21st Sunday in ordinary Time (August 27, 2017)

Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus being both messiah and especially “son of the living god” amounts to a double profession of faith. [Mark and Luke state only the “Christ” title, omitting the “son of the living God.”] Jesus recognized this in Peter by conferring a special leadership role. Peter is given the authority to bind obligations and loose obligations in the church. “Church” is a word that appears only three times in all four Gospels, and all three are in Matthew. Keys are a symbol of power – as anyone sixteen years or older in our country recognizes.

Jesus clearly taught and lived that authority is exercised in service to people, “not in lording it over them”, to use Jesus’ term. But, service also takes the form of providing direction, leading others on the way.

Leadership, authority, power have been very much in the news in recent times. In the arena of business, the executives of Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia, have been responsible for the devastating loss to their employees’ jobs and life- savings.

Credibility once involved two individuals. Now, increasingly, credibility involves the basic institutions of our society: business, politics, and yes, even the religious institution, church.

Authority is a very broad topic. I would like to speak to two issues involving church authority.

First, our church continues to suffer from abuse of authority. The authority that priests have with youth and children has been abused and has damaged so many, many lives and injured credibility vis-à-vis church. It involves only one or two percent of priests, but all of us priests are tarred with the same brush. That is a cross I never anticipated.

There is the authority of bishops, archbishops, cardinals who transferred guilty priests and later covered up the evidence after 1985. 1985 was the critical year; it was the year this perversion was recognized as an addictive sickness, and that fact was publicized. Every bishop in the United States got a warning letter. Some hierarchs ignored it.

Scott Appleby, the church historian from the university of Notre dame, spoke to the assembly of bishops in Dallas and called this behavior the “arrogance that comes with unchecked power.” To this day, the hierarchy has yet to take responsibility for their failure.

Humility - truth - demands that their failure not be denied, but be acknowledged and repented. Humility is at the core of the solution of the “problem.”

A second issue of authority is church directives. Popes and bishops have authority and their words need to be taken seriously. In the previous chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus, condemns the Pharisees as poor leaders: “The blind leading the blind” and “ this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

What are we to do if it becomes apparent that we are being misled? We need to recognize that a leader’s proclamation is only one of the tools for discerning God’s will and forming our conscience. “Conscience” is not a divine implant. Actually, it is the name for using our intelligence when it addresses a moral question.

We are also given another means to discern God’s will. Examining our life experiences in the necessary context of personal prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit, is a valid pathway to discern God’s will, we carefully weigh all the circumstances involved in a moral action and then make our “conscience-decision.”

We need the courage to stand firm after our conscience-decision. We also need humility and willingness to make mid-course corrections when we realize that we miscalculated and we are off course -- never compounding the mistake by trying to justify it.

It takes courage, a loving heart, a listening ear, and a discerning spirit to hear the voice of God.

We humbly trust in God to guide our path. Humility and trust; that is, “faith,” makes for a sure path.

Many people have power and influence over us, but only those who love can lead us in faith. Let’s put our basic, our deepest trust where it can do the most good: in Jesus and anyone who, however imperfectly, lives in his spirit.

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 20, 2017)

Jesus’ encounter with the assertive, Canaanite woman seems a bit strange, even harsh until we probe more deeply.

At the very beginning, the story shows her as an outsider, an unnamed non-Jew who oddly greets Jesus as “Lord” and “son of David.” She asks for his help for her daughter. Jesus, at first, is speechless, for this outsider precisely identifies, recognizes him in his two relationships: “Lord” - his vertical relationship with his father and “son of David” - his horizontal relationship with fellow Jews.

He fell silent, perhaps open-mouthed. He seems to be stymied for the moment. His trouble is not with her; it is within himself – in his heart and mind. She asks for mercy; he counters that his ministry is to Israel. He identifies her as a dog, which was the slang word for non-Jews at that time. She asks again for help.

The woman not only persists, but also one-ups him: “Even dogs get the scraps from the master’s table.” She had the final word; she persisted in her conviction that not only could Jesus help her daughter, but also that Jesus would help her. This “outsider” displays more faith than many of the children of Israel.

Jesus himself appears to have a growth spurt in wisdom and knowledge and grace at this moment. Jesus expands his own view of the kingdom and of his ministry to include outsiders to the Jewish community. He was beginning to think “outside the box.” He now understands his mission more clearly. He had thought and said that he came to save the lost children of the tribe of Israel. Now he realizes from seeing this woman’s faith that there are no outsiders to his father’s kingdom because of ethnicity.

