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May 26, 2024 at Saint Peter & Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 4: 32-34, 39-40 + Psalm 33 + Romans 8: 14-17 + Matthew 28: 16-20

Back in the day, Sister used to tell us in class that the Holy Trinity was a mystery which, I think now, was her way of telling children to stop asking questions. That idea worked for a while mostly because it was time for recess. But a mystery is not something you can’t understand. It is a kind of teasing challenge to keep going until the end. You know how a good mystery novel or movie works. Little clues get dropped along the way to keep you going, and then at the end there is either a surprise because you got it wrong or satisfaction that you figured it out.

In my case, I’m still working with the clues and hope that I will be surprised at the end. Someone like Thomas Aquinas in the past or Bishop Baron, if you are one of his fans, are very satisfied having figured it all out. I think we have the Feast of the Holy Trinity every year just after Pentecost to keep us going. The clues I’m working with come, not from this Gospel and the instructions on how to baptize, but from the opening verses of John’s Gospel which says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Then a few verses later he says: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” 

At this point, I get the clue. From the beginning, if there ever was one, there are two, God and the Word. John tells us that they are one. The Word was God. That One God in the person of the Word became flesh and lived among us for one reason. When we examine all he said and did, the reason for the Word to become flesh was love, which is the only way to describe the relationship between God and Word. Love is what makes them one and keeps them from breaking apart.

Anyone who has known love knows very well that real love needs and desires unity. When you love someone, you can’t stand to be apart.  Where there is love, there unity and peace. 

That love looks upon us, broken and distant, far from the divine life-giver, and it drives God to send out the Word, God’s only Son, to gather us all up together and restore the unity that love demands. “He so loved the world,” John tells us, “that he sent his only Son.” Why? Because, love can’t stand to be apart.

I find another clue from the very first words of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning.” John is reminding us how God’s love work – what it does. It creates, it generates, it brings life just like two people in love generate and participate in God’s creative love giving birth to a child. The Book of Genesis, the Book of the Beginning tells us that God’s very breath brought forth life. 

I once heard Bishop Sheen, that great evangelist, describe the Holy Spirit as the “Sigh” of love. That great breath that so often expresses the joy and peace of love. With that breath, that sigh of love, the Word, the Son, gathers us up in the Spirit to return to God, the father. Once we know and believe that God is love, then there must be a lover, the beloved Son. What we call the Holy Spirit is the love they share.

May 19, 2024 at St Peter and Saint William Catholic Churches s in Naples, FL

Acts 2: 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Galatians 5: 16-25 + John 20: 19-23

 We need to quit thinking that this Gospel is an historical account of something happened a long time ago to a group of people hiding in room our of fear. The truth is, Jesus just spoke to us saying once again, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He just said that to us, and there is no way to look around and think he is talking about someone else or to just those apostles. There is not much difference between us and them. We are hardly more bold or faithful than they were. We are just as timid and fearful as they were. We have been too silent too often when we shold have stood up and said something when something wrong or violent is happening. During that trial, when Pilate asked the crowd who to release, they could have shouted out “Jesus”, and perhaps if they had things might have been different. 

They feared for their lives, and it is understandable. It had been a terrible week. They saw their leader brutally murdered while they were absent when he needed them the most. They had all kinds of regrets, and they needed one another not unlike times when things go wrong for us and we need one another.

We are a people in need of the Spirit just as much as they did, maybe even more. The Joy they felt in the presence of the risen Christ is sometimes missing in our lives and in our churches. Yet, he is just as present here as was to them but somehow there is not much evidence of joy over being here. It has become just something we do because we always have or because we think it will keep us out of hell. 

We need that Holy Spirit to lift us up out of the routines of life that leave us weary, troubled, and sometimes fearful about all that is going on around us. 

The power of the Holy Spirit is in the hands of those who choose to love, forgive, and share the peace that comes from above. The power of the Holy Spirit is in our hands to heal what is broken and bind us all in the unity of faith, and hope. This fragmented and polarized world needs the Holy Spirit that is too often ignored and sometimes avoided. Where ever there is division there is no Spirit because the Holy Spirit unites, and division is everywhere these days. Even our church strains to hold itself together resisting change and growth with fragments here and there wanting things the “old way” as though it was better, resisting new ideas and teachings that call us to embrace those who have been pushed aside.

