All posts for the month March, 2015

 St Peter Catholic Church Naples, FL

Mark 11:1-10 + Isa 50:4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2:6-11 + Mark 14:1–15:47

The Passion account just proclaimed is filled with stories of disappointment, loneliness, despair, rejection, aloneness, and feelings of abandonment. The stories of humanity’s struggles are revealed before our eyes in the journey of Jesus, his disciples, his friends, and those who knew him. Without knowing fully how the Resurrection event would end, I am sure that on Good Friday and in the days following many felt disconnected, confused, and full of despair wondering who really cares and whether or not their lives with Jesus of Nazareth really made any difference.

Every one of us experiences some type of loneliness at one point or another in their lives. Even people in committed, solid relationships can experience loneliness, and it can even be said that a certain dose of it is healthy for personal and relational development. Many people, however, find it to be their consistent and unwelcome companion. This crippling loneliness can lead to a terrifying sense of isolation and eventually depression. We are quickly becoming a society of isolation and entitlement. Our lives are often too complicated and busy to find the time needed to build and maintain meaningful and close relationships. Worse still, we may not even realize that there is an imperative need within us to do so. The prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, insists that we must learn “how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.”

The disciples found their strength in connecting with one another after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus found his strength in connecting with his Father. These were connections of the heart, connections that lead to profound transformations of love. The love revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus did not come to us simply by what was said about it. It came from the humble actions and the transformation that embraced it. We will soon tell the stories of how disappointed, lonely people found hope and joy in the company of one another in the days between Good Friday and Pentecost from Jerusalem to Emmaus.

We have a profound message to bring to our world. There is no one else who can witness to others the value and sanctity of every human life and the profound joy that connecting with others in our community of faith can bring.

People who are vulnerable, lonely, or poor need help in confronting their darkness and helplessness to find the truth that is within them. It is a journey whose success relies on companions willing to walk with them and assist them in seeing the light. Those who are most isolated and lonely can experience the tremendous joy of the Resurrection when they learn the beauty of what it means to walk with others and discover the spark of the divine that is revealed when serving others along the way.

Alexandria, LA at St Francis Xavier Cathedral

Jeremiah 31, 31-34 + Psalm 51 + Hebrews 5, 7-9 + John 12, 20-33

With one week full week left in this season we are led by the Church through the readings for this day to come face to face with the paradox of salvation and the contradiction found at the heart of our faith between the cross and glory. This touches the very core of our faith, and it tests the very strength of our hope. The strongest and most basic human instinct is survival and the will to live, yet death is even stronger; and death casts its pall over human life. It calls into question everything we try to achieve, and no matter how far we may try to look ahead, death is the horizon of human life.

Probably more than we care to realize, death may be the greatest human motivator there is. The fear of death lies beneath every other fear and is at the heart of selfishness. “Get it now. Keep it now. You may not get another chance” is the thinking in the heart of darkness. Death, the ultimate separator, the final condition that leaves us separated from one another and even from God is the one last consequence of sin to be removed, conquered, and replaced by God which leads us to the cross and our observance of Holy Week.

Every sickness, every ailment, every evil that has separated God’s people from one another has been challenged and conquered by Jesus in the Gospels. Lepers were cleansed and restored to their place among God’s people. Sick children are restored to their parents, the blind and the lame get up and walk with Christ among his followers. Outcast tax collectors and sinful women are no longer cast out but included. Samaritans and Romans are drawn into faith and included among those who know God’s healing and forgiving love. One last thing remains, and we get a hint of what is to come when the story of Lazarus is told and he walks out of a tomb by the command of Christ.

Time after time, Jesus willfully identifies with and in a sense, takes the place of those he invites and leads to faith and hope. When he touches lepers and sinners, when he eats with tax collectors and goes into the home of a enemy Romans, he becomes one with them and is one of them in the eyes of his adversaries. One last enemy, one last evil, one last sickness is yet to be touched and shared: death. In doing so, everything will be complete and everything that separates us will be destroyed. There is no place to go now except to Calvary.

John’s Gospel touches on the power our fear of death has on us as he reports the anguish of Jesus in the verses of today’s Gospel. Then John goes on to unfold the plan and wisdom of God with the directive that we are to abandon our doomed desire for self-preservation, our singular attachment to this mortal life, and reach for the life Jesus has promised and will soon reveal in his resurrection. The death he will experience is his final and complete embracing of our human lives. By accepting the most terrible death that could be imagined he leaves out no one and no death so conformed is he to our human experience.

