All posts for the month October, 2014

Revelation 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

It is the formula for Sanctity that we receive today from Matthew’s Gospel. It is the way of life led by Bernadette and remembered by all who gather in this holy place day after day, season after season. However it is translated, “Blessed” or “Happy”, the original sense of the word Matthew used is really a word of Congratulations. So if this text were literally translated we would be reading: “Congratulations you people who are poor or mourning, or meek or hungry.” This is a good way to be. This is the way it is in the reign of God.

Poverty is not a good thing, but being helpless is. Mourning is not good either, but it is a sign that someone has loved, and nothing bonds people like the sharing of suffering and pain, so those who mourn are people who have not been left alone. Meekness is what we find in those who bless our lives. They walk with God are filled with respect. The righteous have struck a balance in life with a wholeness that brings them close to God. The Merciful are those who understand what another experiences in life. They remind us what God has done by taking on our flesh. And the clean of heart are just the simple people who mean what they say and say what they mean while Peacemakers are not troublemakers. They make this a better place to live.

We are in a holy place today where Beatitudes are real, where Happiness is found because people come here who are poor, meek, merciful, clean of heart. There are people here who mourn, who leave here clean of heart, and find peace. Beatitudes are something that happens to us and something we become when we realize the truth and the fact that we are helpless and hopeless without God. Beatitudes happen when we quit trying to buy, acquire, or earn happiness and simply discover that we are Blessed just the way we are.

There will be no place for us among the saints, no place for us in glory until we embrace our poverty and helplessness; until we become peacemakers and and accept the pains and disappointments of life as easily as we accept the joys; until we become pure of heart, simple and pure, honest and sincere thirsting for what is right. Finally, Beatitude will be us when we are merciful and put away the score cards we sometimes keep on our friends and loved ones refusing to repay and replay hurts and evil. These are values not of this world, but of the world to come in which those who are Christ’s own already have begun to live.

Saint Bernadette, teach us these happy ways. Saint Bernadette, Pray for us.

Isaiah 52, 7-10 + 2 Timothy 4, 1-5 + Matthew 8, 5-8

 So many people live the anguish of the centurion of this Gospel who begs Jesus Christ: “Only say the word, and my servant will be healed”. The community of men and women who call this place home preach to give that Word of healing to the world. Dominic and those who followed him preach because they burn with this desire, and their desire has illuminated the church since they made a home in this place. The purpose of Dominican preaching is to generate others: “The object of their preaching is either to cause the faith to be born, or to allow it to penetrate people’s entire lives more deeply” according to their own constitution. More than a message, Dominicans preach the person and event of Jesus Christ: the Incarnate Son of God whose voice we can still hear, whose face we can still see, whose Passion is still saving us, and whose heart calls us to a transforming encounter. This is the gift we have received from the heritage and the tradition of Dominic and those who have followed him. A great Dominican preacher Saint Vincent Ferrer (+1419) urged preachers, “Let people find in you a father full of compassion for his children.

Dominicans have used every possible tool for preaching the Word of God, but best of all is the indispensable reality of human presence. The wisdom that has guided their preaching is that the proclamation of the Gospel requires both a profound understanding of Scripture and of Christian tradition presenting the faith in a way that is intellectually engaging and morally persuasive. As a constitutive part of their vocation, Dominicans have always embraced the life of study. From the beginning of the Order and St. Dominic’s first missionary efforts among fallen-away Catholics in Southern France, Dominicans have realized that the proclamation of the Gospel requires both a profound understanding of Scripture and Christian tradition, as well as a presentation of our faith that is intellectually engaging and morally persuasive. To accomplish this Dominic sent his brothers to the new universities of Europe, to Paris, to Bologna, and to Oxford, to study, to teach, and to obtain the academic training that they would need to serve the Church as compelling preachers of God’s word.

