All posts for the month April, 2016

 Acts 15, 1-2 22-29 + Psalm 67 + Revelation 21, 10-14, 22-23 + John 14, 23-29

May 1, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

          Within the heart of every person, and in the memory of every culture there is a profound nostalgia for paradise. The creation and origin myths of every people describe our beginnings as a time when God and humanity dwelled together as one. Our own primordial tale in Genesis speaks to us of the peace of Eden, and it describes the relationship that existed between the creator and the creature. In those days God spoke to his creature face to face and there was no fear. The Bible tells us that God walked the garden in the evening to talk with his beloved creatures. From this oneness man experienced peace within himself and with woman. From that moment in the primal paradise, the longings of the human heart were properly ordered, and there was peace. The significance of that order remains for us: the basis of human peace is peace within one’s self with God.

In the mythology of nearly every people there is also an account of how the human creature fell from this state of peace. It does not matter whether this took place at one moment in history, because for us all it takes place at every moment. There is something flawed in our hearts. There is a tragic misdirection of freedom which we inherit, reaffirm, and pass on. The Genesis story speaks to this condition. First is the break with God. At the sound of his coming there is fear, hiding, evasion, and shame. But the even more saddening effects of this are seen most clearly in the way man and woman turn on each other with anger or blame. In our story, he blames the woman, and she blames the serpent. Here at the beginning it is the same as the end, division between human beings.  The story goes on with anguish and progressive alienation. There is murder with Cane and Able. There is treachery with Noah’s son, then there is the story of the tower. It is always about man seizing by force what has been offered as a gift.

Finally, Jesus comes. The announcement of his birth is a proclamation of Peace. The message of the angel to Mary, and then to Shepherds is “Peace be with you”, and “Peace on Earth good will toward men.” In his life among us, Jesus reached across every barrier by the simple gesture of acceptance and by speaking the truth. He showed us what divine peacemaking was all about. It was his unity with the Father that enabled him to bring that unity to human persons for one purpose: “That they may all be one.”

The great mystery of peace is that it was accomplished by an act of violence. In this foolishness was the wisdom of God’s way revealed; in this weakness was his power to save. In this violence by which his body was torn apart, the man of peace handed over his spirit. Before his death he told his followers, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” We are to continue the peacemaking of Jesus by using the same attitudes of forgiveness and mercy, of acceptance and reconciliation that he showed toward us. In order to do this, we must be at peace with ourselves. The peace Jesus leaves with us has little to do with feeling good inside, much less with assurances of a calm and undisturbed life or a successful career. The peace given by a crucified Messiah is not manifest in trivialities. The peace of Jesus has to do with fidelity toward the Father, with awareness that we are loved and accepted by God. Once grounded in this, we are able to reach out to others in peace. Because we do not find our center in pleasure, possessions, or power, we have no conflict with others over the world and over the things of this world. Not needing to possess or use others as assurance of our own worth, we are able to freely see them for what they are, God’s children and place ourselves at their service.

Without this basis in God, all the world’s attempts at peace-making are futile. They all eventually break down because of the conflicting idolatries of humans. Without peace with God, there can be no peace among us. Pay attention to what Jesus is saying here. Peace is a gift. It is not something we make, enforce or establish. It is a gift that we can only accept by accepting God into our hearts and making that relationship the first and the best. The only treaty that brings lasting peace is a covenant with God. The entire history of this world is littered with peace treaties broken again and again. Not until we are at peace with God can we find peace with others, and when we do, we will have found again the garden in which a lion can lie down with a lamb, in which I child can play by the nest of a viper, and men and women everywhere will rejoice in being children of God.

 Acts 14, 21-27 + Psalm 145 + Revelation 21, 1-5 + John 13, 31-35

April 24, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

The fragment of John’s Gospel we open today cuts through the complexity of human nature and the mixed motives behind everything that we do as it unfolds for us the meaning of glory and love.

There seem to be five kinds of love.

The first is utilitarian. We love someone because they are useful to us. It is obviously more love of self than of another. It says, “I love what you do, but I don’t love you.”

The second kind is romantic love. It is a kind of affection we feel because of the pleasure another gives us. We may think we love the other person, but what we really love is the feeling. It doesn’t last, which is why some marriages fail.

The third kind of love is democratic love which is based on equality under the law. We respect others because they are fellow citizens. We expect respect from them in return, and that is the honest reason for doing good things for them.

