All posts for the month June, 2002

The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK

June 30, 2002

2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16 + Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 + Matthew 10:37-42

It is Matthew’s community that speaks to us today – a community that has already chosen to follow Jesus Christ. They know the demands of that life style, and they know where it leads. Their story can and ought to be our story. These are a people who are not just followers of Jesus. They are a community growing more deeply into his life and have centered their identity upon the risen Lord. They know who they are because of what they have experienced in response to that Word not just because of where they hang out and whose company they keep.

The Word of God is their focus and the source of their identity. By that Word, they understand and interpret what happens to them. That Word is still among us, and just as it did with the community of Matthew, it has an impact upon us. It calls into question our perceptions and judgments. It checks our awareness. It intrudes upon and examines public policy, and it demands change in human behavior, ideas, and ethics. What Matthew’s community says to us today concerns our relationship to the one we call “Lord.” When we proclaim his words here it is not out of nostalgia, but our first and best way of coming to a deeper understanding of what it means to live in faith and be disciples. We proclaim these words of Jesus, not just to remember him, but to be drawn more deeply into his transforming presence.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of his promise to send the Holy Spirit has changed us from simple disciples who follow Jesus around through life into prophetic participants in his work and mission, and that is exactly what Matthew’s tenth chapter is all about. It is about defining the mission of a prophetic church.

Pay attention to how Matthew articulates this mission.

Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet….

Whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man…..

Whoever give a cup of cold water to a little one because they are little…..

We must find within ourselves the quality of the prophet before we can welcome the prophet.

We must be righteous before we can welcome the righteous.

We must be little in order to welcome the little ones.

We have to know what this is before we can really be one with the prophets, the righteous, and the little ones.

The hospitality this Gospel proposes begins within ourselves. It is the prophet who best welcomes the prophetic, the righteous who best welcomes the righteous, and the little ones who best welcome the least among us.

Prophetic is what we are as God’s people and disciples of Jesus Christ.

By God’s own command the privilege and responsibility of the prophet is, according to Jeremiah, “to root up and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and to plant.” The prophet speaks in every season of human life giving comfort in sadness, courage in anxiety, affirmation in success, warning where virtue is lacking, and challenge where improvement is needed.

The people Jesus would have for prophets of the Kingdom of God are experts in humanity, people who know the depth of the human heart, who can share the joys and hopes, agony and distress of their companions in this life, and at the same time are people who have fallen in love with God. Prophetic people reveal God’s purpose. If God’s purpose is to love, prophetic people love. If God’s purpose is to forgive, prophetic people forgive. If God’s purpose is to welcome all made in God’s image into the Kingdom of God, prophetic people make it so in their own lives, in their own homes, in their own hearts.

The 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark Catholic Church in Norman, OK

June 23, 2002

Jeremiah 20:10-13 + Romans 5:12-15 + Matthew 10:26-33

It is Jeremiah who speaks the first words to us today. For me and for St. Mark Parish it is blessing and a fortunate assignment of texts. Jeremiah is one of my favorite personalities of the Old Testament. He is a model for any who would seek to explore the prophetic call into which we are all baptized as a people of faith. He is a man of choices, who lives with courage his relationship with God: a man who grows, who suffers, who is thoroughly human, yet always tuned to the divine call, the Word of God, and prayer.

I am beginning a new time in my life. I come here this week grateful for you and the warm welcome you have extended with compassion and understanding. As a priest, I have moved only five times in 35 years. I tend to stay and go for the long haul. Three years at the Old Cathedral in Downtown Oklahoma City as my first assignment at twenty – five years of age. Four years at Mt. St. Mary High School as a teacher and administrator. Five years at St. Joseph Church in Union City. Six years at St. Thomas More Parish in Norman; and most recently, fifteen years at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cathedral in Oklahoma City. For fifteen of those years, I was Director of Youth Ministry and Director of Vocations for fifteen years as well. I told the people last week at the Cathedral that I had begun to expect that my move from there would be announced in the Obituary column of the Daily Oklahoman, and that I would go out of there in a box rather than go out carrying boxes. Perhaps it shall be so here, but this move has been different from all the others because of so many of you. Never before have I anticipated a move with such a warm welcome. I received emails, phone calls, and hand written notes extending a welcome, offering to help with the physical side of such a move, and simple, personal kindness. I am deeply grateful, and you have revealed more about yourselves and the spirit of your parish than you might have imagined.

At the same time, I am sorry that you must go through a transition that you did not ask for, were not consulted about, and are left to work through on your own. It is not my style of leadership. I am uncomfortable with it, and you will find in time that what you think and how you feel matters to me. I shall listen to you. At the same time, as the leader I may not always choose to do what you want, but it will not be because I did not listen, and you will always deserve to know the reasons for my decisions even if they are contrary to your expectations and wishes.

What all of us have right now is an opportunity to grow, but it is a choice we can make, but growth does not happen unless we choose to make it so. We make choices every day. We choose whether to feed and exercise our body in a healthy way or let it grow old and frail. We chose whether to engage in community or to cultivate isolation. We choose whether to develop a healthy relationship with God through prayer and God’s Word, or to fill our days with worldly activity. We choose whether to live “awake” by sharing and standing up for our beliefs and our faith, or to spend our days in slumber.

Most of the time, the choice to grow brings some pain. We’re physically sore from a workout, emotionally confused, and sometimes spiritually uncertain. We might be called a “health-nut”, a “crack pot”, or worse. If our chosen lifestyle or spiritual path differs from that of family and friends, we risk ridicule, rejection, physical attack, and sometimes death. We hear this experience echoed in the today’s readings from Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew. Our God is one who encourages growth and has an endless supply of lessons for teaching us this fine art. Putting aside fear is the first step into the divine classroom; and in its place, we are invited today to put faith. Rather than be sucked into the crises and drama of everyday life, of trying to control the people, places, and things in our life, with might with simplicity and love choose to grow.

I will take Jeremiah as a model for ministry and leadership here among you. I would like for his prayer to be our prayer today. It is a prayer of confidence and hope. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In one form or another, the words “fear” or “afraid” appear over 700 times in the sacred scriptures. In almost every case, the appropriate response to fear is faith: faith that trusts in and hopes in God’s power to save, to deliver, and to protect. Jeremiah knew what it was to be afraid. His whole career was riddled with countless fearsome experience. He feared he was too young. He feared that he would not know what to say or how to speak to his contemporaries in God’s name. He feared facing others with the truth of their sinfulness. He feared to speak God’s Word. He feared not to speak it and when he did speak it, he feared the consequences.

Like Jeremiah, disciples of Jesus are charged with speaking God’s word of truth, and like Jeremiah they often bare the brunt of disdain because of it. Yet Jesus sends them and sends us gifted with grace and a message to proclaim from the housetops. I ask you to come with me a little further into the deep water of discipleship and the prophetic life of faith. It is a faith that conquers fear, or at least keeps it at bay. Together, we can become prophetic and real deep-water disciples: “Fear imprisons, faith liberates, fear paralyzes, faith empowers; fear disheartens, faith encourages, fear sickens, faith heals; and most of all, fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life, but faith rejoices in its God.