Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 29, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 22, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 15, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 8, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 1, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 17, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 10, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity Sunday (May 27, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentecost Sunday (May 20, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascension of the Lord (May 10/13, 2018)

We celebrate Jesus’ departure in his physical presence today, the solemnity of the Ascension. Today marks the end of Jesus’ priceless, first stage of God’s saving plan in Jesus, the final chapter in Jesus’ physical presence in the history of salvation and the beginning of the second stage, which involves you and me.

The narration of the ascension appears three times in the New Testament; we hear two of them in today’s readings.

Mark wrote the earliest account and it appears in the longer ending of his Gospel – an account that was added by another author at a later time. The addition is considered part of the inspired word. Mark’s narrative is succinct and right to the point, only one sentence, his usual style and part of the reason that his Gospel is the shortest.

The seven last words of Jesus, the topic of many a Good Friday homily, are actually not his last words. We heard those today in Mark: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation.”

The mission of Jesus is complete. It now is left to those standing there to take up his mission. Jesus makes it clear in his parting words that the initial mission to the Jews is not enough; it is to be expanded. He calls on his disciples to carry the Good News not simply to the Jews, but to the entire world. There is to be no partiality shown to any people or nation or individual. The disciples are not to serve any earthly kingdom, but the heavenly one.

The story of the church begins. It is a church where, at that time, the temple of Jerusalem still stands – and will for almost forty more years. It is a church that is surrounded by the oppression of the Roman Empire – and will for hundreds of years. In the meantime, the church will begin to spread throughout that empire and beyond -- like the quietly growing mustard seed.

Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, narrates an element that is included in neither his Gospel, nor in the Gospel of mark [from which Luke copied before copying got the name plagiarism and became a no-no]. Luke adds to the narration: “They were still gazing up into the heavens when two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘Why do you stand here looking up at the skies…?’”

The apparent angels equivalently proclaim: “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Perhaps that is a good question for us on this feast of the ascension.

Each of us is called by today’s readings to “do something.” The celebration of the one who inspires and energizes us will be next week, Pentecost.

We are called to continue the mission that the disciples were given – each in our own way to spread by word and our example Jesus’ life-giving message.

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 6, 2018)

Before we go into today’s readings, let’s recall last Sunday’s message of the biological image of Jesus’ intimacy with us: the parable of the vine and the branches. He taught that as the very life of the vine flows from the vine into the branches, so does the very resurrected life of Jesus flow from him into us.

Today, Jesus speaks more personally. Today’s beautiful letter from john reveals what Jesus’ life is: love. God is love.” His life/love flows from him into us. It has been suggested that the word ‘love’ in our culture is a word in serious need of a bath. It has become so overused, misused, and abused that it needs to be power-washed to renew its sparkle.

This word ‘love appears in one form or another in this Sunday’s readings an amazing twenty times. God’s meaning of ‘preciousness,’ unconditional faithfulness needs to be our focus for ‘love.’ Our experience of human love is ideally a reproduction of it. Too often, it is a poor reflection.

Is there perhaps a short circuit in our love lives? Our personal experience includes that we are conditioned to think we need to earn love. That has been the experience of every one of us at some level:

  • love from our teachers earned for good grades and conduct;
  • love from our employers earned for success in the work place;
  • love from parents earned by some, unfortunately, for being ‘good’ boys and girls.
To the extent that our personal experience is earning love, it is a stretch for us to accept that god does not work like that. It was Basil Hume who said that it is easier to believe in God than to believe that God loves us. The simple truth is: we cannot earn God’s love. We are blessedly “stuck” with it. He has loved us first.

That wonderful revelation: God is love, is who God is and what God does. We hear: “Love, then, consists in this: not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us.” That is the heart of today’s readings. Love exists not because we love, but because we are loved. God loves us whether we recognize it, whether we accept it or not.

