All posts for the month May, 2016

The Third Sunday of Pentecost: The Holy Spirit at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, OK

1 Corinthians 2, 1-10 + John 14, 21-27

May 29, 2016

In the mythology of nearly every people there is an account how human creatures fell from a state of peace. It does not matter whether this took place at one moment in history, because for us it takes place all the time. We are always falling out of peace. Something is flawed in our hearts that is a tragic misdirection of freedom which we seem to inherit, reaffirm, and pass on from one generation to the next. Our Genesis story speaks of this. In that story there is first the break with God, and so at the sound of his coming there is fear, hiding, deception, evasion, and shame. Even sadder is the way man and woman turn on each other with anger and blame. He blames the woman, 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 then the murder with Cane and Able. Then treachery in Noah’s family followed by the story of the Tower at Babel. It is all about humans seizing by force what has been offered as a gift: likeness to God. Isn’t that what the serpent offered? “Eat this and you will be like God.” They had already been created in the image and likeness of God! Why eat and apple except to assume control and make it seem that it was something they could do and possess as their own. Bad thinking.

Even so, in the heart of every person and in the collective memory of every society there is a profound nostalgia for paradise, a great longing for peace. The creation and origin myths of every people describe our beginnings as a time when God and humanity dwelled together as one. That is exactly what our Genesis story speaks of, “Eden”. It is more of a condition than a place describing 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. In that relationship the longings of the heart were in order and there was peace. The basis of human peace is still the same: peace with God.

Restoring that right order is exactly what the mission of Jesus was to accomplish. Without that right order and relationship there will be no peace. The very word: “SHALOHM” describes wholeness. Literally it is a verb describing the mending of a net. Jesus Christ is himself our peace. His incarnation, his coming to us in human form, mends the break between the creature and created, between the human and the divine. Everything he did among us and everything that continues by the Spirit in these days is the restoration of oneness. The blind and the lame, the lepers, the sinners were all outcasts, broken from the wholeness of life. In the presence of Jesus Christ that brokenness could not last. He restored a dead boy to his mother, a dead daughter to her father, a dead brother to his sisters. He sent lepers back to the priests, and in his human form he returned to his Father. It is all about oneness, and it is always about God.

A peacemaker then is not someone who comes to patch things up, arrange a settlement and find a compromise. There is no compromise with God. Jesus is the only peacemaker. He showed us what peacemaking was all about. It was his “atonement” (at-one-ment) with the Father that enabled him to bring that unity to humans for one purpose: “That they may all be one as we are one.” Only in that oneness is there peace. Having risen from the dead in his complete obedience to the Will of God, he came again and again to his disciples with one greeting: “Peace be with you.” We proclaim and remember his commission to us: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We are to continue that peacemaking by manifesting the same attitudes of forgiveness and mercy, of acceptance and reconciliation that he showed toward us. This is the only way to peace.

To do this we must be at peace with ourselves. This has little to do with feeling good inside, with assurance of a calm and unruffled life or a successful career. The peace given by a crucified Messiah is not found in trivialities. It has to do with fidelity to the Father, and the 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 need not find our center in pleasure, possessions, or power.  We have no conflict with others over those things. Not needing to possess or use others we can freely see them for what they are, God’s children and place ourselves at their service.

There is the only hope for and only one basis for peace. It is the only way we will ever break down the conflicts that tear apart the human family. Without peace with God there will be no peace among us. What is different and what gives us hope now is that we have been given the gift of peace in Jesus Christ.

 Proverbs 8, 22-31 + Psalm 8 + Romans 5, 1-5 + John 16, 12-15 (Roman Rite) or Matthew 28, 16-20 (Maronite Rite)

May 22, 2016

There is always a risk lurking behind our thinking and language about God, and so this feast is a good annual occasion to address that risk and draw us back to the truth that God is One. Even though our experience of God has three dimensions, so to speak, what we profess at the beginning of every Creed is that there is only One God. Because that God has been revealed to us through the Incarnation, it is easy but careless to disconnect Jesus Christ from the Father. Then with the Feast we celebrated last week, the risk is even greater as language about the Holy Spirit can further fracture this Oneness of God that Jesus speaks of so clearly in his prayer at the Last Supper when he prays that we might all be one as He and the Father are one.

