All posts for the month August, 2016

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sirach  3, 17-18, 20, 28-29 + Psalm 68 + Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24 + Luke 14, 1, 7-14

August 28, 2016 on board MS Amsterdam

Sometimes I wonder why Jesus ever went out to eat. When you start to pay attention to all the stories, it seems as though every time he went out there was some commotion and controversy. He goes to Bethany and there is a fuss between Martha and Mary. He accepts an invitation in another place and there is contention about hand washing. Then he goes somewhere else, and everyone is upset because some woman is touching him. At another meal some are complaining that eats with sinners, and finally there he is in Jerusalem, as the hand of a betrayer is reaching into the same dish. Yet, even though these occasions are not refreshing and peaceful, they are never boring, and the truth of the matter is that in choosing all of these episodes Luke is revealing something very interesting and true about the church of his time which is hardly different from the church of our time. The church in which we continue to discover and celebrate the presence of God still faces the same challenges the church faced when Saint Luke was putting all this together.

There are two parts to this incident at the home of leading Pharisee. The first part is the one I think most of us like to pay attention to. The obvious lesson on humility spoken of with such a simple illustration about seating arrangements gives us a lot to think about. Perhaps that is why we often skip over the second part. We like to think of ourselves as guests, and the practical suggestion that we not get into some embarrassing squabble about who sits where is easy to understand. The obvious message here is that seating arrangements do matter to Jesus, and those who think that their dignity is established by where they sit or who they sit with are not thinking the way Jesus thinks.

Jesus has a vision of God’s future, and knowing who he was and where he was going freed him and allowed him to be exactly himself at every table. If it could only be so for us, things could be a lot different. Jesus must have laughed to himself at the whole picture of these guests shuffling around and the host trying to sort this out herding the guests into the right places. I like to think that Jesus was really the honored guest. The others were all confused wanting to sit next to him. Because he was sitting in the lowest place things got all mixed up among those who were so proud of themselves for being invited to a meal at the home of a leading Pharisee.

It was probably with a big grin that he leaned over to the embarrassed host and said: “Next time invite the blind and the hungry. They won’t notice where they sit as long as there is food.” With this comment the focus shifts to the second part of the story, and we might do better to take this part more personally than the first part. Instead of thinking of ourselves as guests, there might be something for us to learn about being hosts.

Every meal Jesus shared was an experience of communion, and Luke consistently uses meal as images of the Kingdom of God. There is no exclusivity when it comes to the heavenly banquet, and there are no places of honor. There is no “them” and there is no “us”, no “high place of honor” and no “low place.” Yet when Luke looked at his church, there was still an uncomfortable mood as gentiles and jews looked across the table at each other. There were Greeks and slaves, women and men pushing and slipping around for one place or another. The whole scene, and the message of this gospel asks us to look at ourselves and wonder if our congregations at home do not look a little too much like we do with a lot of people missing. It is my experience as priest that one of the most segregated places left on this earth are church congregations where everyone looks a lot alike and where strangers too often fell strange and out of place.

At the time of Jesus and at the time of Luke, sharing a meal was a profound act of solidarity. To sit at a table with someone implied that you shared a relationship with them, that you prayed together with them because you could not eat without praying. What Jesus asks and proposes at the home of this Pharisee is that like him we must open ourselves and for that matter our table and our churches to those who are hungry for food and for friendship to those who are not going to worry about where they sit as long as they get to sit. When we begin to get this right, every meal will be a taste of the Kingdom of God, and every meal will bring us all into true communion, unity, and peace.

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 66, 18-21 + Psalm 117 + Hebrews 12, 5-7, 11-13 + Luke 13, 22-30

August 21, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

As some of you may know, I travel perhaps bit more often and further than many people my age. The experience is growing more and more unpleasant. I think when I was younger trips were as much fun as the destinations. Mom packed great treats for us that would be offered just before one of us in the back seat would say, ‘How much longer?” or “Are we there yet?” These days it is a whole different experience. Plane travel is the most unbelievable torment not all of which is caused by the airline’s belief that we are all about 5’ 4” and our bottoms and shoulders are all less than 22 inches wide. I do believe that their decision to make more money by charging for checked baggage has contributed to it, so watching what people carry into an airliner these days is absolutely amazing. For one who usually travels lightly, the purses, bags, sacks, suitcases, garment bags, and now dogs and cats that people cram under the seat and stuff into overhead bins designed for briefcases is amazing. It not only takes longer to get everyone in, it seems to take longer to get every off. It adds to a measure of hostility that is already there because you’re late. So, many plan, scheme, and pay extra to get on early and capture what limited space there is. All of this makes today’s Gospel as timely now as it was the first time Jesus spoke these words.

