All posts for the month May, 2015

May 31, 2015  +  Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 4, 32-34, 39-40   Psalm 33   Romans 8, 14-17   Matthew 28, 16-20


The comparison floated through my mind for a long time before I was willing to suggest it publically, and it still seems almost trite to suggest it, but I can’t think of a better way to get some insight into the Holy Trinity other than to propose to you that this feast today is our faith-filled version of the secular/commercial world’s “Valentine’s Day”. I suggest that because this is a feast of love that celebrates a gift we call “grace” and the identity we have as “children of God” and “friends”, as Jesus referred to us during his prayer at the Last Supper. The Trinity is not a theological concept nor a complex philosophical discussion. It is a lived experience of our relationship with God. The first time you said: “Our Father” and meant it, you did so by the power of the Holy Spirit says Paul today in the Letter to the Romans. That Spirit enables us to understand that we are children of God. By that Spirit drawn into this intimacy with God we discover that God is not off in some infinite solitude; but that God is in communion with us giving and receiving light and life.

The real truth about who God is and what Divine Life is all about can only be discovered in relationship, a relationship of love. Through the Incarnation of the Word made flesh, a relationship is established with us, God enters into our life and invites us to enter into God’s life through the Word, Jesus Christ. The entire mission of Jesus Christ was to invite and teach us how to live in love, in unity and in peace. His life of service and reconciliation, healing and forgiveness is the love of God for us gathering in the lost and those left behind. We are the ones he came to gather together. We are the ones he called, friends. We are the ones he cherished most, and to us has been given all that he has as the Son of God.

Our Jewish ancestors in the faith understood this reality very well. Moses describes it for us in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, our Jewish sisters and brothers understand that they have been chosen from all the nations on earth to be a people special to God. They remember their long history beginning with the covenant with Abraham, through their delivery from slavery in Egypt, and into the crossing of the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Because they are a chosen people, they understand that they cannot live the way other nations live. They must live according to the law God revealed to them. They must show forth his justice and mercy by caring for those society casts aside and by turning their backs on all forms of immorality. How can it be different for us who have been called out of the slavery of sin and given the Spirit of adoption? We must live according to the Gospel message so that our dignity as sons and daughters of God can be shown forth to the whole world.

This experience of being drawn into the very life of God begins for us at Baptism as the command Jesus has given is obeyed. Baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit seals our adoption into the family of God. Every other sacrament draws us deeper into this divine life of grace which makes our participation in all the sacraments so very important if God’s life is to be sustained in our own. We bless ourselves day after day, meal after meal, and prayer after prayer because we are holy and chosen ones worthy of the blood of the lamb living with the dignity that is ours as sons and daughters of God.

The Holy Trinity then is not some theological concept. It is no more a “mystery” than love itself. Our celebration in this liturgy today is an occasion to rejoice over what has been revealed to us about God and about God’s action among us through the Holy Spirit. We are chosen, holy, saved, and redeemed by the power of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. Moved and inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can and will know God not as some distant dangerous power to be feared, but as love itself ready to risk everything and give everything for our sake, for our salvation, and for our love in return.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL  May 24, 2015

Acts 2, 1-11   Psalm 104   1 Corinthians 12, 3-7, 12-13   John 20, 19-23 

There are two versions of the Spirit’s coming in the Gospels, Luke’s and John’s. We heard Luke’s with the first reading, and John’s with the Gospel. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the second version from John’s Gospel. That wind and fire stuff is too disturbing and confusing. It distracts me. I would rather be breathed on than face a hurricane or tornado. We are never going to know what actually happened in that fear filled room with doors closed and locked, but here we are again in that room today in both versions. The friends of Jesus are afraid. Fear is all they feel now, a fear so strong that the meaning of his death and the news of his resurrection means nothing to them.

Perhaps what really matters in the details of the Spirit’s coming is the consequence of what happened in that room rather than any of the details from John or Luke. Whatever it was, breathing or an indoor firestorm, something changed, and fear is gone. Whatever it was, something new is happening, but newness is always challenged by fear because we always feel more secure if we have everything under our control and plan our lives with our own ideas and preferences. It is the same when it comes to God. We follow and accept God’s plan but only up to a certain point. We are afraid that God will force us to strike out on a new path leaving our narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to God’s plan. Yet the history of salvation tells us that whenever God reveals himself, there is newness and change demanding complete trust. Noah, mocked by all, builds an ark and is saved. Abram leaves his land with only a promise in hand. Moses stands up to the might of Pharaoh and leads people to freedom. The apostles break out of that room with courage and a message. When the Spirit of God is present, there is something new, and fear will not do. People who live by the Spirit cannot be afraid of anything new, and they know that there will be surprises when God is near. They are not afraid because they know that God loves and desires only our good.

