents answered:

Pr : “We know this is our son, and we know he was blind at birth. 21. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we have no idea. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”

N: 22. (His parents answered in this fashion because they were afraid of the Jews, who had already agreed among themselves that anyone who

acknowledged Jesus, as the messiah would be put out of synagogue. 23

That was why his parents said, ‘he is of age - ask him.’)

The parents should have been lawyers. Although there was no fifth amendment at that time, they do not implicate themselves. They sidestep the increasing frustration and anger of the Pharisees, who would use ecclesiastical penalty to vent their frustration. Jesus had previously warned his disciples that following him would mean expulsion from the synagogue. We hear his prophecy being fulfilled.

The parents wash their hands of association with their son. They will not take the chance of Jewish excommunication.

Scene V brings the Pharisees to their most violent conflict with the former blind man…

Scene V

N : 24. A second time they summoned the man, who had been born blind

and said to him,

Ph : “Give glory to god! First of all we know this man is a sinner.”

B : 25. “I do not know whether he is a sinner or not,”

N: he answered.

B : “I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see.”

N : 26. They persisted:

Ph : “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

B : 27. “I have told you once, but you would not listen to me,”

N : He answered them.

B : …”Why do you want to hear it all over again? Do not tell me you want to become his disciples too?”

N : 28. They retorted scornfully:

Ph: “You are the one who is that man’s disciple. We are disciples of Moses. 29. We know that god spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man comes from.”

N : 30. He came back at them:

B : “Well, this is news! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31. We know that god does not hear sinners, but that if someone is devout and obeys his will, he listens to him. 32. It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth. 33. If this man were not from god, he could never have done such a thing.”

Ph : 34. “What…you are steeped in sin from your birth, and you are giving us lectures?”

N: With that they threw him out bodily.

The Pharisees begin aggressively: “give glory to god,” -- a phrase used in cross-examination, which means: “speak the truth in the presence and the name of god.” A browbeating technique here.

With his progressive insight into who Jesus is and faith / trust in him, an increasing boldness builds in the former blind man, a boldness not shared by his intimidated parents. He uses the strongest of argument: it was clear Jewish teaching that god hears only the prayer of good people; the book of proverbs said clearly, “ the lord is far from the wicked; but he hears the prayer of the righteous. “ [15:29] The Pharisees were defeated by their own scripture.

“To him who has, more shall be given,” said Jesus. The man has a still deeper insight. He now calls Jesus a “man from god.”

For his faith, the man suffers the rejection that Jesus will eventually suffer -- as well as Jesus’ disciples.

The sixth scene finds the man again with Jesus. As john Chrysostom put it: ‘the Jews cast him out of the temple; the lord of the temple found him.”

Scene VI

N : 35. When Jesus heard of his expulsion, he sought him out and asked


J : “do you believe in the son of man?”

N : 36. He answered,

B : “ Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”

J: 37. “You have seen him … he is speaking to you now.”

B : [38. “I do believe, lord,

N: he said, and bowed down to worship him. 39. Then Jesus said:]

J: “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”

Whenever our Christian witness separates us from others, we find that Jesus is nearer to us.

The titles “son of man,” and “lord” bring the man to the fullness of faith, which results in his bowing down to worship Jesus. “Son of man” to a Jew indicates more than what we Christians hear; it indicates no mere mortal, but the one beyond us who was awaited.

Jesus had said: “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” Jesus confronts us, as were the man and the Pharisees; if we see Jesus as one to be admired, one to be desired, we choose sight and salvation. If we see in Jesus nothing to be admired, desired, followed, we condemn ourselves -- a truth that becomes transparently clear as Jesus and the Pharisees play out the seventh and final scene.

Scene VII

N : 40. Some of the Pharisees around him picked this up, saying,

Ph : “You a re not calling us blind, are you?”

N : 41. To which Jesus replied:

J: “if you were blind, there would be no sin in that. ‘But we see,’ you say, “and your sin remains.”

The Pharisees find themselves in the same place that the man was at the beginning of the story: blind! They have progressively lost insight. They even rejected the cure, were unwilling to admit that the man had ever been blind -- a fact that his friends and neighbors “saw” and knew to be true.

