Seventeenth Sunday in ordinary Time (July 28, 2019)

The only recorded time that Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus for instruction is the scene in today’s Gospel. They asked him to teach them to pray. It was a common practice for rabbis to teach their disciples a prayer in Jesus’ day. Jesus provided them with an “all-purpose” prayer. It was one they could pray alone or together, in good times and in bad. A prayer for all seasons. It also gives us insight into how Jesus prayed.

Rather than go through the prayer itself, I thought it might be helpful to look at some background for prayer. First, we need to look at the one to whom we are praying. What is our personal image of the Father? How do we imagine him? In our first reading from the Old Testament, god conjures up the image of a judge who will pass sentence on Sodom and Gomorrah. In Hebrew, Matthew’s Gospel, chapter twenty-five, Jesus uses the same, judge image of the Father when he talks about a final judgment when the sheep and goats are separated. That is the scary image with which many of us grew up.

In today’s Gospel from gentle Luke, Jesus addresses the father as “Abba.” As we know, abba means “Dad.” Jesus passes on to us his warm, familiar image. John the evangelist proclaims that god is love.That image has grown most strongly in the last several decades. God is love; God is also perfect. So, God is perfect love. The popular name for that is unconditional love.

Antony Campbell, an Australian Jesuit, writes that we cannot have a level playing field with conflicting God-images. If you want to say, “On the one hand, God is our judge; on the other, God is unconditional love,” these two tend to cancel out each other. A judge is, by definition, coolly impartial, even-handed. A lover is by definition biased in passion-ate favor of the beloved. If we try to hold both images simultaneously, we have no vibrant image of god that we can relate to. We get a spiritual headache trying to focus. We need to choose for ourselves one as our over-arching image.

Personally, in the Salesian tradition, I chose unconditional love. The image of God as judge then needs to fade far into the background in order to appreciate and live by the image of god as unconditional love. With a good and healthy image of God, we can then pray in a spiritually healthy way,

If we image god this way, it follows that we need to image ourselves as sons and daughters of God who unconditionally loves. And that is wonderful. Sons and daughters need to have and express a dependent attitude. God is the Holy One, a friend to be approached in awe and reverence: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come…” We pray thy will, not my will be done and for the coming of his kingdom, not my kingdom. This gives both meaning and direction to our lives. Today, Jesus speaks words. During passion he both speaks and models those words: “Father, let this cup pass . . . Not my will but yours be done…into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We cannot afford to be distracted by Jesus’ humorous example to a Jewish audience about a person wearing a friend down to get a favor. Why? We are part of a much later Christian community. If we have some spiritual maturity; we realize that we neither bargain with god nor feel that we have to beg God. There is no “us on our hind legs” begging for a treat. Abba wants to give us gifts that will help us; he loves us. We need to go to Jesus’ own conclusion of his humorous example: “How much more will the father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” Jesus challenges us to do as he did; to ask our loving Father – with trust, period. We extend our open arms toward him in openness. Or, in more difficult times, we remember Amy Floirian’s example of the trapeze artist extending her arms back, vulnerably, towards her partner, the catcher.

What about Jesus’ insistence on persistence in prayer? Why do we need to repeat our requests? Delay in receiving a positive answer gently pushes us to rethink what we pray for. We may need to amend our petition to what will be better in the bigger picture. Let’s never mindlessly, rattle off this precious prayer. Let’s try always to pray this prayer attentively, from our hearts.

After all, it is the one prayer that Jesus himself taught us.

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 21, 2019)

Martha invites Jesus to dinner. Martha and Mary live a five-minute, mile and a half bus ride from Jerusalem. I timed it when I was in Israel. Mary and Martha are present in only this one passage in the synoptic Gospels. Their brother, Lazarus, is not mentioned here. Luke tells us that Martha has a house in a village. John’s gospel gives the three more prominence. He identifies the village as Bethany.

Jesus was the guest of Martha and Mary more than once, as john tells us. John also tells us that Jesus loved the two sisters and their brother, Lazarus very much. This is as close as we get in the Gospels to the private life of Jesus.

Rather than comparing the two sisters, we can move beyond dualistic thinking; that is, something is either black or white, either this or that, either home maker or prayer, either liberal or progressive. Dualistic thinking divides rather than unites.

Jesus’ apparent correction of Martha does not indicate her having too many things to do. If she had less to do, she would very likely still have the same problem. Jesus identifies her problem as anxiety that is directed in being “anxious about many things.” We, like Martha, need to be un-anxious.

This experience of Jesus, Mary, and Martha was long ago. Today, our parallel situation deals with being listening disciples and simultaneously being breadwinners and housekeepers and child raisers; being young, Catholic Christians and students. That takes us beyond the Mary-Martha experience and places us in our need for balance in daily life situations two millennia later.

Baking brownies does not need to be separated from union with Jesus. In the ever-increasing pace of living, we, like Martha, need to maintain our listening hearts while doing the things we need to do.

We are faced with dualities that need to be resolved by avoiding dualistic thinking and pursuing what Richard Rohr has named unitive consciousness; that is, initiate creatively; take the best from each of the “either/or” dualities and create a new entity that includes the best of both.

The first part of the solution is to recognize the dualities that we face. In today’s gospel, spirituality and daily chores are not “either / or” situations but are “both / and” situations. We need both to be spiritual and to fulfill the needs to eat and work and drive the kids – or, for young folks: to study, work, pray, and play.

St. Francis de sales is helpful with a practice he calls “the direction of intention.” We invite god’s presence into our presence, ask God to help us in identifying and choosing well in our dualities as well as other situations, offer him what good we do; this helps us keep perspective. We see ourselves as “living Jesus.” Jesus is “our ground of being” in mutual presence as we do the things we do in our mutually cooperative building of the kingdom.

As we begin any activity during the day - easy, difficult or in between - we invite, we ask god’s help, we spiritually do the activity together with our lord. This spiritual practice is one of the hallmarks of Salesian spirituality. We sow the acts of directing our intention and reap the habit/ virtue of deeper union. In time, the practice becomes like breathing in and breathing out: ruah, the breath, the spirit in easy relationship.

We incorporate our divine relationship with the person, situation at hand in order to bring about our union with Jesus and our enlightened effort in any situation.

In the Martha-Mary episode, Jesus himself established priorities of “good” and “better” in an apparently contentious situation. In so many other situations, Jesus came up with a third and better solution: is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar, or not…? The woman at the well where is it appropriate to worship God on Mt. Gerizim or the mount in Jerusalem? And more.

May you be blessed in your efforts not to classify yourself or another as “Mary” or “Martha” and may we all become Mary-Martha’s – and, may we be blessed in our efforts to improve in achieving unitive consciousness

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 14, 2019)

I have met the lawyer in today’s Gospel many times; sadly, sometimes it’s been when I looked in the mirror

To test Jesus, he asked, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, as he does so often, answers with a question: “What is written in the law? “

The lawyer answers with the same answer that Jesus used when he was asked what the greatest commandment is: love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. Then, Jesus tells him precisely what to do; “Do this [love] and you will live. The lawyer had asked a “do to get something” question; Jesus corrected with a “do to live” answer.

The lawyer, in legal fashion, then asked that “neighbor” be defined: “Who is my neighbor?” Perhaps he did not want to make the mistake of offering his charity unnecessarily. The question indicates that the lawyer is more interested in the law than love of his neighbor.

Jesus answered with the trick of threes – as, “there was a rabbi, a minister, and a priest” – or “there was a Polish man, an Italian, and an Irishman.” The third mentioned is either the punch line of a joke or the successful solution to an issue. Jesus’ story in which a Samaritan was the hero, the one who possessed the compassion of God over a law-abiding priest and a Levite would have been a severe shock to any Jew at that time.