We hear in the Gospel: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” The depth of that statement is often missed. Jesus is saying that the same, intimate relationship that he experiences with his Father is also passed on to us disciples. Living that reality of being unconditionally loved empowers us, as Jesus says, to “love one another as I love you.” We are part of this magnificent circle of love with the Father, Jesus, and one another.

Jesus taught this best at the Last Supper, when he washed the feet of his disciples and gave us example of how to be towards one another -- in service. Then he turned around and gave himself to us in Eucharist, allowing us to commune with him in word and body/blood in the communion called holy.

We need to make this reality of God’s love an essential part of our ongoing dialogue with ourselves. We all have this constant dialogue in our heads and hearts. It is where we talk to ourselves, where our self-image speaks out. It is here that the conviction of God’s love for us needs to prevail. We need to bask in his love. We become empowered to respond in love both to him and with one another. We convey to others the love we have in our hearts, completing the circle of love. This is God’s plan.

If Lenten practice was self-examination, Easter practice needs to be this life-giving, life-enabling exercise in instilling in us the ever-present conviction of God’s love for us.

Our challenge is to appreciate, to really accept that God loves us unconditionally -- just as we are.

Today’s Gospel is the very core of Jesus’ last supper discourse. We all need to keep this reality always in our ongoing dialogue with ourselves, so that we may constantly listen and lovingly live.

Fifth Sunday of Easter (April 29, 2018)

Today’s Gospel comes from the long talk by Jesus at the last supper in John’s Gospel. It is appropriate for the Easter season. It sets before us the type of close, ongoing relationship into which the risen Jesus invites his disciples.

Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel introduces the allegory of the vine. The vine has a long history. Isaiah [5:1-7] makes it very clear: “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting.”

The vine is the Jewish national symbol of the relationship between God and Israel. The pillars of the Jerusalem temple were carved with vines and branches thus setting the image in stone. It is like the symbol of the Bald Eagle or the American flag to us.

The famous “I am” sayings of John’s Gospel always reveal some aspect of Jesus’ divine identity. When Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my father is the vine grower” and “I am the vine; you are the branches,” he makes a soul-shattering statement to Jewish ears and to our ears. He reveals the intimate relationship between himself and the father and also indicates that he replaces the temple with himself as the place for worship, for he becomes the very source of life for people who accept him. [Relationship in the vertical dimension].

Secondly, remember Paul’s metaphor of the body-of-Christ where we are all related as interdependent parts of the same body with Christ as our head, the one who drives the body. Here, we have john’s version of the identical idea: the vine reminds us that we are interconnected not only to the source of our life, Jesus the Lord; we are also interconnected with one another. We need both Jesus and each other in order to bear fruit, the goal of discipleship. [Relationship in the horizontal dimension.]

The Jews of Jesus’ days were people of the land – practical, simple people. For abstract ideas, like what we call “sanctifying grace,” Jesus used common experience nouns, “life” and “light;” for abstract verbs like “transcends” or “interconnects,” Jesus used the verb “lives in.” The verb “lives in” appears four times in four verses. [vv. 4,5,6,7]

If Jesus did anything everyone can agree upon, it is that he gathered a community around him. The model of leadership/followership here is not hierarchy, power, authoritativeness; it is community. Concerned togetherness is essential for the very life of his followers.

We derive our spirit-life from Jesus, the vine. We are, at once, united to Jesus and to each other. We celebrate this fact vividly at the Easter vigil: the light/ life of the paschal candle, the symbol of Jesus, is passed to us individually. With our small candles, we share that light with others around us.

Interrelating, “lives in,” is essential for us. We have both Paul’s image of mystical body and John’s image of the vine and the branches to make that clear. Both reveal rootedness in Jesus the Lord and unity with one another.

By the grace of God we live in an era that has evolved far beyond the people in scripture in the ability to express abstract ideas. We can more readily appreciate the awesome truth that Jesus teaches. We can more clearly understand what Ignatius of Antioch meant by: “God became man, so that man might become God.”