The story ends with Jesus holding her up as an example of faith. She ends with being one of the most highly commended persons in the gospels: “O woman, great is your faith.” We can learn several lessons.

Just as life experiences changed Jesus, our life experiences and our experience of Jesus changes us, both enable us to enlarge our vision.

Living Jesus means that we must leave our comfort zones and accept Jesus’ way of thinking and acting outside our box. We are constantly tempted to think inside our box, draw up lists of people who are okay and lists of folks whom God definitely does not love as much as he loves us. The irony is that we list not God’s priorities, but ours. Today, God is stretching us individually and communally to live God’s generous love.

Love, to be alive and remain vital, needs freshening. Creativity, creative love, is necessary for us to move ourselves out of our box. Jesus saw faith in the Canaanite woman. He needed to respond with his father’s and his love. He creatively expanded his own vision from exclusivity to inclusivity, from thinking/loving inside to outside the box. We have his example to move creatively from our current box thinking. He extended his healing to her daughter.

Experience with “outsiders” is one, potential learning experience. We can creatively expand our horizons in experiencing people. Some are different from us and have something to teach us if we are open, not afraid and not suspicious of outsiders.

Also, this unnamed Canaanite woman, like the unnamed roman centurion, like the unnamed Samaritan woman at the well is an anonymous foreigner of the Gospel who had to think outside her box and move forward. Each has profoundly influenced the course of Christianity. Each lit his / her little candle. We need to light ours.

Does this Gospel not challenge us to reflect both on our life experiences and to check on our in-the-box thinking?

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 13, 2017)

All three readings have to do with faith - faith in hard, difficult times.

The story of the prophet Elijah, who lived in 850 B.C. He was looking for help and reassurance from god. He had accomplished his mission from Yahweh of leading the children of Israel away from worship of Baal. He went so far as to have the prophets of Baal put to death. He won king Ahab’s favor by praying to god and ending the country’s three-year drought. But his wife, Jezebel, doubted the drought had ended - and wanted Elijah dead. So, he was being hunted down and he expected God to back him as he had before against the false prophets of Baal.

He fled for forty days and forty nights and was now hiding in a cave in Mt. Horeb, Mt. Sinai, sulking because God had let him down. He is told to go outside and stand on the mountain. There were powerful winds, so strong that rocks were moved. He looks for God in the phenomenon, but there is nothing of God. An earthquake and a fire follow; God is not in the earthquake or in the fire. Only after the fire does Elijah hear a soft, whispering sound and Elijah recognizes the voice of the Lord.

The story is testimony to the ways in which God is faithful to his word in unexpected ways and shows his presence in unexpected ways. We look to hear God’s word in the extraordinary; we do not expect to hear his voice in a tiny whisper.

Expectations we put on God condition our faith and help or hamper our ability to recognize god and the activity of God.

In the second reading we hear Paul grieving for his Jewish brothers who have not recognized the fulfillment of god’s promise. Jesus did not match up to their expectation of a conquering hero. We are touched by the depth of Paul’s grief that is like the parent of an ailing child. Paul would like to exchange his life to relieve the ailing child. Paul would be willing to separate himself from Christ for their sake. That is, of course, impossible; one cannot have faith for another person. Paul carries a heavy heart, even as he turns to the gentiles to help them receive what was first promised to the Jews. How many times did we not receive god’s word to us because we expected a different message? We can only wonder.

In the Gospel, we have a third variation of the theme. The disciples are terrified by the storm. Jesus reassures them and their faith strengthens.

There is a contrast with mark’s account that stresses the crippling fear. Matthew stresses that the power to overcome their fear comes from Jesus himself; only in Matthew do we read of Jesus walking on water. Peter recovers enough to want to share in Jesus’ power over the water; Jesus is willing to share his power, but Peter’s trust [faith] fails - he begins to sink. Jesus once again rescues him.

In these readings we learn that faith is a partnership, a dance. Both the lord and we have essential roles. Faith is god’s gift; but it requires our freely given response. What is highlighted in the readings is that even though we depend on god for the gift of faith, we have to be ready to play our part. That requires our trust, our openness and our being prepared to meet our god without preconditions set by us.