That prayer addresses and praises God of all creation as the Father who so wanted to be known by us that He took upon himself our very nature, and by doing so, he reclaimed us as his own. That “reclaiming” we believers often call “redemption.” That prayer also recognizes God who so desires that we share divine life that the Spirit continues to lure us into union with one another and with God. We call this “sanctification.” In most basic terms, this is the feast of God’s love, God’s whole outreach to all of humanity. This then is the feast of God’s self-revelation, celebrating God’s desire to be known by us for having shared in our life we are drawn to share in God’s divine life.

Today the church brings together in a single and solemn feast the creative, redeeming, and sanctifying work that we celebrate all year round. Trinity Sunday reminds us that the God whom we adore is “one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity.” This truth about God invites us to consider how all of our relationships are reflections of that unique and dynamic relationship that exists within God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the great gift for us is that we are constantly being invited to be part of that relationship, to live in the love of God.

Reflecting on this, the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote that he was convinced that “most human suffering comes from broken relationships. Anger, jealousy, resentment, and feelings of rejection all find their source in conflict between people who yearn for unity, community, and a deep sense of belonging.” By rooting our faith in the Holy Trinity we turn all our human relationships into an experience of the Divine. This is why people of love are holy, people in love as in marriage are sacramental signs of God’s presence and action among us. True loving relationships are creative, redeeming, and sanctifying. This is the work and the sign of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In love shared in this life we claim the truth that God gives us what we most desire and offers us the grace to forgive each other for not being perfect in love”. It is this kind of Trinitarian love that Saint Paul spoke of in his Letter to the Romans: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand … because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”.

In the end, our celebration of the Most Holy Trinity is an invitation for us to continue to move beyond our selves. The feast reminds us of the powerful ways that God remains at work in the world: in the ongoing act of creation, in the ongoing gifts of healing and redemption, and the life-giving Spirit that inspires faith, hope, and love. This is something extraordinary to remember and celebrate each and every day of Ordinary Time.

Pentecost at Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Norman, OK

 Acts 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Romans 8, 8-17 + John 20, 19-23

May 15, 2016

The Holy Spirit will teach us everything says Jesus Christ in John’s Gospel. That is quite a proposal when you stop to think about as I suggest we do today. I have been, and I suppose in some ways, I still am a teacher. We have all been teachers if not professionally we have been personally. Parents are teachers with or without a degree that says so. We all know what it’s like to be with someone who believes that they already know everything there is to know. There are a lot of people in this world in that category. Perhaps that is why this world is in such disarray right now. I’ve discovered that the best teachers are also the best learners. Many times I learned more from students than I knew before preparing a class often making the class preparation useless. Yet there are also teachers who believe that they know it all, and my experience as a student was that they did not teach very well, and if I learned anything in their class it was sometimes in spite of them. Believing that you know it all is an obstacle to the success of the whole project of learning.

This gift of the Holy Spirit which John describes today is a very profound and important gift necessary for life. It is in some sense a power for transformation, and an actual “spirit” or “attitude” with which to face the world. The gifting of the Holy Spirit which we celebrate today is not the “Birthday of the Church”. That idea has annoyed me for decades. In my opinion if there was one moment to mark the beginning of the church, it was at the Last Supper with Jesus on his knees. But having a “Birthday Party” today is a perfect example of how we have sentimentalized and reduced this power of God to trivial ideas that open us up to ridicule and misunderstanding allowing us to be written off by the secular world that looks upon us as silly dreamers who are trapped in some ancient mythology inspired by this “Bible” which gets used to judge, bully, and insult intelligent people. Something is off the mark with that thinking.