Jesus was saying that this lawyer and his fellow Jews could not hide behind their laws or culture. True, laws give structure to our lives; few would prefer to live without them. Jesus broke laws to help people, demonstrating beyond doubt that compassion trumps law.

Neither the Jews, then, nor ourselves, now, can decide who is our neighbor. In the kingdom of God, boundaries defining neighbors do not exist. Compassion trumps law.

There is a second, subtler, more personal lesson to be learned – one that surely impacts me. It is provoked by the closing words of Jesus, “Go and do likewise.”

If there is any verse in all of revelation that stands out for me, it is Jesus’ answer to the question: “What is the greatest commandment?” It has been drummed into us all for years. But . . . Why is the follow-through not in the forefront of my consciousness? I feel a need to “go and do likewise” in a more pro-active way.

Theology may help here. Theology talks about cognitive knowing and evaluative knowing. Some folks intellectually know that murder is wrong but fail to appreciate its wrongness.

Perhaps I/we intellectually know that love of god and neighbor should be paramount in our lived lives but fail to appreciate that spiritual truth 24/7 and thereby fail to apply the knowledge in the here and now situation. Like the gospel lawyer who knew the greatest commandment, I / we also begin to ponder it and do not, as Nike says, “Just do it.” If we do not work on our faith convictions, our faith-convictions will not work for us in crunch times. The disconnect indicates a degree of lack of integrity.

The Good Samaritan was “good,” because he saw a need. His gut was struck. He reacted - positively. The story does not speak of any debate in his mind, weighing pros and cons. He was somehow “compassion-ready” for this moment. My goal is to increase spontaneity in compassion situations so as to model better the compassion Jesus spoke about.

To our credit, you and I have promptly reacted in critical situations in the past. I present for your thoughtful consideration my concern for my own “compassion knee-jerk.” Perhaps, you can identify with this. We, perhaps, need to be conscious of a possible disconnect -- or slow-connect -- between knowing about compassion and showing compassion, -- consistently identifying with the compassion of god in the here and now living our Christian vocation.

I have a need to “live Jesus” in a state of greater readiness to react compassionately at a gut level. I hope that my reflection will be of some help to you. I have a greater hope that you don’t need any help.

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 7, 2019)

Last week we saw in Luke’s Gospel people coming to join Jesus. This week we see Jesus sending them off two by two on mission as “advance men.” Curious that what we see politicians do today is what Jesus wisely did two thousand years ago. He sent disciples ahead of him to announce the Good News; he will not be far behind. Two by two affords some protection on the dangerous, ancient roads; it was also Jewish custom to believe testimony based on the witness of two people.

“Sending” has been the story of Christianity from the beginning. Jesus was sent by the Father. Disciples were sent forth by Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ instructions are not detailed on what they are to say. Instructions on how they are to conduct themselves are more detailed than what they are to say. They are to travel light - they are not vacationers. They are not to lose time with lengthy, oriental greetings. They are not to upgrade their lodging. In a word, they are to be single- minded.

We stand in this same tradition. This was actually the beginning of Christian “tradition,” literally “handing on.” In our day we are in the midst of change in the process of handing on the story of Jesus. As the number of priests, brothers, and sisters, who have been the professional “handers on,” diminishes, it is the laity who are playing an increasing role as the second Vatican Council urged. The role of the laity in celebrating Eucharist has passed from being observers to being active participants: lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ministers of hospitality, ministers of music. The locus of teaching both in the parish as catechists and rcia team members and in the home is increasing.

I think it helpful for us, as individuals, to identify those who have been the best in handing on “the faith” to us. Most of us seem able to identify those with whom we have experienced interpersonal contact, “Ah hah” moments in our faith development. We need to ask ourselves what we have to pass on, and discern how best we, now as disciples, can pass on what is our best.

Today, I would like to focus on one line in the Gospel that may not immediately catch our attention: “The seventy returned with joy…” There is joy in being disciples, a joy that is strong and is unique.

A story. When I came to teach at Salesianum in 1974, the theology department embarked on an enterprise of revising the course offerings to our students. We had only “required” courses and we then introduced “optional” courses.

In an effort to promote orthopraxis as well as continue the traditional orthodoxy, we decided to make as a “required,” one-semester course in junior year a service project where the students would go into the community, engage in some ministry for x-number of hours and submit regular reflection papers to the teacher. The reports were to be oriented beyond being “do-gooders,” to a reflection on putting faith to work. Praxis - this was a pioneering idea at the time.

There was some initial grumbling from students and some parents. “How can you make works of charity, love, mandatory? This should be voluntary.” We held firm. One family withdrew their son from Salesianum in protest. The service-director scouted many regional enterprises for placements. Students were free to come up with original sites with the director’s approval.

One of the strangest experiences in my years of teaching followed – one that was never anticipated by department members. We had a case of chaos at the end of the first semester. The students who had completed their service project would not leave their projects. Many of the other half of the junior class had to find new projects, new placements.

Salesianum students had discovered the joy of serving. It was more than discovering that they had newly-found talents. Many reflection papers were revelatory. They discovered the joy of ministering, the joy of cooperating with God in helping others in the building of the kingdom. The reflective life was worth living.

The words of a non-Christian, Rabindranath Tagore speaks to this:

“I slept and dreamt life was a joy.
I awoke and saw life was service.
I acted and behold service is joy.”

“The seventy returned with joy…” We are each called to a life of discipleship. The “tradition,” the “handing on” of what Jesus taught and what Jesus did needs to be passed on. How I do that is the question the Gospel asks us this day.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 30, 2019)

Today’s readings are about making a decisive choice about discipleship.

The prophet Elijah - thought by Jews to be the greatest prophet - was clearly impatient with Elisha when he wanted to say goodbye to his parents before setting out on his career as a prophet. Elijah took this delay to indicate a lack of resolve on Elisha’s part.

Elisha proved his resolve by sacrificing his oxen to god on a fire of wood from his plow. His entire livelihood, the tools of his trade, literally, went up in smoke in his response to the Lord’s call. There was nothing to return to; he had burnt the bridge to his livelihood behind him. His God-choice was clear as crystal.

Luke captures Jesus at a climactic moment in his Gospel. Luke pictures Jesus as in an old western where the hero is standing, slightly spread-legged in the middle of the town street, thoughtfully looking off in the distance. Alone. Resolute. Brave. All eyes are focused on him. Then, one by one some come forward to join him as a posse.

An older - and I think better - translation reads: “He set his face for Jerusalem.” The remainder of Luke’s Gospel is about the journey with his disciples to Jerusalem after this famous, pivotal verse in Luke, 9:51.

Jerusalem is not so much a geographical destination as the culmination of Jesus’ life and mission.

James and john, disciples-in-training, provide an almost comic relief from the drama. The Samaritans have rejected Jesus because he is heading for Jerusalem; Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerizim and would not follow one heading for Jerusalem and the temple. Young Johnny and Jimmy want to vengefully kill the Samaritans with lightning from heaven. They were given the nickname “Boanerges,” the “sons of thunder.” They did not yet “get it.” Jesus’ way was non-violent, surely not vengeful. He invites, not demands. He extends an invitation to the kingdom, not a command.

Some listeners approach to join Jesus. One would-be disciple claims that he will follow wherever he goes. Jesus is up-front with him; he speaks that classic response: “The foxes have dens; the birds of the air have nests; the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, don’t choose too quickly; consider the consequences! This is not a walk in the park. As we said last weekend, a follower must prioritize God’s will over one’s own – and may lose popularity with one’s “old crowd.”