The question that prompts this conversation and these parables is perfectly sensible in an age when there was only so much to go around, and things always did run out. So wondering about how this salvation thing was going to work was not out unusual. Add to the fact that people in those days probably could and did carry all their personal belongings with them whenever they went somewhere makes sense again. In his preaching Jesus has already upended the usual thinking that those who have the most are the ones blessed by God and most favored. So curiosity about how and who would get into the Kingdom of God was worth thinking about.

It never occurs to us living in this land of plenty that somehow there might not be room for us in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Gospel we proclaim today would call into question our thinking and our behavior. Jesus makes it clear that we can be saved, but getting there is not easy and we will have to shed of few things to make it. Too much stuff, too many unresolved issues is going to make it harder if not impossible. The door is small and narrow – we are pilgrims who need to travel light. Unforgiven offenses, grudges, prejudice, hatred, racism are all things that will not fit through the narrow door. We need to decide what matters and what does not, and take the time now to look at what kind of baggage we carry.

That second parable states the case even more firmly. That door is not going to be open forever. Delay or putting off what we need to do to prepare is dangerous because entrance into the Kingdom will have nothing to do with who we know or the stuff we have piled up. It will have to do with how carefully and how successfully we have conformed our lives to the one who leads us there. One look at that cross tells us everything. When he entered into his glory and came back before his Father, he had nothing left having breathed his last and poured out his blood.

“It is what it is” the saying goes. This is how it is, says the Gospel. He door is narrow and we will be wise to travel lightly having shed anything at all that slows us down, and the door will sooner or later be closed once and for all. It would not be wise to be found on the outside. Excuses, name dropping, and for that matter any other claim will go unheard. A simple faithful life focused on the destination is what it takes. Our claim on a place there will have nothing to do with where we’ve lived, who we know, or for that matter, what we’ve done except conform our lives to his.

20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 38, 4-6, 8-10 + Psalm 40 + Hebrews 12, 104 + Luke 12, 49-53

August 14, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Fire shows up a lot in the Bible. There is a bush on fire in front of Moses. There is a pillar of fire that leads the Israelites through desert nights. Fire burns in the golden Temple Lamp, it licks up the waters of Carmel, and it anoints the lips of a prophet. John the Baptist comes proclaiming and preparing for one who would come with a Baptism of fire and the Spirit. Then this holy fire that always signals God’s presence takes flesh in Jesus Christ, who is the earth’s firelighter.

These verses must not be taken literally. This is the Jesus who prayed and pleaded for unity, “That they may all be one.”  This is the Jesus who rebuked the disciples who wanted to call down “fire from heaven” upon those communities who had not welcomed them and their mission with the Gospel. These verses should lead us to think of Pentecost and the Fire that came upon those gathered in that upper room. This is a fire that changes human hearts and the direction of human lives. It is a fire that brings courage where there has been fear and timidity. It is a fire that signals the presence of God, a presence that calls for a purification of those who stand in the presence of the Divine. It is fire that draws those into the light who have been in darkness, and a fire that warms those chilled by loneliness and isolation. It is a fire like the burning bush that leads God’s people into covenant and faithfulness.

My friends, none of can afford to forget what happens to us all on the day of Baptism. We are given a candle lit from the fire of Easter, from the candle carried into every darkened church, from a candle we bless with the holy name of Christ. He is the light. He is the fire. He is the one who has called us out of darkness and anointed us with His Spirit to bring light and warmth to a dark and cold world. As he says every time his words are spoken, you cannot put this light under a bushel.

In ancient cultures of nomadic peoples, there was always someone who carried the fire from place to place. Without matches or lighters, keeping the flame and the fire as they roamed about was essential to their very life. Water and Fire are perhaps the most primitive elements of life. It is these primal images that Jesus uses today speaking of his own upcoming sacrifice. It is a Baptism of fire he speaks of. It is an image of life, of promise, of hope that Luke puts before us. Rather than stir up fear, these verses for people of faith stir up hope and renewed sense of who we are as a people of light filled with the fire of the Spirit.