I suspect that some who profit by division and polarization would have grabbed fire extinguishers in that upper room. To make all things new, we have been given the authority to forgive which is the only way to start over. It is time to show our gratitude for the gifts of the Spirit by not hiding them, but by using them to respond to the command he has given us. We are sent, my friends, no less than those once locked in that room, and we know what we are sent to do.

We have different gifts, but the same Spirit. With that Spirit, we can face the culture around us that has exalted self-interest and reduced men and women to pawns of ideology. In many ways we are still a pre-Pentecost church, huddled in fear of each other as well as of the world at large. We long still for that lover of the poor, the kind and gentle giver of gifts, who walks with us through sadness and sorrow. Yet, he is here still living among us and within us, and all that he has been we can be when we let that Spirit set us on fire with hope, with joy, and courage.

May 12, 2024 Because I am away from Naples, this homily was not delivered.

Acts of the Apostles 1: 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1: 17-23 + Mark 16: 15-20

There are some silly clichés that get challenged by the reality of the Lord’s Ascension. You know them as well as I do: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Or, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” First of all, we need to get something straight. Jesus is neither out of sight or out of mind. It is his very presence that makes our hearts grow fonder, not his absence.

Getting deeper into this reality and this expression of our faith which we profess in the Creed is important for anyone who wants to grow up and grow into real faith in Jesus Christ. We could start by getting rid of the idea that heaven is up, hell is down, and we are in between. The scene given to us by Gospel writers does not mean literally that Jesus “went up”, but that the Lord has been taken into the Father’s glory.

More importantly, the ascension does not mean that Jesus departed from us. It simply means he is out of sight in order to more perfectly come to us. His public life on earth had an end so that the life of the church could have a beginning. He lived and died in an area less the size of Florida south of Tampa. Yet he has come to be known throughout the world because his life was a life of service.

It is not very hard to see Jesus today. All you have to do is drive over to Catholic Charities on a Tuesday morning, and you will see Jesus. He has not left us. He is there in and through the lives of people from this church who feed, comfort, and treat the homeless who come there with respect and care exactly as Jesus did over there in Palestine. The Ascension did not take him away. It empowered us. Those people over there on Tuesday, and anyone else who serve and care for others do so because they have found the life of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Nourished and fed on the Body and Blood of Christ, they become his very presence to those who turn to them in need never turned away, never ignored, and always ready to say again what Jesus said so often, “Let them come to me”.

Remembering the Ascension of Jesus is a call to active service in spreading the Good News. The Ascension of Jesus shows us who we are, where we are going, and what we must do now. Forget about that up and down image. Heaven and Hell are all around us, and God’s plan for this world will come about bit by bit with our hands. After the death, resurrection, and ascension we are no longer mere earthlings. The truth is we have heavenly dignity and heavenly destiny. If we can just hold on to the fact that the only form of witness most people will initially accept is service, this world would have become totally Christian a long time ago. Real witness to Jesus Christ is not talking, preaching, or arguing about dogma and doctrines. It is laying down one’s life in service for another.

3:30 pm at St Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

May 5, 2024 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48 + Psalm 98 + 1 John 4: 7-10 + John 15: 9-17

There is something very profound being proclaimed in this Gospel today. If we really understood it, it might take our breath away at the sheer intensity of what it means for our understanding of God and of the Incarnation. You can’t really have someone as a friend that you do not know, and we don’t make friends with someone for what we can get out them. We know what that’s like, being used.

I am beginning to believe that this failure to understand and know God is the cause of the kind of secular atheism that marks the age in which we live. There is something incompatible with the idea of God as a good and loving Lord and Master and our modern age idea that we are our own masters who work out our lives, choose our values, and what rules to live by. You can’t be that kind of person and be a “slave.” So, God is incompatible with that idea of liberty.