Another man wants to “bury his father.” This doesn’t mean that his father has just died and the funeral is tomorrow, but that he wants to delay until after his father’s death before he will follow Jesus. Jesus replies that the choice of discipleship precludes family duties being top priority.

Another wants to say his goodbyes. It reminds us of Elijah in the first reading. Jesus, in this different situation, calls him to single-mindedness.

Jesus tells us that when we choose him, we are like an Amish farmer in Lancaster County - who sets his hand to his plow and does not look back. No one plows a straight furrow while looking back over his shoulder. No one can be a disciple of Jesus while looking back at what is behind him and still move forward undistracted.

For years parents and educators have been concerned about the high rate of students deciding to drop out of high school and college. Studies tell us that the chief reason why students drop out is simple: they did not really want to go to school/college in the first place. The real reason they started was: peer pressure . . . parents . . . Or, they just didn’t know what else to do with their lives at that point.

I wonder about the many who have decided to leave the church at this time. Your and my faith cannot be based on an institution composed of good and bad leaders, but it needs to be based on faith in Jesus. I propose for your thoughtful consideration a question: are many of the departures from the church about inept/bad bishops and cardinals and priests, or are they really like the college dropouts? They did not want to be followers of Jesus in the first place? The fire was not in their guts.

We are Christians because we follow Jesus. If Jesus did anything for sure on earth, he certainly gathered a group of people around him to support one another and neighbors and spread the good news to the entire world. We, the people of god, comprise the church as a community. A title for the pope is, ironically, “servant of the servants of god.”

Personally, the reason I stay a Catholic-Christian is that I am hooked on Jesus, his life and teaching, the fisher of men. I am also hooked on you, my brothers and sisters. We are the people of God. Let our great celebration continue!

Body and Blood of Christ (June 23, 2019)

Today, the church celebrates the Eucharist in a manner second only to Holy Thursday on this superfeast – called “the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.” The feast was formerly known as Corpus Christi.

So, why is this feast celebrated since we already have Holy Thursday? The best explanation seems to be that, historically, Holy Thursday became unbearably overloaded with add-ons. Think about it. On Holy Thursday in holy week, the early church celebrated the return of public sinners from public penance. Then, the church added the blessing of the holy oils for the next year. Not long ago, the chrism mass was moved earlier in Holy Week.

Besides these, there is the washing of feet, which we still celebrate. All these were in one liturgy plus celebrating the institution of the sacraments of Eucharist and holy orders and added a procession to the altar of repose as its conclusion. We needed more attention to celebrate Eucharist itself; this feast was added.

We hear in this year of Luke the Gospel account of the feeding of the 5000, the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. It is closely associated with Eucharist in the images it conjures: take, look up to heaven, bless, break, give, eat – as related in Jerusalem and Emmaus.

Food is a critically important, human concern. Since most ancient times people have striven to give their most precious gifts to their gods, food was offered to gods. We tend to project our behavior onto god. We project that food must be most precious to god. An unblemished lamb was the best of food, therefore, the greatest gift-sacrifice.

Many, many years earlier, the prophet Micah introduced change in our gift-giving to our God. “What shall I give to the Lord?” Micah asks, he answers: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly.” He introduces the gift of giving our best-in-relating-to-others.

We heard today that Jesus responded to the human need for food. He first had the people sit in groups of 50. He did not separate his listeners by gender, class, or wealth. Unsegregated groups were unheard of in Jesus’ day. A giant step forward in the evolution of relationship! And 50 people is a community; 5000 is a mob.

He used what was available, a boy’s few fish and loaves of bread, as John tells us in his Gospel. We do not hear any details as to “how” it happened. Jesus just did it. Jesus had his followers gather up the leftovers that they might feed others, later.

In his teaching the people, Jesus gave what he had received from his Father, words of loving relationship. As we know, Jesus was so different in what he said and in what he did that Jewish leaders sought to take his life. It was “expedient that one man dies”, so that they could go on with life as usual. Later, they succeeded. Jesus’ giving his loving words and loving actions was what led to jealousy and his death for his gift of self and the Father.

Like Micah, we can ask, “What shall I give to the Lord?” Our answer is the same as Micah’s. We offer our selves to our God. Jesus used only what was available in terms of a few loaves and fishes, and that was more than enough. We give ourselves, just as we are in our effort in “doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly”.

Some think that because they do not do those things to their own satisfaction, their gift is unworthy. It is not. We need to remind ourselves over and over that god does not love us because we are good, but because God is good. This is the direct opposite of how the world judges with its conditional love. We do what we can with what we have. God loves us just as we are. That is his gift of unconditional love.

Just as everyone sat in the group of 50, each – regardless of what they thought of themselves – and received God’s gift of bread unconditionally. Each of us receives the gift of God’s love in Eucharist. We respond in loving relationship – in acting justly, loving kindly, and walking humbly.

Trinity Sunday (June 16, 2019)

We have all wrestled with the question: “What is God really like? If you are confused, it is a perfectly normal reaction. It is impossible to fathom our infinite God.

The ancient Jews had an idea. Realizing the impossibility of comprehending God, they would not even speak the word “Yahweh,” God. They used a substitute word, “Adonai,” to emphasize their awe before God.

Jesus knew he could not give his disciples an explanation. Instead, he spoke of relationships and reassured them that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth.” in other words, the mystery of God does not preclude that we can grow in our understanding of relationship with god as Abba, Jesus the word made flesh, and the holy spirit.

Our God is revealed in John’s letter as “love” - a unity of three persons in relationship. In very early Christianity, origin of the use of the word “person” came from ancient theatre where one actor wore several masks for the different persons he played. So, God could be said to be one, yet somehow three persons. That we are made in his image means that we are rational, relational and loving.

Today’s feast also reminds us that we cannot be rugged individualists; that is against our relational nature. We are children of our father; therefore, we are brothers and sisters to one another, interrelated with our God and our families, friends, church community, and the world.

So, how do we grow in our understanding of God? Doctrines and dogmas can help us to begin to learn about God being a three-person community of love, but it is only in experiencing God, experiencing his love for us as persons that we finally “get it.”

I am not one who grows from reciting litanies to our lord composed by someone else; I am one who grows in understanding God’s working in my life in litanies of my own gratitude. That builds relationship.

I thank God in my own words for the wonderful people that are in my life. I see the love, the goodness, the generosity, and the compassion of the Trinity in you. You lead me into closer relationship with our God, and I hope that I am helpful in your growth.

I thank God for the gifts that I have . . . and do not have. Thank you, Lord for seeing the sunrise - or the sunset. Thank you, Lord, for being able to see. Thank you, Lord for the health that I have enjoyed, and thank you, Lord, for sickness that I have not had and how I have grown from what I have had.

As we grow in experience of God’s love for us, we are moved and enabled to love and care about others. God intends Trinitarian love to flow from God to us, but also to flow out from us to all whose lives we touch. Our God’s credibility is dependent on whether love and unity are seen in us to attract non-believers to god and to our community.

Let us not fail to acknowledge the many blessings and grace that the triune God makes present to us each day as part of the divine desire to fill us with the fullness of divine life and draw us into the unity with the three and the one.

Pentecost (June 9, 2019)

Today we celebrate one of the “big three” solemnities in the liturgical year: Pentecost. Pentecost stands tall along with Jesus’ birth and resurrection. It is not as “popular” as the other two because our society has not made it a day for giving/receiving gifts or dyeing eggs. You never hear how many more shopping days ‘till Pentecost. Pentecost is 100% spiritual; zero material payback.

As we read further into the acts of the apostles, we find the holy spirit becomes less a spectacular experience and more a guide and problem-solver in the day to day life of the believing community.