Their study has a contemplative aspect to it as well. Dominicans believe that in a daily reflection upon the Word of God, looking at the world around us we will come to a personal knowledge of the One who is Truth himself, Christ Jesus Our Lord. Because study draws us to prayer and prayer for others leads to study, there is in the Word of God an opportunity to encounter God’s grace.

At this first stop on our pilgrimage in this place it is worth remembering a tradition that says Dominic received the rosary from the hands of Our Lady herself in a moment of mystical prayer. While development of the rosary was slow, a Dominican Pope (Pius V) in the 16th century fixed it as a summary of the Gospel meditated upon with Mary. Headed to Lourdes as we are, the Rosary becomes our prayer as we move more deeply into the faith, the prayer, and the life of our church.

Healing, is what the man of this Gospel begs for and receives. Healing is what we celebrate in the days to come at Lourdes. That Word which brings this healing is what we celebrate here in this place. The proclamation of that Word is no longer the sole mission of the Dominicans. Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Sienna, Rose of Lima, and countless others can say what Mary said at the home of Elizabeth. They are words we can say as well: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, to give sight to the blind, to free the oppressed and proclaim a year of favor in the name of the Lord”.

We are a prophetic people who, having taken the Word of God seriously must take the courage to bring that Word into confrontation with this world. Dominicans remind us that we are called to be prophets, to awaken consciences, to be people who, in season and out of season, remind the world of the primacy of the Word of God, the Word who desires salvation for all people and who draws himself close to those who are excluded or despised.

This is a good place to be today, a good place to hear the word, a good place to remember our own calling in faith, our own mission to witness with joy our salvation. Saint Dominic and Saint Thomas, pray for us.

Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church, Norman, Oklahoma Sunday, October 26, 2014

Matthew 25: 14-30

Jesus has just spoken the parable we heard last week about the virgins and the lamps. This parable today is the last before he begins to speak of the in-gathering to come at the end of time. Next week, the Seventy Sunday of the Glorious Cross, and then we move into the season that is a bridge to the Season of Christ’s Birth. All of this gives this parable great importance for us. As last week, this parable is directed to us, insiders, people who have their lamps lit or people who have been given gifts. Do not miss the point that everyone in this parable has been given something. It makes no difference how much or what. Everyone has been entrusted with something by the Master. Placed into the context of this Gospel, the parable tells us that there is something to be done by those who want to get to be included in the gathering for the banquet.

There is a common human condition being challenged here, and left alone, it can lead to disaster. Jesus insists here that “playing it safe” is not what brings one to the Kingdom of God. The old home-spun proverb: “Better safe than sorry” comes into conflict with these words of Jesus. For Jesus, “safe” is “sorry.” It does not matter that everyone did not get the same thing. It did not matter what they got in return for their wise use of what was entrusted them. What does matter, and the distinction that matters is between those who do something and those who do nothing. The reaction of the master to fear and his refusal to accept it as an excuse to affirm doing nothing is at the heart of the story.

This Gospel invites us to look at what role fear plays in our lives and in our decisions. I read recently that three out of every five people in this country die without a will, and they leave their property to the discretion of the courts. Because of a failure to plan, and most of all, because they fear death and refuse to think about it, people die every day and leave enormous sums of their life’s work to state and federal government because they ignored the opportunity to endow and plan. Possessed by our possessions, obsessed with the fear of loss or failure, isolationism and exaggerated individualism leave us frozen in anxiety, stuck in denial, and blind to the possibilities that the gospel would have us imagine are available to the faithful stewards who live anticipating the return of the master, anxious and ready to give an accounting of our lives.

The parable addresses all the gifts we have. It calls for bold action and confident risk, calling into question all our ways. Staying with what is safe does not guarantee the master’s approval. New times, new issues, new opportunities call for the use of other gifts like the gift of wisdom, or intelligence, thought, compassion, and understanding. The issues of Justice cry out to us in these times, and they never get addressed by those who elect to do nothing or by those who think it is better to play it safe for fear of doing the wrong thing.

