All posts for the month July, 2013

Genesis 18, 20-32 + Psalm 138 + Colossians 2, 12-14 + Luke 11, 1-13

There is something very intimate at this moment in Luke’s Gospel. The request of the disciples is not a “show me how you do that” sort of request, and the response of Jesus to their request reveals just how intimate and how seriously he takes their request. It also shows us just what mattered to them about this man they have left all things to follow. They never ask him to show them how to cleanse lepers. We never hear them say: “How did he do that?” when the blind are given their sight or there is suddenly food for countless numbers of people who flock to hear him in the desert. But at this point in their journey to Jerusalem they finally go to the heart of their experience. It seems to me that suddenly they know that all those other things that are going on happen because this man knows how to pray, and they want to know that secret.

I’m not absolutely certain, but I don’t think the culture and the society in which these events took place was much like ours when it comes to prayer. There is a prayerful quality about the Jewish people that seems to keep a running conversation going with God all the time so well revealed in the written prayer of this ancient chosen people that we call the Psalms. There is a balance of praise, thanksgiving, petition, intercession for others, and simply awe all woven into the psalms these people sang all day long in the synagogue and probably at work. In that prayer, there is almost always a distance from God, a respect that establishes a relationship between creature and created, Lord and servant, powerful and powerless.

The disciples knew those prayers. They were in the Synagogue all the time. Probably more than once a day. The disciples also have come to realize that there must be something more than those prayers, something more that inspires, strengthens, enables, and encourages their friend and teacher, so they ask.

What he gives them is not a formula of words. If that were the case, I suspect that there would be no difference between the prayer we find in Luke and the prayer we find in Matthew. The formula would have been too important to abbreviate or elaborate. What he gave them was an intimate opportunity to share in the relationship he had with his Father; a relationship that had all the power to enable him to  do the Father’s will bringing forgiveness and healing, joy and peace.

That relationship is established by the first two words, and everything flows from that. OUR FATHER! That’s the prayer. That is the relationship that empowers, heals, brings peace, and relieves every need. But don’t be too quick to jump on that word: “Father.” Notice that the prayer does not begin by saying: “MY FATHER?” In fact there is no singular personal pronoun anywhere in this prayer. Not one of them. There is no “me”, or no “mine” anywhere in the prayer.” It is always “our” and “us”.

The intimacy I find in this prayer is not just a look at the intimate relationship between the Son and the Father that encourages the Son to call “God the Almighty”, “Creator”, “King of the Universe”, and all the titles we find for God in the Psalms a “Father”; there is also the intimacy developing between the Son and the disciples and between the disciples themselves that brings them to say: “Our.”

Think of it for moment. Think about how prayer still has the power to bring us together. All you have to do anywhere in the world when prayer is called for is say those two words, and Christian people everywhere, Christian people of every communion and tradition suddenly are one – sharing through those words the intimate relationship that Jesus came to establish. It’s not about bread, temptation, or forgiveness. It is about unity and the intimacy of fellowship in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ.

Think of it for another moment. When we pray like that, we pray with Christ. It was his prayer. We pray as children of God, one with Christ. When we pray like that, we pray as one people, God’s only people. When we pray like that, we are never alone. Think how often we offer that prayer and how often others must be doing the same hour by hour, minute by minute all over this earth. When we pray as Jesus taught us, we join them in prayer, in praise, in thanksgiving, and in the work of Christ that brings forgiveness and peace. In prayer, we are never alone.

Ave Maria Catholic Church, Parker, CO

Genesis 18,1-10 + Psalm 15 + Colossians 1, 24-2 + Luke 10, 38-42

My second assignment as a priest in 1971 was to a High School in Oklahoma City which, in those days, was owned and for the most operated by the Sisters of Mercy. I was 29 years old with shoulder-length red/blond hair reluctantly assuming the assignment the Bishop had insisted upon over my hesitation as Chaplain to the Sisters and Administrator and Faculty member. There were 38 sisters living in the house at that time. While it was, in retrospect ,an important and formative time of my life, there were times when I felt like Job. I celebrated Mass 7 days a week for 38 Sisters of Mercy. Far too often Luke10, 38 would come up in the lectionary. Preaching this text in a convent with 38 sisters with an age range of 27 to 90 was something to be avoided. There was a Martha and Mary in every pew. I dreaded this text., but in time, even with the help of the Sisters, I’ve gotten a little deeper into it.

The heart of this story is found by turning this scene around. Forget about contrasting Martha and Mary. There is another figure in this story, the guest. Paying attention to the guest is more important than getting into some controversy over Martha’s behavior or Mary’s. Too often used by contemplatives, to justify their spirituality or life-style, we miss something more important.