The main difference between the disciples before and after the Pentecost experience is not the flames dancing on their heads or wondrous communication skills or that wind-blown look. Pentecost is fundamentally a story about the disciples’ courage, overriding their fear of being arrested, and their fear of those who might angrily – even murderously -- protest their proclaiming the message. They no longer fear Jewish leaders or Jewish followers.

Courage is a language that the world scarcely speaks. We do recognize it when we hear a story of it or we see it.

Jesus’ followers were so filled with the spirit of god that they felt moved to do just what Jesus did: speak life and love into our world. They also left as their heritage a community that would begin to shoulder the burden and the joy of carrying the message of love.

Today, fear is palpable. There are reports of terrorist attacks, rising crime, jobs going out, the undocumented coming in, guns everywhere, losing our civil liberties and the cost of keeping them, plane travel, anthrax, the cost of gas, staying in the war, pulling out of the war, global warming, medications that kill, the rising cost of medical care -- to name just a handful.

Fear is the meat and potatoes of the media, but it is directly opposed to the spirit of Pentecost. Our courage is based on a radical trust in and reliance on God’s grace; that is, his presence in our lives.

We choose either to allow ourselves to live in fear or to live in faith; that is, have a radical trust in our father – just as Jesus did. We can courageously approach life one day at a time. Spirit-driven courage makes our approach to living a challenge, not a dread. We can step up and face a world full of fearsome things and also recognize, primarily, the wind and the fire of god in our souls because it is already there, waiting.

We are tempted at times like Christmas, Easter and Pentecost to think in terms of commemorating historical events that happened long ago and to someone else. We are not called to page through salvation history like a memory book. Just as in the Eucharist when we invite the living Christ to enter us, so on this feast of Pentecost we pray to the Holy Spirit to enliven us, to embolden us, to en-courage us.

We do not simply recall a reported event on this day. Holy memory, anamnesis, recalls the past only to make it live again within our community of faith. The Holy Spirit moves through this worship space this day. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are desperately needed in our world: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The message is in need of messengers. Paul makes it perfectly clear that the greatest gift, the overarching gift of the Holy Spirit, is love. The others, when we stop to think about them, are manifestations of love, shoots off the vine.

The difference between the disciples of the first Pentecost and this one is the balance of our courage.

Red is the color of excitement – from red convertibles and red roses and valentines to red fire apparatus. Red is the color of the badge of courage. Red is the color of Pentecost.

Come, Holy Spirit – enkindle in our hearts the fire of your love and the courage to use our already, God-given gifts.

The ascension of our Lord (May 30/June 2, 2019)

Luke alone among the Gospel writers, describes the Ascension of Our Lord, which we celebrate today. At the end of his first book, his Gospel, he places the ascension on Easter Sunday night. At the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, Luke places it 40 days later. A scripture scholar answered the obvious question: “When was it, really?” “It probably was Easter Sunday night, but the day was so jam-packed, Luke decided to spread the events out over 40 days in his acts. We don’t know the time for sure, but we see, once again that we cannot look at scripture as history as we know history.

For me, there are two challenging questions in Easter-time scripture readings. The curious thing is that on both occasions the question, “where,” was asked by a follower: where have they put him? Where are you going?”

As we know, often, in Scripture, a question is answered with another question. In both these instances, the where-questions are responded to with why-questions.

The first re-framed, where-question in Luke’s Gospel is on Easter: to Mary of Magdala and the other women to their question of “where have they put him?” Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not a body to be anointed with spices. Jesus is very alive and quite well.

The second re-framed question, “Where are you going” [from Peter in John’s Gospel] is answered in today’s Gospel with another why-question: Why do you stand here looking up to heaven? You are looking in the wrong place. Jesus is Emmanuel, meaning “God with us”.

We know from our experience “why questions” are the toughest of all questions. The liturgy provides Easter season to ponder the answers to those two questions.

The question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” is an important one for us in our day. We know Jesus is alive. Some church leaders who claim to speak in his name appear not to be living, but dead. Personally, I read, and I listen to spiritual persons and pray to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am not left an orphan, as Jesus promised. I try not to seek the living among the dead.

There is a separate challenge in the second question, the one we heard in our Gospel, “Why so you stand here looking up to heaven.” To intentionally mix a metaphor, we are not to stand here sitting on our thumbs. We are called to do something, to be alive as a follower of Jesus, to become the person we are called to become.

Luke tells us today that right after Jesus left them they went to the Jerusalem temple and spoke the praises of god. Luke tells us in his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, they did those actions which the Acts of the Apostles records. They witnessed to Jesus – truthfully.

There was not distance but closeness to Jesus after the Ascension. The gift of presence is part of the blessing that Jesus gave to his disciples and to us as he left. He fulfills his blessing to be with us here in Eucharist, in our community, among our friends and families.

We re-enflesh Jesus in Eucharist and become Christ for others to help shape our world into the body of Christ. Our challenge is to bring our life-giving enthusiasm to our home and family, parish and friends. We are his body, made visible, audible, and tangible. We bring Christ to others and we see Christ in them. We are church, the body of Christ.

Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 26, 2019)

Every living organism must constantly change. If our bodies do not constantly change air and nutrition, we die. Death is the cessation of our ability to change. The need to adapt emotionally and spiritually is equally necessary for life.

Mega-change in the first century is what the first reading is about. It shows us when and where this mega-change began. The time was about 50 A.D. The place was Antioch. Antioch was 300 miles north of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the place where Stephen, the first deacon, was martyred. Following Stephen’s martyrdom. Persecution broke out against the other followers of Jesus.

Many Christians fled north to Antioch, the capital of the roman province of Syria. It would be the place from which Paul and Barnabas, the earliest missionaries, would set out on their first 2 missionary journeys.

So, the Antioch community was formed, and the people of that area, non-Jews, were becoming “Christians” - a term that was coined in Antioch. These “gentile-Christians” saw no need to follow the practices of the Jewish Christians down south in Jerusalem.

Some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem visited Antioch; they were amazed to find Antioch Christians not following Jewish practices. They said that the gentile-Christians were not “real Christians” because they were not following the law Moses had given to the Jews. Big trouble in the Christian community!!!

The gentile-Christians in Antioch became upset. They thought Christians should separate themselves from Judaism. They held that a continued connection weakened Christianity. Christianity should stand on its own feet.

Two extremes. Remember: many followers of Jesus were still a sect within Judaism. The question - how does one enter this new sect - was a real one!

To resolve the problem, Paul and Barnabas decided to go south to Jerusalem. It is significant that that they recognized Jerusalem as authoritative.

So, the first ecumenical council of the church was held, the council of Jerusalem. It is the oldest example of what Vatican II was. The insights of the church fathers were excellent; their solution was not an either / or, but a both / and. They recognized the need for change and yet maintained continuity with Jewish tradition. They compromised.

They decided that the new Christians would be both baptized as Jesus directed and follow only 3 of the 700+ prescriptions of the Mosaic Law. The same 3 that non-Jews living in Israel were bound to follow. The major change was that the new converts would not have to follow the law of Moses, males would not have to be circumcised, the sign of the covenant. In short, all would not have to become Jews before becoming Christians.

The council fathers did not insist on tradition [“but, we always did it this way”], but stated: “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden beyond these essentials: you are to abstain…”

• From food sacrificed to idols, thus avoiding even indirect contact with false worship from pagan, second-hand animals;

• From blood from the meat of strangled animals; strangled animals still had blood within them. Blood was identified with life, life belonged to god alone;

• From [fornication] . . .” [fornication] is the translation of the Greek “porneia” which meant marrying too close cousins. “Incest” might be a better translation in this context.

