All posts for the month January, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

28 January 2018 At Saint Francis of Assisi in Castle Rock, Colorado

Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 95 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28

It is easy to become distracted by the sensational in these verses. Shouting demons and man in convulsions in the middle of the synagogue is all it takes for us to get off track with what is going on here. If that happened in here today, I can guarantee you that this homily would be the last thing you remembered about Mass today! The whole contest between Jesus and evil spirits is just a preview of a theme that will continue throughout Mark’s Gospel. What really matters is what is happening between Jesus and the others who are present. Notice carefully that Mark tells us that the people were spellbound by the authority of Jesus before the conflict with the unclean spirit. That exorcism is not what amazed them. What did amaze them was “a completely new teaching in a spirit of authority.”

We do not have much of that these days. We have a lot of words from public figures, but there is a depressing predictability about what they are going to say. There is not a lot of authority, and the consequence is a lot of skepticism. Many of those doing the talking lack credibility for several reasons: they don’t even believe what they themselves are saying. I always suspect that when someone keeps repeating what they say they are trying to convince themselves that it is the truth. Then the character of the speaker matter. A flawed character does not start out with much credibility. There is an old saying: “How do you know when an addict is lying? Their lips are moving.” Finally, when a speaker does not live according to their own words, there is no chance anyone will believe what they say.

What we hear in today’s Gospel is that the teaching of Jesus was refreshingly different from the official teachers of the day. No Scribe ever expressed an opinion of his own. The Scribes always began by quoting some authority other than themselves. Jesus spoke with his own voice needing no other. His authority came from the fact that he spoke the truth. Some teachers just provide facts. Others provide vision, inspiration, and meaning, and that is the difference that Jesus provides, vision, inspiration, and meaning.

His authority came from his character because he back up his words with his deeds. Mark never says it this way, but his presentation of Jesus suggests that Jesus himself was the sermon. We really don’t need the words. Just watch what he does.

Even though Mark puts the question in the mouth of one possessed, we might consider asking that question ourselves. “What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Last week the Scriptures reminded us that we have been called by Jesus to come and see. He didn’t say, “Come and listen.” Now it seems we ought to ask why – what does Jesus of Nazareth want of us? Simply being amazed cannot possibly be what he asks. There is more expected of a people chosen by God. Our witness to what we have seen and to what we believe must have credibility that comes from really believing, that comes from an upright character, and that comes from speaking the truth. When we cultivate this kind of credibility, our lives will provide for others a vision of the Kingdom of God, inspiration to make it real, and give our lives and our church some real concrete meaning revealed through our deeds of service and love.

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

21 January 2018 At St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Jonah 3, 1-5, 10 + Psalm 25 + 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31 + Mark 1, 14-20

At the time of Jesus, it was customary for most people to choose a rabbi and become a disciple in order to learn the law. The disciples did the choosing. With these Gospel verses, there is something happening that is out of the ordinary. Instead of these men choosing Jesus as their rabbi and becoming one of his disciples, Jesus does the choosing. He chose them. They do not choose him. There is something unique going on here, and we might pay attention to it.

Before retiring, when I helped with the formation of couples in preparation for marriage, I would often remind them that even though they thought they had chosen each other for marriage, it was not so. God did the choosing. God put them together, and if it was not the will of God, it wasn’t going to last. In my own seminary formation, we were constantly urged to discern God’s call asking whether or not service to the church was really what God wanted of us.  When I was the director of seminarians for my diocese and someone came in telling me they were going to be a priest, I knew we had a long way to go before that was going to happen. In this age of choice, when everyone seems to think it is their right to choose everything from the color of a car to whether or not another human being lives the action of this Gospel and part of its message seems like a new idea, but it isn’t. God has been making choices for a long time, longer than we can even imagine. The scriptures are full of the stories of God making choices, of who would be a prophet, who would be God’s people, where they would live, who would be king, who would give flesh to his son, and who would be his disciples.

Each of us might ask ourselves now and then, what we’re doing here, how we got here, and most of all why God chose us and not someone else. There are, you know, more people not here today than there will ever be in this church. Perhaps the Gospel we proclaim this Sunday is not about Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It seems to reveal something to us about how God works and about how people who experience Jesus Christ respond. God finds us doing what we do every day from mending nets to folding laundry, from driving to work to playing golf. He might find us here, but more likely we’re here because he found us somewhere else.

The message spoken by Jesus and his invitation to the Kingdom of God is spoken in this place today because, when we come face to face with this Gospel we are face to face with Jesus himself. My friends, we must stop thinking that the Kingdom of God is some place or some time period yet to come. The Kingdom of God is a new state of mind that brings about a new way of living. It grows through a web of relationship’s in which people experience loving union with God and one another. Jesus showed us what it looked like by his relationships with others, and he taught us to pray for it as we shall soon do. In that prayer, we find the best and most concise interpretation of the meaning: “Kingdom of God”: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. The Kingdom is where ever and whenever God’s will is done.  What this Gospel reveals is that God is calling every one of us, and our first response to that call is to do the will of God right now without delay, and with every decision of our lives consider carefully what God’s will might be.