This third servant excuses his behavior and blames the master with his lame excuse which should have motivated him to do something. His fearful caution and timid approach to his life causes him to do nothing. Here is the problem. Maintenance is not enough. Continuation of the status quo is not only not acceptable, it labels us useless and unworthy, and secures a place outside in the darkness. There will be no acceptable blame or excuse for doing nothing. That third servant did not trust his master. He feared him.

The wonderful invitation and the thrilling words we long to hear: “Come and share your master’s joy” are spoken only to those who have trusted the master. If the risks they took with the gifts they received went wrong, it seems from this parable that it would have been alright with the master. At last they would have done something.

Action, whether with few talents or many, is named good and faithful. Action is rewarded by the presence of the master forever. This parable is not a wake-up call to the church and the people of the church. The status quo, maintenance of what is for whatever reason is not in the master’s plan. Sometimes, the choice to do nothing is the biggest mistake of all. This is Gospel wisdom, and it is Gospel behavior for disciples, believers, and all those prepared for the masters return.

 Exodus 22, 20-26 + Psalm 18 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 5-10 + Matthew 22, 34-40

In a world that loves far too much “black” and “white”, and likes things neatly separated into categories it is very easy to listen to these verses as though there are two commands. Love God. Love Neighbor. That kind of think is legal and comes out of some thought that Jesus is making some ethical proposal. To dismiss these verses with that thinking is shallow and avoids the theological statement that is being made here which is quite different.

We have to ask a question here. At these two commands set side by side to indicate that human responsibility involves two parallel but separate areas of accountability, or are the two interrelated?

Earlier comments of Jesus on other commandments gives us a clue. When he speaks of the Fourth Commandment honoring Father and Mother, he suggests that doing so is a great manifestation for loving God. When comments on observing the Sabbath, he insists that this observance must not take precedence over human need. When he pushes the love of neighbor to include love of enemies, he is proposing that the one loving imitates God’s generous love for all. With this understanding of how Jesus integrates and all of the commandments, what is being said here is that to love God is to love neighbor, and to love neighbor is to love God. They are not distinct or separate experiences. Conversely then, there is no love of God when the neighbor is not loved. Impossible! Furthermore, a loving response to a neighbor is directly a loving response to God.

In a world that sentimentalizes and often trivializes “love” it bears some reminder with this text that Biblical “love” is not affection, but commitment. Warm feelings of gratitude might fill our minds and hearts when we consider all that God has done for us, but warm feelings is not what God expects in response. Stubborn, unwavering commitment is expected by God. It works in reverse as well. It is sentimental and pious to propose or imagine that God has warm fuzzy feelings for us. What God has and what God manifests again and again as God’s love for us is commitment. God does not leave, abandon, or give up on us. That is love.

The love of neighbor proposed in these verses by Jesus Christ is not affection, but an imitation of God’s love by taking their needs seriously. When we do this we love; and we love as God loves. Our love of God at the same time demands that we love those God loves and do everything we can to express God’s for them by caring for their needs.

October 29, 2014  11:00 a.m. Maronite Parish Norman, OK

Matthew 25: 1-13

At this point in chapter twenty-five of Matthew’s Gospel, the Passion of Christ is very near. It is the final parable. Jesus makes one last effort to awaken and urge the Leaders of the people and all who have not yet taken seriously his message and his life. The story today is found only in Matthew, and some think it is his best. For us there are three levels of development are here:

the historical level of Jesus providing a parable about the Kingdom of God for the leaders

the Matthew level of the early church providing a parable about how to survive the long wait for Christ’s return,

and finally, our use of the parable in as entirely different age.

At the Jesus level, it’s about acceptance or refusal

with a warning that some will be refused entry.

At the Matthew level, it’s about being prepared or readiness for the coming of Christ in glory.

At our level, because we can we see the other two, it is about even more.