These three involved the things that would prevent Jewish and gentile Christians from sitting at table together.

As we know, the compromise solution was not the final solution. The Christians in 72 A.D. were excommunicated from the Jewish religion. The two dietary laws prescribed here were dropped. Only incest remained banned – for good reason.

Curiously, the first century leaders recognized the need for insistence on the inclusion of the holy spirit in their deliberations, the spirit is the one Jesus said would help them in the future - and it worked.

How might the Holy Spirit invite us to compromise today, that is, to be flexible on detail but firm on principle?

Fifth Sunday of Easter (May 19, 2019)

The time of the Gospel was the Last Supper, specifically, immediately after Judas had left the table to betray Jesus when he would go to the garden of Gethsemane. The end was near. Jesus had tried so hard to teach his disciples his message of love. This is his final effort with words, the next-to- last words of a man close to death.

Jesus says, “I will give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The apostles still did not “get it.” Jesus spread the message of love and deeds of love that his father had chosen to deliver through him. The way that we humans learn to love is through a human person. The way that we learn to love deeply is to learn from a perfectly loving human: Jesus. Jesus was not only human; he was the archetype of humanity.

Now he was near the time of his death. Why did Jesus have to die the way that he did? How could our loving father decree that his beloved son would have to suffer so tortuously? The image of God as Father, “Abba,” does not suggest a vindictive, vengeful God who has to settle a score with Adam and Eve and their, therefore, sinful descendents.

As we heard in last Sunday’s first reading, that Jesus had to die because the leaders of his chosen people were jealous. As they said, “It is expedient that one man must die.” Their fear and anger prevailed. Their precious-to-them status quo had to remain, be maintained at any cost.

Why did Jesus call what he said “a new” commandment? The message of love had been proclaimed long before, in the third book of the Bible, Leviticus. What Jesus was adding that was new was that our loving God first loved us; he showed his love in the person of Jesus, who was love enfleshed. Being the archetype of humanity included his archetypical loving.

Jesus showed in word and example, in confrontations with others, in the sickness and the death of others, in being rejected by those he came to serve, the loving message of his father. His father and Jesus continue to love us. And, he loved us first. We cannot love back without the love with which he embraces us. He loves us because that is his very nature. He cannot not love us.

He tells us that being loved will enable us to love everyone. Then, he tells us that folks we do not know, who are not his disciples will see us, will be drawn to us and through us, will be led to Jesus, to our God. This loving kingdom of God begins now – our future will not be some notion of “pie in the sky when you die.”

John tells us in his first letter, “We love because he first loved us.” That was surely one of John’s most revelatory, divinely inspired insights.

Jesus left the upper room for the garden of Gethsemane where Judas would betray him with a kiss, so ironically a symbol of love. Jesus will play out the unfair hand he was dealt. He will pray on the cross for those who failed, pleading their ignorance. And us. We do the best we can with what we’ve got. We “do” lovingly, forgivingly.

Fourth Sunday of Easter (May 12, 2019)

Conflict is at the heart of a good story. In literature, on the stage, on the screen, the green-eyed monster of jealousy has provided many a tale of conflict. Lovers, business partners, politicians become involved in intrigue, revenge through jealousy that is said to be the one that no one of us easily admits.

Fear and anger are at the root of jealousy: fear of a possible, personal loss; anger at a perceived threat to something we consider our own and worth protecting – be it a relationship, a possession, our reputation.

We do not seem to identify jealousy with the same frequency as the early church did. The biblical writers used “jealously” more frequently. They seem to have thought through an individual situation of fear/anger one level deeper than we to give a name to this reality.

We recall in Matthew’s Gospel during Jesus’ trial scene: “He [Pilate] knew, of course, that it was out of jealousy that they handed him [Jesus] over.” Pilate defines the Jewish motivation as “jealousy” – in this, the Greatest Story ever told.

In today’s first reading, Paul and Barnabas were well received at Antioch and returned the following Sabbath to speak again in the synagogue. Paul and Barnabas remind the Jewish congregation that no less a prophet than Isaiah spoke of the ideal Israel as a light to the nations; that is, the non-Jews, the Gentiles. The leaders were fearful about the apostles’ reminder of Isaiah’s statement that they would like to forget. The two, in speaking of salvation for the Gentiles, became a perceived threat to the Jewish leaders’ conviction of having sole ownership of being God’s chosen people.

The basic ingredients for jealousy were there: they were fearful that they would have to accept this correction from Isaiah and correct their own teaching. Also, they might well lose their status/authority as teachers. We heard: “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.”

Jealousy trumped rationality: “I’ve made up my mind; don’t confuse me with the facts.” This is jealousy at the institutional level of religion. The Jewish leadership, “filled with jealousy”, had to nip this threat in the bud, so they rabble- roused the congregation, and the apostles were expelled from the area.

The Book of Revelation, the second reading, speaks about the multitude of heaven “which no one could count from every nation, race, people and tongue.” That newer phrase has translated the older version that used the symbolic number 144,000. That number appears twice in scripture, once to count the saved of Israel and once to count the followers of “the lamb,” Jesus. So, 144 thousand is symbolic shorthand for both Israel and the Gentiles. It indicates the direct opposite of an exclusive elite. It holds the door open for all, just as Jesus showed in his day.

It is a shame that divisions within and between religions and churches exist. Divisions set up “either / or dualism.” Dualism then sets us up for jealousy. “Both / and” precludes jealousy. Religions seem to have always showed a bent toward being exclusive just as nations have had a bent toward nationalism and isolationism. Triumphalism seems to be a perennial temptation.

Recall the recently proclaimed account in the Acts of the Apostles when the apostles are brought before the angry Sanhedrin. Gamaliel, a highly respected member said that if Jesus were a phony, the movement would die. He gave two historical examples of failure. We applauded his wisdom. His argument prevailed – but only for a time.

For your thoughtful consideration: in the big picture and the current swirl of condemnations, would it not be wise not to rush to judgment as the Jewish Gamaliel pleaded for Jesus? Jesus said long before Gamaliel when asked what to do with weeds growing together with and resembling wheat: wait! Wait until time and growth prove what is good. Be patient.

God, the light of the world, shines as love, on everyone. Light has no borders that it cannot cross. The light of love and truth will always, eventually shine through. At a time when fears and angers spawn jealousy, let us not do anything foolish. Two Jewish rabbis from two thousand years ago advised us well. One is still very much around.

Third Sunday of Easter (May 5, 2019)

A Scripture teacher, Neal Flanagan, taught us that the term “charcoal fire” appears in two places in John’s Gospel. The two charcoal fires form brackets, bookends, to the story of Peter’s poignant experience with Jesus before his Ascension. I did some further checking and discovered that those are the only times that the word “charcoal” occurs throughout both the Old and New Testaments!

That got me started on further study. “Charcoal fire” appears for the first time in Chapter 18 of John’s Gospel. Jesus had been arrested. Peter was in the courtyard during Jesus’ questioning. It was at night. Some were gathered around the charcoal fire, warming themselves. Three times peter was identified as a companion of Jesus; three times he denied it.

John’s gospel is filled with symbolism. “Night,” in John, indicates a darkness of the light of knowing – as shown earlier in Nicodemus, the Pharisee, who spoke with Jesus “at night” before his conversion, as shown later in Mary Magdalene who came to the tomb “before dawn” in the predawn darkness.

Peter, when asked if he was with Jesus, replied, “I do not know the man.” Darkness! Jesus would say a few hours later from the cross, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing. John uses “at night, before dawn” to indicate a state of not knowing, being in the dark.