The more we know, the more we are responsible if we do not recognize good when we see it. The Pharisees are condemned because they claim to see so well and yet fail to recognize the messiah when he came. The law that responsibility is the other side of the coin of privilege is written into life. [Barclay]

John describes the increasing insights of the man:“that man they call Jesus,” “a prophet,” “man from god,” “son of man,” “lord.” The insight of faith was a gift greater than the sight to his eyes. His insight was progressive just as the insight of the Pharisees was regressive. Did you notice that the first name for Jesus the man used was the last title for Jesus that the Pharisees used: “that man.”

In human relationships, we frequently experience that the better we know someone, the more we become aware of weakness, of clay feet. In our relationship with Jesus, we find that the more we come to know him the greater he becomes. He is the light of the world and makes us shine as light to the world of others.

This story is the story of healing: from physical blindness, which was obvious to all who would see -- and healing from spiritual blindness, which was subtle and indicated by the progression of insightful names for who Jesus was.

Our Lenten journey of faith -- like the blind man’s -- is also a journey of insights into who Jesus is. Jesus heals us spiritually. He does it frequently by his words in scripture. A reflective recalling of scriptures touches our spirits with our hurts and bruises; it, like soothing oil, promotes our inner healing.

May this drama help heal your spirit with his word -- and may you take your healing words to others as a balm for their spirits.

Third Sunday of Lent (March 19, 2017)

Jews despised Samaritans for over 700 years. The Assyrians had conquered Israel and most of the Jews of that area fled. The Assyrians moved into the territory non-Jews who intermarried with the remaining Jews. After the exile, the returning, “real” Jews saw this as a bastardized form of Judaism. They judged Samaritan women perpetually unclean and would never even speak to them, let alone touch them. Also, in the ancient, near east, women were never to be at the well unaccompanied by a male relative.

That is the setting for Jesus’ encounter. He promptly threw away the rulebook. He initiated the conversation by asking for a drink - without even having his own cup. She played the race card and reminded him of their differences. He confronted her: where is your husband? She said she had none and, understandably, tried to change the subject to . . . Liturgy, to the appropriate place for worship. We can understand she would prefer to talk about her liturgical life rather than her rather interesting sex life. He didn’t blink; you already have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband. --So much for her attempt to derail his train of thought.

Jesus saw her at the well in the heat of the day, the worst time to face the desert sun. Women ordinarily came early in the morning for the day’s water supply. This woman was almost surely shunned by the other women because of her promiscuity. Jesus recognized her strong thirst for male attention. He did not shame her for it. He greeted her by acknowledging his own, “different” thirst.

He offered her “living water” which she first misunderstood as a supply of h20 near her door. Jesus offered her faith. She gradually accepted him -- as we heard by the progressive names for him, from “sir” to “prophet,” to “messiah.”

This obscure, unnamed woman became Jesus’ first female apostle. She went back to schechem and boldly told her neighbors about Jesus and how he reacted to her, and they -- through her -- were introduced to Jesus. She did the work of an apostle!

After the people of schechem encountered Jesus, and he lived among them for 2twodays, these “despised foreigners” said: “no longer does our faith depend on your story. We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this really is “the savior of the world” -- the final and crowning title for Jesus. Isn’t it true that we got our faith like the people in the village? We believed through the word of someone else about God/Jesus: our parents, family, teachers, -- then, we later came to believe in Jesus.

Isn’t it consoling that Jesus uses imperfect people like them and the woman and you and me as his apostles to continue his evangelization? The work of RCIA is not to be construed as the work of perfect people. It is through you and me -- especially you who have more contact with folks of other or no faith -- to draw people to our faith.

In the first reading, we heard that God used a stone to provide water. In the Gospel story, Jesus, from the stone of her heart, struck living water through his compassion and gentle teaching / presence.

The only thing that can keep us away is the hardness of our hearts. God has found us. Do we soften our hearts to receive him? To listen to him? To ask his forgiveness? To grow in love with him? To carry his love to others who are not aware of him?

Second Sunday of Lent (March 12, 2017)

Life is a journey. For most, it is a two-fold journey: the journey out and the journey in. The journey out is the professional journey comprising education, training, earning a salary. The second journey, the journey in is the spiritual journey. Not all make that journey. We have not seen Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton along the way. It is the journey of interiority.

Another pair of choices confronts both of these journeys: being a settler or being a pilgrim, an explorer. Like early folks in our country, some are content to be settlers; others, have a wanderlust sparkle in their eyes. They like to move on. Neither is right or wrong; it just is.

Biblical faith has surely been, basically, a pilgrim faith. We see it in today’s first reading about Abraham and his journey; we see it in both books written by Luke: his Gospel is the story of Jesus on a journey from up in galilee down to Jerusalem; his acts of the apostles is the story of the journey of Paul from Jerusalem over to the heart of the roman empire, Rome.