The glory of is death is found in the totality and completion of God’s will in the mission of Jesus Christ. Once it is finished, as Jesus proclaims on the cross, there is nothing left except new life bursting out of a grave. Death is no more. Fear is finished. Life is the promised fulfilled. This is the mystery of the cross then that makes it a sign and a promise of glory. For us it becomes now a sign that the most feared thing in life is dismissed as easily as a  blind man comes to sight, and a lame man picks up his mat and walks. This is the glory that awaits all who follow Christ into a grave. It is what we shall promise and proclaim to those who have asked to see Jesus and share the life and glory he found through obedience to the will of his Father who wills nothing more or less for us than that we share in unending Divine Life.

2 Chronicles 36, 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21

After listening in on the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, it becomes very difficult to separate Mercy and Salvation. The Mercy of God that Jesus has come to reveal is a challenge, and for some a stumbling block in our measured world where everything must be earned, won, or deserved. The struggle of Nicodemus gradually coming to faith is our own. Nicodemus is a trained Pharisee, someone who knows the the law and keeps the law; someone who is convinced that only by observing the law is there any hope for God’s favor and salvation. For Nicodemus, at the beginning it’s all up to us, all a matter of us earning salvation by our perfect observance of the law. It’s as though God’s role in all of this is to be the judge who sits with a score card and counts up the points, or lists the failures.

The message of Jesus that leads Nicodemus beyond that idea is the message of mercy and the invitation to discover and experience the love that God has for all creation. The salvation Jesus reveals is not so much an escape from something as it had been for the Jews saved from slavery, as it is the new beginning of God’s eternal plan for Life, life without end within the Divine. It is a new kind of being as much as a new kind of life. The movement into that life is belief, as John expresses it in the words of Jesus. This belief however is not an intellectual assent to a Creed, a proposition of the intellect, or consent to some verbal expression of dogma. That would make “belief” like a kind of insurance policy!

The belief that Jesus speaks of to us and Nicodemus means that we trust and hope so strongly that we would bet our life on it. It means that we know we have nothing to fear because Christ lifted up has overcome every evil, and to whatever extent we can merge ourselves into Christ, blend our lives into Christ, conform out hearts into Christ, we will know that God’s love, stronger than death, is available to us no matter what. CON-FORM is the whole idea here. It is the ultimate goal of a spiritual life, to form ourselves into Christ. To do this changes everything. It changes the way we look at ourselves together, in relation to God, and the way we look at suffering and death. These are not things we shall escape, suffering and death. Salvation does not mean we escape death or suffering. It means that a God willing to suffer and die without revenge, powerful enough to overcome death is our God who loves and who wills us again and again to wake up and come to life – the real life God planned for us for all ages and forever.

When we are coldly honest with ourselves, we know that this is something we can never earn nor deserve. The betrayal of our own sinfulness, the pride of our willfulness, the madness of our efforts to be like gods, using the words of Genesis, is still not greater than God’s mercy and love. With squinting eyes and measured thoughts, we just can’t quite grasp what has happened to us through the Cross. Like Nicodemus, we are in the dark, the darkness of thinking that we have to do something or say something, to get God’s attention and win God’s favor and love.

No child has to earn a parents love. You parents know that, and remembering that extraordinary truth might lead you to understand God’s love. All you have to do is BE: be born, be a son or daughter, be a child, be in that safe, nurturing, loving relationship. That is what Jesus, Son of God, asks of Nicodemus. If the law does not lead you into a relationship with God and into a loving bond with your neighbor, it is not going to lead to salvation. Rather than making us do something, the law should lead us to become something, faithful children of God. Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, we find our salvation and a share in his glory. That is our hope, and it is the purpose of this holy season that we may come out of the darkness, set aside the deeds of darkness, and become children of the light who live forever in the glorious favor and merciful love of the God who saves.

St Francis of Assisi Church Castle Rock, CO

Exodus 20, 1-7 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1, 22-25 + John 2, 13-25

The problem at the Temple was not the money changers and those who sold oxen, sheep and doves. They had to be there for the required sacrifices of the temple to take place. The law that prescribed the offerings and sacrifices. The Jews could not use the Roman currency which had Caesars’s image, so they had to change money into the Temple currency. The issue Jesus has with all of this, and especially with the Scribes and Pharisees who run the place is that in spite of all those offerings and sacrifices, nothing is happening, no change. They bought forgiveness without repentance. They bought sacrifices without every making any.  In spite of all that religious activity, nothing ever changed: the poor will still poor, outcasts stayed out, sinners kept on sinning without every reforming their lives. All they had to do was buy another dove and keep on going. This is repugnant to Jesus who has come to preach repentance, conversion, and change. There was no faith. It was all just a mechanical repetition of the same old thing without ever producing what he and the Baptist before him called for again and again: repentance. Change, repent, be made new, let the glory that belongs to the children of God shine forth.

