All posts for the month June, 2013

Saint Mark the Evangelist Church, Norman, OK

1 Kings 19, 15-16, 19-21 + Psalm 16 + Galatians 5, 1, 13-25 + Luke 9, 51-62

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Elliot

Father Brian Buettner is either at the end or at the beginning. The poet, T.S. Elliot in those a amazing words might propose that it does not make any difference which one we call it as long as it is part of the exploration, the journey that ultimately brings us back to where we started, where as he suggests, we shall know the place for the first time.

Father, you have walked down that aisle many, many times. As a teenager you carried the cross, the candles, the thurable, and more recently I saw you carry the Gospel Book. Now today, you come empty handed as it should be. You have nothing to bring here but yourself; and the church that gathers here needs nothing more than what you bring. You have arrived where you started, and this is the wonderful mystery into which you rose up from the floor of Our Lady’s Cathedral yesterday.

Jesus is on his way to be “taken up”. That is the goal of his life. There is a plan, there is a strategy. His life is no series of unplanned or unexpected events. He knows where he is going, back to where he started, back to the Father. The only way is to Jerusalem, and in Luke’s Gospel, that is exactly where he started when at age 12 he sat in Jerusalem’s Temple with the elders. When Jesus arrives at Jerusalem this time, he will know the place for the first time. Now he will know what lamb will be sacrificed. Now he will know that Passover is not simply an event remembered from the past, but an experience to be lived in obedience to the Father’s will. Now he will know what Elijah’s words to Elisha meant: “Keep on doing what you do or start doing what God has called you to do, but you can’t do both; so make a decision.”

This is the problem with the Samaritans. They decided to keep on doing what they were doing, and there is no point in seeking revenge. They are like you and me, answerable for our own choices, and there is no way to know if it is the final choice. Then Luke gives us those three who unlike the Samaritans want to make a different choice. The uneasy thing about their story is that their choices are not between good and bad. It is a good thing to bury your father. It is a good thing to say farewell to your family when you leave. Those are good things to do; but maybe there is a better choice. We have no idea how they responded to what Jesus says to them. Luke does not tell us, because perhaps, they too are really you and me. Keep on doing what you’re doing. It might be your last chance, or when the choice is not between good and bad but rather between good and better, which one will you chose?

It is then about choices, and this celebration today is about one of them. It is not however a celebration of choice Father Brian is making today and every day of his life except that by sitting before us this morning he reminds us that there are choices for us to make. The choice is not just about vocation, but how one follows Jesus within the vocation that uses the gifts God has given us. Like you and me, that man is making a choice about beginning – the beginning of a life of exploration, an exploration that will take us all to the place where we began, into the loving heart of the Father. Our lives too are not just a series of accidents or unplanned events. For all of us there is a plan a strategy to get us to the place to where we started.

Our calling is to be “taken up”: to be taken up into the glory of God’s presence, back to the paradise, the garden, where in all innocence and in holiness without any barriers or shame we could stand in the presence of our God and enjoy God’s company. The trouble haunting those disciples was that they did not know where they were going. They wanted Jerusalem all right, but they wanted the Jerusalem of power and influence, splendor and glory: the stuff of its past. They wanted a King, but what they got was what they needed, a prophet.

Father Brian, our church still needs prophets but too often it wants kings. It is 45 years since my First Mass of Thanksgiving. This church of ours has changed a lot and will keep on changing; but it still needs prophets. The role and ministry of priest in the New Covenant is an integration of the Old Covenant’s priest and prophet. Sacrifice and Sanctification will be your mission as priest more often by your presence than by your words; but also, and even more often, you must be prophet who can stand in the midst of every tragedy, trial, and misery and point to the presence of God.

You must become as much John the Baptist as you become Jesus Christ among these people of God. You must be able to point and say, there is the Lamb of God in places and in faces where no one else would ever imagine the presence of God. The priest and the prophet announce the truth that God’s love will never go away. The priest and prophet is not a substitute for us. He tells us about ourselves and God. He acts out in his own person with all its human limits the fact that God will never desert any one of us.

The wonder that we celebrate today is that we know someone with the willingness and daring to put himself forward as a vulnerable example of God’s unyielding and undying love. The bread and wine we put before him and over which he prays calls us into the presence of Jesus who loved us beyond death; and no betrayal by family, friends, enemies or self can separate us from the bonds of His Spirit. The goodness of that God has found a voice again, and the voice will be his. Listen and follow. When it’s time to choose, choose the best so that at the end of our exploring, we will arrive at where we started and know the place for the first time.