In the first reading, Elijah expects to find god appearing in the dramatic: in wind or earthquake or fire, but he appears in the tiny whispering sound. How often have we thought that God is non-responsive? God is being an uncooperative partner, when we have not really listened for God, especially in the quiet whispers.

In the second reading, the Jews expect a different kind of God; we need to learn to let God be God. We are made to his image and likeness; he is not made in our image and according to what we like.

In the third reading, we need to learn that we have to keep our eyes on Jesus, to receive his power in the difficult times.

The readings are like a yellow caution light, directing us to slow down and look in all directions. We may be missing opportunities to hear God speak to us in new and unexpected ways.

In time of peace, we prepare for war. At those impossibly difficult times in our lives when we want god to come into our lives like the cavalry to save the day, perhaps we can remember Elijah and Paul; we can remember Peter - and call out “Lord, save me!” And listen for that small, still voice.


Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed but rather it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as their eyes were opened; their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion, and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding feast saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; a good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ glory in a word, a glance, or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see it? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” May we grow in our ability, through the quality of our lives, to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others. May God help us to recognize the remarkable things that occur every day in our own lives…and in the lives of one another.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 30, 2017)

So often the connection between the first reading and the Gospel is one of similarity. Today, we hear contrast.

We remember David, Solomon’s father, who began his “ministry” in his youth by killing Goliath with his slingshot. The great hero, as an adult, became an embarrassment by taking the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers, and having Uriah killed in a cover-up of his adultery.

Today we hear Solomon, the boy-king, pleasing God by asking for what God possesses: wisdom - and an understanding heart.

As a grown-up king, Solomon took seven years to build God’s lavish temple; but he spent thirteen building his own palace, amid harsh labor and heavy taxes on his subjects. Solomon was warned. What did the wisest man do? He married 700 foreign women and took 300 concubines who provided alternate gods whose shrines arrived not long after the women. The endeavor divided the kingdom. Solomon’s “understanding heart” ended sadly. Maybe wisdom is not all its cracked up to is. Simply put, wisdom alone is not enough!

Our Gospel brings to conclusion parable-packed chapter 13 with its emphasis on the mysterious presence and growth of the kingdom of God in parables from every day experience.

Jesus parabled a farmer discovering and hiding a treasure. What was his point? Jesus was telling his hearers and us that the kingdom is like found money! It is not earned. The Lord freely gives it.

Jesus parabled the merchant, who was smart enough to see that he should sell anything to get the great pearl. The pearl, in the pre-diamond era, was the most precious ‘thing’ on earth. Jesus was telling his hearers and us that we - like the merchant - should “trade up,” sell whatever it takes to possess the kingdom. If the merchant sold other pearls to get this one, we learn that our other pearls need to be sold off: prime attachment to knowledge, music, golf, sports, TV, even family needs to be prioritized. There is one pearl of great price.

Jesus parabled the fisherman and his net to teach again that the ultimate judgment of who is in the kingdom and who is not, is his. [It is surely not we other fish]. This is what we heard last week in allowing the wheat and weeds to grow together. Jesus tells us that while there will be a judgment; we are not the ones to make that judgment.

Teachers [modern scribes] need to be like the householder who takes the best of the old, the Torah, and joins it to the new, the teaching of Jesus. Many think that Matthew becomes autobiographical here; they think that Matthew himself is the scribe who knows how to go into the rich storehouse of tradition and brings forth both what is new and what is old. Both are essential for correctly proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. Of course, we do not live in the past, but we do build upon it. We must claim our authentic past in order to move into our authentic future.

The decision of choosing the kingdom of god is basically the choice: will I be in charge of my own life or will I give priority in all things to the will of god. We often do not realize how self-willed and self-sufficient we try to be. Many prize their self-determination above all else. It comes as no surprise that our self-will is recognized as the basic cause of our difficulties. “Conversion” consists in sacrificing self-will to God’s will.

A final point. Some of us remember the pre-Vatican II understanding that rather presumptuously identified the Roman Catholic Church as the kingdom of god on earth. Today we are more modest, we say that the church is an instrument of the kingdom of god. The kingdom of God is bigger than the church.

Perhaps during the quiet-time during communion this morning we would do well to identify our competing pearls, examine them, and be sure that no one, no thing jeopardizes our treasure of the presence of God within us, t he pearl of great price.