When Jesus says today “I shall not call you servants anymore”, it is God speaking through his Son who is not the same as God. Jesus is the Word Made Flesh. He is “God from God” as we say in the Creed. If we keep thinking that Jesus is the same as God, then forget about the Holy Trinity. 

The mission of Jesus Christ, the very wish of the Father was to restore what is lost through sin, intimate friendship with the Father. Remember how in Book of Genesis the writer describes the relationship between God and those first humans. It was friendship. They walked in the garden together. They talked. They listened. Those first humans before they sinned understood God because they knew they were made in God’s image, and they knew what that was because they were friends. God wanted that restored, and salvation history began.

God’s desire was never to makes us slaves, not even to make us happy, comfortable servants looked after by a kind master who provided anything needed. The aim of the Incarnation was to make us friends, to take us into divine friendship. Think how awesome that is! Yet to really get it, we have to clear about what friendship is.

In friendship there is a very unique kind of love that is not based upon need. Friendship love reaches out to another just for the sake of that other, not for any satisfaction, need, or pleasure. This is the kind of love that unites the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It has been going on for all eternity because, God is friendship, perfect friendship. 

God does not need human beings to be God’s friends, but God chooses to love us with that true and real kind of friendship. God does not get something out of this relationship, and we ought not accept it with the expectation that we are going to get something either. If we say we love God for what we can get out of God, it isn’t love or friendship. At the same time to stop loving God because we didn’t get something is proof positive that there was no friendship love to begin with. We love God because God is God. God loves us because of who we are, not because of what we have done. That is why God keeps on loving us even when we are less than what God has created us to be. There is a wonderful kind of high nobility in being a friend, and never more so for us than being a friend of God. Being reminded of that today with this Gospel gives us every reason to rise up with joyful and grateful hearts knowing every minute of every day that we are loved just as we are and that we were loved even before we were born.

April 7, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Genesis (2) Exodus, Isaiah, Psalm 118 + Romans 6: 3-11 + Mark 16: 1-7

Every three years we pick up the Gospel of Mark during the Easter’s Vigil. In the morning it will be Luke. I always like the Easter text from Mark because it doesn’t tell us much. I think that’s better, because it leaves us wondering. It leaves us open, and a little more free to image what’s next. Luke has Jesus all over the place that day. He’s at Emmaus, then drops in to the upper room, then he leads them out near Bethany and Asceneds: all in one day! John tells us that on that morning, Mary Magdalene, weeping beside the tomb, meets the gardner, or at first she thinks it is the gardner, then later in the day Jesus shows up in a locked room, and the Thomas story begins. Later there is an incident at the sea, and finally Peter has a remarkable moment with the Christ he had denied three times. Matthew doesn’t have as much to say about the details of the resurrection as he does about the consequences of it in terms of disciples being commissioned and addressing the false rumors that the body of Jesus had been stolen.

The first version of Mark’s gospel, the earliest was a problem for some early believers becasue it stopped with what we just heard. So over time, there were at least three well-known conclusions added to Mark’s text, and one of them is still included in our Bibles, but always with footnotes alerting us that those last verses were not Mark’s. In Mark’s original plan, Jesus is just gone. He is out there somewhere. Mark tells nothing of an Ascension, and he never says how Jesus appears to those who believe in him. He just leaves it wide open, and I think that is an invitation to a wonderful adventure.

When you live with and believe with Mark’s Gospel, you are not going to get all side-tracked and distraced wondering what the Risen Christ looked like or sounded like. You don’t get all curious about how he walked through locked doors yet still consumed food.  You don’t sit and wonder why Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him as she sat weeping by the tomb, and what Thomas actually did after being invited to probe the wounds. All of that is of no consquence or interest when you start with Mark’s Gospel.

Moving into the spirit of Mark’s resurrection, we are left to wonder, just when and just how we are going to meet the risen Lord. One thing becomes remarkably clear by the time all four Gospels get put together: Jesus comes to everyone who has been his disciples. And when he does, they get a job, a commission, a vocation: call it what you will, but everyone who meets this risen Lord is assigned a task. If you look through Matthew, Luke, and John, you begin to see it. They are sent to Baptize, to Teach, to Forgive, to carry the news, to feed the sheep of the Shepherd, to break bread in his memory, to receive the Holy Spirit, and to love oneanother.