Hidden because of all the visual imagery of this parable is a sentence that should not escape our attention: “I do not know you.” It comes with devastating consequences. Scholars tell us that it is an ancient rabbinical saying that Jews would have recognized immediately for its expression of separation. It was the ritual word for throwing someone out of synagogue. This bridegroom does not know who they are! They have missed becoming part of the celebrating community. The problem is not that they fell asleep, because both groups slept. The problem is that one group was not recognizable. This is the consequence of darkness: no oil = no light = no recognition. Those will enter who are known by the bridegroom. Those will enter who are recognizable. It is about relationship, being known. Too many people know a lot about Jesus, but they have no relationship with Christ. Studying the Bible, and knowing its verses without knowing and living with and in the one it reveals is not the way to enter the celebration.

We all know this, but we have not all done something about it. In the end, this is about procrastination which is the enabler of all our sins. We love our habits more than we love Christ. We protect ourselves with pious prayers that comfort us in a life of holy compromise instead of embracing a message of reform, conversion, and radical change. Doing the things we have to do when they ought to be done whether we like it or not is a most valuable lesson in the discipline of a holy life. It simply means that those who get into the banquet will live prepared for the door to open, not tomorrow or the next day, but today, in this moment, now. Our permissive society and a generation of children who never understand the meaning of the word: NO may not get it, but the truth and the heart of this parable is that there will be a sudden moment of meeting that arrives and then passes irretrievably.

Isaiah 45, 1, 4-6 + Psalm 96 + 1 Thessalonians 1, 1-5 + Matthew 22, 15-21

This biblical story is being retold and relived in our own life time. The context is different, and the way the dilemma emerges is different, but not the message. It is as troubling and challenging today as it was then. At the time Matthew recorded this incident I like to imagine people laughing, or at least smiling and poking each other with a wink a little over the situation and the way it works out. At the actual time if this is an historical event, there must have been some gasps of amazement and wonder, shock and perhaps some smirking. For disciples of the Pharisees to join up with Herodians would have been quite amazing. It would be like Socialists and Tea Party members getting together! The Pharisees resented the Roman occupation and resisted quietly but begrudgingly because they wanted to preserve their right to practice their religion. Herodians, on the other hand supported the right of Caesar and his Romans as a political non-religious party to occupy the Jewish territory in exchange for some limited right to rule. Here they are joined together in opposition to Jesus, and they meet their match as they attempt to put Jesus in a lose/lose situation with their silly question. The story gets better.

Jesus exposes their hypocrisy by asking them to produce a Roman coin. When they do without hesitation, the onlookers must have gasped and laughed. The mere fact that they had one to show him made them look like game playing fools. The question they propose has religious overtones while seeming to be political. The phrase: “Is it permitted”is what I call “Bible/speak”. It means, “Does the Torah allow a tax be paid to Caesar?”Since the Book of Leviticus (25, 23) insists that the land shall not be sold because the land is God’s; this is a religious question, not a political one. This incident is happening in the Temple, the most holy place, and these so-called holy people pull out a Roman coin right there in the Temple! Not good. By having that coin in their pockets, their question becomes irrelevant. They have answered it themselves.

I like to imagine that when Jesus responded, it was a little different from the way you just heard it proclaimed here. I like to think that after speaking the first sentence he stopped for a long time and just looked at them. “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”Then as they began to shuffle around and wish they had never produced the coin much less asked the question, he would have stepped a little closer, perhaps lowered his voice for dramatic effect and said: “and to God what belongs to God.”

There is no balance and nothing equal here between Caesar and God. Jesus is not saying that there is a secular realm and a religious realm that are equal both deserving of respect. Not so. The second statement annuls the first. Everything is God’s. There is nothing and there is no territory that does not belong to God. Jewish thought at the time allowed that some foreign kings might occupy and have power over Israel, but only by God’s permission; and when God chooses to liberate the foreign power will be no good at all.

