All posts for the month November, 2015

Saint Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL.    Jeremiah 33, 14-16 X Psalm 25 X 1 Thessalonians 3, 12-4, 2 X Luke 21, 25-28, 34-36

When we put aside all of the apocalyptic language and images in this text which can so distract us, we are left with three simple and direct statements from the mouth of Jesus that carries the message of Luke’s twenty-first chapter: “your redemption is at hand”, “be vigilant”, and “pray”.

There has never been a time in human history without danger and a cause for fear. In our own life-time we have lived through all sorts of threats and dangers. As a child I remember Oklahoma tornados. Some of you grew up with hurricanes, and some with earthquakes. Whatever it is, it makes you anxious and sometimes downright fearful. As a child I remember those metal rectangular signs with a circle divided by black and yellow triangles. Then it was the fear of an atomic bomb launched by the enemy we were taught was out to destroy and enslave us. Later I have discovered in aging that there are other things to fear: those little melanomas that dot so many of our faces, forgetfulness, the fear that bad cholesterol, our blood pressure and sugar levels all so carefully monitored mostly out of fear.  If it isn’t things we fear, its people, and that might be worse. We fear foreigners forgetting that our ancestors belonged to that category. We fear terrorists; and not knowing what they look like, we simply fear people who do not look like us, and as a result they fear us which only confounds and increases the level of fear.

This is the setting in which these words of Jesus are spoken: a time of fear and threat, danger and anxiety. The people to whom Luke wrote first were living in a time of great trial and tribulation under the persecution of Romans and the hatred of some Israelites. To them he says: “Your redemption is at hand”. “Be vigilant”. “Pray.” This living Gospel is as significant today as it was then.

The language surrounding this instruction is taken directly from the Old Testament language and images describing the day of salvation. A people who proclaim this Gospel are a people living not at the end of time, but at the dawn of salvation. These are a people who have wait and watch, who pray and rejoice in the presence of the Messiah whose presence is not in the future, but now. If we believe that Christ has come and risen from the dead, then there is nothing to fear because fear and faith are not compatible. If we are vigilant watching for the signs of that presence day in and day out, we shall become ourselves signs of that presence by the respect and love with which we live together in peace and in charity. If we are steadfast in prayer, that love and that faith transforms our lives into unmistakable signs of God’s glory because prayer of these people is not a panic stricken cry in fear for deliverance, but a song of glory, praise, and thanksgiving that gives to God without asking for anything in return. For in the end, what more could we ask for than our redemption?

The reading from St Paul that the church pairs with this Gospel today provides sound wisdom from Paul and the church of Thessalonica that was braving great trials. He proposes one way, the only way to live through and to live in a time of threat without fear. It is a wisdom still important today when the public rhetoric of leaders and future leaders would ramp up fear to justify their ideologies and persuade us that something other than Christ and the Gospel will bring peace.

The only thing, says Paul, that will strengthen our hearts is an increase of love that will lead us to conduct our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. The future is in God’s hands, and only God will bring it to fulfillment. What we do know is the outcome which we have already experienced in the resurrection of Christ who, having been obedient and pleasing to his Father, was victorious over hatred, violence and death. So it shall be with us and for us, because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and………Christ will come again. That is the best song and the best prayer for this Advent.

November 22, 2015 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Daniel 7, 13-14 + Psalm 93 + Revelation 1, 5-8 + John 18, 33-37

There is something very political about this feast. The very establishment of this feast in history was a political statement. Yet there are some who rant and rave at courageous preachers saying that they are talking “politics” rather than “religion” from their pulpits, and that accusation always makes me wonder what those people are thinking on this feast that summarizes all we have heard from the Gospels for the last year. Calling Jesus a King is a political statement. Pilate certainly knew that, and if Jesus is a King, this is problematic not just for Pilate, but for us as well.

The culture in which live has trivialized the truth about this King who threatens Pilate so seriously. Now we have Elvis, the King of Rock and Roll, Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson, depending on your tastes. Some think Lebron James is the King of Basketball, and the American Music Awards think Justin Bieber is “King”. With this kind of silliness it is a bit difficult to see what Pilate’s problem was, and how it might be a problem for us as well, but it still is for those who take seriously the Gospel and the Resurrection. If you believe that Christ has risen from the dead, then there is a king your life, and this has real life political and social implications.