The fourth kind is humanitarian love. This is a general love for humanity. The problem lies in the fact that it is abstract rather than concrete. There are always exceptions: “I love human nature, but can’t stand those people next door.”

The fifth kind of love is what Jesus is speaking of today. It is Christian love summed up in the commandment he gives: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Now we are talking about disinterested love; loving even when there is nothing in it for us. This love persists when there is hostility and rejection. It is an enduring relationship expressed in service, affection, and self-sacrifice. It only is possible with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The glory Jesus speaks of is the final and total revelation of the Father, the God of Love. Glory is the revelation of what love is and therefore what God is. Jesus enters into his glory when he does exactly what the Father does, pour himself out for the sake of another – an “other” that may not be worthy, or able to give anything back. This is exactly what God is in God’s Love – a total outpouring of self. God gives. God gives all, even God’s only Son. To make that real and understandable for us, Jesus pours out everything he has to the very last drop – not because he will get anything in return, but simply because he is the human nature of the divine love.

The closest we come to this is embraced by the church as a sacrament. It is the sign of married love that is even more enhance by the sign of parental love. You faithful and loving people who have entered into the mystery of real love are living in glory. You are for this world. You are sign of God’s presence and Divine Love. Sacrifice, Service, and Selflessness are the tools of this love and its expression. Yet married love is the final and full expression of this divine love that can start even earlier in life before it is expressed and lived in marriage. A simple story says it all.

Five year old, Johnny, loved his big brother, Michael very much. One day the doctor told Johnny that Michael was very sick and need a blood transfusion. On hearing this Johnny began to cry. Then the doctor said to him, ‘Johnny, would you be willing to give some of our blood to your brother?” Johnny hesitated for a moment, and then said, “Yes, doctor.” The doctor took blood from Johnny, and afterwards Johnny continued to rest quietly on the table. At a certain point he looked up at the doctor and said, “Doctor, when do I die?” It was only then that the doctor fully appreciated the extent of this little boy’s love for his brother.

Jesus spoke about love at the last supper. He said to his apostles, “Greater love no one has than the one who lays down his life for his friends.” But it probably was only later, when Jesus had actually done that, that the apostles appreciated the extent of his love for them. Then they knew the greatness of the challenge facing them when the remembered those other words he said to them on the same occasion: “Love one another as I have loved you.” We may all be a bit slow in understanding and fulfilling the commandment, but the Holy Spirit comes to move us along little by little.

Acts 13, 14-52 + Revelation 7, 9-17 + John 10, 14-30

April 17, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

Not too many years ago I was presiding at a funeral for man I had come to know during the last few months of his life. He was very ill, but taking his time about surrendering to the arms of mercy. It was my privilege as his pastor to share some time near the end of journey getting to know him. We prayed, we talked, laughed, and cried a few times. There were great stories shared between us, and then it was time for the funeral. A business associate and golfing partner stood up to give a “eulogy.” I sat for what seemed to be about an hour and half as the gentleman, with all good intentions, told the congregation about all the things his friend had done and accomplished in life. As he went on and on about this and that, I learned a lot things, got a lot of information about the man who had died, but as it went on and on, I began to realize that the speaker did not really know his colleague. He just knew a lot about him, and there is a big difference.

There are many people these days who know a lot about Jesus Christ. These folks probably know even more about him than those people who were hounding him to step into their trap. Some of those people John calls “the Jews”, at the time, knew what he had done, and they could probably quote things they had heard he said. They had an idea of “Messiah”, and he didn’t fit the description. They did not really know him. They just knew about him. Sadly, it is not much different today. There are books and movies, plays, videos, children’s coloring books, thousands of publications everywhere with all kinds of information about Jesus, but knowing Jesus Christ by hear say is a long way from knowing him personally, and that’s the issue raised in this week’s Gospel.

These verses come in reply to the question a not-so-friendly crowd put to Jesus about whether or not he was the Messiah. Refusing to fall into the trap of allowing himself to be defined by their messiah concept, he replied that they could not understand him because they were not among his sheep, and then he goes on to describe those who were his own. You see, it is all about a relationship, a relationship that real, immediate, and ongoing. It is not enough to know what Jesus did in the past. We have to know and experience what he is doing now in this church and in our lives day by day, and that relationship is just like every other relationship. It takes time, and it takes a little work. It takes a lot of listening, a lot of attention and presence. This is how you get to know someone. Some of those people were stuck on what Jesus was without any concern about who he was. They wanted to argue about a Messiah. He wanted to be their shepherd. The issue is: who is he, not what is he. That comes later. When you get to the point who Jesus is, you will know what he is. They didn’t want to put in the time and the effort to know who he was.