The Holy Spirit teaches the teachable. The Holy Spirit animating a living church raises questions as much as it provides answers. The Holy Spirit is what makes our church intellectual as well as spiritual. The two are not opposed. The Holy Spirit makes our church a place where great minds are awakened to the wonder of God and the mystery of creation. The Holy Spirit awakens the sleepy and disturbs the comfortable, especially those who think they know it all. The work of the Holy Spirit has not shaped a church that says “No” to everything new consecrating the past as something sacred; but rather the work of the Spirit shapes a church that continues to ask what something new means, where it comes from, and what good can come of it. Sometimes it is even the source of that “something new” itself. A people who live in the Spirit are people alive, curious, wonder filled, and seeking the truth, knowledge, and wisdom. A people who live in the Spirit have no confusion or doubt about God like too many in this world today who listen to the noise of the new atheists. But who can blame them when all they see and hear is a people who think God is my “invisible friend”, a security blanket, a mythological creature like Big Foot who may or may not exist! People alive with the Spirit are always seeking a greater and deeper knowledge of God who is not an item in this world. God is not the biggest thing that is. God is the reason for things being. Our Catholic faith is intellectual always seeking new and deeper knowledge and understanding. Our faith is not against or opposed to science as some would like to pretend. Science does not trump religion. The Church is against “scientism”, that idea that science is the only reliable source of knowledge and information. Science cannot prove anything about love, beauty, or truth. Yet our church has always been at the heart of science, and it has provided many of the greatest of scientists in history.

A people alive with the Spirit are a people of peace. Yet one hears again and again the cry that religion is the cause of violence and source of evil. It is an observable fact that this outcry begins very quickly after September 2001. The religious wars of the past have all had their roots in a tragic and serious wrong reading of the Sacred Scriptures. Again, the consequence of thinking we know it all because it’s written in the book, when in fact, we have not allowed the Holy Spirit to guide our reading of that book. The Holy Spirit teaches. What the book says is not always what is being taught by the book. The question is sometimes asked: “Do you believe the Bible?” It’s like saying: “Do you believe the Library?” That is what the Bible is, a “library”, a collection of various kinds of literature each of which must be known and studied for what they are and what they teach, not just what they say.

My friends, the Holy Spirit has come to set us free, free from ignorance as much as free from fear. What we see happening to those first believers is that they began to understand what they were being taught. At first, they thought they knew it all. They thought they knew what a messiah was supposed to be like, and as long as they thought they knew it all, nothing could happen. They could not accomplish anything. Wind and Fire destroy things, and what needed to be destroyed was their made-up minds. The wind and fire came; but like a forest after a destructive fire, new life springs up green and full promise. What Jesus gives and what we celebrate today is already more than we could ever imagine, but it stirs our hopes and inspires our dreams for a new age of wisdom and knowledge, patience, peace, and joy.

The Seventh Sunday of the Resurrection

May 8, 2016 at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Norman, OK

Ephesians 1, 15-23 + John 13, 31-35

Today in the Maronite Sunday readings, we have stopped telling stories of the risen Christ and Easter. Not because we have run out of them; but Pentecost is near and what is really important is the result of the resurrection in terms of how it changed others. We shall tell that story soon with Pentecost. It is the story of how followers of Christ were changed by the resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. It is the story of how the Easter experience was absorbed and finally changed the very identity of those who followed the risen Christ.

The “glorification” Jesus speaks of and anticipates in John’s Gospel chapter after chapter is that moment or that experience when His oneness with God is unmistakable. It means that his presence can no longer be misunderstood nor seen as anything other than the presence of God. The death and resurrection of Jesus is his glorification. For those who recognize the meaning of his death and resurrection, the love of God is revealed. What seems to the unbeliever to be a disappointment and the violent destruction of a human life and the end of all hope is really the moment of glory.

All that Jesus had is given to the community. It was the heart of his final prayer in that upper room, and it the mission he fulfilled. The love of the Son is revealed as the very essence of divine life being poured out into the community. All that Jesus had was love, and he gave it all. What the Father had given him was what he gave to his disciples. When he proclaimed that He and the Father were one, it was LOVE that they shared. What the Son provided was the mutual indwelling lover of God. What Jesus gave was his flesh, his body, his blood, his will so that the Lord of God would have a dwelling place, be accessible, be available, be ours.