In fear, we like things to be uniform and predictable. We want standardization and feel better when we are surrounded by people like ourselves which closes us up and makes us different from others. Division is the consequence. But Spirit filled people find no threat in the fact that different people have different gifts; and for them diversity is a source of great wealth, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of a Unity that is harmony not uniformity. When the Spirit of God is present there is always harmony. When we let the Spirit guide us richness, variety and diversity never become a source of conflict because the Spirit leads us to communion.

After Pentecost we never hear again about closed and locked doors, because these people are not afraid. Something new, or a change from what has always been does not frighten them or threaten them. The early church, led by the Spirit, had to work hard at unity with the diversity that the mission of Paul and others like him brought into the church, but the Spirit led that church just as it leads our church and this church in Naples to find strength in diversity, joy in hospitality, and wisdom in learning from others different from ourselves.

The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and are a lived experience in each of us. Without that Spirit we tend to stay closed in ourselves, on our own group, preferring to surround ourselves with people who look like us, talk like us, and think like us. If the Apostles had given in to that kind of safety, we would not be here today. When we say: “Come Holy Spirit”, we are opening our hearts and minds to endless possibilities for the future, and countless surprises as the Will of God becomes our own will.

Our prayer in this liturgy today is the great prayer which the Church in union with Jesus lifted up the Father asks to be renewed by the Holy Spirit. We pray and sing within the harmony of the Church with every group, every movement, every culture, and every tongue; and in union with Mary, mother of the church, we cry out: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in the fire of your love! Amen.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 1, 1-11   Psalm 47   Ephesians 1, 17-23   Mark 16,15-20

In my sophomore year of high school, I had Brother Rosaire for Biology. In those days, the Holy Cross Brothers wore black cassocks tied around the waist with a black rope. One day brother walked in to the class room and reached both hands into the deep pockets of his cassock and lifted two live snakes. The brothers rarely had trouble with classroom discipline. The ones I had all had a way of commanding attention and respect. You did not talk to anyone in their class room unless told to do so. Let me tell you, when he pulled out those snakes no one moved and no one talked. Everything in that school was ordered by the alphabet. We sat in desks according to the alphabet. Role was called by name in every class, and an empty desk told you immediately who was missing. With my last name, I was always in the third desk nearest the windows right behind Amsted and Bachold with Cancilla, Cleary, and Coors behind me. Brother Rosaire walked toward Amsted. He put a snake on Tom’s desk and said, “Pick it up and pass it back.” I thought I was going to die until I looked at Bachold’s face as he turned and handed me the poor snake. Bachold was way past death. To this day when I read these verses of Mark’s Gospel the thought strikes me that if you have to handle snakes to be a priest, I’ll sign up for engineering. If these are the signs that accompany those who believe, I’m in trouble. I’m not all that great with languages either. Fortunately, I later learned in the seminary class on Mark’s Gospel that these verses were written long after Mark had died, and these specific “signs” were all lifted from incidents in Acts of the Apostles as proof that the followers of Christ were meeting with success in their mission.

This leaves us today sitting in this church reviewing the very last words Jesus speaks to his followers on this earth; words of instruction and commission. We have, all of us, been sitting in churches for a long time, and it strikes me that this is not what Christ asked us to do. While we proclaim the Good News in here, we are not necessarily the ones who need to hear it. What we proclaim in here to each other is a reminder, a review, and clarifying moment when we get together to get it straight and make sure we are all on target. We will leave here within the hour, and then the real proclamation begins.

As the Gospel concludes, it says: “They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” The signs then are important, and they guide and focus our mission. The signs continue today.

We are to cast out devils. We stand up against the force of evil that destroys life. Remember that one of the ways in which demons did their damage was by forcing people out of community, breaking their relationships with others, rendering them untouchable. A 21st century Christian who casts out demons recognizes demons disguised as addictions that possess us not just alcohol, drugs, and sex, but shopping and buying things we do not need. There are demons of regret, resentment, and unforgiven offences. When Jesus lives in us, the hold of these demons is lessened. A sign of demons expelled is a community in which all lives becomes richer, deeper and more real.

We are to speak new tongues. We must communicate with others in a new way. In a hostile angry world of violence and oppression, we must speak kindly and gently words that bring peace and harmony. We must speak the language of love in a world that speaks a language of hate. How to do this in a multi cultural world is a challenge we can take up. Yet how to do this with people who Tweet and Blog while living to update their Facebook status never dreaming of missing the latest episode of American Idol with no interest in our Sunday morning shindig means we learn to speak new tongues. Living in Christ we must work like crazy to figure this one out always speaking kindly and joyfully.