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)

Zachariah 12, 10-11; 12,1 + Psalm 63 + Galatians 3,26-29 + Luke 9, 18-24

To know what you are looking for you have to know what you need.

The other day I walked into the parish office. I stopped just inside the door, and I stood there trying to remember why I was standing there. I could not remember what I was looking for. So I went back to my office, and the door was locked. My keys were inside. When I realized what I needed, I knew what to look for, keys!

In the Gospel today, Luke raises a question about what the disciples are looking for. From their answer it would appear they were not looking for what they needed. While they may have wanted a Messiah who would restore the past, the power, the influence, presteige, and the glory of Israel past; this was not what they needed. This was not who Jesus was and it was not the will of the Father who provides what we need, not what we want.

The Jewish people at the time were persecuted, powerless, humiliated, and defeated by the power of Roman and its occupying army. What they needed was the presence of God in the midst of their suffering: a presence that would sustain them, comfort and console them; a presence that would assure them that they were not abandoned or alone. Once they acknowledged and embraced their need, they would find what they were looking for.

Not until those apostles suffered the collapse of all their dreams and silly ambitions, not until one of them betrayed the master, not until they experienced doubt, fear, and hopelessness did they find what they were looking for. Hope! Hope is what they needed not some grand all powerful Messiah who would do what they were unwilling and unable to do on their own or sweep down and clear up the mess they were in. Hope is what they found in Jesus Christ. Hope is what they received by the power of the Spirit, and the gifts to complete what was needed to experience the reign of God.

Many in this world are still running all round looking without any sense of what they need. They think they need a better job. They think they need a bigger house. They think they need to look better, drive a better car, or have more friends. In the meantime, they live empty and painful lives hopeless and confused, doubtful and fearful.

Right in the middle of all that is our God who provides what is needed: no escape from trouble and worry, from pain, sickness, suffering, and lonliness. The message coming from Luke today is a message of hope for anyone who needs it. The message is the image of a broken, betrayed, crucified messiah who, rather than sweeping it all away, picks up all the suffering and says: “Let’s go. Pick up your cross and we’ll go forward together. Come after me.”

It is not possible to take up the cross if you do not put something else down. It is not possible to live in the Kingdom of God and the the puny Kingdoms of this earth at the same time. It is not possible find life until you find death. It is not possible to know Christ Jesus until you know and embrace all the suffering of his passion. When you do, then  there is hope that does not disappoint. There is hope that lifts up those bowed down, and dries the tears of those who weep.

When he says: “Deny your self.” he means stop thinking all the time about what you want. Stop thinking that all creation revolves around the “Ego”, ME! Denail of self turns one toward the common good, the good of all. Self denial is a denial of self interest, of self-serving ideas, schemes, and idiologies that alway assume that what is good for me is good for you. No it isn’t. Before we keep on insisting that it is, we might do well to begin to examine the consequences of having our own way and pretending that it is the right way and the only way.

When Jesus looked around, he saw a need for hope. By denying himself, by taking up his cross (which was not in his self interest) he entered finally and completly into the helplessness of the human condition. In that obedient surrender, he gave us life by loosing it. He gave us his place as a child of God, and best of all he gave us hope.

While I did not preach at Saint Mark on this particular Sunday, the contrast Luke offers between two sinners was very profound to me while reflecting upon this Gospel during the week. Two sinners are presented not just the sinful woman, but the sinful Pharisee who sinned not by what he did, but by what he failed to do. As Luke proceeds with the story, only one is forgiven; the one whose love is great. No mention of forgiveness for this Pharisee who has slighted his guest by failing to observe the most common of courtesies. He almost seems to sit in judgement over a sinner who loves while excusing himself. Meanwhile, he does nothing. He neither apologizes nor shows any sign of love. He simply does nothing in the presence of guest who has not been cared for. Plenty to think about here, and more than enough to move us all to greater acts of love and repentance for the times we have both sat in judgement and done nothing in face of something wrong.

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)

1 Kings 17, 17-24 + Psalm 30 + Galatians 1, 11-19 + Luke 7, 11-17

They are coming out of the villiage and Jesus is going in. They are going in opposite directions. Death meets life; and then what? Don’t you suppose that the death march turned around? Just that image itself tells the story Luke leaves us immediately before disciples of John come asking if Jesus is the one they are waiting for. From just this story, we know the answer.