Jesus’ consummate gift to us is a sharing in his life. Theology calls it “sanctifying grace,” a term that lacks the dynamism of actually sharing in Jesus’ resurrected life. We are called to live that life with enthusiasm. The Holy Spirit whom we shall celebrate in a few weeks at Pentecost kindles that enthusiasm.

Let us live Jesus!

Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 22, 2018)

Images are helpful in clarifying an idea. They can also be unhelpful when carried beyond the point intended. For instance, referring to the institutional church as “holy mother the church.” Motherhood connotes loving, caring, nurturing; these qualities should be applicable to the relationship of the church and ourselves. Unfortunately, some church officials carry the image too far and deplore those who are critical of the church saying “it’ is wrong to criticize your mother.” Our institutional church needs criticism, and Vatican II says so.

I surely had difficulty for a long time about today’s Gospel image. Jesus is the good shepherd - fine; bishops are also formally referred to as shepherds. Having lived a novitiate year on a farm, I felt uncomfortable with that. I was well aware of sheep: dumb animals, mindlessly following someone with a crozier in hand. I went one bridge too far - beyond what Jesus was teaching about the relationship between himself and us.

In today’s example of one of the seven “I am” sayings in John, which are Jesus’ way of self-revelation, Jesus here reveals himself to be the good shepherd. In Matthew and Luke, we read of Jesus’ care in finding the lost sheep, only in john is there mention of the shepherd being willing to lay down his life for his sheep.

Five times john repeats that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It was the good shepherd’s, the owner-shepherd’s job to care for and defend the sheep. If a sheep was missing, he would search and bring it back. In ancient times, if the shepherd lost the battle for a sheep and a wolf was killing it, the shepherd would be expected to bring back an ear, or something that he pulled from the wolf’s mouth -- to prove that he had done his job.

The good shepherd warded off would-be attackers by day. At night, on the hills, there were enclosures without gates. Sheep were very vulnerable. At night, the shepherd would put his staff across the doorway and the sheep had to duck, so he could inspect them. When they were corralled, he would lie across the entrance and become the gate. No wolf or thief could touch the sheep without going through him. Jesus elsewhere calls himself the sheep gate. Wonderful images of loving protection!

Jesus describes his flock as sheep that he knows. Knowing in the Hebrew mind implies not only intellectual knowledge, but also love. The “knowing shepherd” alludes to the tender image of is 40:11 - “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock / in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

There is a profound mutuality of love here, which Jesus compares to the intimate bond between himself and the Father. There is unconditional love that Jesus communicates to us, exemplifies for us, lives and dies or us.

Jesus said: “Learn of me.” We can learn of him in today’s Gospel by becoming like him toward those in our care as parents, as relatives, as baby sitters, as older brothers and sisters, as motorists - in becoming good shepherds. We shall very unlikely be called to literally give up our lives by the shedding of our blood.

If we appreciate the loved poured out to us, we need to respond in kind.

Stephen Levine describes it so well: “You cannot unconditionally love someone. You can only be unconditional love . . . It is a sense of oneness with all that is. The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal. It is not an emotion, it is a state of being . . . It is not so much that ‘two are one so much as it is ‘the one manifested as two.” [Who dies? An investigation of conscious living and conscious dying, 75]

Jesus called his followers “my” sheep, not “our” sheep. We are cooperators only. We are called to help in shepherding:

  • to lay down our popularity lives by taking the risk of unpopular stances. For instance: TV viewing, computer use, a stance on abortion - to protect the unprotected.
  • to lay down our lives for others by giving what seem to be such important pieces of our lives - our time, our talent, our treasure that the “little ones” may be safe
To “be” good shepherds is an essential part of Living Jesus.

Third Sunday of Easter (April 15, 2018)

Luke’s Gospel begins with a resolution to write an account of the events of Jesus’ life. Today’s account comes from the last chapter of his Gospel.