There are many things that poison our lives, but they do not harm us. The poison of gossip is deadly and bitter. The poison of angry words and resentment can be fatal, but living in Christ is an antidote to all these poisons. We can handle snakes too – those people who might bite us with their anger and malice do no real harm.

Impressive as these signs might be, perhaps the greatest of all signs today confirming the gospel message given to us by Jesus at his ascension is simply this: that after so much failure by Christians in history, and by the Church’s leaders and members in our own day; after so many frustrations, so many betrayals, so many scandals and defeats in the struggle to fulfill Christ’s missionary command — nevertheless, after twenty centuries, so many, all over the world like us, are still here being faithful to the Word of God.

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation, says Jesus, and these signs will accompany those who believe. One theme runs through these signs of Jesus’ life in the new community he shaped when I hear these words. They are all about healing and wholeness. They are all about the freedom that comes when your life is centered, not around yourself, but around sharing the healing power of God in Jesus Christ. They are about both individual healing and the healing of relationships: making us stronger, more whole, both in ourselves and for one another. Healing not only our own hurts, but those things that keep us isolated from a hurting world. It all begins in these pews, but it all happens in the rest of the week. If we do what Christ asks, we will need to come back next week if for no other reason than to be refreshed and encouraged again by the Christ who has not left us.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 10, 25-26, 34-35, 44-48 + Psalm 98 + 1 John 4, 7-10 + John 15, 9-17

 There are four words that emerge from this text that when spoken to us ought to stop us cold in our tracks and bring about the most profound change in our sense of who we are and our behavior. Yet my bet is that most of you do not know what those four words are because we have the a habit of listening to the Word of God and hearing the things Jesus says from outside as a spectator or like someone who is listening in. The consequences of taking that position in regards to the Word of God are devastating. Perhaps the condition of our world today not just with regard to violence but also with regard to the hopeless poverty that leads to so much violence comes from not knowing, believing and understanding those four words. For the Word of God to be effective, to be alive, and to have its saving effect there must be a personal relationship, and upon that relationship rests the power of the Word. When that relationship is realized, something happens, and none of us are spectators in the saving plan of God any longer.

Today we are still in that upper room, and it is still the night before Jesus Christ was betrayed, handed over, and abandoned by his so-called friends. He has spoken to them and their relationship in terms of sheep and shepherd; in terms of vine and branches. Now he speaks in terms of friendship and love inviting them to discover and share what he shares with his Father. They don’t get it yet, because they have not yet recognized their need for it. They think their friendship with Jesus is all about what he can do for them, and how he will restore the power and prestige of the Jewish people. They are impressed by the healing, the feeding, the promise, and the opportunity being his friend offers them, and so they have chosen to follow him. So they think until they see where that will lead and what it will mean. Then they are out of there! So much for their choices.

Not until they have disgraced themselves, doubted, hidden, and run will they begin to hear and understand those four words that will transform them, empower them, and make something of them other than simple ordinary fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. He has spoken of this before, but they did not yet understand. He spoke in parables about guest invited to banquets, he found them mending nets, collecting taxes, sitting under shade trees, drawing water from wells, sitting in synagogues, and his first message to them is summed up simply in four words. He speaks in this church today to a people who are often here to get something, to ask for something, or to fulfill what is commanded by the law. He speaks to sinners, cheaters, and liars, to those too busy to give more than an hour or some extra change, and to people who have excuses galore for not conforming to the word and the life he offers. To us all he says again those four words.

I have chosen you. Proclaimed in this church within this liturgy, these are not words spoken to the twelve apostles a long time ago. They were once, but if that was all there was to it, there would be no point in repeating or remembering them. These words were not spoke to give that group some special authority. These words were spoken for all time and for all people who like those apostles gather around a table sharing bread and wine broken and given to us as the Body and Blood of Christ. These words are still spoken directly and specifically to you and to me. We are chosen, you and me. There is no time to say, “who me?” or “Later, I’m too busy.”

Being chosen is an extraordinary experience when you get right down to it. I live with the experience of being chosen by the church, by God, by men and women who have chosen to trust, listen, confess, follow, and rejoice with me. Most of you have been chosen by someone who wanted to spend their entire lives with you, and we have all been chosen by just enough people to discover the beauty of real friendship that leaves us to wonder how and with great joy find comfort in the peace it brings.