Disciples of Jesus are always hospitable like both Martha and Mary. I can’t imagine that Jesus would have stopped there had it not been for Martha’s cooking. There is no reason to think that Martha threw down her apron and walked out of the kitchen. The focus for both Mary and Martha is Jesus, the guest. The story becomes then a reminder that we are all perpetual guests of a loving and divine host. As guests, our possessiveness and selfish attitude toward this world’s goods and resources are kept in check. We are guests on this earth, in this creation; guests of the Creator who has welcomed us and provided for us.

Just as at Cana’s wedding feast, the guest suddenly become the host. Those who welcome this divine guest will inevitably discover that the guest always becomes the host. It is Jesus who comes hungry to this home in Bethany, and he ends up feeding those who have welcomed him. He gets invited to a wedding, and he ends up providing the wine. What we learn from Luke’s Gospel today is that this divine guest still feeds us. It is the Word of God that provides nourishment for us, and a life devoted to hearing that word is first of all concerns. That guest on this earth and in this life is still here to feed us and becomes the very food of this Eucharist. The guest who who is welcomed, the guest who coms hungry for us, still feeds us. It’s like that story of the woman at the well. He comes thirsty with no bucket, and ends up providing living water for the woman at that well. She is the one refreshed by his presence and his word.

I think this Gospel proposes that Martha and Mary should be seen as one person – the person who receives Jesus Christ. There is a balance proposed here, between dong and being, and a disciple of Jesus learns the difference. There is a call here: a call to the integration of work and play or of action and prayer. Having just told the story of Mercy in the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus now affirms that discipleship is not all about doing, but also about being; in this case, being hospitable, being good guests, and gracious hosts in the spirit of Abraham and the style of Jesus.

Now what we discover in this chapter of Luke’s Gospel is not just a lesson in hospitality,. The lesson comes not from word, but from example. The stories of Jesus feeding crowds abound in the Gospel. His mandate to apostles: “Feed them yourselves” comes off the page into the face of those who always think someone else will or should take care of the hungry. The response of Jesus to the needs of those who came to him is never just “spiritual”. He raises a dead girl, and tells the parents, “Give her something to eat.” All through the Old Testament, God is the Divine host who feeds and sustains those who wander the wilderness. Once in their promised land, they always remained there as guests  in God’s eyes. Their prayer and their feasts celebrated the Table God had set before them.

In Jesus, Israel’s divine host became incarnate, and the Old Testament quality of hospitality was seen in the images he used for the reign of God as a banquet and in the way he was found at dinners, feasts, and banquets with sinners, Pharisees, and folks like Martha and Mary. While Martha and Mary may seem to be the host, it is, in the end, Jesus who feeds them with his presence and his word. He went there hungry, and ends up feeding them with his presence. With that reminder from Luke’s Gospel, we gather here again and again to be fed by the one who gives us His flesh to eat. We are the guests here fed so that we might feed others so that no one will ever be hungry where disciples of Jesus gather in his name.

Ave Maria Catholic Church Parker, CO

Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20 + Luke 10, 25-37

There are many layers to this parable that Jesus uses to test the one who walked up to test him. At the point in the story where Jesus begins the parable, the scholar of the law who is probably some kind of know-it-all thinks he can disgrace this “no-body” from Nazareth with his questions. As the story unfolds, their little sparring match comes out even, at which point, Jesus takes the upper hand and tells this parable which shifts this passage from a dialogue about the law to a very different matter altogether.

The first two people to pass by the injured man have the law on their side. In fact, they do the right thing by passing him by. To have helped him would have run the very real risk of becoming unclean and violating the laws of purity. The law keepers cannot help – they do not help, and they are justified in doing so. I suspect to their credit, they probably went on by muttering something like: “Someone ought to do something.” Isn’t that what we always say when see something wrong and excuse ourselves from doing something about it? “Someone ought to do something!”

So as the story goes on, someone does do something. Someone comes along and does the right thing in spite of having every reason to do nothing. Samaritans were subject to the law just as much as the others, so it isn’t a matter that this Samaritan was not expected to keep the rules and observe the law. What’s remarkable here is that someone does do something when there is every excuse for doing nothing. So this parable can speak a challenge to all of us who hide behind rules and regulations as an excuse for doing nothing, or who keep on insisting that “someone should do something” when we are the ones who should.

Now we are always accustomed to hearing this parable from the point of view of the Samaritan since he has been held up for generations as the hero of the story. The Jews at the time of Jesus who were hearing this parable however could never have identified with the Samaritan, and in spite of his courage and generosity, they would never have focused on him as the point and center of the story. They would have identified with the man in the ditch. The surprise to them, the challenge of this parable is that a stranger, a foreigner, and even an enemy responded to them, and in that culture of reciprocity it meant that the man in the ditch owed something to the enemy!  This is something else to think about; another level of this story.