This passage was not an “appearance story.” It relates what happened after Jesus joined two disciples as they walked with their backs toward Jerusalem; they were going out of town. What they heard about the women’s report that Jesus was alive was not important enough for them to stay and find out more. Their hope of Jesus setting Israel free from Rome was dashed. They despaired.

Jesus opened their eyes to the answer to his question: “Was it not necessary that the messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” They did not understand Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. Unfortunately, we do not have the record of Jesus’ teaching this day about the Old Testament and himself; that is a loss that was later filled in.

They did not comprehend the connection between the Eucharist and the cross. The connection is not obvious; perhaps it would be helpful for us to look at it. The breaking of bread at their meal near Emmaus was critical. As John Shea says, “the cross and the bread mutually interpret each other.” Like the former wheat that died and became new life as bread; as crushed “vine-juice” died and became new life as wine; Jesus died and became new life in a new, resurrected body. Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends whether it is wheat, grapes, Jesus. The disciples put it together when Jesus made the gesture of breaking the bread at the meal they shared with Jesus. They “got it.”

They returned to Jerusalem and met with the eleven disciples. They heard that Jesus had appeared to Peter. His appearance in his resurrected body was somewhat the same and somewhat different than before he died. Remember, Mary, who loved him and was loved by him, did not recognize him. The disciples on the road did not recognize him. He had to look different. His new, resurrected body was able to pass through closed doors.

One of the most persistent heresies of the early church arose from this different appearance. Jesus was understood by some to be god with a human appearance – a kind of Halloween situation. These people were called “docetists” from the Latin word meaning, “appear, seem.” Much attention was then given to the actions of Jesus that showed that he was not a ghost, some kind of phantom. For that reason, we hear repeatedly in this late-written Gospel that Jesus invited people to touch with their fingers, put hand in side; he ate fish in front of them.

He also opened the minds of the eleven to the scriptures written about him. He commissioned them to be witnesses of him.

The community had a real concern with the delay of the second coming of Jesus. They first expected he would be back “any day now.” Now it was getting toward the end of the first century. What were they supposed to do until Jesus came again?

Their clear answer from Luke is: proclaim the good news - to all! It does not matter that Jesus did not come right back. What matters is that we, his followers, embody the presence of the risen Jesus and be ambassadors of his message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. May we look for a friend or relative that needs to be asked if he or she might be interested in finding out more about the faith and inviting that person to “come and see.”

Second Sunday of Easter (April 8, 2018)

Do you remember when the worst thing was to doubt one’s faith -- a time when “faith” was thought to include all church pronouncements? Doubting was tantamount to denying the faith. The consequence was eternal damnation. We have long grown past that understanding.

In the Vatican II church we look at what we say we believe, and now understand that doubting can be very healthy. Working through our doubts gives us ownership of our faith. Frederick Buechner says it well: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” They keep faith stirred up.

Our difficulties with faith are as much a part of becoming more faithful as the multiple falls a child takes when learning to walk. They strengthen our faith – as they did Thomas’. They can increase our understanding of the one who calls us to “walk by faith, not by sight.” They can help us to help others when they are troubled by doubt.

So, what about Thomas? Poor Thomas! All most people remember about Thomas is his short time of doubt. “Doubting Thomas” has become synonymous with being stubborn or a skeptic.

Why pick on Thomas? All the apostles were fearful. Today’s Gospel describes the evening of the day of resurrection. They had heard the report of Mary Magdalene in the early morning; they had heard the reports of the two on their way to Emmaus who had hurried back to tell them of their experience; they had heard the testimony of peter himself to whom Jesus had appeared sometime in between. Yet, the echoes of the murderous crowd in Pilate’s courtyard: “crucify him.” were still ringing in their ears as they huddled in fear.

Perhaps Thomas was the boldest, and the reason he was absent was that he was out at the local Wawa getting much needed supplies. Maybe Thomas’ doubt was not really doubt about the Lord, but doubt about the community who claimed he was alive. The cowering actions of the others belied their conviction that the resurrection was true. Jesus responded to his need.

