All posts for the month August, 2015

August 30, 2015  St Peter the Apostle Church — Naples, FL

Deut 4, 1-2, 6-8 + Psalm 15 + James 1, 17-18, 21b-22, 27 + Mark 7, 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

There is a ten year old and a seven year old living in the home of my older niece and her husband. I have begun to look upon that house as a “House of Formation”: not “formation” in a religious sense, but rather in the sense of “formation” for civilization. In contrast to most religious houses of formation, this one is very noisy. If sounds are not coming from an iPhone or an Xbox, they come from one or the other victim of violence inflicted by the one who is on top at the moment. There are certain antiphons that one can hear in that house quite frequently, much like the antiphons in church. One of the frequently repeated antiphons is: “Did you wash your hands?” I think it might be part of Psalm 26 in which King David says: “I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord” because usually this antiphon is spoken just as they gather at the dinner table.

This family ritual comes to mind as Jesus and his disciples confront the Pharisees who are all put out because someone forgot to wash their hands. I find it curious that these critics are busy watching who is washing and who is not. Was there nothing else to do in their lives? None the less, as the incident occurs and Jesus speaks, the issue of purity or cleanliness is raised, but it is not so much about the washing as it is about rules in general. It does not take a lot of attention to get the impression that Jesus of Nazareth was not particularly scrupulous about following the rules of his time. To give him the benefit of the doubt, we could say that while he was a rule breaker, he was also a rule maker. He hung out with tax collectors and sinners. He touched sick people and the dead. He walked with Samaritans and women, and he was seen in the house of  Romans. This is not rule keeping. So, when the Pharisees have had enough, they start a confrontation, and they get one. They want to talk about clean hands. Jesus wants to talk about a clean heart. So when it comes to a question of how you get clean, Jesus does not answer the question, but anyone watching him knows the answer. The Pharisees think that one is cleansed by hand washing. What we learn from the Gospel’s description of Jesus is that one is made clean not by what we do for ourselves, washing; but by what Jesus does, touching. The unclean in the Gospel are cleansed by the touch of Jesus. Without that experience, without being in the presence of and without being touched by Jesus one remains unclean no matter how much or how often they may wash their hands.

Now, as always, this Gospel has two levels. When considered at the first level, in the very immediate time of Jesus the story concerns this question of which is better, clean hands or clean hearts as Jesus challenges the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and a religion of rules as they teach it. Keep the rules and all will be well no matter what you are thinking or feeling.

At a second level comes Mark’s purpose of including this story, and what it says to and about the early church. At this level it is something different because the community Mark is writing to is struggling with the integration of Jewish and Gentile customs and cultures. So the incident and conversation with the Pharisees is remembered and retold to get the Jewish followers of Jesus to lighten up on the Gentiles, and to open themselves up to the possibility that things change, and rules change, especially rules that are not God-given. It is like the experience we have had with changing the rules about compulsory abstinence from meat on Friday as just one example. Rules that we make can change, and sometimes for the good of the whole church they should change.

Then there comes the third level of this Gospel after considering what Jesus was doing and saying, then what Mark was doing and saying, we must ask ourselves what’s the point of telling this story again today? I think both levels can answer that question. We can follow all the rules, and we can keep all the commandments, go to Mass at least once a week, fast and abstain, and do everything else we think we must do; but if Jesus Christ has not entered and touched our lives to challenge our thinking and guide our behavior, we are not clean. At the same time, the second level is still important, because we are living at a time when things are changing, and no one is making that more obvious than the Pope himself who is saying  and asking things of us that are very different from the old ways. Our response to all of this must be like the response of the Jewish people to Mark’s formation as they made room for and welcomed those who were different.

I would remind you that in Greek drama, the chorus and the actors were called: hypocrites which was the word Greek word for “mask.” There was a sad mask for tragedies and a smiling mask for comedies. Jesus insists that we take off our masks, and come to stand pure and innocent in his presence, for only in his presence and by his touch will we ever be made clean.

August 23, 2015  St Peter the Apostle Church — Naples, FL

Joshua 24, 1-2, 15-18 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 21-32 + John 6, 60-69

Now we come to fifth and final Sunday with John’s Gospel that has been like a mid summer break from the Gospel of Mark. Personally, I regret that I was not here at St Peter to reflect on all these readings with you week by week because this chapter six is such a rich treasure for us as a Eucharistic Church, and the reflection and the discovery of what is revealed is so much more intense when it is shared together in the context of a Eucharistic Liturgy. These are the final verses of John’s great presentation on the Bread of Life leading us to understand that Jesus is not talking about a material food substance made from flour and water. It is “Real” food. It is the “True Bread” that is given to us meaning it is authentic. Because it is real rather than fake or artificial, it is the only thing that will satisfy our deepest hungers. We cannot live on bread alone – there is more we need, and Jesus will satisfy that hunger with His his Body and Blood.