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 23, 2017)

Did you ever wonder how parables became famous? I heard a fascinating story about the origins.

Once upon a time, there was truth. Truth remained as naked as the day he was born. He was also called “unvarnished truth” by some hardwood finishers, “bald truth” by some barbers. “unadulterated truth” by. . . Well, let’s move along.

Truth was different. Truth wandered thru the city, completely naked, stripped of every embellishment - and when people got one look at him, he was shunned. Many could not face him.

One day, parable met truth and stayed long enough to ask a question: why do you look so woebegone? Truth answered that people avoided him because he was old and -- because he could not communicate, he had no sense of purpose in life.

Parable disagreed and said that it was not age, that he, parable, was as old as truth, that older was more attractive. Parable felt that he got better with age.

Parable offered to tell truth a secret. The secret was this: people do not like things bare and plain; they like them dressed up. Parable then offered some of his clothes to truth and truth accepted the offer.

When truth was clothed in the clothing of parable, truth then became welcome where he was previously avoided. From that time on, truth clothed in parable has been esteemed and loved by all.

Jesus knew this, so much of what he told us is truth, clothed with the clothing of parable.

We have been hearing several of Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel. Last week we heard the parable about the different kinds of soil that the word of God falls upon. This week, we hear the parable about wheat and weeds. We hear mini-parables in the similes about mustard seed and yeast. These are not like Aesop’s fables that simply entertain; these are Jesus’ parables that convey profound truth.

Last week’s and today’s parables tell us the way that the kingdom of God grows. They have come to be called the “growth parables.” The simple, unclothed truth is: the kingdom of God continues to grow in the presence of those who work against it. Also, small, almost unnoticed beginnings - like the tiny mustard seed and the bit of yeast -- have wonderful, unforeseeable, and vitally important results . . . But only later.

We can listen to these parables at two levels: the individual, personal level and the community level. As individuals, we realize that you and I are composed of both wheat and weeds. The old adage is true: “There is a little bit of bad in the best of us and there is a little bit of good in the worst of us, so, it never behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.” As Jesus said, “ Who of you can throw the first stone?”

At the other level, the community level, the parable also speaks to us, it reminds us there is an inclination among some to go against the lesson of Jesus. Some - even “pillars of the church” - are ordained as shepherds to feed lambs and sheep and protect against wolves. Wolves are readily recognized. Shepherds are not weeders; Jesus called some followers to be shepherds, not weeders.

As Jesus points out in today’s gospel, identifying and rooting out weeds is a dangerous enterprise. Dangerous, first, because the chance of injuring the wheat is great; innocent people may get hurt. Second, it is dangerous because the one who is rooted out is all too often not a weed, but another strain of wheat unfamiliar to the one who is doing the weeding.

There is a saying: “Everyone is someone else’s weirdo.” Isn’t it true that in the larger Christian community, everyone is someone else’s weed?”

Weeders tend to be legalistic rule keepers, and tend to exclude with ruthless judgment and harsh condemnation. Weeding is the work of the self-righteous. Self-righteousness is an evil that gives false security - like the Pharisees who did not see the wheat from the weeds, the Christ from the crowd.

Jesus reminds us today in parable to be patient and non-judgmental, not self-righteous and arrogant with those around us who are different. We have been told on divine authority that we do not have the skill necessary to be weeders.

Jesus reminds us that our father is in charge and that we must not rush to judgment. His kingdom will continue to grow slowly, relentlessly, and . . .surprisingly.

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 16, 2017)

This weekend (as well as the next two) provides a series a series of parables from Matthew’s Gospel dealing with how Jesus’ message was received.

In the today’s reading, we heard God speaking through Isaiah, the prophet: “The word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” In the Gospel, we hear from Jesus: “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen.”

Is there anyone in church today who does not have someone close who has been exposed to the message of Jesus, but will not accept Jesus and what he has to say? Secondly, is there anyone of us in church that does not have to look in the mirror to see what kind of soil we are becoming?

Each of us listens to Jesus’ parable at two levels.

First, the level of the farmer - as preacher, parent, spouse, friend, we identify with Jesus in the parable of the sower. We, as well as Jesus, are sowers of seed.

Primitive Palestinian farmers did the opposite of modern farmers. They sowed on top of unturned soil, and waited to see what kind the soil it was after plowing.