We know that fear is the opposite of faith. [Remember Jesus walking on the water and Jesus’ identified Peter’s fear with lack of faith?]

The disciples, including Thomas, became fearless after Pentecost. They bolted from the room. They spread the good news not simply because they were told to, but because they were so enthused that they could not do otherwise.

We are the spiritual heirs of that community. At first, you and I received our faith by hearing the word from others - a kind of secondhand faith. Secondhand smoke is bad; secondhand faith is good, but it is only a stopgap form of faith. Later in life, we chose to accept for ourselves, to take ownership by what we had heard from our parents, teachers, others. We are like the townspeople speaking to the Samaritan woman; we can say: “No longer does our faith depend on your telling; we have found out for ourselves...” That is real faith.

We heard Jesus’ mission directive. “As the father sent me, so I send you” applies to us as well.

We need to witness, too. We cannot wait to witness until we are perfect and then invite folks. That day will never come. We have believed in spite of the mixed record of Jesus’ disciples that reaches back to the first ones.

Some of us are low-key; some, up-beat; some, contagiously enthusiastic. Whatever our personality, we are called to witness. The name for this is evangelization. Unfortunately, some associate this word with notorious, television preachers. “Evangelization” is simply church-talk for telling the good news – being a witness.

  • It does not mean that we have to know all the answers; the apostles did not.

  • It does not mean that we have to be perfect; the apostles surely were not.

  • It does not mean that that our leaders can solve all problems; surely they cannot.

  • It does mean that we witness to others that we have seen/experienced the Lord’s goodness and love.

What difference has reliving the resurrection really made in our enthusiasm during this past week? What has the Thomas in our family, development, and workplace experienced when they saw us after our experience of Easter?

I invite you, I challenge you, to celebrate the resurrection by reaching out with enthusiasm, to invite: “come and see,” to offer someone the life of the risen Jesus and the compassion and companionship of the community of us wounded healers

Thomas was habitually a questioner, perhaps less a doubter than a deep thinker. Perhaps he was the only one courageous enough to go out to the local Wawa for food.

Seeing is not believing. Observation is a form of scientific proof - Thomas got that. We, on the other hand, enjoy Jesus’ final beatitude: “blessed are those who have not seen, yet believed.” Paul says in Romans: “Faith comes from hearing.”

We may have become smug: I have the blessing of the final beatitude. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” I qualify; I have not seen the resurrection, yet I believe! How blessed I am! “Thank God I am not like the rest of men.”

Thomas’ second lesson: make sure when you have doubts that you are willing to doubt your doubts.

Easter (April 1, 2018)

Easter is Jesus the Christ’s finest hour. It is, therefore, his follower’s’ finest hour. “Finest hour” is a phrase made famous by Winston Churchill to describe Britain’s survival of the siege bombing of London and other English cities in 1940. Churchill wrote, “Should the British Empire last a thousand years, it will still be said this was their finest hour.”

The church has celebrated the resurrection of Jesus as its finest hour for over two thousand years. This is our proclamation every time we come together on the first day of the week, made holy by this singular, triumph-ant event.

Unlike Britain, Easter has not become the church’s finest hour because of us humans; it has become our finest hour because of Jesus and our father. It was the father’s will to teach us the unlimited nature of divine love through his son’s teaching us the lesson of listening to our father and himself. It took a horrific event like the crucifixion to get and fasten our attention, to enable us to see beyond our selfishness the selfless love of Jesus.

The resurrection has meaning only in the light of Jesus’ unspeakable suffering and death. Easter raises our spirits only after we allow the passion of Jesus on Good Friday to plunge our spirits as we see the love that enabled Jesus to suffer so terribly.

Many who cheered him at his entry into Jerusalem early in the week jeered him on Good Friday. This is the polarity we find so often in human experience and especially in Holy Week.