Explorers are tempted to hunker down, become settlers. Such views often do not take freedom or inspiration seriously. God’s will is revealed more as a light in the present moment --- enough light to take the next step on our unmapped journey.

Our maps are made one journey-step at a time in the company of Jesus. Spiritual journeys are often not mapped out clearly, ahead of time, but are seen only when we pause, turn around and look back where we have come from. Were we to have tried to look ahead when we were back on our journey, the map would have looked like the maps of ancient cartographers who drew dragons and monsters where there were no known paths or ships’ courses.

I like to liken my journey to a walk along a long, pitch-black corridor with dim, overhead lights, 40-watt bulbs at the end of long, light-chains. I walk with hand extended upward. As I walk, my hand hits another chain. I pull the chain and I can see for a short distance beyond. The journey-process continues. That image was a huge help on a personal journey several years ago.

Abram went out, not knowing where he was going. Soren Kierkegaard has well described faith as a leap into the darkness.

We find ourselves with about 10 days of lent behind us. When we turn around and look behind us, we may ask ourselves what progress in who-I-am-becoming do we see? We have about thirty days of opportunity before us. What have we learned from the past ten days that help give direction to our path ahead?

Is our hand outstretched to our lord for guidance? Have we “Put our hand in the hand of the man from Galilee?” Have we actually progressed in these 10 days? Are we becoming “settlers” or are we embracing the Christian-pilgrim image, “moving ahead” to become what we call ourselves: “Christian.”

I encourage you to pause on your journey today and look at your personal journey as well as the resurrection-community journey.

Arnold Toynbee said the most dangerous period for a civilization is when it thinks it is safe and no longer needs to face changes. I agree.

The personal is the harder issue to face; it’s always easier for us to “fix” someone else. Your personal journey will be a determining factor in the life of this faith community.

First Sunday of Lent (March 5, 2017)

This morning, I’d like us to use our imaginations. Imagine that you just met your brand new next-door neighbors. They seem like very nice people. After some time passes, they invite you to attend their church. You have never heard of their religion; it is something new: they worship on a different day. You feel honored at their invitation - and you are a bit curious - so you decide to go with them.

The people in the gathering space are as friendly as your neighbors. Then you enter the worship space. You are shocked. The center of focus is an electric chair. You feel like bolting for the door. What kind of bizarre cult is this?

Yet, you hesitate - suspended between disgust and curiosity. The people do not seem weird at all - actually, very nice - even loving. A helpful “parishioner” hands you a piece of paper, an explanation of the group’s belief. You read that the center of belief and worship is a man who was strapped to the chair and killed through the machinations of a political and a social system that saw this man as a threat to their lives of privilege and power.

After his death, his followers discovered that when they gathered together, this man was present in spirit, pouring out his wisdom and his love into their lives. It dawns on you that this monstrous device of death has been transformed into something very different from its common meaning - it is a point of veneration and inspiration.

Instead of “success” in the world - the lifestyle of the rich and famous, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, villas and buff bodies - the electric chair is the symbol of life’s meaning.

In imagining yourself walking into a worship space and seeing the electric chair as the focal point, you are replicating the experience of a first century Jew or Gentile entering a Christian place of worship - where the cross - a hated, disgraceful and terrifying symbol of death stands as the focal point.

I think we have gotten so used to the symbol of the cross that it loses its meaning. Today, it gets decorated with jewels; it hangs around rock musicians’ and wannabees’ necks, another artifact like an earing or a nose ring. We walk into church - and hardly notice it.

We have lost the ability to understand its shock value, what it cost Jesus to die on the cross - a n d - the demands which the cross makes on those who .

Say they are followers of Jesus.

On Ash Wednesday, the Christian faithful around the world lift their faces to be signed with ashes. This sign is meant to remind us both of our mortality and of a radically new way of living. When we make the sign of the cross, we remind ourselves and proclaim that we are willing to die to self and are willing to be countercultural.

During lent, we watch what goes into our mouths. We fast. We abstain from meat on Fridays. We easily forget what Jesus said: what comes out of our mouths is more important than what goes into our mouths.

This year I would like us to consider fasting from what comes out of our mouths in three ways:

First, fasting from unbecoming language . The air around us is full of it. F-bombs are commonplace. Foul language comes out not only from the mouths of Howard Stern and Jerry Springer, but presidents and CEO’s and a lot of otherwise “nice” people.