Funeral processions are not the sort of gathering that would invite or attract anyone. Here in Oklahoma we have an fine old custom of pulling over, or stopping our cars when we come upon a funeral procession; but we don’t turn around and follow it. No one sees a funeral and joins the crowd unless they are part of the grieving family or friends. But it isn’t that way with Jesus. He should have ignored that funeral procession. In fact, he approached it at some risk, becasue he could have been defiled. He was running the risk of becoming unclean, but he is drawn to this woman. He sees her need. She never asks for anything. She never says a word. He is wounded by her pain. It is not the death of the young man that moves Jesus to act, but the plight of this woman who in that time and age just as well be dead herself when as a widow she looses her only son. This is really a funeral procession for two. With no man, she has no home, no identity, no future. We can see through and in this story how culture and society abandons a woman without a man. There is as much social critique here as there is miracle. The miracle and the story unmasks the social condition that turns people into the poor and the vunerable. That is a homily for another day.

Setting aside the awe and wonder of a miracle, we are left with unmistakable evidence of a God who goes after the vulnerable, the sad, the grieving, and helpless. Whether you are a mother whose only child has died, or a family who have lost everything in an Oklahoma spring storm, there is one unmistakable fact: God will be found there. I can’t help but be struck by the two parallel readings today in which the sons are returned to their mothers. It’s as though these children do not belong to death but they belong to the one who gives them life. So it is with us all. We belong not to this world, but to the one who gives us life. The work of Jesus is to lift us up, to call us from death to life, to turn us around and lead us back into the city, the new Jerusalem.

It is just a little over 11 years ago that I stood here for the first time and told you that after speaking with the other priests who had moved that time around, I was convinced that I had won, and I have never doubted it since then. It is not that Saint Mark Parish is better than the Cathedral, or St Thomas More, St Joseph in Union City, Mt St Mary High School or the Old Cathedral, all places I have served in the last 45 years. It is simply that it took me so long to get it right and understand and believe what the priesthood is all about and what it means to be the shepherd who teaches, leads, and sanctifies; who proclaims the Kingdom of God and stands at the sacred altar praying for the people who asssemble with him, giving thanks and glory to the God who calls us his own and reveales himself to us in so many ways. In truth, the parish of Saint Mark owes a lot to those other communities who taught me so much, tollerated and forgave my mistakes and immaturity. Laughed with me and at me, forgave me, and let me learn from their joys and sorrows how to be priest.

One day when riding in the car with my father I told him I thought I would be a priest, he said: “Be a Jesuit.” I said: “Why?” He said to me: “Because they’re the best.” I said, “What if I just become a parish priest and do the best I can.” He just looked at me and kept on driving. We never spoke of it again, but he was the first person in line for communion at the Mass of my Ordination. I had never seen him take communion before.

As some of you know, one moment in Salvatin History, the Annunciation, holds my imagination more than any other. That young woman in Nazareth said “Yes” to God and what she understood was God’s plan and will for her life. Because she said “Yes” we are here today, and this world is full of hope becasue our lives are full of faith. She knew when to say “Yes” and I think she knew when to say “No.” How else could she have been free from sin?

Forty-five years ago, I said, “Yes” and then laid down on the floor in the old church of Saint John the Baptist in Edmond, Oklahoma while the assembly sang the Litany of the Saints. An outrageous April thunderstorm was taking place which my classmates, who were present, considered to be a sign from God. At the end of the litany, Charlie Meiser, the master of ceremonies said: “Rise” just like Jesus said in the Gospel today.

I still want to say “Yes” to God. Forty-five years ago, I had no clue about what was ahead of me, where I would live, what my life would be like, and what was going to happen. I feel the same way right now. I have no clue about what lies ahead, what God wants, or what the rest of my life will be about. In April 1968 I felt as though the seminary had done the best it could to get me ready. I did not have a lot of confidence. I just had lot of hope. Now in June of 2013 I feel as though you have done the best you can to get me ready for whatever is next. I have no more confidence now than I did then, but I have a lot more hope.