Besides the polarity we experience, there is also paradox. Polarity expresses difference and distance; paradox expresses the combining of contradictory ideas [or things] into a meaningful whole. The richness of paradox is lost on the poorly educated and the immature – yet another reason for weekly mass and continuing, catholic adult education. Those who stop with high school education of religion try to battle the experiences of adulthood with the tools of elementary or adolescent education, and in adulthood, unfortunately, view Christianity through the lens of immaturity. Many settle for Easter outfits and cute, yellow chicks and Easter candy for their own children. Christianity is an adult religion and spirituality.

Jesus has profound paradoxes in his teaching: we gain life by losing life; we gain love when we give love. His Easter paradox involves death and life. Death gives life its meaning. Remove one and we lose both. We want the crown of life, but we do not want the cross. We hear the promise of eternal life and have a tendency not to take up our cross and follow him. For Jesus, both are necessary. We want Easter Sundays in life without Good Fridays.

Jesus calls us to life, but surely does not want us to choose the cross in order to get the crown. That is not love; that is a deal – something for something. Jesus accepted the cross out of love for his father and for us. Jesus was not “dealing;” he was giving us example of how to live life.

In Jesus’ mind he did not die to be raised to eternal life (he already had that). He died to fulfill his father’s will and proclaim the message of love regardless of the violent reaction to hm. He dearly suffered for his efforts. God raised us to the possibility of joining us to them in eternal life.

Were we to be asked what was our finest hour, we might think of some “big win” in our lives. We would be surprised, as were the sheep, Jesus’ answer to the question. Our finest hour may have been at a most difficult or painful time when we gave the gift of ourselves to someone who needed help, peace, love.

In Matthew’s gospel, the people Jesus called “sheep”- as in separating the “sheep and goats” - asked Jesus: “when did we feed you, clothe you, visit you?” Jesus replied that what they had done for the least of their brothers, they had done for him. The gift of ourselves to others is our Christian vocation. Sometimes we see the difference we make; sometimes, we do not. Love becomes its own reward both here and hereafter.

May the paschal mystery, the paradox, fill your hearts this Easter. May Jesus’ gift of self inspire us all always to Live Jesus more deeply.

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT (March 18, 2018)

The connection between the first reading and the third reading is not hard to discover today. God tells Jeremiah that the upcoming, New Covenant will not be like the Sinai covenant with Moses. The new covenant will be one written on the hearts of his people. Relationship. Our Gospel tells of Jesus’ revealing that covenant.

John tells us of two Greek gentiles who have a request: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip, one of the apostles with a Greek name receives the request and tells his fellow, ethnic apostle, Andrew. Together they convey the request. As often happens, Jesus does not address the situation directly; he uses this occasion to reveal a positive change in the way that his followers are to relate to God, one another, and to creation. The passage also prefigures the church’s future mission to the Gentiles.

Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” Jesus, of course, is speaking of his personal death and resurrection as the proto-example to his followers. He generalizes; he extends the teaching to us with “whoever hates [loves less] his life.”

This “life” that is to be lost can take different forms. For alcoholics and those addicted to drugs, it means to trade their non-lives of addiction for sobriety, being clean. For us not addicted, the genius that articulated “life” by naming life’s principal components; time, talent and treasure have surely served us well. If we serve ourselves and not serve others with our time, our talent, and our treasure, we fail this challenge of dying to self and bringing life to others.

When couples become parents, they seem to learn this lesson of life very quickly. With a child who is the expression of their love, they unhesitatingly give their time, their talent, and their treasure to their child. Fortunately, it is still “news” when a parent serves oneself, fails miserably, and neglects a newborn.

Serious students and serious new-hires know the wisdom of the denial of self that is required for graduating or holding a job.