John’s Gospel has an epilogue, Chapter 21. We heard a wonderful passage from it today. The time is dawn – the beginning of the light of day. The setting is the Lake of Geneserath, a sparkling emerald jewel of a lake, lying below the mountains of Galilee where Jesus multiplied bread and fish. Bread and fish appeared there again that morning.

Jesus is there by the shore, standing, grilling fish, and perhaps toasting bread over a charcoal fire. Peter and his seven companions have experienced catching nothing without Jesus’ presence. “I am going fishing . . .We will go with you said peter and the seven, earlier. Do you hear ego in the “I” and “we.” There is no mention of Jesus. Interesting! When Jesus became present to them on the beach, an enormous catch was made. Jesus’ absence, no fish; Jesus’ presence, fish

Breakfast with Jesus grilling on a charcoal fire must have been awkward for the apostles. Also, Jesus looked somewhat the same and somewhat different. Remember, in his resurrected body, he was mistaken as the gardener by Mary and as a stranger by two disciples on the Emmaus road.

After breakfast, Jesus speaks to Peter, who has been haunted since his denial. He does not ask peter for an apology, a pledge of allegiance, or a testimony of faith. He already knows Peter’s sorrow and repentance. Jesus simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Love is Jesus’ only question. John Shea and Richard Rohr offer helpful reflections. Although it is often ignored, we humans have a spiritual core. The ancients placed it in our gut. If we are the salt of the earth or light in darkness, it is there; if not, we have “lost our flavor” or put our light “under a bushel basket.”

John had recognized him with the eyes of love while they were still offshore in the boat.

Jesus calls Peter and each of us to this spiritual center where we may have an elevated form of consciousness. It takes long-term, continual effort to sustain this consciousness. Why? Because our ego’s like to be in charge and crowd out our spiritual consciousness. Remember, peter who, at first, would not let Jesus wash his feet. Remember peter when he denied he knew Jesus because his own safety was in jeopardy. That was ego, not Jesus-consciousness.

How is our ego dislodged? Loving deeply! Loving another mysteriously supplants our selfish ego. We know that from our life experience. Such it is with Jesus and ourselves.

Jesus used that fact when he asked peter the triple “do you love me?” If we have love in our spiritual center, replacing ego, then we have salt; we have light in our gut.

It is likely that Jesus saw a large ego in Peter and knew that if Peter could supplant his ego with a clear love of Jesus the Christ in his heart / gut, that he would be an outstanding leader. He would be able to feed Jesus’ lambs, feed his sheep. When Jesus saw that Peter acknowledged him, he could and did say for the second time: “Follow me.”

We are faced with the same question. Will we love and allow Jesus the Christ to transform our gut from being egoistic to “Living Jesus”? That is the major question of Eastertide.

Second Sunday of Easter (April 28, 2019)

The readings this weekend offer so many points to break open that no one homily could include them all -- without a lunch break, that is!

Our Gospel comes from near the end of the first of two distinct endings to John’s Gospel. It celebrates Jesus’ appearance to the apostles as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit – the Pentecost experience. John does not place Pentecost 50 days after Easter. For him, both the Resurrection and Pentecost happen on Easter Sunday, one before dawn and the other, in the evening.

The Apostles were huddled behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. There they were: immobilized with fear, terrified that they might be next. They were also guilt-ridden for having abandoned Jesus so miserably.

Jesus came through the locked door and stood before them. We might expect Jesus -- who was betrayed by Judas, denied three times by Peter, and abandoned by all except John -- to lambast the men he had called “friends” at the Last Supper. Some friends! His greeting was “shalom”. He repeated it – perhaps because of the startled looks on his Apostles’ faces when he did not fulminate at them.

He allays their fears with his gift of peace – shalom. He did not remind them of their misdeeds. His one word evaporated their fear and dissipated their guilt. Shalom “made it all better.”

Today’s gospel reminds us of Jesus’ prayer to his father on the cross, “Father, forgive them…” The Jewish and roman authorities that condemned him to death…the throngs that had been amazed at his miracles…wonder-filled at his teaching-with-authority…sated with bread and fish in their empty stomachs …people who had strewn palms in his path when he entered Jerusalem – and screamed “crucify him…We’ll take Barabbas by the end of the week.

It is not by chance that the worldwide Catholic Church recognizes Jesus’ magnificent forgiveness in today’s remembrance called Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John-Paul II initiated it in 2000 at the urging of Sr. Faustina Kowalski. Private revelations usually do not move me, but celebrating the extravagant abundance of compassion by Jesus in this Gospel seems appropriate on this day.

Jesus gave us the two great commandments. Surely contained within love is forgiveness, mercy. Today’s celebration of divine mercy highlights a most important aspect of love that is often overlooked, or not even recognized as being, perhaps, the most important and most difficult aspect of love: forgiveness. Disagreements inevitably do happen. There is a solution.

We, the Church, must finally recognize that forgiveness is to love what grease is to gears. In the long run, if there is not forgiveness the relationship of love grinds to a screeching halt.

The apostles’ experience of forgiveness in today’s’ Gospel keeps us rooted in Jesus who forgave his apostles without condition and forgives us the same way. With his loving forgiveness and its effect on us, he sends forth his disciples and us to preach and to practice what we preach.

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord (April 21, 2019)

We heard at the beginning of the Gospel the words: “When it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. The pre-dawn hour is intentionally mentioned in this Gospel where the symbol of darkness indicates the absence of the “light of the world.”

This pivotal celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is repeated every Sunday as a reverberation, a spiritual aftershock, a “little Easter,” a fifty-one-fold making present of this day’s celebration.

From the very beginning, God has been in relationship with us, his people: calling us forward from darkness into light, preparing us for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. We celebrate today God’s covenant, faithfulness, and everlasting love.

In our personal story, our first breath erupted in a cry as we emerged from the darkness of our mother’s womb.

Darkness can be darker than the total absence of light. We know that darkness, too. The darkness of hatred that ravages our world as terrorism, the darkness of the violence that stalks our streets and invades our homes, the darkness of the loneliness that comes from the death of one close to us, the darkness of the loneliness of the loss of a relationship.

Jesus came as the final chapter in the history of salvation. He proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.” We commemorate that truth today in the presence of the paschal candle. Last evening at the Easter vigil service, the unlit Easter candle represented Jesus’ body - wounds and all. Outside, near the doors, a live flame leaped from dead wood to become a small blaze, symbolic of Jesus’ gigantic leap from death to life. Then, this candle was lit from it, the paschal candle re-presents Jesus in his new, resurrected life, the “life” of a candle is its flame. Two thousand years ago, Jesus moved from the darkness of the tomb that had become his second womb to his resurrected life, the light to the world.

Ritually, this single, towering Christ-candle, carried by the deacon led those present into church. The participants’ candles were lit from the Christ-candle. Light/life was symbolically passed from the flame of the Christ-candle to the candles each held to symbolize the dispelling of the darkness of our hearts and minds. A wave of lights slowly crept across the worship space. Now, the paschal candle, tall and majestic, alive with light stands as a symbol for all. Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.”

When Jesus walked among us, he also said: “You are the light of the world.” We who have thrown in our lot with Jesus, who have accepted him into our lives as our basic relationship, now have a share in his resurrected life.

Between now and the time of our meeting him face to face when we pass, we continue his life of light here, we share with others both the light of his warming compassion and the light of his wisdom.

Our candles are to shine in the darkness of our world. We are carrying the light of Christ within us, the spirit of Christ to all whose lives we touch when we visit the sick, telephone the hurting, stop for a visit to the discouraged, go to a viewing and comfort a family, speak out for the oppressed, respond to the needs of the poor.