I like the story of the college kid brought home by his roommate for a home cooked dinner ... Spilled water - string of words - silence - grandma: “You eat with that mouth?” Whether young or old or in between, we may need to clean our teeth, so to speak; we are one of the gang: Jesus’ gang.’’ Let’s not sound like another gang.

Second, fasting from judgments that spill easily out of our mouths. We would do well to make zero judgments about the motives of others, their goodness or badness, their shortfalls, their jobs. This may be hard to do every day, so we might make this special effort on Fridays, when Jesus remained silent before Pilate and died for us.

Finally, fasting from negatives that so readily come from our mouths. Put-downs, clever remarks that hurt, sarcasm, negative criticism. If it’s too much of a challenge, perhaps we could work on that on Wednesdays, the day Judas is said to have betrayed Jesus with the negative words that came from his mouth.

Cleaning up our mouths makes room for positive words, for encouraging words we all need to hear, and for the prayer-word we need to speak to our lord. This is not easy because we so often do not really listen to ourselves.

Like grandma in our story we can ask ourselves: “I eat with this mouth?” More to the point - “we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus with this mouth?”

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 26, 2017)

As in the case of the Scriptures, the image of ‘heart’ in the Salesian tradition embodies all that “is most profound, most inalienable, most personal, most divine in us. “(Ravier, Sage and Saint, p. 146).

Living from the heart per se, however, is no guarantee of a happy, healthy, holy life. We know that our hearts harbor vice as well as virtue; our hearts reflect darkness as well as light; our hearts entertain temptation as well as follow inspiration; our hearts flirt with death as well as long for life.

In short, the content of our hearts – good and not so good - impacts upon every aspect of our lives, most especially our relationships with God, ourselves, and one another.

Francis de Sales knows the joy and pain of the human heart. He knows of its high tides of grace, the low ebbs of sin, and everything else in between. He knows that living from the heart requires the willingness to consider its contents. He offers us this simple, yet powerful method for doing just that:

  • What affections hold your heart? What passions possess it? In what has it chiefly gone astray? By the passions of the heart we pass judgment on its condition, examining them one after another.

  • The lute player touches all the strings to find those which are out of tune and brings them together either by tightening or loosening them. So, too, if we examine the passions of love, hatred, desire, hope, sadness and joy in our hearts and find them out of tune for the melody that we wish to make to God’s glory, let us attune them by means of God’s grace and the counsel of others. (Intro Part Five, Chapter 7)

Heart is the place in which all of who we are – intellect, affect, will, sexuality, desire, imagination, and so much more – comes together. To that end, people willing to tune the passions of their hearts – to blend with God’s melody of love - are people of integrity.

As we prepare for another Lenten season, this is a wonderful opportunity to “bring to light what is hidden in the darkness” of our hearts, both the good and the not-so-good.

Seventh Sunday In Ordinary Time (February 19, 2017)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus picks up where he left off last Sunday by adding yet more verses to his version of the song “Higher Love.” Jesus proclaims that it isn’t enough to practice retribution that is balanced; you should not practice retribution at all. It isn’t enough to love your neighbor while hating your enemy; you must also love your enemies; you must pray for those who persecute you. When asked to travel a certain distance, you must go the extra mile. When asked for help, do what you can without expecting any return for your generosity. If someone strikes you on one side of your face, offer them the other side.

However, it would be a mistake to hear in Jesus’ words the invitation to be a wimp, a wall flower or a door mat: there comes a time in a person’s life (just as there were many times in Jesus’ life) when – despite all attempts to roll with the punches – you must simply – and strongly – stand up for what it right. The challenge is rooted in knowing how to take a stand against another without allowing hatred to grow in our hearts toward others. As the Book of Leviticus reminds us: “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Nothing so quickly calms down an angry elephant as the sight of a little lamb (writer’s note: you go first!); nothing so easily breaks the force of a cannon ball as wool. We do not set much value on correction that comes from anger – even when accompanied by reason – as to that which comes from reason alone. When princes visit their people with a peaceable retinue they honor them and cause them great joy, but when they come at the head of armies – even though for the common good – their visits are always disagreeable and harmful. In like manner, as long as reason rules and peaceably chastises, corrects and warns – even though severely and exactly – everyone loves and approves it.” (Part III, Ch. 8)

If we must stand up for ourselves we must avoid knocking others down. If we must correct, chastise or reprove others it must be done without suborning resentment. If we must work for peace it most be pursued without employing unjust means. As we know from our own experience, however, this is much easier said than done: when justice actually requires that we prevent someone from striking us (or others) on the other cheek we might unintentionally strike them first! Francis de Sales offers the following advice when we do the right thing in the wrong way: “As soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you grew angry. Just as it is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we see we have told one, so, too, we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. As the saying goers, fresh wounds are quickest healed.” (Ibid)

As we see so clearly in the life of Jesus, living a “higher love” often has less to do with what we do – or don’t do – to others; it has much more to do with how we do – or don’t do – with others.

Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Time (February 12, 2017)

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.

Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

- sung by Steve Winwood

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required: living life by the “good enough” method. Jesus clearly raises the bar when he tells his listeners that it isn’t enough to avoid killing your neighbor; you must avoid growing angry with – or holding a grudge against – your neighbor. Indeed, you must be reconciled with your neighbor. It isn’t enough to avoid committing adultery; we must also avoid looking others in ways that objectify or discount them for our own gratification or advantage. Indeed, rather than waste your time by looking at others your time would be better spent by examining yourself. It isn’t enough to avoid making a false oath; you should avoid putting yourself in any situation in which you would feel obliged to swear to anything. Simply say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion.” He wrote: “Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only make us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

For his part, St. Francis de Sales also challenges us to avoid spiritual minimalism. It isn’t good enough to avoid lying; we must be truthful. It isn’t good enough to avoid gluttony; we must be disciplined. It isn’t good enough to avoid being parsimonious; we must be generous. It isn’t good enough to avoid injuring others; we must heal others.

God, help us to live this higher love. Help us to avoid trying to simply ‘get by’ in life; help us to understand what it means to truly live…by fully loving.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (February 5, 2017)

As Jesus talks with his disciples in today’s Gospel, he uses two metaphors about “being” for others. He says, first, “You are the salt of the earth.” Then he asks a rhetorical question that is of questionable help. “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? ” I am told that salt cannot lose its flavor; its taste is part of what it is.

We know too much salt can be unhealthy, but salt is absolutely necessary to sustain life - a fact that the ancients recognized. Every roman soldier was given a monthly supply of salt. The Latin word for salt is sal; the monthly supply was called a salarium, which comes down to us as the word, salary. And a person being “worth his salt.”

We are not talking about the pleasantness of cranberry sauce with turkey or mint jelly with the lamb we might eat. Salt is necessary, not just a pleasantry.

In the second metaphor, Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” This is a very powerful metaphor because in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” In John’s Gospel the “light” is what theology calls “sanctifying grace.” We absolutely need to be vivified with that light to be alive and to experience Jesus in the next life.

When Jesus says that we are the light, he is not saying that we ourselves are objects to be noticed, but our light which is Jesus presence within us - grace - makes God’s presence visible to others.

Salt of the earth, light of the world. I suspect that most of us do not perceive ourselves in such noble terms, but that is the way Jesus sees us. It is Gospel.

That is the nature of discipleship, being a bearer of light to others. God expects more than dutiful fidelity to the Ten Commandments in living the Christian life; he expects us to be disciples. The fruit of discipleship is bringing others to loving relationship with God.

It can be a smile, driving courtesy, helpfulness while shopping - all in the name of the Lord - without necessarily mentioning his name.

The Chinese philosopher, Mencius, lived about 300 years before Jesus. He was the last notable proponent of the teachings of Confucius. He was venerated in china almost as much as his intellectual master, Confucius. According to Chinese folklore, his mother had much to do with his success. Her husband died and she was forced to raise Mencius by herself. One day when Mencius returned from school and found his mother weaving, she asked him how he had progressed in school that day. He said, indifferently, “not much.” She said nothing but picked up a knife and slashed to strings her work for the day. He asked why. She replied: “I have only done to the cloth today what you have done with your life today.”

Her story is told over two thousand years later. She was, in a Christian context, salt and light. It is in family and community we see light in the lives of others. Others see our light and we see others’ light. We are mutually empowered.

We often ask what the Gospel means; we question the gospel. We sometimes forget that the Gospel is intended to question us.

How are you being salt? How are you being light today?
Who has been a light in your life?
What did s/he do?
Was it his/her enthusiasm, his/her wisdom, his/ her conviction?

During this time of February, a reflection on salt and light is appropriate. The unreflective life is not worth living. The unlived life -a life without being salt / light - is not worth reflecting.