Christ Jesus is headed to Easter, to glory not just for himself, but for and with all of us. Two weeks ago we heard the Gospel of the Transfiguration, that moment when Jesus came into the presence of God. His mission on this earth is to take us there, to lead us to Easter and to glory. There is a problem however. There is not enough glory in our lives, and most of the time, we are not much of an Easter people, and the problem is something we don’t much like to talk about: sin.

All of us are engaged to one degree or another in a personal, ongoing battle with sin and vice. We are living through an age of serious moral decay. I think that is why Islam looks at us and is inclined to call us “infidels.” Cheating and Lying are a way of life today. Our culture is not about life. It is about pleasure. There is not enough faith, the kind of faith that grows from repentance and change. Although anger doesn’t make most of us murderers, our lust doesn’t make most of us rapists, and our greed and envy do not make most of us outright criminals, together with gluttony, arrogance, and sloth, there isn’t much glory, and those who have to live with us are miserable. Our failure to live up to the glory that is ours is as tragic as the unhappiness our evil causes.

Every deadly sin fuels harmful social phenomena: lust-pornography; gluttony-substance abuse; envy-terrorism; anger-violence; sloth-indifference to the pain and suffering of others; greed-abuse of public trust; and pride-discrimination.” As long as there is any trace of these evils in our lives, we are less that human and less than what God has made us to be. We have in our faith a treasure of wisdom and tradition, teaching and revelation that leads us to a life of virtue and balance, holiness and joy; that is glory! It is not that pleasure is inappropriate, but glory comes from character and virtue, and a right relationship of one’s self to others and to God. That is where we find pleasure, and that pleasure leads to glory.

So, I am inviting you to spend three nights this week reflecting upon “The Seven Deadly Sins”. Unlike our bodies influenced by our genes; our souls, our spirit, and the lives they animate are free to be shaped by our choices. We can choose to be whole. We can choose glory. We can repent and change. There is more and better in us than we have chosen to become. One of the startling facts of life in our times is that no one wants to admit to sin and take any responsibility for its consequences. Too many these days have no sins. They just have issues! So, call it what you want, but it is deadly, and there is an alternative if we choose to change.

We have been given our nature, but we choose our character. When we say someone is a good man or a good woman, we do not suggest that they are people in whom there is no inclination to evil, but rather that they are people who have wrestled and still wrestle with it and never give in because their quality and their goodness comes from the struggle. Those people are truly noble. These are people of virtue, character, and nobility. The work of Jesus and his expectation that we change leads us to glory, to Easter, to virtue and nobility.

“Morality is like art, said G.K. Chesterton, “it consists of drawing a line somewhere.” We live in an age in which no lines seem to be drawn at all, or those that have been drawn are being erased. In my 73rd year of life and almost 50 years as priest I have come to recognize that an unhealed wound, a kind of sinful restlessness, afflicts humanity and robs us of glory.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” wrote a song that describes our age when he sings: “Everybody has a hungry heart.” I think we are hungry for glory, hungry for the life we should have had by God’s will and God’s original plan for us. But we have traded our glory for something else, and sin is the consequence. Our hunger is for God and the glory that comes from being in God’s presence. The glory of Jesus Christ came from his willingness to suffer in obedience to the will of his Father. Calvary was no short – cut to glory. There isn’t one. We will have no glory and no Easter from a short-cut either. We cannot fill ourselves with things that do not satisfy, that do not fill us or lift us or hold us up.

I want to propose to you that while there are seven sins (not issues) that lead us to death there are seven virtues that when taken seriously lead us to life. It means that we learn from today’s Gospel that we have to change and that what we do here cannot be a shallow and mechanical repetition of the same old thing again and again as it had become in the Jerusalem Temple. Nothing there ever changed. That cannot be so with us. We have to change. I invite you to give three evenings this week for the sake of the truth and glory; three evenings in this church for the sake of life itself, your life. Tonight we shall reflect upon Pride and Envy, tomorrow night Anger and Sloth, Tuesday night Greed, Gluttony, and Lust.  I’ve saved the best till last! I hope to see you again for prayer tonight night when we might begin to consider how it is that we satisfy our hungers and our thirst, because “everybody has a hungry heart.” What it will take to satisfy that hunger is found here and nowhere else.