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – 14 January 2018

1 Samuel 3, 3-10, 19 + Psalm 40 + 1 Corinthians 6, 13-15 + John 1, 35-42

Even though we are now beginning the year of Mark, the Gospel today comes from John respecting an old liturgical theme of celebrating different manifestations of Jesus. John’s whole Gospel is a gradual manifestation of who Jesus is from this announcement of John the Baptist to Martha’s announcement at the raising of her brother, Lazarus.  So, only 35 verses into the Gospel two people reveal who Jesus is: John the Baptist and that first-called apostle, Andrew who says: “We have found the Messiah.” Late this coming summer, we will return to John’s Gospel and spend several weeks reflecting upon how Jesus is manifested in the Bread of Life.

For now, it is important to realize where Jesus goes looking for disciples, and who it is he calls. It is not to the high and mighty that he goes. It is not to the Temple High Priests or to powerful Princes and Kings. It is to working people who are at work. People who are called to follow Jesus are simply ordinary people doing what they do every day. These two disciples of John the Baptist have already been caught up in the anticipation, the desire, and the hope his preaching has stirred up. Suddenly their Rabbi, John the Baptist, points to Jesus walking by. Already attentive to John’s teaching, they follow his advice without a question and turn their attention to this one who passes by.

The writer of this Gospel is very careful and very precise about words. For instance: the question, “What are you looking for” is asked two more times in this Gospel, when soldiers come at night into the Garden of Olives and when Mary stands at an empty tomb. Today it is asked again, asked of us, by the Word of God in this assembly. When the question, “Where do you stay?” is asked, they want to know more than his street address. In John’s Gospel, the words: stay, dwell, abide, and remain all have a profound meaning, and they come up again and again throughout John’s Gospel. All of this should excite our imagination and take us beyond the simple superficial meaning of the words into the real themes at work. When Jesus says, “Come and see” we should remember that “seeing” for Saint John is the starting point of faith. Over and over again John has people “see and believe” from the signs Jesus worked.

Like those two first apostles, we are a people who have found the Messiah. We know that what we are looking for is not really here on this earth. I suppose that is why so many of us are so restless deep down in our hearts. We have to understand through the Gospel accounts where he stays, where he dwells, and where he abides. The story we have just told about a homeless couple in Bethlehem tells us quite clearly that he is to be found where we might least expect. Incidents in all four Gospels make clear beyond a doubt that he stays with, abides with, and dwells with tax collectors, sinners, the blind, the sick, the unclean, and the poor.

There is a progression here that can measure the depth of our spiritual lives. It begins with wonder and a question about what we are looking for. It moves deeper with a desire to follow the Christ and see where he stays. Then, coming to see, or perceive, and understand all of this is the beginning of faith. When we see and believe, we will truly be apostles whose first instinct and desire will be to bring another to Jesus. The question we are left with then after reflecting upon this Gospel is whether or not we have really seen and believed. Because, if we have, we would still be bringing people to Jesus.

7 January 2018 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples. FL

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

Some careless misreading of this Gospel has led to a rather unfortunate idea about what was going on here. While that carelessness has provided us with another nice romantic story to tell in the Christmas season, it does not touch the reality that has a lot more to say to us than what we are given. Matthew never says that these wise men, astrologers, or kings whatever another translator will choose to call them followed a star. It says that they observed a star “as it rose”.  It says nothing about the star guiding them. The next time the star is mentioned is near the end of their journey near Bethlehem. A rising star is an ancient metaphor for the birth of someone special. When you set aside a suggestion that has no biblical roots that some star was like a GPS system, you can begin to grasp what this is all about.

They made their journey in darkness. They had no idea where they were going, and so, they had to stop and ask directions, seek and inquire. Now I know that many women will find this surprising, that a man might actually stop, inquire, and ask directions, but these travelers did. Instead of imagining some magic star that is not found in the bible, why not imagine a real journey with doubts and dangers, wrong turns, and sometimes, maybe bad advice.

This journey Matthew describes is as much a gift to us as the gifts he describes were a gift to the child Jesus. Their journey is ours, and the story is told not to excite our imagination about fine robes and camels, but to encourage us persevere in our search for the King. Many of us set out on the journey of life with a great dream and bright future only to have it all disappear or collapse in a tragedy. Things and unexpected events get in the way like clouds hide the sun. Some of us lose our self-confidence or doubts arise and we think we are losing our faith. When that happens, the truly wise seek the guidance of others. They ask for directions.

What we really share when we tell this Gospel story is a message of hope that darkness will pass, and that by having the humility to ask and seek direction, with an unwavering commitment to life’s journey toward Christ, we shall come into his presence. What we also hear in this story is that when we do find the Christ the gifts with which we are born can be offered to our brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor as the Christ was.

Once they have found the Christ, Matthew tells us that they went back by a different way. This detail is not about taking a different route, it is about the change that came over their lives. Having met Christ and heard his Gospel, we too take a different route with our lives with different attitudes, goals, and values. It is impossible to encounter Christ Jesus without it change the path of our lives. What matters for many yet is that they keep going and never hesitate to look into the scriptures and seek the wisdom of those who know. That is the only way to find the real King.