Did you notice the difference in Jesus’ attitude in john’s gospel from the synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] where Jesus prays that the cup of suffering will pass, that he will not have to drink it? Today’s Gospel from john admits that he is troubled, but does not struggle with the agony of suffering. He says, “It was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” This is another example of John viewing Jesus as more divine than human. It is in the Synoptic Gospels we see Jesus as more human than divine.

Jesus’ issue is the urgency of “his hour.” The tone is set by the image of the “grain of wheat.” There is no “cheap grace.” Jesus must die to produce the “fruit” of the community of believers who will be united with him and form what Paul will call “the body of Christ.” Jesus’ prayer is quickly affirmed by his Father.

As we move downhill toward the conclusion of Lent, we need to determine if there is any part of ourselves as grains of wheat that must die to produce the fruit of metanoia, the change of heart/mind that will allow us, as believers, to live Jesus more deeply at our celebration of Resurrection on Easter and our union with our God and our fellow believers both here and hereafter.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (March 11, 2018)

Regardless of make or model -- be it a clunker or a Lamborghini -- your automobile needs a periodic check-up beyond its regular oil changes. A check-up is preventive maintenance. The examination tells you what part is wearing, what needs to be replaced. It also brings you good news: your tires are in good shape; so are your brakes.

The Church has us do the same thing for our spiritual maintenance. The time for this is called lent. For the last three and a half weeks we have had the opportunity to look hard at ourselves. We may have seen that our patience is not working smoothly, and we take steps to improve it. We may have seen that out prayer life needs some adjustment, so we take steps to improve our timing.

Today is Laetare Sunday. Laetare Sunday is the time when we get to hear the good news from our church in our annual check-up. We hear some especially good news: the most popular verse in the entire bible, words that have been hung on banners in recent years in front of the seats on stadium walls: John 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.”

You and I are part of that “loved world.” It is to you and me that those words are addressed.

Please note that those words do not say that God was so angry at the world, so furious with the world, so disappointed with the world. No, it says God so loved the world.

Those are the words that provide the reason for naming this Sunday “Laetare Sunday.” Laetare means “rejoice,“ have joy at the good news. Out of curiosity, I looked up the word “joy “ in the newest, catholic theological dictionary. It was not listed. There was no entry between “Jesus” and “Judaism.” Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but it is not listed in the scholarly, catholic dictionary. I think that that is sad.

Joy is natural in our lives as Christians. St. Francis de Sales said it well: A sad saint is a sorry saint.” Christian joy is based on what Jesus did for us. Surely, joy in us is necessary to attract others toward appreciating what is the source of our joy. “See the Christians; see how they have love for one another.” Observed love is joyful.

I like the story of “spotted tail.” Spotted Tail was a chief in the Sioux Nation. He resisted all attempts of Christian missionaries who came to his reservation. In fact, he would throw a bucket of water on any missionary who approached him -- mocking the baptism they preached. One day in the autumn of 1876, a Roman Catholic nun was visiting the home of the commanding officer of the Indian Agency. Both she and Spotted Tail were invited to a reception hosted by the officer’s wife. Lemonade, not firewater was probably served. The nun, who seems to have had a wonderful, whimsical streak, stood up and raised her glass toward spotted tail. The chief immediately responded by standing and raising his glass towards her. She began to dance joyfully. Glass raised, and laughing aloud, she approached the chief, who did the same. The two met in the center of the room laughing together and toasting each other. This moment of joy changed spotted tale’s image of Christianity to the degree that he sent one of his daughters to the nun’s convent-school in Kansas City.

Dour faces neither reflect the face of God nor draw people toward RCIA. Think of all the “holy cards” and religious paintings [sacred art] that you have ever seen: how many of the faces are smiling? How many reflect the joy of receiving the gift in today’s Gospel? The next time you receive an absolutely delightful gift -- try opening it with a dour face. We can’t. It should not happen with our Lord’s gift of life -- here and hereafter.

When we “Live Jesus,” when we “put on Christ” may we not forget to absorb and reflect his joyful smile.