Jesus’ story draws us in with the celebration of light and challenges us with new life. May each of us accept his gift and follow him each day to the end, walking together as the people of resurrection.

To that we can say alleluia. He is risen! Alleluia. So are we!

Mass of the Lord's supper (April 18, 2019)

Holy Thursday is the first day of the sacred Triduum. Today, we begin to celebrate three magnificent holy days. We celebrate the paschal mystery that is abbreviation for Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection -- his dying and rising.

Our Gospel is from St. John, the “different” Gospel. As we know, Matthew’s, Mark’s and Luke’s gospels are called the synoptic gospels because they follow the same general outline of Jesus’ life. While all three tell of Jesus’ gift of Eucharist on this night, john alone tells of Jesus’ washing feet. John saw the washing as so important that he featured the washing rather than the bread and wine of the Seder meal that the Synoptics emphasized.

How do foot washing and Eucharist relate to that pregnant phrase, “paschal mystery”? What do bathing-water, bread and wine have to do with death and rising? And, how does all this relate to you and me?

Each of us, in our normal development begins life as a helpless infant. As far as we know when we are very young, we are the center-of-all; a parent answers our cries promptly. What we want and what we need, we get. We also know that that state of center-of-all becomes increasingly curtailed as we grow, but the tendency to enjoy being waited on continues. We do not get up in a table to help the waitress or waiter, do we?

At this last supper with his disciples before his death, Jesus the teacher had two, final lessons for his disciples and for us:

First, john tells us that Jesus got down and became a foot-washing servant. Jesus taught them and us that our tendency to enjoy being served must die in order to be servant for others. The movement from being served to serving involves a death within us and a rising to new insight. When we stop and reflect on this teaching, we see that serving is what parents do for children. Years later, it is what we children do for our parents. It is what friends do for friends.

Also, Jesus dramatically modeled for his disciples and all of us as future leaders the mysterious paradox that to lead, we must serve. For Christians, service is the name for leadership. Leaders, in the tradition of Jesus come to serve, not to be served. Mother Theresa of Calcutta became a shining model who led by example.

The second lesson is from the Seder, celebrating the Jews’ liberation from the Egyptian captivity. It was the Seder that brought Jesus to the upper room and what became the last supper. Jesus said earlier that unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But, if it dies, it can rise and be made bread. He also said that he was the vine and his followers were branches who drew spiritual life from him, the vine. Wheat dies to become bread; grapes die to become wine.

At the Seder, Jesus took bread and wine and carried their death and rising to a higher level still. He took a piece of matzo-bread and said: this is I and gave himself to his disciples in the form of bread. Later, at the time of the third cup of wine – called the “blessing cup” – he took the cup, said the blessing, and then identified himself with the wine: this is me, and distributed the cup to his followers. The bread and the wine become himself and are consumed by his followers. He nourishes and enriches us with his mystical, physical presence. At a level unforeseen by nutritionists who say we are what we eat, we Christians may say, “We become who we eat.”

The paschal mystery of dying and rising is what we celebrate most especially during these days of the sacred Triduum:

• Jesus, in his washing of feet both teaches and models the dying of our will to be served and the rising to the intention of serving one another in love.

• Jesus, in his giving himself as bread that is broken and as wine that is poured out nourishes us by his word-presence and physical presence. Jesus, in that moment of intimacy gifts us with what is the greatest of gifts: the gift of oneself to another.

This is love

This is what we celebrate.

This is who we celebrate.

This is who we become.

This is what and who we have to offer to others after we are sent forth from Eucharist.

Fifth Sunday of Lent (April 7, 2019)

I think it was Aesop who told the wonderful story of the blind men and the elephant in which various blind men had different perceptions of an elephant, depending upon their limited experience of touching one part.

Today’s Gospel is like that for those who hear this story. Some hear it as a test by the Pharisees, so that they can condemn Jesus. Some hear it as Jesus’ statement on capital punishment. Some, sensitive to women’s issues, hear it as “the case of the missing man.”

This story sounds like it belongs more in Luke’s Gospel than John’s. It stresses the compassion of Jesus - a main theme of Luke.

The episode is popularly named the woman caught in adultery. Not accurate. Obviously, a caught woman implies a caught man. We don’t hear a word about him. According to Dt 22: 23f, both the man and the woman were to be stoned to death if a married woman was caught in adultery. Why was only the woman brought before Jesus? So much for equality in enforcing the law

Perhaps that double standard helps explain why Jesus’ response to her accusers was so effective. They were willing to condemn her but backed off when faced with their own double standard.

The question was supposed to put Jesus in a serious dilemma. Jesus must either: on the one horn, uphold Moses, or he would put himself above Moses. Also, his reputation for compassion would erode. Or, on the other horn, uphold Rome’s prohibition of Jewish sponsored capital punishment and thereby lose his reputation as a faithful Jew.

This Gospel is a striking example of Jesus’ non-dualistic thinking. Although Jesus showed a few examples of dualistic thinking [either/or], he clearly moved beyond the persistent practice of the Jewish leaders of his day and of so many people of our day. In this Gospel, Jesus was offered two options, but he created a third option. He neither condemned the woman nor ignored her sin. He brought her to fresh, non-dualistic thinking. Non-dualistic thinking can be stated positively, “tertigenic thinking,” bringing forth a third option – a form of “thinking outside the box.”

Jesus, by his refusing to condemn the woman and refusing to ignore her sin leaves open the possibility to accept him, a forgiving person, as mentor, not the self-righteous Pharisees. She could thereby enter a new path: personal relationship with our Lord. He maintained the delicate balance of forgiving the sinner while not condoning the sin: “From now on, do not commit sin.”

What did Jesus do in the sand? Perhaps, he detailed the sins of the accusers [St. Jerome] – or, perhaps, quoted older scripture about compassion: “It is mercy I demand, not sacrifice,” or, perhaps, cited the verses from Deuteronomy so the leaders would recognize their own faults…or just doodled and used the silence to prod the consciences of the accusers. We simply don’t know.

Jesus consistently opposed violence: he teaches us: “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, blessed are the peacemakers, be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate.” Here, he challenges those who are ready to kill the woman. Upon being arrested himself, he will order Peter to put away his sword.

The story of the blind men and the elephant finds us already what an elephant looks like. It has as its humorous, instructive point: having seen what the blind do not see and hearing the foolish ways they describe the elephant.

Today, our prior knowledge of Jesus being the compassionate face of god provides us with the “big picture.” That makes the narrow-minded, dualistic judgment of the Jewish leaders appear sadly incomplete. This understanding of Jesus’ compassion overarches: a test by Jewish leaders, a statement on capital punishment, and the women’s issue.

Let’s let the word, “compassion,” ring in our ears and in our hearts this Lenten season.

Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 31, 2019)

Luke, chapter 15 is the “lost and found department” of Luke’s Gospel. We hear the stories of the woman who lost her coin, the shepherd who lost his sheep, and now the father who lost his son. All three rejoiced at their find. All three are a response to the Pharisees’ and Scribes’ complaints that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, outcasts.

No more striking account of God’s understanding and love for the sinner is to be found in the scriptures than in Luke’s story of the forgiving father.

Perhaps, you, like myself as we mature, see these two sons not so much as individuals, but as archetypes, those forces, extremely deep within us, that impel us. With the younger son, it is the will to independence. The younger son says, treat me like the heir that I am: “Father, give me my share of the inheritance that is coming to me.” He wasted it and was penniless – becoming a hired hand who could not even eat the food for the pigs he was tending and yearned to be a hired hand who ate well in his father’s house.