Now there are some who like to call this “Good Shepherd Sunday, but I am not so sure that is a good idea, because you can’t be a shepherd if there are no sheep. At least not for long. If this is “Good Shepherd Sunday” it is also “Good Sheep Sunday.” There is as much information here about who we are as there as there is about who Jesus is. We are a people who belong to the flock, who listen, and who obey the shepherd’s call. We know what we must do: listen and obey. We also know who we are, God’s children, and the more we work our way deeper into the wonder of that relationship, the deeper will be our faith and the richer our lives. While those who are nagging at Jesus over this “messiah” stuff, keep pushing for his identity, he pushes back to define another identity, ours. When this whole episode is over, we end up knowing as much about ourselves as we know about Jesus of Nazareth. In the few verses we hear today, we have an invitation that strikes at the very heart of our contemporary society that so prizes and encourages individualism. This phenomenon that so marks this age of human history is a time of extraordinary loneliness. I think sometimes this is why we see so many people are behaving so strangely and often so violently. The behaviorists call it “anti-social behavior.” I just call it loneliness. Most of time it is simply someone hurting so badly from a lack of attention and affection that they will get what they need any way they can. They don’t feel like they belong, but this Jesus proposes that our identity comes from belonging, from joining, and committing oneself to another or to a family.

I was struck this past week while sitting with these readings to notice for the first time a curious conflict of images. In the second reading the symbolic figure representing Christ is described as the “Lamb of God”. There he is a symbolic Lamb, one of the sheep? Then in the Gospel he becomes the shepherd. What is revealed to us is that Christ is both Lamb and Shepherd. In our tradition, we say that he is both the victim and the priest. More theologically, we profess that he is both human and divine. These seemingly contrary juxta-positions are really a reminder that draws us more deeply into the Incarnation of God who has become Man for the sake of our redemption. What we draw from pondering this is that we have a God and a Savior who has been one of us, who has lived among us, experienced everything we know about human life from birth to death. This Shepherd has been a Lamb. We have a God who lives with us. We have a God who knows us from intimate experience, and a God who wants to be known, not “known about”, but known. It is a God who has spent time with us and listened to us. Our voices are heard in these scriptures over and over again: “Help me.” Lord, I want to see.” Lord, I want to walk.” Lord, my daughter is ill with a fever.” He comes to Martha and Mary in their grief. He embraces a grieving mother whose only son has died. He touches those no one else will touch reaching out to the lonely and those shunned and avoided. Even in his most desperate hour, he listens to the cry of a dying criminal and makes him a promise.

We who choose to know this Shepherd become part of his flock. He knows us, and we know him. We stay in the fold. We listen. We make time to hear what he asks and what he promises. We are not out “doing our own thing.” We are always doing His thing. We care for each other, and we care about what he cares about. This is what and who we are becoming as members of Christ’s church on Good Sheep Sunday.

 Acts 5, 27-32 + Psalm 30 + Revelation 5, 11-14 + John 21, 1-19

April 10, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

With Peter before us today, the Gospel affirms that strength and weakness can be found in the same person, and I suppose that is good news for all of us. The weakness of Peter is there all along and it is unmistakable, but Christ sees Peter’s strength and that too is good news for us because Peter is not the only person in whom there is strength and weakness. As we gather here today, we can only hope that Christ sees some strength in us as well.

There is a pattern to Peter’s experience with Christ that we might refer to as: “Call, Fall, and Re-call.” That first call occurred as Jesus was beginning his ministry. The second call is the one we hear today. Perhaps about three years passed between those calls, and during that time a lot of things happened to Peter. He found out a lot about the one who called him, about the task to which he was called, and most of all, he found out a lot about himself, and most of that was nothing to brag about. When the second call comes, he is a lot more wise and humble, and so his response this time is much more mature and enlightened than the first time.