We are the firelighters of this earth now, a people enlightened by Christ, a people who have taken the fire to be spread everywhere upon the earth: not to destroy or consume, but to purify, warm, and brighten.

The days in which we live suggest to us that faith and religion are private matters reducing the church to a kind of private club that holds meetings now and then to talk about the old days when Christ was here. Really? Where is the fire? Jesus came to light a fire on the earth. All that is left of that fire is you and me. (There’s too much smoke these days.) The church for which Luke was first writing was a church living through a time of great internal division and strife. Jewish converts cast out of their synagogues and at odds with family members over their love for Christ and his promise of the Kingdom were hurting. These verses are intended to give them courage and some comfort in the midst of this turmoil not encourage them to be self-satisfied and dismiss anyone who did not share their experience and their faith. These verses do not justify nor give us permission to be comfortable with division and broken families.

When the real fire Christ is burning, it might be more like a campfire or the hearth in the center of a home rather than a raging forest fire. It will be a fire that draws people in intimacy, friendship, and love. It will bring warmth and comfort where there is none, and it will be a place where anyone feeling frightened in the dark can find hope and companionship. We have the light and we have that fire. Jesus would suggest today that we need to let it shine.

Wisdom 18, 6-9 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 11, 1, 2, 8-19 + Luke 12, 32-48

August 7, 2016 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL


It has been suggested that there are two ways of approaching life: one is either a planner or a pilgrim. Planners like to have complete control over their lives and with clear goals they plan each stage of their lives day by day, year by year. The calendar and the clock are their guides. They have carefully examined what society considers success, and they spend most of their time trying to match or beat the lifestyle and values of everyone else. Life for them is a great contest to see who wins which usually means having the most stuff. Often failing to achieve such high hopes and goals, they end up bitterly disappointed and very often alone like the man in last week’s Gospel. On the other hand, a pilgrim who accepts life as a gift that continues to unfold as it is lived knows that no matter how hard they may try, they know that they will never have complete control over what happens in life. Surprises and disappointments never get them down because they see those things as opportunities for growth. Unlike the planner, the pilgrim never feels entirely comfortable or at ease with the values of society.

Planners refuse to live by faith while pilgrims see no other way knowing that life is full of risks, confusion, and troubles. The pilgrims simply put themselves in God’s hands, and open themselves to God’s protection always celebrating the present moment because they know it is only there for that moment and should not be wasted. There is about the pilgrim a spirit of joy that springs out of hope. This hope is not just a wish that everything will turn out alright in the end, it is a way of seeing and believing that the hand of God is to be found in every moment and every experience of life. This is a kind of hope that nurtures real Joy, a Joy that is divine, a Joy that springs from the very deepest conviction that we live in God, we live by God, and we live for God.

Abraham in the second reading today is the great example of the pilgrim. In him there is no planning, no scheming, no controlling. At the word of God he got up, left home and people and set out for a land God promised to show him. He went into the unknown, and the only compass he had was faith. We are his descendants inspired by that faith. Every day for us, who are honest about it, is journey into the unknown. We have no idea what’s going to happen next, but in spite of failures and frustrations in the past, we keep going homesick for a place where our hopes will be realized and where our true life will begin.

We should not forget that Abraham died without seeing God’s promise fulfilled, and like him, we too die after spending our lives in a journey to the Promised Land without reaching it because it isn’t here. Yet, like Abraham, we travel in faith and die in hope. For those of us who choose to be pilgrims rather than planners we gather in this place and proclaim with Joy this Gospel of hope together as members of a believing community. The faith we share together can support us when our own faith does not measure up, which is why we must be here even when we don’t feel like it or feel too good about ourselves or even God for that matter. Like the servant Jesus talks about today, we remain faithful to God and to one another. The real test of this faith is how we face setbacks and failures and whether or not they make us cry in discouragement or laugh with joyful hope. This, in the end, is the way we stay prepared: living in the present moment true one’s duty and responsibility.

After the final blessing at the end of Mass: One day an old monk was sweeping the floor in the monastery when someone asked him what he would do if he knew he was going to die within the hour. “I’d go on sweeping the floor,” was his reply. In other words, he would just go on attending to the duty of the moment