He presumed that the consequence of his sin was the loss of sonship. His memorized apology was based more on his own hunger and hard times than on having insulted his father. Perhaps, we identify more with this son in our younger years. Jesus saw this son’s identity in the sinners and tax collectors.

At first hearing, the elder son resonates with us because of a second archetype deep within us: self-righteousness. As we mature spiritually, we see that the elder son’s attitude is impelled not by love for his father but by: “look at all that I have done for you; I deserve better than this.” However, God does not keep score in his love as we tend to do when we are immature.

Did you notice that our father physically left what he was doing and went out to meet each son? He spotted the younger son down the road. He went to meet him. He did not let him finish his prepared, self-serving apology. He called for a robe and a ring and sandals and preparation for a wonderful banquet of joy. All these gifts clearly imply a relationship of a restored son, not a newly hired hand.

When the elder son was pouting and grousing outside his home, the father also went out to meet him. He did not “chew him out.” He spoke lovingly to him. His movement toward each son was divine grace.

The younger son must have been overwhelmed with his father’s loving forgiveness and finding that he did not have to crawl back, but simply come back to a place he did not even dream of occupying.

We do not know what happened with the elder son, who represents the scribes and Pharisees that accused Jesus. Hardness of heart involves deep pride with heels dug in - an “I’ll do it my way” mind set. These folks, so often, do not change their ways. The story does not reveal its outcome. At this point, Jesus’ story just stops; it does not have an ending.

As we spiritually mature, we finally “get it.” The story follows the Jewish leaders’ upsetment with Jesus’ eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus tells three stories about lost and found and the rejoicing, never rejecting at recovery. The climactic parable could easily be renamed, the greathearted father. Jesus gives us a story of how we should forgive as our father forgives. We remember that when Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” it was in the context of the father’s forgiveness, not in our doing everything perfectly. Thinking that we have to do everything perfectly is a spiritual affliction currently known as “perfectionism.”

The church assigns to “Laetare” – rejoice-Sunday in Lent – this likely candidate for the most beloved parable, the story of great rejoicing. He presents for us the model of “the great-hearted father” during our season of self-examination.

Third Sunday of Lent (March 24, 2019)

I have great respect and admiration for those “working the program” in Alcoholics Anonymous. One of the admirable aspects of AA is the wonderful aphorisms, helpful “sayings,” that they have.

One is: “It’s not my drinking that gets me stinking, it’s my stinking thinking that gets me drinking.” I’ll repeat . . . Stinking thinking, unproductive, self-hurtful thinking, can put an alcoholic on the slippery slope towards falling back into taking a drink. There is a close parallel in the spiritual life. Jesus gives two examples at the beginning of today’s Gospel where he reads the stinking thinking in his listener’s minds.

In the first instance, he perceives that the hearers thought that Pilate acted for god who did not accept the Galileans’ sacrificial offerings and therefore sent him, Pilate, to kill them. In the second example, the falling of a tower and killing 18 was an action willfully done by God. In current, American parlance, Jesus’ answer to both situations was “no way! “

The seekers in today’s Gospel are like ourselves when we ask a theoretical question about someone else, but we are really asking for a very practical answer for ourselves.

The point to this Gospel incident is that each of us has the clear mission to do God’s will. God does have expectations of us. When you and I fall short, God is in some divine way disappointed in us.

John Shea has good insights that I would like to share with you. He identifies parallel instances in the Gospels where Jesus makes the same point as the story of the fig tree: the story about the prodigal son who squanders his inheritance, the light that is put under the basket instead of on top of the lamp stand, the salt that must be thrown out because it has lost its power. We can add Jesus’ words to the Jewish leaders: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will yield a rich harvest.” [Mt. 21]

The story of the fig tree is that it, too, is a story of someone who is not performing, not doing the will of the master. The will of God. Without doubt, is that we change and produce fruit that we help to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. The lord’s prayer, the prayer that Jesus himself taught, prays that the kingdom of our Father in heaven come, that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Christians may disagree on many things, but never that doing the will of God is paramount in Jesus’ teaching.

Christian, stinking thinking can take different forms in addition to the stories that begin this section of Luke where bad things happen to presumably good people. It can take the form of some catholic devotion that adherents think that saying certain prayers fulfills all of Christianity. It can take the form of a curable, mental disorder, like scrupulosity, where one is consumed with fear of committing mortal sin. It can take the form of there being a divine plan for everyone, so whatever bad thing happens must be in God’s divine plan. Where did that destructive idea come from? It has been around for a long time.

The mind can hold only so much. If it is filled, is consumed with thoughts such as “any of the above,” the mind cannot grow. John Henry Neumann, the Anglican priest, converted to Catholicism said that what is true in nature is true of our minds: “Growth is the only evidence of life.”

Life is not looking outside ourselves at “already done deals” to work backwards into what can be seen as God’s will. It is in listening to the will of God in our time of prayer that we come to understand what God calls us to. It is in prayer that we can discern God’s will, what needs to be changed, and then begin to weed and cultivate the soil of the unproducing aspect of our situation without playing time-wasting, speculative, mind games.

That is metanoia. That is the work of Lent.

Second Sunday of Lent (March 17, 2019)

In the past I have spoken about different aspects of the Transfiguration. This year I thought it might be helpful to speak to the message itself. What is the point of the Transfiguration?

After the miraculous, dazzling brilliance and conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah, Peter, who seems always good for a blurt, said, “Let’s build three tents;” that is, let’s not just stand here; let’s do something. Immediately, the group was enveloped in a cloud of divine presence, and the words here repeat the father’s words at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is named the beloved son of the Father. But, there is an additional line here at the transfiguration that is not found at the baptism. It is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels: “Listen to him.” The father ignored Jesus’ blurt. He simply says, “Listen to him.”

Then, Jesus was alone with the three apostles with the Father’s words still ringing in their ears. The father had not said, “Look at him and the splendor of his luminous body.” The father did not have a list of things for them to do. The Father was not interested in housing. He simply said, “Listen to him.”

The crisp command, “Listen to him” is the climax of the transfiguration and the key to its meaning. When we stop to listen, we realize that “Listen to him” is the one and only directive we hear from the Father in the entire New Testament. The Transfiguration was not for the personal gratification of Jesus and the apostles, but that we might learn the supreme importance of listening. As with Jesus, the life of glory will follow as day follows night.

This command to listen was not a vague mandate, but it referred to Jesus’ recent teaching that his career would come agonizingly to an end. Instead of being crowned king of Israel, as many had hoped, he would “suffer greatly, be rejected, be killed and on the third day be raised.” They need to listen to the fact that the path to glory in following him would not likely come in this life. Jesus taught that by his own words and his own example.

This explains why Moses and Elijah were on the mountain. Years ago, they too had been rejected by their fellow Israelites - just as Jesus. The teaching of Jesus and his rejection was foreshadowed in their lives. Now, they are glorified. John, the beloved disciple would spend his lifetime of ministry dedicated to writing what he had heard and seen, so that we might be able to listen

What should we serious Christians learn from this event? First and primarily, we need to listen to Jesus’ words of love for us. Then, after listening to his message, we spread his and our love to our neighbors.

We begin to listen, first, by being quiet. We need to stop talking. Then, we need to be silently present to the events recorded about Jesus’ life. We need to listen to the words Jesus spoke – and, more profoundly, be present to Jesus’ wordless presence within us. The truth of his life, of his words, of his simple presence emerges within us and transforms us.

Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. In this Eucharist, Jesus brings the power of Transfiguration to us in the transfiguration of bread and wine into himself. We welcome him. We are then sent forth to transfigure those whose lives we touch. A wonderful Lenten practice.