Tonight sitting by the glow of Christ, Light of the World, Christ risen in glory, we must catch some of the spirit of Mark’s wonderful adventure and be open to what is next to come. For you who are about to descend into the grave, the tomb, of a font, something new is in store. You can’t know and I can’t imagine right now what it is; but God has something for you or you would not have found your way into this church. This night is a beginning. It is not the end of your initiation. For you who will be anointed with Chrism by the power of the Holy Spirit, something is going to happen with and through you. You not only will meet the risen Lord, there is every reason to believe that you will reveal that risen Lord to someone else.

You cannot, you may not, be a disciple of Jesus Christ without taking up a share in his mission. You sit now in the assembly of God’s people, a people who have their own stories of what God can do and has done. Around you are people whose lives have been broken by failure, sin, and sadness. But they are here having crawled out of tombs of lonleliness and disappointment, having found forgiveness and hope in the Gospel we share and the sacraments we celebrate. It’s an imperfect church of imperfect people, and it is right where you belong. By your gifts, your faith, and with your vision, we shall all move closer to that perfection found in the Risen Christ.

“This is the day the Lord has made!” is the cry of this church today for everyone across the face of the earth. Realize that these ancient rites are happening in every land, among every people on the face of this earth tonight, becasue something has happened on this earth, and something more is yet to come. What we know is that there was and there still is an empty tomb. Because of what happened in Jerusalem, every tomb is now empty: empty of death. That is what they could not find in that tomb. It was not just the body of Jesus of Nazareth missing. There was no death. What was not in that tomb was death itself. This is the news we share by proclaiming the Risen Christ. This is the hope we proclaim to you. Death is gone, vanished, conquered, finished. This is the meaning of an empty tomb. My prayer for you is that this discovery will not leave you paralyzed by fear, but on fire with the joy and hope, the peace and the courage to live in the constant expectation that you will see the risen Christ, and he will come to you.

Good Friday

April 6, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 52: 13- 53:12 + Psalm 31 + Hebrews 4: 14-16, 5: 7-9 + John 18:1 – 19:42

There is some really bad thinking going around, and it’s been around for years. I would like to put a stop to it. I doubt that there is time in my life to make much of an impact upon the whole world, but I would certainly like to stop that thinking here, with you. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I think we started it as a way of finding some comfort and an excuse for the Passion and Death of Christ. There is one thing about us that is consistent and sure: we don’t like to take the blame for much. We do like to pass it on. When it comes to the shame of Christ’s death, it’s been going on for years. Blame someone! For awhile it was the Romans who got the blame, then in the shameful years of anti-semitism, it was the Jews, then we get more informed and sophisticated and we blamed Pilate, the Chief Priests, the Scribes, the Zealots, or the Pharasees. We just have to blame someone. It makes us feel better.

Then at some point in pious history, someone decided that it was God’s will, and no matter what, Jesus had to die, becasue God wanted it that way. Now I ask you, who in the world, the real world would want to get involved with a God who kills people or a God whole likes human sacrifice? The Greek Gods were into that, the Romans liked the idea, but somewhere along the line in our God’s relationship with us, perhaps around the time of Abraham, God said, “No” to that and suggested a Lamb; and from then on things got quite different in terms of God’s expecatations, and our understanding and response to God. Finally, you may remember, God said: “It is mercy I desire.”

My point is, Christ did not choose to be crucified. He chose to be faithful no matter what it meant. The simple fact is, if you listen carefully to the Passion Narrative, human beings freely choose to kill him.

There were all kinds of people involved in this. They were all powerful: Pharasees, Peter, Judas, Pilate, Herod, James and John, the Chief Priests. Eveyone had a part to play in the death of Christ, and many of them could have stopped it. To the Pharasees, Christ was impure. He broke with their tradtions. The Pharasees were not bad guys. They were truly religious people, but they were complacent and satisfied. They had fallen into the trap of assuming that anyone who challenged them was an enemy. There is something wrong with that thinking.