I like to think that Peter’s story is a lot like our own, and that pattern of “Call, Fall, and Re-call” is ours as well. It’s that middle part that matters, and makes us more wise and humble as well. Sadly, too many people get the first two parts of this experience, but miss the third. When the fall comes, it’s just too devastating and too destructive. They never hear or respond to the re-call for one reason or another. We all know people like that who have fallen and never get up, who have faced a tragedy and never risen, and who have been broken and never healed: people whose weaknesses overcome their strengths.

The story of Peter is the heart of the Gospel message for people who have strengths and weaknesses, who have been called to faith and have fallen. Still in this Easter Season, we proclaim as a church that with Christ, no fall is the end of the story. We are, because of the power of forgiveness, all re-called again. The story reminds us that something more is expected of people who are forgiven, of people who have fallen. There is no just going back to the way things were, like Peter and his friends going back to their boats. Once called and fallen, there is forgiveness and then there is Mission. There is something more to do after forgiveness and reconciliation.

In today’s world, we cannot be “Keep it to ourselves” Catholics. The world is starving for spiritual nourishment, and people are looking for God everywhere. There is too much ignorance and prejudice about Christians and our beliefs. Our society is growing increasingly unwilling to defend the dignity of innocent human life, increasingly dismissive of the critical importance of married love to the health of human society, and increasingly hostile to the teachings of Jesus. If we do not speak up, who will? We are all re-called in our strength and weakness to love and feed his lost sheep. He has given us his Holy Spirit with all the gifts we need to do so. All we need to do now is step out with faith and courage and let the Holy Spirit take care of the rest.

 Acts 5, 12-16 – Psalm 118 – Revelation 1, 9-11, 12-13 – John 20, 19-31

April 3, 2016 at Saint Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

It is a world of wounded people who have celebrated Easter this year. Wounds are everywhere from Belgium to Paris, from Boston to Pakistan where Christian children celebrating Easter with their families are killed by a suicide bomb. These atrocities bogle the mind and tear at our hearts with the risk that we become numb to all of this and cease to stirred and troubled closing ourselves away from one another. All the while in the background multitudes of Syrian refugees flee their homes to be met by hostility and barbed wire. This church is full of wounds too, perhaps not as dramatic or violent, but there are wounds in every one of us. Wounds from divorce, wounds from tragedies, lost children, broken dreams and hopes, betrayals and unexpected deaths that leave people alone, helpless, and frightened. The whole earth cries out wounded and in pain.

Our response is often to lock the doors and close the windows. Hearts that are broken are too often frozen in grief and closed to healing. Like nations overwhelmed by the flood of refugees, we close the borders and in fear want to protect ourselves so that there can be no more wounds, or hurt, or pain. But into all of that steps Jesus who will not be kept out, and notice how he comes, with his wounds in plain sight, not hidden from view, or minimized. A wounded savior stands among the wounded.

He showed those wounds, but he did not whine about them, exaggerate them, or blame anyone. He did not stand in that room looking for pity either. He came as he always had before to reveal something about the one he called: “Father.” He was not afraid of suffering. He touched lepers. He lifted a woman suffering the humiliation of being caught. He went to Martha and Mary. He wept at the death of his friend. He was moved with pity for a widow whose son had died, and he felt the suffering of a foreigner whose daughter was dead.

To all he revealed a God who did not shy away from human suffering, pretend that it did not exist, or make nothing of the real pain human beings can cause one another. In that room he revealed that in resurrection and new life, the wounds do not disappear, but anger, vengeance, and hatred toward those who caused the pain is useless and will not take away the wounds. He came to reveal that even those who were afraid of wounds and locked themselves away in hiding find no healing and no life. Fear of getting hurt or of having wounds will not be the way for those who love and look at him with his wounds.

That broken and wounded Son of God stands in this room before us today through the words of John’s Gospel. He stands among us with all our wounds to remind us again that there is no hiding, pretending, avoiding, or denying the fact that those who love and who are faithful to God and God’s will cannot be lost, abandoned, or left unhealed. In spite of all the wounds, we shall rise again. In spite of all the doors we close, Christ will find a way to enter and call us out, out to faith, out to life, out to another day in which the glory of the resurrection will shine from our faces and from our hearts.

It is still Easter, my friends, and it will always be Easter for those who can look at a wounded Christ and see the Lord God. It will always be Easter when we look at our wounds without anger, hatred, or blame. It will always be Easter when we offer forgiveness instead of revenge, and it will always be Easter when wounds do not keep us from one another and especially from those who caused them.