In the second part of his response, Jesus is making a big demand. Having said during the Sermon on the Mount that we cannot serve both God and mammon”there is no contradiction here. There is no dividing into parts. There is the firm affirmation that everything is God’s and God’s will comes first. If you throw a few coins at Caesar, it is just a reminder that what we possess is not our own.

Given the fact that this story is told in Matthew’s Gospel, it is not likely that most of those who heard it cared one bit about Caesar and resistance to Caesar. By the time this Gospel is dispersed, Caesar has destroyed Jerusalem and most his opposition. So the story stands again to remind us that there is no way we can divide up this earth and it’s good. It all belongs to God.

Today, those who look to this story for some easy way out of contemporary controversies between church and state or God’s law and Civil Law must be careful not to draw some conclusion that is not there. Our lives these days are often troubled by conflicts between Church and State over civil laws that challenge our consciences. Only in the second half of the response Jesus makes can we find anything to guide us and encourage us when it is time to stop being passive and step and speak up in opposition to the power of the state. Civil societies, regimes, and governments rise and fall all the time. Yet, everything belongs to God, and God’s law and God’s will prevails.

Sacred Heart Church, El Reno, Oklahoma & Saint Joseph Church, Union City, Oklahoma

Isaiah 25, 6-10 + Psalm 23 + Philippians 4, 12-14 + Matthew 22, 1-14

We take up a third parable in Matthew’s Gospel today concerning judgment. Two weeks ago we heard the parable of the two sons who responded to the Father’s request in opposite ways ending with a question about which one did the father’s will, and a condemnation of those who refused the message of both John and Jesus. Last week we heard the next parable about the workers in the vineyard refusing to give the owner his rightful portion of the harvest and how they abused those the owner sent to collect. Again a question was asked: “What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?”The response from Jesus is dire: “The Kingdom will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”The purpose and the proposal Matthew puts out there is that the privileged relationship with God has now been given to the Church, the followers of Christ who did not reject the message.

Now comes this parable once more addressed to the leaders of the people with a slight but important twist. Judgment is emphasized, but this time the judgment is on the Christians, no longer upon the leaders of the people. So with this parable, there is no chance of us sitting back to listen as though this does not concern us. This one does concern us, and as with all parables, something important about God is revealed. This parable reveals how God will look at and how God will judge us.

There are really two parables here. The first is an interesting match to the one before concerning the tenants of the vineyard. Both record violent abusive treatment of the messengers. In both there is a severe judgment, but with last week’s parable the judgment is predicted in the future. The second parable here begins when the king comes into the banquet to meet the guests. There is something very different now. In the two parables last month, the judgment was in the future. It something that “will” happen. In this parable, the judgment happens as part of the story. Right now the man is tied up and thrown out. It is not something that will happen later or in the future.

It is a tough story for us. It seems outrageously unfair. How could the king be so demanding and so harsh to a poor man who has been dragged off the streets to attend this banquet? The fact of the matter is, a custom in those days and in that culture would have been for the host to provide a clean tunic for a guest. How can this king even ask the question: “How did you get in here?”He ought to know he had people dragged in off the streets! With these questions in mind, we have to stop and put the story back together.

The wedding feast is the age to come. It is not the church. The garment is right behavior according to the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is happening during the feast. It is happening to someone at the feast, at the table, someone who, in a sense, is in the church. Being present is not enough it says to us who are in here. Being at the table does not promise an escape from the judgment of the King. The man had come to the banquet accepted the invitation, but he had not conformed his life to Christ. Suddenly this parable is not for the leaders of the Jewish people anymore. It is for you and for me, people already at the table.