Judas, inspite of what lots of people think was probably acting with good intentions. He just had his own idea about how things should be going and decided to put Jesus on the spot and force him to show some power. The problem that got in the way for Judas was simply that he was too narrow and caught up in his own ideas, closed to any other options. There is something wrong with that thinking.

Peter? He was simply afraid, and in a moment of panic said the wrong thing. Fear does terrible things to people and makes people do terrible things. And then there was Pilate. He is simply above it all, interllectualizing the whole thing with philosophical questions about “truth”. When pushed, he does what many choose to do when pushed, he does nothing at all, thinking that by doing nothing he will be in the clear.

All of this assumes that the death of Christ is something in the past, and that these behaviors are not stll going on. It’s easy to excuse ourselves and think, “Well, I wasn’t there. This all happened a long, long time ago.”  But we all know that Calvary still goes on every day. It is repeated in far off dictatorships and in the heart of cities like our own where drug infested neighborhoods tear families apart, and gang murders happen every day killing innocent young people. The real tragedy is that we might allow ourselves to think that Clavary and its cast of characters appeared only once in history. We’re there, and we can’t hide. We’re Peter when we deny our faith in the office or the neighborhood  or at school because we’re afraid of what people might think of us if we speek up against injustice. We’re Pilate when we’re afraid of the boss, or just don’t want to get involved. If you can quit the blame game, you can find yourself in today’s version of Calvary. The best hope is that we might be like the weeping women, or Simon of Cyrene, or Joseph of Aramathea, but we’re in there somewhere.

My friends, the cross was raised because no one stopped it. There have been too many croses raised on too many hills and outside of too many towns. What becomes good about this Friday is that we realize it does not have to be this way. This world need never be so small and full of hatred to let it happen again. We must this night challenge this heartlessness so that two days from now we can again be called to live in a world full of mercy, compassion, and courage, with the hope that the Resurrection promises. 

April 5, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Exodus 12: 1-8,11-14 + Psalm 116 + 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 + John 13: 1-15

This world is full of people who are always pushing and shoving to get ahead, to be first, and be number one. Their dignity and what they perceive to be their rightful place is all that matters. A sense of privilege and rights marks our public discourse and our politics. We get offended when we are not recognized or do not get the honor or thanks we think we deserve. We are caught up in the “pecking order” syndrome. If the service is slow we get mad and complain, if the line is long we jump around to get better treatment.

We know that even the apostles were working the system of their time talking among themselves to see who was going to sit where and have the best place of honor. I suspect that they were all getting a little impatient with the progress of the Kingdom Jesus continued to talk about, waiting for that great day of victory when Jesus would finally reveal himself in all his power and glory. Then they would really be set, and everyone would finally know who they were. They even tried to work that system once by keeping those little children from getting too close to the MAN!

I suspect that Jesus was getting a little weary of all that, and so there in the quiet intimacy of dinner in that upper room, he probably drew them close, leaned forward and said: “I want to tell you something really important, something essential to my message, something you must understand if you are ever going to carry on my mission.” With that, I think, he gave up on words. He had talked and talked to them, using parables, signs and wonders of all sorts and they still were not getting it right. So, in one last effort, he resorted to action rather than words. In a moment of quiet intimacy, Jesus teaches once more that there is only one kind of greatness and that is service. Then as now, the world is full of people who want to stand on their dignity when they ought to be kneeling at the feet of everyone else. “Do you realize what I have done?” he asks after his silent lesson.

We can only imagine what was going on in their minds. They had come into Jerusalem triumphantly. They must have been sure that now it was finally going to be revealed, that now this “Master” they had come to recognize with such power was finally going to show the world what real power was all about. In the context of that meal, they had  remembered the power of Moses splitting the sea, his victory over the armies of Pharoah. This new Moses they had followed so carefully was surely greater than the old Moses.