For Jesus, three of the four portions of seed his farmer spreads either never takes root or never reach maturity. Only one of four seeds produces a yield, but it is so great that it makes up for all the lost seed. Like Palestinian farmers, no matter how hard we hope and pray and try to sow faith-ideas, we do not know what kind of soil our “seed” will fall upon until later, perhaps much later. We cannot control the soil of another. Everyone has a free will to choose the soil he/she will become -- accepting or rejecting.

You might get discouraged, unless you remember the math of the seeds. Have patience. No farmer plants and harvests in the same day. Those insights that you fear are bouncing off the hard soil of your child, spouse, friend or colleague will one day take root and bring a harvest of wisdom and knowledge. You may not see it soon. You may not see it in your lifetime. As someone once said, “Children always obey the teaching of their parents, but it is seldom while the parent is still alive to enjoy it.” We need to remember that we are only the sowers; God alone provides the harvest.

Second, we need to listen to the parable at the level of the kinds of soil. [This part of the scripture was probably added by Matthew as a response to the difficulties within his community, and was not part of Jesus’ original words.] We listen to the parable of the soil and identify with one of the types of soil.

Unlike the soil outside our houses that is not self-determining, we have the power to decide what kind of soil we shall become. We may need to soften the rigid [the skepticism, the unforgiveness] we may need to crumble the rocky [the hard headedness]; we may need to clear away the thorny [the thorny persons, places or things that ensnare us and prevent our growth].

The word of God as seed will produce fruit far beyond our expectations and in spite of our disappointments.

This is good news!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 9, 2017)

The first and third readings today easily shock us. At the very least we are greatly surprised. The Jews “knew” from their experience that kings came dressed in regal splendor with squadrons of chariots, countless warriors and retinue. Imagine how the Jews felt when they heard that their king would come riding on a jackass?

A common and almost universal error many good, religious people make is that we/they identify the holy with the extraordinary, the divine with the spectacular. Stories of weeping Madonna’s, bleeding crucifixes, and divine fireworks attract thousands -- and a media blitz. We think that being there will bring an experience of “the holy” - something may somehow rub off. Folks travel far for the mere possibility of that experience.

We heard Jesus correcting this false impression a moment ago. God’s truth, the divine message, does not have to enter our lives through the amazing and the startling, but most of the time, through the ordinary and the commonplace. As with the prophet, the Lord is not to be found in the whirlwind, but in the still, small breeze of a whisper. This is probably not the way we might think to promote the good news ourselves, but the record shows that it is clearly God’s way.

Therese Martin became a Carmelite nun in the last century. One day, she told her prioress that she wanted to be a saint. When the prioress scolded her for pride, she replied that she would be a quiet, secret saint. Her simplicity, her candor and her lack of pretense were the most notable things about her. Interestingly, Jesus’ words in today’s gospel about God revealing himself to mere children were very special to St. Therese. Her spirituality has become known as “the little way” of the little flower.

Where did she get that idea? The Carmelite charism is prayer. They do not have a model of spirituality like Franciscans, Jesuits, and Oblates. Where did she get her spirituality? Her spirituality, we are told, came from her aunt, a Visitandine nun, who taught her the way of St. Francis de Sales. Francis advised doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

Some years ago, in the midst of global tension Samantha Smith, a fifth grader, wrote to the Soviet leader, Yuri Andropov, asking if he intended to wage war on the U.S. Samantha cut through to the heart of the matter. She asked simply and directly: “Are you going to make war?” Andropov invited Samantha to Russia. Her visit and death two years later in a plane crash received wide publicity. Samantha’s ordinariness accomplished what the “wise and learned” negotiators failed to do.

All of the above heard the words of Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel: “I thank you, father, lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to mere children.”

Implied in Jesus’ prayer are two very important ideas. First - those he called “mere children” are more likely to be open to God’s word. Being ordinary or poor may not be anything particular in them to recommend them, but as it works out, these people are often the ones who are open to the word of God.

Don’t we learn from our experience that the learned and the clever sometimes have a hard time getting beyond their own learning and their own cleverness? Talk is cheap; slick talkers are ineffective in the long run; children see right through them.

Also implied in Jesus’ words is a second important idea. Isn’t it true that parents find lost children more often than the other way around? When anyone receives God’s word, it is not so much that they discover the truth for themselves, as that God has revealed the truth to him or her. In other words, we do not find him; he finds us.