Yet, John insists that what he gives us is not a “thing” or an “object”, but a relationship, the very real person of Christ himself which draws us into that precious and life-giving relationship Jesus shares with his Father. Through, with, and in Christ, we take on and engage the teaching, the words, and the deeds of Jesus Christ. This is what we consume in Eucharist, the whole teaching, life, passion, and death of Jesus. We enter a whole new way of living that transforms our relationship with Christ, with the Father, and with one another. This is a personal experience, as personal and intimate as falling in love.

As John tells it, the words of Jesus and his intention is beginning to sink in for those people who have been chasing him around for more free food after his feeding of the multitude. They want another show, another “sign”, another demonstration. They like the entertainment and the excitement. They want nothing of the message and the meaning of the sign, and so when confronted with the meaning they murmur like the Israelites did in the desert, and then wander away.

Many of us know how it feels to stand there with Jesus and watch them wander away, walking away from a life of faith. We go out to dinner with long time friends whose companionship means much to us, and we find ourselves realizing that most of them do not go to church anymore. We have family gatherings for Christmas, anniversaries, and holidays where the reality and experiences of faith never enter the conversation. This experience of so many around us no longer practicing any form of faith, just as it had to be for those first disciples, is a real test of faith for us. Why do we, why should we continue to go to Mass?

Sisters and Brothers, the reason is that we have found here and have embraced here a real, a true, and a life-giving relationship. We have found faith and the assurance of faith. What makes faith reliable, does not concern what is believed, but rather it concerns the trustworthiness of the one who is believed. To sustain our faith, we must hold on to the person of Jesus Christ. This, I believe, is what happened to those who walked away and still walk away. They do not make a distinction between a what and who. Maybe they have never experienced or met the who. Those who walked away from Christ betray or refuse a relationship.

So it is with our faith based on our encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. It is in this encounter and relationship with God in Jesus Christ that we receive the assurance of faith. “I invite all Christians everywhere” said Pope Francis at the beginning of his ministry, “to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” This relationship with Jesus Christ experiencing his teaching as beautiful, life giving, and healing is essential if we are not to become one of the drifting crowd who simply takes up life as if Jesus did not exist.

What he offers us here is eternal life, but not in the sense of the next life or some far-off, distant world, but in the sense of life that is authentic, true, and ultimate. This is a life that has meaning, has purpose, and is truly divine. When we possess this kind of “eternal life”, there will be no more need to talk about the dignity or the value of human life because all human life will be respected and treasured. There will be no more violence, no more abortion, no more execution, no more hunger, no more unwanted life, and no more inhuman poverty. The life encountered in Jesus Christ is nothing less than divine life, which is from all eternity a life of communion in love between the Father and the Son. If you want that, come forward in a few minutes. But if you want that, you can’t just take communion and run. You have to step into the relationship that is Communion.

The Eucharist is our weekly call to intimate encounter with Jesus Christ.

The Eucharist invites us to open ourselves to the person of Jesus Christ who teaches us in Word and offers his life to us in Communion, in sacrament.

The Eucharist becomes a call to faith and the personal renewal of our faith in Jesus Christ, whom “we have to believe/ and are convinced” is “the Holy One of God.”

August 16, 2015

Proverbs 9, 1-6 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 15-20 + John 6, 51-58

This is now the fourth of five Sundays spent with the “Bread of Life” discourse brought together for us by St John. We have been coaxed and prodded by John to look beyond the bread – to see more than a substance of wheat and water, to grow deeper into the wonder and mystery of this gift to see that we are called into communion, into a relationship with the Father and with each other through, with, and in Christ. It is a relationship that gives life, hope, and joy. We have been teased by these verses to explore the Word of God, the Word Made Flesh, as food just like the bread; and to realize then that to enter into Communion through the Bread of Life we enter as well into the Word making the word spoken and the deeds done by Jesus Christ our own. Now with these seven verses today comes the invitation to enter into the very life of God, for what Jesus has he offers us: an eternal relationship of love with the living Father. This relationship is what feeding on Jesus is all about. To truly feed on Christ means to dwell deeply with him in a relationship that savors friendship and communion.

As most of you know, I take great pleasure and enjoy any amount of time spent in France, particularly in Paris where I have developed some very dear friendships always celebrated and enjoyed around a table. In a book called: “The Greater Journey” David McCullough describes the lives of many American artists, writers, doctors, inventors and politicians who set off across the Atlantic to live and learn in Paris during the course of the 19th century. In describing the adventures of these outstanding people, McCullough offers a wonderful glimpse into Parisian culture. Early in the book he describes the French love for eating. He reports what I have experienced time and time again. They take nearly every meal in public, even breakfast. and while eating they show no hurry or impatience. Service is slow, but gracious. It is as if they had nothing else to do but sit and chat, talking and savoring what to many Americans seems like very small portions. James Fenimore Cooper once wrote about his experience there saying: “A dinner here in Paris does not oppress one. The wine neither intoxicates nor heats, and the frame of mind and body, in which one is left, is precisely that best suited to intellectual and social pleasures.”