But what he did in fact was give them bread and wine, and wash their feet. And when he finished, he told them to “Do this in memory of me.” That was the proclamation of divinity Christ had come to Jerusalem to make. It was not what they expected. It must have struck them as completely foolish to see this man who calmed the storms of the sea, fed thousands with five loaves and two fish, giving sight to the blind, and calling a dead man out of tomb now wrapped in a towel on the floor washing their feet.

For us too when all the final revelations are complete it is a challenge and hard to grasp that God – God Almighty would get down on the floor, crawl around in the dirt, touch dusty, dirty old feet, wash them clean and dry them. Imagine that! God the creator, who with one word brought light out of darkness, dry land out of the sea, threw the stars into the heavens, is now on the floor washing feet.

This, my friends, is none the less what he had to say to us and how he revealed the truth about greatness, about divinity, about power and about authority. All of that has only one purpose: service of others; a willingness to get down and get dirty, to reach out and touch the feet of another, rub them, wash them, dry them.

Why is it we always want to act like God with our wrath, judgements, and power, but we don’t want to act like God and get on the floor? It’s a question we will have to answer in the depth of our own hearts prompted by the depth of our faith. The fact of the matter is undeniable, our God gets on the floor. It’s a long way from heaven, a long way from that shining glory we like to imagine. God has countless angels ready to do God’s bidding and fulfill every command; but no angel got on that floor. No angel washed feet, no angel was broken and shared.

This is not just something to think about. It is something to believe in and it is something to act upon, and when we do suddenly we shall awaken the real divine image in which and by which we were made, and then we shall know why.

Palm Sunday

April 1, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Isaiah 50: 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2: 6-11 + Mark 14: 1-15:47

It is so ironic! The people reject Jesus and choose Barabbas whose name in Aramaic means, “Son of the Father.” Rejecting the real son, people choose a false son. How could that be? How absurd it was to choose a thief, one who takes over one who gives! What was wrong with those people? We know what was wrong with the Chief Priest, the Elders, Pharasees, and Scribes. For many otf them He threated their power, their influence, and their security. But the people? Where were the 5000 he fed, the throng who crowded into homes and synagogues, who chased him around the countryside and across the Lake? For that matter, where were those chosen ones? Silent. Absent. Intimidated by what? A pack of loosers?

Ironic too is the way we like to leave this story in the past and proclaim, read, and study it today as though it were a peace of literature rather than the living Word of God. “Barabbas” in Mark’s Gospel is not the only “Son of the Father.” This church is full of the Father’s children, and there are way more besides. We are not here telling a story out of the past nearly as much as we are describing the days in which we live. Many are still threatened by the Gospel. Their power, influence, way of life, possessions, and values are called into question by a man who arrived on a beast of burden. Don’t miss that important detail. Many are still silent and absent who have quickly grabbed, enjoyed, and accepted the free gifts given to them. When it comes time to bear witness to the giver of those gifts, they are somewhere else either too busy or simply too lazy.

Ironic too is the absence and silence of those who were chosen and called, those to whom the Will of the Father had been revealed: the Will that so desired forgiveness, charity, and peace. Bold at first, they are suddenly intimidated by this crowd angry when they do not get what they want. You know that is, another “sign”. That’s what they want, because that’s what they have been hanging around for all the while: signs and wonders. They come when they want something and get angry when they don’t get it. So, they choose Barabas.

If we can stand to think about it, this story we live and proclaim still goes on chapter after chapter, and so does Christ at the center of it teaching, revealing, living and dying.  Perhaps we can make some new verses to this old story. Perhaps in the next telling we shall not be silent when a crowd makes the wrong choice, perhaps we shall know better than to choose one who takes over one who gives. Perhaps we might be less threatened by the gospel that challenges our values and possessions. If it causes us to be derided by friends, mocked, scorned, ridiculed, and maybe even feel abandoned by God, we shall be in good company. For at that point we have every reason to cling to the sure and certain hope that having chosen what is right, having remained faithful to the promises we have made, we shall rise with the one who has come riding not on a proud warrior’s horse, but astride a beast of burden like a servant. In too many ways, we are Barabbas, children of God, set free while the real Son of God suffers and dies. Wondering what that can mean might lead us deeper into the mystery of this Holy Week.