When Jesus refers to his disciples and followers as “mere children” his words bring us to a fundamental truth. Our knowledge and love of God are gifts we receive rather than something we do or achieve for ourselves out of our own learning or cleverness. Why we think that we make ourselves good/ holy by ourselves and what we do or choose not to do is a mysterious aberration.

The Gospel phrase “learned and clever” seems reminiscent of that more modern phrase, “the rich and famous.” The lifestyles of the rich and famous are constantly being held up to us for envy, awe -- and perhaps imitation, at some level. Jesus tells us that “the rich” and the tabloids tell us that many of the “famous” do not have a jump on being on the right track. Even Hollywood darlings have their share of troubles.

The Little Flower, Francis de Sales, Francis of Assisi and so many other masters of the spiritual life led lives easily overlooked by the more sophisticated: true happiness can be found in what we are rather than what we have, what we do or what we long for.

In the simple, ordinary events of life, we find our Lord -- like children, with upturned faces, expectant eyes, open arms hands and hearts.

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 2, 2017)

Jesus’ words are initially very strong. He speaks of taking up one’s cross, of loving him more than our parents and family. These are stunning challenges. Did Jesus see the shock of his disciples? Probably. Perhaps that explains his next words:

If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is one of my disciples, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

It is as if Jesus is reducing his call for sacrifice to a more palatable, bite- sized piece. We may hesitate somewhat at reaching to shoulder the cross of Jesus’ experience or balk at loving him more than our family. But, all of us can offer a thirsty person a cup of water. Sharing water may seem like a very little thing - unless you are the one who is parched.

This is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the common denominator of loving actions. It calls us to move our attention off ourselves, to recognize our neighbor, be sensitive to his thirst for our water, for our time, for our talent.

Francis de sales recognized this and made this one of his basic teachings. He writes:

"Important tasks lie seldom in our path; but all day long there are little things we can do well, if we do them with all our love.”

Literature and theatre provide great examples of men who have delusions of grandeur:

Don Quixote, the character in Cervantes’ play, who sallies forth to set the world aright, but tilts only with windmills. He ends without realizing his impossible dream, but -- but along the way -- gives the prostitute-barmaid her dignity and self-worth, as she becomes Dulcinea.

Walter Mitty, in the delightful story by James Thurber, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a very average man who sees a humdrum situation, then daydreams his way to make himself a delusional hero of an imaginary event.

Then, there is the tragic play by Arthur miller, “death of a salesman.” Willy Lohman is the depressing and haunting lead in a play that shows the futility of a pitiful man, sadly imagining himself to be the man he is not.

It has been well said that great doors swing on small hinges. Relatively small rudders turn great ships, but the lack of that relatively small thing can be lethal.

What gives value to all human actions, big or small, is the heart from which acts flow and the love that expresses itself in them. Opportunities for showing compassion are very frequent. Cold cups of water, random acts of kindness, kind words change the world -- one person, one moment at a time. Our lives, like the lives of those we meet in life, turn on small acts. Don’t the Christopher’s remind us that it better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness?

And who knows? A pattern of small acts may dispose us to something big if the opportunity presents itself.

St. Francis de Sales recognized that most of us are unlikely to find the cure for cancer or be able to bring about world-peace.But, every one of us encounters countless small occasions for becoming Christ to others every day, living Jesus. Francis said so wisely: “Do ordinary things extraordinarily well.”

Isn’t it true that our most important memories of childhood are often not the great sacrifices of our parents? Often our favorite memories of our parents are the small, ordinary moments: moments like my parents being in pretended awe at my “magic show’” when, in retrospect, I did the absolutely dumbest tricks. Or -- being sick, falling asleep and waking to see my mother sitting quietly in a chair close to my bed. A small thing. A fond memory forever.

I’m sure you have your memories. Little things do mean a lot.

St. Francis de Sales seems to have a preferential option for small acts of thoughtfulness. This is his practical judgment. We can waste our lives dreaming big dreams of doing marvelous things that will, in all probability, never happen.

Ours is a wonderful parish, a wonderful gathering of the people of god. We are recognized by visitors as being a friendly people. Let’s try to be even more aware to welcome the stranger, to become hypersensitive to both our fellow parishioners and visitors, to be pro-active in kindness towards one another and to those whose paths we cross.

Little things mean a lot. They make up just about all we’ve got.

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.