Look at these young men and women. For the past 11 years, they and others who could not be here today have made the journey down that aisle with cross, candles, incense, and the Gospel Book. You, young people, are the very heart and the very reason for this parish, for this church, and for my life. You are the very reason for Jesus Christ, His birth, His life, His death and His Resurrection. We are here for one reason: to pass on to you what we have received from those who have gone before us. We want to pass on to you our love for Jesus Christ, His Word, and the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. I want to tell you one more time: don’t you dare betray or abandon what your parents and their parents have given you. It is the best, and leaving it for anything less is foolish. Don’t be going out of the village when Christ is going in. I want you to remember one thing from our time together. Remember that what he said to those apostles he still says to you: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

There are a couple of more weeks for us to gather here before I get some rest and continue deciding when to say “Yes” and when to say “No.” It seems odd to be having this joyful celebration of Thanksgiving when I am still gong to hang around till the end of the month; yet it does give me time and more occasions to say Thank you again and again and again. No matter where any of us are in the months and years to come, let’s keep walking down an aisle somewhere toward an altar where in the mystery of God’s providence we shall always be one in Communion, and for as long as we can, keep remembering one another gratefully and prayerfully.

St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church (Norman, OK)

Genesis 14, 18-20 + Psalm 110 + 1 Corinthians 11, 23-26 + Luke 9, 11-17

They say: “Send them away.”
He says: “Feed them yourselves.”
With that, the great conflict begins: the conflict between; “There’s not enough” and “There’s more than enough.” Where we stand in this conflict will make all the difference when the master comes and calls for an accounting of what we have done with the gifts entrusted to us for awhile.

The resolution of that conflict within us Catholics should not be too difficult if and when we finally deeply understand, believe, and act like the Eucharistic people we have been invited to become. In the plan and wisdom of God revealed for us through Jesus Christ, we are chosen and called into a profound union with Jesus Christ. Through the gift of himself in bread and wine, two things happen because this is communion, not just food. Other food, when eaten, becomes a part of our body and that’s all. We eat a pear and it becomes part of us. That’s all. We do not become a pear. Some may observe that I am beginning to look like one, but I can assure you. It’s not happening!

When we consume the Body and Blood of Christ something more happens. In our usual way of thinking it’s always about us, we like to believe that Christ enters into our flesh and blood and into our being which is all very true; but that is only half of the mystery. Around this altar of the Eucharist, we remember his dying, we celebdrate his life and we enter into the mystery of God’s love. Those eat His flesh and drink His blood are assimilated into Jesus and become a part of him. What is important to understand, accept, and believe, you see, is the reverse of my example with the pear. This is the difference between taking communion and becoming communion. We have been stuck far too long in the idea that communion is something we get, take, or for that matter receive. It is way more than that, and failing to grasp that truth has left us profoundly impoverished, hungry, and helpless. As a consequence this wonderful, beautiful, world that should reflect the face of its creator everywhere looks broken, hungry, sad, and empty even in places where there is more than enough to eat.

We cannot take for granted so profound a union. It is more than Christ in us, we in communion are in Christ. But the fact is, we have become a lot like the Israelites in the desert who grew weary of the manna and quail and started longing for the food they had in Egypt. Having failed to cultivate a hunger in our hearts and souls, a hunger that comes from the need for communion, a hunger prompted by prayer and sacrifice, we settle for pizza and beer, a coke and a hamburger only to be hungry again a few hours later. In the meantime, having failed to enter into communion, an overweight nation is caught in the conflit over sending them away or feedng them.

Sometime in the fifth century the Patriarch of Alexandria, Cyril, spoke these words in a homily: “Come then let us hasten to the mystical supper. This day Christ receives us as his guests. This day Christ waits upon us….The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is slain…The life-giving chalice is mingled. God the Word incarnate enterains us. Wisdom, who has built herself a house, distributes his body and her bread and gives us his blood as wine to drink. Life bestows itself on mortals as food and drink. You have taseted the fruits of disobedience. Taste now the food of obedience. Eat of me who is life: Eat of life which never ends.”

The whole church this day, with Francis, the Bishop of Rome and successor of Peter, is at prayer at this hour and everytime we assemble around this altar; so that we may become more and more the the very Christ we consume, so that finally having been gathered in communion and grafted onto this vine, no one will be hungry, no one will go away thirsty from this well of divine life, and all creation where ever we are found will in glory reflect the creator whose life is our privilege to share and whose gifts bring the duty to give. The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is the Church in Communion from which no one should be sent away.