March 11, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Exodus 20: 1-17 + Psalm 19 + Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8 + John 4: 5-42

Lent’s Third Sunday leads us once more into a reflection on Covenant. Today a third and last old covenant is revealed and offered through Moses. This time there are conditions beyond the covenant of Noah and Abraham. God’s gradual self revelation now becomes exclusive, direct, and personal. God has a part in the covenant, and people who wish to be God’s own have a part. God promises liberty, land, prosperity, God’s special care and love. What is expected of the people who wish to be God’s own is what we find in today’s readings.

What we hear in the Book of Exodus reading is not a set of recommendations or suggestions. We hear the absolute conditions, non-negotiable expectations of what God will look for in a chosen people. The arrangement is obvious: God at the top. These are God’s rules, not ours. When we make our own rules, we make ourselves god, and that’s where Adam and Eve got into trouble. Over the centuries, Israel learned the importance of ordering their society in relation to God and others. This was the key to building and maintaining a great nation, as well as a holy nation before God. When Jesus comes along, he synthesizes these expectations of God into a simple and concise format: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now the age in which we live admires those who with clever intent find a way around the law, every law. Their example is tempting to the point that we feel justified and proud of ourselves when we find loop holes and ways to get around the law excusing ourselves with a wink and a nod from doing what is right. What is “right” then becomes what is easy, clever, and least demanding. Ancient Israel considered the law a form of wisdom gained from reflection on life. This wisdom from insights is what led to happiness and what did not. They cherished this law as much as the Greeks cherished their philosophy. 

In bringing the law to its fulfillment, Jesus he showed us that external observance is not enough. He called for a commitment that is deeper, that goes to the heart of our covenant with God. In cleansing the Temple, Jesus did not destroy it, he cleansed it. In the stories of John’s Gospel, what Jesus does is never the point. It is what Jesus is that John wants to reveal. In today’s Gospel story the point is not a conflict with money-changers or Pharisees. The point is that Jesus is the new Temple. Jesus is where the human and the divine meet, not in Jerusalem’s Temple.

This truth is what makes this place so holy: not marble or gold, candles or incense. What makes this place holy is that here the divine in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ meet the human in you and me. It is for this reason that we come here with reverence and awe, in need, and in thanksgiving, in joy and in sorrow, in faith and hope. It is why being anywhere else when the divine presence comes to us is such an unimaginable disregard for this sacrament. It is here in this covenant that we become what God has made us to be. The place is irrelevant. It can happen here, in a tent, on the back of truck, in the simplest of places or the grandest of Cathedrals but what happens is the Eucharist, the covenant in which God and God’s people dwell together, and we become what God wills and desires.

I am coming to understand in these years of my life what an ancient Christian writer once said: God does not see what we have done, or what we have thought. God only see what we will become. The only way to go to hell is to fail to become what God has willed and desired us to be. What Jesus gave his life for was the will of the Father, not that he should die, but that we should all be one as he was one with the Father and the Father with the Son. Here we become one, when we leave behind our private little lives to come together as God’s people. Here we enter into the new Temple: the Body of Christ, and in that Temple, we become what God has from the beginning wished us to be. That will not happen if we are somewhere else. To let this happen while we are absent is to place ourselves outside of the covenant, alienated and distant from the divine. In an age and time of individuality and a “do your own thing” style of life, this sounds a bit odd and perhaps silly. In that way thinking, the life, the words, and the Spirit of Jesus sound a bit odd, impractical, and silly.

We run the risk of becoming a people given to exceptions and excuses. Individuality, personal choice, and private fulfillment dominate our moral discourse. We are becoming utilitarians and libertarians. No wonder commandments that disregard pleasure seem cranky and unpleasant. We are mocked as being guilt ridden, but the truth of the matter is, there is no guilt anymore. Real guilt leads to healing reconciliation, growth, and reform. We have made exceptions to every commandment. There are more excuses for killing others than you could sit here and count, and that is only one example: revenge, security of our way of life, are our latest excuses. It’s still killing. We are uncomfortable with all the commandments, and we should be. Law, duties, and responsibilities make us uncomfortable. What is wrong with that? There are some who seem uncomfortable with any law they have not cooked up, but this is a matter of nobility and greatness.