Once we understand this, the commandment to “Love one another” is not simply a moral mandate. It becomes an expression of glory, a revelation of God’s presence and God’s love. This is a new kind of love for this world which only believes in love for the loveable, love for those who deserve it, “love for the lovely”, shall we say. Divine Love to which we are called and which we experience is what we find in Jesus who held nothing back, poured out everything because God does. When stop to remember that Jesus died for Judas just as much as he died for Peter, John, James, Andrew, Martha, Mary and all the rest we might start to see what is Divine and out of the ordinary here. This is glory. This is the glory of God revealed. He died for Judas and every other doubter and betrayer.

This is something new to the world, and this kind of love makes the world new. It is love that means opening doors we may have closed against others. It is a love that means we will respond to appeals that cry out for our help, without concerns about whether or not those who cry are deserving or worthy. It means that oversights or mistakes that someone may have made are forgotten before they apologize or even if they don’t.

We have been raised with Jesus, and no power on earth can really conquer us. We have received the Spirit he promised. We have the gifts it takes to set this world on fire with love. It is no longer the gifts of that Spirit for which we wait, now it is the fruits of those gifts that remain to be manifest: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, Friendliness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-0control As we look toward Pentecost, it must not be simply a matter of what gifts we receive, but rather how those gifts are manifest in our lives because of Jesus Christ we and the Father are one, and the hour has come for us to be glorified so that God is present wherever we are found.

The Ascension of the Lord

 Acts 1, 1-11 X Psalm 47 X Ephesians 1, 17-23 X Luke 24, 46-53

May 8, 2016

If we take away all the dramatic imagery presented in these Gospel verses, the Ascension is really a home-coming story of completing one’s work and then being where one is meant to be. I feel sure that everyone here has some experience of this. For me it was the day when I packed up my things at the seminary and came back home for ordination. The work of preparation was done, and it was time to be where I was meant to be. This is an experience of discovering one’s destiny. At the same time, the Ascension is a love story about God’s love for humanity, our struggle to love God in return, and God’s promise to guide all things until everyone and everything are brought to where they need to be. These thoughts make me think of that wonderful old “Shaker” Hymn Simple Gifts with the verse that ends: “Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.”

This feast today is about what is intended to happen in our life journey with God. This day invites us to discover or affirm the truth about who we are, connect with our Creator, and realize that our lives here and for all eternity are dependent upon a love relationship that we have with One greater than ourselves. When we do, we can understand that we could only be saved and brought back where we need to be by a God who saw fit to be born as one of us, encounter pain and suffering just like us, die as one day we must do, and then rise to show us firsthand that what he said was trustworthy, and finally ascend to his rightful place with the Father. That completes God’s work.

Those original disciples physically saw the risen Christ. He walked with them, talked and even ate with them. They saw him ascend to the Father. All of this brought them a deep conviction and confidence that never faltered. Now we are centuries removed from these events. It is easy to dismiss all of this as mere story or myth as many do. Without the real experience they had coming to such faith requires a choice, and it is a choice that everyone must make. Do we believe that we are here on this planet and as the person we are because of some random physiological or biological process that came together at some random moment providing us with what is? Or do we believe that we are here because we have been loved into existence by a God who chose for us to be here and be who we are with a soul that is unique and shared by no one else? If we choose the first, then nothing we do or say here makes any sense. If we choose the second, and continue to follow its truth, we are going to find ourselves stumbling upon the God who loves us. The bottom line is that God made us to be with him, and will make sure in the end that we are where we are meant to be. That is the power behind this feast.

The Ascension connects the dots. It brings us down where we ought to be. It brings things together and removes a dichotomy that can exist between the human and the divine, the secular and the sacred, and the great chasm that we sometimes wrongly believe exists between us and God. This feast brings us home. It brings this world home just as much as it brings Jesus home.

If we choose to live with the eyes of faith, all things are new. There is always hope and much more to be revealed for ourselves and for this world. Next week we celebrate the final act of that love in the gift of God’s very spirit, the Spirit of Love. Expect no powerful winds, and do go looking for tongues of fire. Look rather for the fruits of that Spirit in hearts that burn with love and hope, and with tongues that sing God’s praise, for one day we too shall be united with God as God promised. Make the choice and believe.