Attempts to dismiss this reality by misunderstanding or misinterpreting a response Jesus makes to Pilate is what trivializes the Kingship of Christ to begin with. If the Kingship of Christ is not of this world right now, there is no point in us being in here because it is by establishing his Kingdom here and now that we have that eternal kingdom. It has to start somewhere, and he came to start it here among us and with us. He never told us to wait. He taught how to live and what to do in order to become citizens of that Kingdom right now.

We are so removed from castles and crusades, kings and crowns however that we seem to have forgotten what it means for someone to be king. It is not about rock and roll, pop music, or basketball. It is about power and who rules your life. It is about authority. Maybe we should change the name of this feast and call it: President Sunday, or Commander in Chief Sunday, or Boss Sunday? Maybe Jesus my Coach Sunday because that is what it means – it is about who has authority and power in my life, and that is what makes this a political issues. Those who think that politics and religion don’t mix fail to get the point of John 18. Politics and Religion go together like turkey and dressing.

In the 20th century, not long ago, during the times of racial segregation in South Africa, when the people with white skin ruled over those with dark skin, whole congregations were arrested, because they didn’t follow those rules. They claimed Christ as their king and not the government or the laws of segregation. And they were arrested. All 240 members, from  a church, babies to 90 year olds, were put in jail because they claimed Christ as their king, and insisted that Christ would not stand for segregation. It is dangerous to call Jesus king.

The Pilates of the world use their power and authority for selfish reasons with no concern for the community. Meanwhile Jesus gets on his hands and knees and washes his disciple’s feet. He sheds every last ounce of his blood caring for those whom he leads. He gives his life to bring life. The Pilates of the world bring terror, even when things are calm. Jesus brings peace, even in the midst of terror. The Pilates use violence to conquer and divide the world. Jesus tells his disciples to put away their swords. You can see why the Pilates of the world don’t like the Jesus’ of the world.

To claim Christ as your king is to give Jesus authority over your life and no one else. And the struggle is that King Jesus looks nothing like the kings we’ve come to know. He comes not as a boss but as a servant. He comes in power but in love. He comes not enhance his own life but to give it away. Jesus doesn’t waver like Pilate going back and forth from the crowd to Jesus trying to decide whether to cave in to popular ways or do what is right. Jesus has already made his choice. Jesus has decided to love this world and all the people in it. People like us. So the love of Jesus is yours. You have it. The question becomes whether that love has any impact on our life or not. Does it matter? Will we let Jesus be the light in our life guiding us? Will Jesus be our king? I think we are trying to say “yes”; but it can’t just be in here one Sunday of the year.

Sunday of the Renewal of the Church   Saint George Maronite Catholic Church in Uniontown, PA

November 8, 2015   John 10, 22-42

A man decided his wife was getting hard of hearing. So he called her doctor to make an appointment to have her hearing checked. The doctor said he could see her in two weeks, but meanwhile there was a simple, informal test the husband could do to give the doctor some idea of the dimensions of the problem.

“Here’s what you do,” he said. “Stand about 40 feet away from her, and speak in a normal conversational tone and see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response.”

That evening his wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner, and he’s in the living room, and he says to himself, “I’m about 40 feet away, let’s see what happens.”

“Honey, what’s for supper?” No response.

So he moves to the other end of the room, about 30 feet away.

“Honey, what’s for supper?” No response.

So he moves into the dining room, about 20 feet away. “Honey, what’s for supper?” No response.

On to the kitchen door, only 10 feet away. “Honey, what’s for supper?” No response.

So he walks right up behind her. “Honey, what’s for supper?”

She turns around and says, “For the FIFTH time, CHICKEN!!!!”

We laugh because this is sometimes how it is in our lives. We are either deaf to what is really going on, or we think it is the other person’s problem when really it is our own. Sometimes, we have selective hearing, and we hear what we only want to hear. This text today is all about listening and hearing – following the voice of Jesus.

Sounds easy, but in this world today, we hear a lot of voices. There are voices out there telling us who we are, what we should want, what you should be. There are voices telling us to do this, don’t do that. You’re too fat. You’re too skinny. You’ll never amount to much. You’re a sinner. You don’t measure up. You are crazy. Take these drugs. You are wrong. There are voices telling us to believe this, buy this, drive that, wear this, go there, do your homework now (always follow that voice!). There are voices on Fox News and MSNBC? Which describes reality? Who is telling the truth: Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, James Brady, the NRA, John Boehner, or Nancy Pelosi? It is too much, and it is no surprise that we turn it all off.