Which is greater and more noble, a spouse who is faithful because they are content, fulfilled, and happy, or the spouse who is faithful in the midst of difficulties, sickness, or hurt? Which is greater? Someone who stays alive because they enjoy living, or someone who continues to live in pain and sorrow because it is their duty to honor the gift of life God has given? 

We must be true to what we are no matter what. Remembering what we are and who we are as God’s people, God’s chosen ones, is what will lead to the fulfillment of God’s will. All God wants is that we be his and his alone; and in fulfilling that wish and will, we shall become one, loving one another as much as we love ourselves. For some that may seem foolish, but God’s foolishness is wiser than our schemes. We will always struggle with this, but since Jesus has promised to remain with us, we can look to him to heal our guilt, and be our joy and our strength as we share in his victory.

March 5, 2012 at Saint Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Genesis 22: 1-18 + 116 + Romans 8: 31-34 + Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading last weekend that opened the word of God for our Lenten Sundays was the story of Noah. Today the story of Abraham speaks to us, then will come Moses, Cyrus, and finally Jeremiah. Central to our prayerful celebration of Lent is the truth and the reality of Covenant. This holy season begins with the first Covenant and ends with the final Covenant on Holy Thursday. As we work our way toward that Holy Night when the God makes his final covenant with us through the Body and Blood of his Son, we shall remember all the covenants that have taken human kind deeper and deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us. The story of Noah is a story of salvation and recreation. It is the story of life’s triumph over death for the obedient faithful. It is a story full of promise through which God is revealed as a promise maker and promise keeper. Nothing is asked of Noah in that covenant. There are no conditions. It is pure gift. It simply introduces God’s promise, and with rich powerful images that speak to every Christian sensitive to the symbols with which we speak, water covers the earth, sweeps away all that is evil, and creation begins a new with God’s promise that death will never come again.

Today it is the story of a father and a son that reveals to us a God who will provide. It is about way more than Isaac’s death. It is about the death of us all. Abraham is not the first nor the last to be put to test. He is not the first asked for a sacrifice, and neither is Isaac. Each of us is required to make Abraham’s sacrifice. We must all face letting go of our most beloved person, task, accomplishment, possession, or joy. Everything dear to us, everything we love, everything given to us by God is subject to death; it’s own and our own.

The essence of the story is this: “Is God good?” and “Will God Keep the Promises?” It is the question that will rise up in our face every time we are separated from what we love. The death of a spouse, a child, a parent, a brother or sister puts that question right in our faces: “Is God good?” We lose a job, we lose our home, we lose our dignity to old age or some terrible illness that robs us of our independence and freedom, and there is one question: “Is God good?” and “Is God going to keep God’s promises?” A physician says to us: “There is no hope, nothing more to do.” and the question in front of us is: “Is God good.”

Abraham is our “father in faith” because he embodies the final act of faith that all of us must make. We all make sacrifices, and we all stand before the terrible separation from all we hold most dear.

The point of remembering this profound yet simple truth is that our God does the same. “This is my beloved Son.” God says from afar. “The only begotten” one of a kind, is not held back by God. God does not ask what God has not done. God asks for mercy, God give mercy. God asks us to forgive. God forgives. God asks us to sacrifice and serve. God sacrifices and serves. God makes a promise, we make a promise. If God keeps that promise, then we shall keep that promise

Just about ten days ago we marked our faces with ashes that remind us that we are going to die, every single one of us. We are going to be separated from one another and from life itself. The simple message in those ashes is: “Get ready.” We also marked our faces with a cross because by that cross we know we shall live. The simple message of that cross is: “Get worthy of it.” which is exactly what this season of Lent is all about: getting ready to die, and getting ready to live forever.