Hearing this story as if it was a one-time event dulls its edge, and it removes the story from the living word of God. It is a parable that has a shocking twist that ought to shake us up and get us thinking just as much today as it did then. This parable is a provocative invitation to conversion. It’s not about becoming do-gooders. It is about the possibility that enemies might become neighborly to each other, that even someone we dislike or despise might be better than we are when it comes right down to doing the right thing. It is about raising the question not only of who is our neighbor, but who is our enemy and why do we have any? It asks the question of how we expect to be worthy of the kingdom we have enemies to begin with.

The view of this story from the ditch is probably the best way to hear it, and every reason to tell it.

Ave Maria Catholic Church, Parker, CO

Isaiah 66, 10-14 + Psalm 66 + Galatians 6, 14-18 + Luke 10, 1-12, 17-20

About three years ago I went down to Haiti to visit an orphanage that the parish where I served was helping to support. Even though I was only going to stay for five days, I packed very carefully. I knew about the terrain, so I took extra shoes: simple ones for the flight, easy to slip on and slip off through security, and two other pairs for walking on that rocky, dusty terrain. I counted out my meds carefully, taking a few extras in case I dropped any while removing the child-proof caps that only children can open. I packed some energy bars, and then I presented myself to the Oklahoma State Department of Health and spent an enormous amount of money being inoculated for every known bacteria, bug, bite, sting, and virus known to man in the long history of medical science. I felt like a pin cushion but confident that Hepatitis A, B, C, D, E, F & G, Tetanus, Malaria, and Papa Doc’s Revenge, and even the common cold had been conquered. I carried much more than the peace of Luke’s Gospel. In comfort I flew to Port Au Prince arriving at the International Airport, and then after a frightening taxi ride which simply drove me around to the other end of the runway, I boarded a small plane for the short flight over the mountains to the other side of the island. I should have known that an adventure was beginning when I noticed that there was no door to the “flight deck” as some would call it. The pilot simply leaned back and turned to shout directions to us never thanking us for choosing that airline. I suppose it was because we didn’t have a choice. Once the eight of us were on board, the pilot shouted that we were overweight. I was ready to volunteer to walk, but before I could raise my hand, they began to throw luggage off the plane onto the runway. The second piece of luggage to hit the ground was mine. After about six more pieces, the engines started and we flew off to Les Cayes. I had nothing. No shoes, no meds, no shirts, sandals, not even a walking stick. Believe me, there was no chance I was going to move from house to house. When I got to that orphanage, I stayed put. They promised to send my luggage on the next flight, but they failed to tell me that the flights only go to Les Cayes every three days!

So I wonder, who is going to bear witness to the joy and mystery of our redemption: the likes of me, so prone to place my trust in what I can pack and haul around rather than in God? Or will it be a traveler so light and unburdened that all around will be amazed and imagine how wonderful it is to rely on a God who, as today’s Prophet suggests, would carry us in her arms and fondle us in her lap as a mother comforts her child.

In this Year of Faith when all the church is called by our Holy Father to a time of new evangelization, perhaps we might better evangelize the world by our trust, our simplicity, and the light-weight way we travel through this life unburdened by the baggage of anger and revenge, bitterness and grudges we will not surrender. All that stuff really does make us over-weight and it keeps us from being free as God made us: free to trust, free to go where He sends us, and free to carry one another burdens. In the presence of disciples like these, the kingdom draws near.

This kind of life is one of joy, and as the story goes, those who have given it a try return rejoicing. Their joy is not the consequence of what they have done, suggests Jesus to them, but rather the consequence of what they have become: true citizens of the Kingdom whose names are written in heaven. They do not return with some solemn sense of having fulfilled a weighty obligation, some duty they have been assigned. They come back full of joy because they have cooperated with God in lessening the destructiveness of life. I think this joy is the inner energy of handing on the mission, the excitement that comes from sharing something wonderful, life-giving, and unique.

A wise Egyptian poet, musician and artist living in the first half of the 20th century wrote these words:

I slept and dreamt life was joy.

I awoke and saw life was service.

I acted and behold service was joy.

One of the wonderful things about our faith built upon the Living Word of God is that we can sometimes sit with it and imagine wonderful things. Imagine that Jesus Christ, lover of the earth, was filled with this joy when he smiled and whispered in the ears of the people who would continue his revelation until the end of time, “Your names are written in heaven.”

Because you are here in prayer, in praise, and in thanksgiving; because you have come back to this church after a full week in the world of work, study, and play, you are those people he has sent. The world must be a little better and know Christ a little more because you were there, so be confident that your names are written in heaven.