It reveals to us a God who has greater expectations than wanting us to show up. It comes not so much as a threat, but rather as a word of encouragement that living our lives in Christ, that having “put on Christ”, as we sometimes say, is the only way to avoid being cast out into the darkness. We have all been called or we would not be in here today. Yet there is something more than just showing up. Our best hope is that our lives, when we are not in here, make it obvious that we have put on Christ and do wear the garment of salvation having conformed our lives consistently, personally, and faithfully to the gospel Jesus has proclaimed to us. It makes me very uncomfortable that the man is silent when the king asks his question. He knew what was expected. He had no excuse. He knew where he was, and who had invited him. So we tell the story again so that we may not be in his place.

Saint Ann, Fairview + Saint Anthony, Okeene + Saint Thomas, Seiling, OK

 Isaiah 5, 1-7 + Psalm 80 + Philippians 4, 6-9 + Matthew 21, 33-43

It is again this week a parable that leads us to reflect upon conversion as a response to the presence of Jesus Christ. Sadly, when left without reflection and heard in a shallow way this parable has, to our disgrace, led to anti-Semitism; and it has been used to do great harm to Jewish people. It must be understood that it is the leaders of the Jewish people who are being singled out in this parable not the entire Jewish people. The church for which Matthew wrote was primarily Jewish in heritage and origins. They are certainly not condemning themselves or suggesting that they had any role or responsibility for the death of Christ. As with all parables, something about God is being revealed here, and while it might be helpful to explore details that say something about other characters, it is impossible to stop there and not ask the question: “What does this tell us about God?”

So we listen to the story and our focus should not shift off the owner of the vineyard. At the center of this parable stands the property owner. He has carefully prepared his property to be in perfect shape; planted, hedged, walled, watered, and tower has been built. It is his, and we know that he has done everything to make the property productive. He leases it. He does not give it away. He expects those he has put in charge to produce something and provide him with that produce. These people left in charge have decided it’s theirs, or that it should be, and they set about trying to make it so. The owner stands firm until the final act of violence destroys his son.

With this story, Jesus makes one more attempt to bring those chief priests and elders of the people to conversion; to changing their response to his message and their method of leadership and distortion of religion. He even teases them into the story by asking them what they think the owner will do. Still no change even when they see where this conflict is leading.

In this parable the term “The Kingdom of God” is used in an unusual way. Here instead of referring to the age to come, it refers not to the future but to a special relationship with God as the chosen ones. Chosen by God these tenants are the elect who have both privilege and responsibility by reason of their relationship with God. Because of their refusal to change in response to the message of Christ, the leaders of the people are going to lose that special relationship. Having failed in their responsibility to produce fruit as tenants, they lose their privilege place with God.

The great challenge here comes with a realization that what this parable describes has happened. Because those leaders rejected John and Jesus, they lost the privilege of their relationship, and others have taken their place as the chosen ones. The message of this Gospel is the truth that we are the ones who have been chosen to take their place. As before, there is no privilege like this relationship with God without responsibility. Now bringing to God the produce from God’s creation, and bringing to God the fruits of our labors is up to us. W e know from this parable what happens if we fail to do so. We are now the ones charged with the responsibility of producing the fruits of the kingdom. The punishment of those others is no reason to rejoice. With the evidence of what happens to those who do not produce, we should be anxious: anxious enough to get up from our passive and lazy ways and remember that we are tenants here on this earth and what it produces is not ours.

The parable reveals a patient God who owns this property. The parable also reveals a God who will eventually replace any who fail to accept his son. Again this week we have a call to conversion. It is a wake-up call for any who have been living as though they owned this place and behave with the attitude that “It’s all mine”. It is another call to those who are doing nothing with what they have produced from this life for the sake of God’s reign.

A culture of spectators finds this parable strange. They would rather think it is simply about a shift from the people of Israel to the new Christians, or simply another story leading up to the ultimate confrontation between Jesus and his enemies. While it is certainly both of these, it is way more than that for you and for me told again with a firm reminder that God expects something of us. We have been given a great deal that God has carefully prepared. Now God waits; and while waiting God’s Son has come with his call to repentance, conversion, and acceptance of his promise. We have a serious and important responsibility because of our privilege.