A meal in that culture is not a refueling operation to be accomplished as quickly as possible in order to get on with something else. The hunger being fed is not for physical food but for the nourishment of the soul. Meals must reach us at a deeper level of human need, and this is what John is teasing us with in these verses today. Food and drink can become the place of encounter for family, for friends, lovers, and acquaintances. Think of it in terms of a grand meal. Multiple courses and an abundance of wine that is sipped slowly allowing the time and space to savor others in conversation, laughter, tears, and even sometimes sitting in silence. These unhurried dinners provide a chance to share one’s life and listen with respect to the daily events of another’s life.

Thinking along these lines has led me to begin to wonder if this is not how we Catholics arrived at the point of seeing the Eucharist as something more than a liturgical celebration and discovering and savoring the Eucharist in adoration. Somehow when the Liturgy of the Eucharist really draws us into the act of love in which Jesus offers himself to the Father there is a desire to do more than “eat and run”. There is a need and a deep desire to savor, to linger over, cherish and worship this presence in peaceful silence. I feel this so strongly that it leads me to wonder if people who do not share that desire have just been going through the motions of the liturgy simply “taking communion” rather than being drawn into the most intimate of relationships with Christ and the Father. This is what John 6 is revealing to us: the wonder of God with us.

“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” says Jesus. This adjective, “true” is not to be thought of in contrast to false food or false drink. It is an insistence that this flesh and this blood is authentic and dependable. It suggests that this food and drink is reliable in that it will satisfy hungers and thirsts.

So it is time to set the table again and then to approach Jesus Christ in the Bread of Life ready to consume the whole of Jesus, his teaching, his life, his passion and his death. This is to enter into a whole new way of living no longer with our own little private lives, but living in the life of Christ changing and transforming us into his very self. This is a startling and completely amazing idea, but it is exactly the idea formed in the mind of God at the moment of creation. Now all is restored. Here the first plan for our relationship with God begins again, and paradise is at hand, heaven is it’s best description which Jesus called: The Kingdom of God.

Retreat Homily Sisters of Saint Francis and the Martyr St George Convent in Alton, IL

John 6, 41-51

What we know of the world comes to us primarily through vision. Our eyes, however, are sensitive only to that segment of the spectrum located between red and violet; the remaining 95 percent of all existing light consisting of cosmic, infrared, ultraviolet, gammas, and x-rays we cannot see. In other words, we only perceive 5 percent of the real world. You may find this little bit of science a bit odd when used to introduce these ten verses from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, but to me, it opens up the whole issue and touches the heart of this initial conflict and what Jesus says in response.

John tells us that the crowd is murmuring. They look at Jesus and all they can see is another man, one of their neighbors, the son of that carpenter, Joseph. To them there is nothing special. In fact, I think in their jealousy they do not want to see anything special. You can hear it in the comments. They think they know who he is and where he came from. Jesus challenges their little small and made-up minds, and his challenge touches on something wonderful about the gift of faith. In our secularized world, some think that faith makes people narrow, rigid and small minded. On the contrary, to those who really have faith, it expands vision and allows the faithful to see what others cannot see. Non-believers look at the Eucharist and they all they see is bread and common wine. They think they know what it is and where it came from. In the prayer of the Eucharist they see a long and boring ritual routine that is perhaps curious, but hardly profound. With faith however we see something dramatically different. We see a gift that mediates the presence of Jesus Christ who fills our lives with the deepest meaning and with purpose. What we see in the ritual is an exchange of gifts: the offering of the life of Jesus to the Father, and the offering of the Father’s Son to us. There is nothing here to murmur about. It ought to leave us silent and in awe.

People who eat along, people like me, and perhaps on occasion some of you know that no matter how delightful, rich in taste, and well prepared a meal can be, eating alone is not very pleasant. It might be just now and then, but eating alone usually ends up being a rather quick experience sometimes seasoned with a bit of loneliness. People who have lost a life-long spouse often tell me how difficult meal time is for them.

The truth is, meals are not simply about food, and people do not live on bread alone. Wonderful food and good drink are really meant to be the occasion for a much deeper, more personal nourishment. Beyond the nourishment of body, meals nourish the soul on conversation, friendship, laugher, shared life and love.

The connection between food and companionship is built into our humanity. There is more to eating than the food, more than nourishment for the body. Eating is also about relationship, nourishment of the soul. Consuming is always about communion: communion with what you eat and with whom you eat.

A meal like that always includes conversation, words spoken and shared. We listen to each other and we respond. We speak and we are spoken to with words of kindness, gratitude, and affection. This is our Eucharist. The Word we share, the Word made flesh, draws us into relationship and communion. To simply eat and drink while ignoring what the others at the table are saying, and there is no communion and no relationship. When there is tension around the table, the food is spoiled.

Important verbs sum it all up from these ten verses: Teach, Listen, Learn. So today we are drawn by the Father to Jesus Christ his son, and we are taught by God, so as to live in communion with God for all eternity. Let us get up and eat Sisters, or the journey will be too long for us.