The essential question of faith is “Whose voice are you listening to, what voice do you hear, and what voice do you trust?” The faith task is to hone in, lean towards to the source, the authentic Divine voice and listen intently and then to act on what you hear. Saint Benedict advises his monks to listen with the ears of the heart. A heart grounded in fear is going to shape your hearing and your living. A heart grounded in suspicion is going make you skeptical of what you hear and it will shape your outlook with the ugliness of cynicism. This is a great danger for us now when so many voices sound so angry and are filled with fear. The fear sews the seeds of doubt and distrust creating a nasty and polluted environment that is self-serving and protective. Without the voice of Jesus in the midst of this din, we will go deaf to the sound of his promise and his presence.

We are the church, a community with a common desire to listen and follow Christ. That is the most important thing. For us, no other voice takes precedence. What we hear in this holy place in the reading of the Word, the singing of the hymns, the holy silences that are so rich is one powerful and healing message. We are loved. You don’t have to know the one who speaking. Your heart must interpret the message. Hear the voice of love and move toward it. In a dog-eat-dog world of competition and anger, we move through the valley of shadow with the words of love in our ear and the banner of love around our shoulders.

Hear the voice of hospitality and know that you are welcome here. You do not have to have your theological stuff together. You are welcome now, and so is everyone else. We will get ourselves together in time as we decide to stay together.

Hear the voice of generosity. It is the voice of God who has given us so much and asked so little except that we imitate this divine giving with joy and laughter.

Hear the voice of justice and compassion. It is often the cry of the homeless and the hungry, of the immigrant, and those who flee violence and oppression.

This is the voice of creation: this voice of love, hospitality, generosity, justice and compassion. This is the voice that renews the Church this Sunday. It is the voice that will renew each of us in the Spirit of Saint Maron, Saint Rafca, Saint Sharbel, and all their companion in whose footsteps we walk today with laughter and with joy and in always in peace.

The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time   St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, Fl

1 Kings 17, 10-16 + Psalm 146 + Hebrews 9, 24-28 + Mark 12, 38-44

There are two points of focus in the text of today’s Gospel. We are easily drawn toward the widow either in admiration or out of our usual concern for the “underdog”, so to speak. She is the poor one who stirs us with both pity and admiration. It’s easy to preach about her, I can assure you. Her behavior is admirable, and we are naturally drawn toward the generosity she expresses so humbly. However, this text is not only about her. She just happens to pass by while Jesus is speaking to the Scribes. It is hard to tell which group, the Pharisees or the Scribes was more trouble for Jesus, but I suspect it was the Scribes. They were his most fierce opponents. The Scribes were among the most eminent in that society. They wore great and fine long robes. People were expected to stand respectfully when they passed by. They had a reserved, comfortable, and prominent seat in the synagogue directly in front of the sacred scrolls. They used their privileges to exploit others. They were forbidden to receive payment for teaching, so they depended upon private donations for their living. Subsidizing a scribe was considered a great act of piety. To cover up their unethical behavior, they would recite long prayers. The problem was not the prayer however, it was the fact that instead of being directed to God, their prayers were aimed at people for the sake of the show. The admiration of the people was the only merit they would receive, says Jesus.

The warning that comes from Jesus in this text does not suggest that holding someone in esteem is wrong, but that there is a spiritual danger here that must be acknowledged and remembered by those who are so blessed and so gifted. The danger is that “entitlement” will creep in causing someone to feel that they are owed something because of who they are or because of what they have done. This is the point of contrast Jesus makes for his disciples between the scribes and the widow.

When Jesus calls the disciples to himself in Mark’s gospel, it is a signal that something important is about to take place or that a very solemn declaration is to be given. God measures gifts given on a totally different set of calculations than we do. Which is more significant, her pennies or the big contributions that built the place? God looks to the motives. Her gift was a sacrifice. She did without something to drop in her coins. Others gave from their surplus – from what was left over after they had taken care of themselves and their comfortable needs. Her gift meant that she would rely on God now to provide her next meal. The others held back, just in case. For them there was always some doubt that God might not provide, so they should provide for themselves. I find it very remarkable that the words of praise Jesus speaks for the woman are the last words spoken by the Lord in the Temple. He overturns everything anyone might think about that place. Its greatest pillars, teachers, and leaders are not those privileged Scribes, but the little people who come there out of faith and trust in God.