We have been chosen. Believing and understanding this changes everything about us. It means that no matter what we have done or what anyone else thinks of us, we are chosen by God and there is a purpose and something to do as a chosen people. There is peace to bring. There is forgiveness to offer. There are hungry people to feed, and lonely people to embrace. There are naked people to clothe. People imprisoned to visit. There is mercy to share, and joy besides. This truth which we proclaim today, this Word of God spoken to us gives us reason to rejoice again not just because Christ was raised from the dead, but because we who have been dead in our own self-pity and sinfulness have been chosen. It ought to feel like winning the power-ball jackpot, and we ought to look like that family many of us saw on TV last week whose horse won the Kentucky Derby. Joy and excitement ought to mark us even more because having been chosen by God has greater promise and more reward that we can ever imagine, but imagine it we should because he has called us his friends.

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish Naples, FL

Acts 9, 26-31   Psalm 22   1 John 3, 18-24   John 15, 1-8

 It is the night before his crucifixion when Jesus speaks these words to his disciples. To have these words speak to us we must remember context in which they were spoken. There is a mood of intensity. He senses what is to come. His death is now inevitable, and he probably knows he cannot count on these disciples to do anything about it. True to their previous ways, they probably do not quite get what is happening; but we know how they will be scattered and separated from him in the hours and days to come. He does not want this to happen. The relationship that promises life and gives hope must be preserved, because it is only in the relationship that he enjoys with the Father and shares with them that his life and his mission can be accomplished. REMAIN, he says. STAY!

To make the point, he uses the familiar image of vine, branches, and the vine grower. It is an image that carries a powerful message of dependence and mutuality. The grower needs the vine, and the vine needs the grower, and they both need the branches. There can be no fruit if these relationships are not sustained. As he prepares himself to leave the disciples, he gives them this image to sustain their hope when their hearts are troubled and they are scattered with broken dreams. It is an image of profound reliance and dependence because life is nothing without belonging, intimacy, and relationships.

Alone we can nothing. Alone we are nothing. Against this kind of independence and individuality Jesus speaks. His teaching is just as needed today as it was the night before the disciples were challenged by his death. This age in which we live and proclaim this Gospel pretends that we are more connected than ever with news, information, the internet, email, and social media opportunities at our fingertips. Yet while we are all “linked in” all over the place, rates of loneliness and depression are greater than ever. While we are all connected electronically, we are starved for the actual experience of being in a real relationship. There is a difference between being connected and being in a relationship, and this may well be what Jesus offers. Connections do not nourish life, and while they might make money, they do not bear fruit, the fruit of joy and peace, love, and life in abundance.

Jesus speaks to us about relationships, about belonging, and about remaining with one another, with him and through him with the Father. In that experience of a loving relationship, we are free: free to be ourselves, free to make mistakes, free to fail, confess our hopes and dreams, fears and disappointments. In this relationship we are accepted, loved, and forgiven by a God who loves the whole world enough to send his only Son. This knowledge and experience allows us to do the same with and be the same for each other: accepting, patient with the imperfections and flaws of others because we all have them.

This kind of life together is fruitful, because there is no fruit from a broken branch. None of us can realize our potential and become anything at all without someone else who believes in us, teaches, leads, guides, forgives, and provides for us. Bearing fruit demands dependence, and dependence requires connection and belonging. As soon as anyone thinks they can produce anything on their own, they are on a path to emptiness and despair. Their lives will be barren and empty.

Bearing fruit has everything to do with relationship. It is risky business because it reveals who you are and on whom and what you depend. It exposes a lack of self-sufficiency. It shows others that there is no other way to be but to be dependent, and in an age that seems to thrive on independence and individuality, this becomes a challenge that sets us apart. Many think it is weakness to be dependent. Many think ties should be broken, and that this is the only way to self-actualization and autonomy, but not so those who hear Jesus speak about vines and branches. Belong matters. Relationships are essential. This is what makes church, and it creates family. We who gather in this place as church are reminded once again that we are expected to bear fruit. We can do so only because we are alive and dependent upon one another. Having remained in Christ and having Christ remain in us, we are with the Father.

Remember friends, fruit bears, protects, and nurtures seeds. Fruit holds the promise of continued life without end. We are the fruit of those who have gone before us, and in as much as we do remain, stay, and abide, the seed of faith, the seed of hope, and the very seed of life will spring to life. The fruit that we bear will produce what we are. Apples produce apples. Grapes produce grapes. Faithful, Holy, Joyful and, Grateful people produce more children of God like themselves, and as they remain on the vine will build up and bring the mission of Jesus Christ and the Will of Father to fulfillment.