When we place the present into this text, we are warned against feeling privileged and acting on that feeling. We are reminded that the church, like the temple, flourishes most and best when those overlooked, forgotten, ignored, and disregarded because of their state in life claim the place and find it to be home.

This calls to mind for me the tradition around St Lawrence the Deacon of Rome responsible for distributing the alms. In 258, by decree of the emperor, the pope and six deacons were beheaded, leaving Lawrence the ranking Church official in Rome. The city prefect called him and demanded that he hand over the treasure of the church. Lawrence responded that the church was indeed very rich, and asked for a little time to gather the treasure. He then went all over the city seeking out the poor and the infirm. On the third day, he gathered a great crowd of orphans, widows, the lame and all the sick inviting the prefect come and see the wonderful riches of God. The prefect was furious; in a rage he ordered Lawrence to be put to death on a gridiron over a slow fire leaving us to remember where richness is found and what is blessed in God’s sight.

Jesus has gathered us together and spoken very clearly about the danger of thinking we are special and the consequent behavior that follows. He has spoken again about what motivates our generosity, and about how our generosity reveals our trust in God and imitates the generosity of God who makes no distinctions about who deserves what when it comes to love and mercy.

The 31st Sunday of the year and The Feast of All Saints

St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

November 01, 2015

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

Some years ago when I was pastor at a parish with a school, I dropped in one of the classrooms about this time of the year for a visit. They were all getting ready for the All Saints Day Mass when they paraded around dressed in costumes like the Saint they had chosen to study. So I asked the children what they thought someone had to do to become a saint. Before I had taken a breath after the question, little miss “knows all the answers” shot her hand up in the air lifting herself out of the desk announcing quite confidently that to be a saint you had to be dead. There was agreement all the way around. Another announced that you had to have a gold plate on your head. As I was writing all of this in my notebook hiding my face for fear they would think I was laughing at them, the discussion began to get very animated. Some thought you had to suffer a lot, others expressed the thought that you had to say your prayers all day long, then someone said you had obey your father and mother, clean your room, pick up your toys, and feed the dog. At which point, I closed the notebook and decided that there was work to do here. I gave them a homework assignment which was welcomed about as much as a bee sting, but nonetheless, they were assigned to ask their parents to tell them the story of their baptism: who was there, what it was like, how they felt, and where it happened. I went back the next day, and sat down to hear the stories. They were wonderfully shared the only way third graders can embellish details.

After it all ended, I suggested to them that on the day of their baptism they had already become saints, and that basically that was all it took from us; after that, God did the rest. In all their excited innocence those children revealed, as they so often do, a lot about us as adults. They thought, and sometimes we do too, that holiness is the consequence of something done. People who try to be “saints” or try to be holy usually end up being pious, and sometimes a little bit on the freaky side of pious. They are hard to be around. Conversations with them are rarely fun, and they don’t seem to smile and laugh much. They are too busy trying to be holy or look like those images on holy cards.

This day in the calendar of the Church’s celebrations gets easily sidetracked by thinking about others, or about imagining that this is a day to catch up on all the others who have no day to themselves in the list of saints on the calendar. I think not. I would propose to you that this is All Saints Day. All meaning all of us, all who are baptized into Christ, all upon whom is given the grace and gift of love, mercy, and forgiveness. I believe that the children in that third grade classroom were saints not because they were perfectly obedient, said all their prayers, cleaned their rooms, or fed the dog, but because they were third graders living and being just exactly what God made them to be at the moment.

Holiness is not something we do, it is something we are, and because of what we are, what we do agrees, confirms, and bears witness that we are as children of God. You can’t try to be holy. That’s weird. You can try to be who you are made to be, what you are made to become. The path to holiness is a one way street to sincerity, simplicity, and the truth: the truth about who we are. Mothers and Father find holiness and bear witness to that grace by simply being mom and dad. Brothers and Sisters are most holy when they live in the joyful bond of family life. Single people who live the freedom of their lives for the service and good others find their holiness in the right use of their gifts and the generosity of their lives. There is no pretense in these lives, there is no struggle to be anything other than what we were made and called to be in God’s sight. This is holiness, and this is also Happiness.

Contrary to what little miss “knows all the answers” thinks, Matthew suggests that the Blessed, the Happy, are not those who are dead, but those who are alive, fully alive, living in every moment of every day, good and bad times, able to laugh and to weep, work and play, peaceful and confident that the love of God will not fail. The truly holy, the real saints are not the sinless; but the saved who celebrate and live that salvation every day with Joy.