All posts for the month February, 2018

The Second Sunday in Lent

25 February 2018 At Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 22, 1-2,9, 10-13, 15-19 + Psalm 116 + Romans 8, 31034 + Mark 9, 2-10

In the first reading today, we must not be distracted by Isaac and his traumatic experience. That story is about Abraham. It is somewhat the same with the Gospel today. That story is about those apostles, it is not about Jesus. That voice speaks to the Apostles. Jesus already heard that voice at his Baptism.

Everything Abraham had was given to him by God. Everything, including that son who came late and marvelously into the life of Abraham and Sarah. What God asks is that Abraham return to God absolutely everything God has given him. “Do you love me enough to give it all back?” This is what God is saying to the man who once left everything at God’s request and headed out into the unknown. “Will you give back what I have given you?” This is a stunning and challenging request, and Abraham is not the only one called by God in this way. We should sit here with a little discomfort at the realization of what this story is about because the living Word of God is spoken alive again in this place.

It is the same with Jesus Christ. In his prayer at the Last Supper he acknowledges that everything he has comes from the Father, and his deepest desire is to return it all to the Father and not lose anything the Father has given him. Peter, James, and John are the ones really transfigured on that mountain. Their lives, their faith, their hopes and dreams are now all caught up in this one who remains with them. They are now the ones being put to the test. Like Abraham, they have climbed a mountain and have heard the voice that calls out to them asking only one thing. “Will you give back to me everything I have given you?” They are now coming to realize slowly that this is what God asks of them, because this is what God asks of Jesus. Eventually, they will give back Jesus himself, and like Jesus, they will then give back to God their very lives.

My friends, there is no denial or avoiding the truth that this is what God asks of us as well. This season of Lent takes us to the test. It tests our resolve to give up and give back. A time of rehearsal, as it were, a time of testing that will prove what we are made of and how much we love the God who has given us everything.

The First Sunday in Lent

18 February 2018 At Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 9, 8-15 + Psalm 25 + 1 Peter 3, 18-22 + Mark 1, 12-15

It’s time to give some thought to the matter of Temptations says the Church on Lent’s first Sunday. Most people believe that “temptation” is the enticing of a person to do wrong. When most people think of “temptation” they think of evil, but that can’t be right, because something good can lead us astray just as much as something bad. The strength of temptation is always in direct proportion to the attractiveness of the goal. In other words, when the goal is really desired, temptations are just as great. We can fail to reach a goal when the path is simple just as much as when it is really tough. In fact, sometimes it is risky when the path is easy because we can get distracted by all kinds of fun things and forget the goal and waste a lot time. Earthly food dulls the appetite for heavenly food. Just look at the well-fed western world adrift in secularism and self-pleasure while the hungry of this world grow stronger in faith.

The scriptures are full of stories that illustrate this. Think of that rich young man invited to become a disciple. He goes away sad not because he did something evil, but because he had great wealth. There is nothing bad about great wealth. Good things can become temptations. Jesus goes to the house of Martha and Mary. Martha is too anxious and busy to listen to Jesus. Her concern for hospitality, which is good, distracts her from listening to Jesus. Those people invited to a banquet had all kinds of good reasons for not coming. Good reasons, good things to do, but they become temptations that lead them away from the banquet.

The truth is, we have as much to fear from good things as we do from bad. In fact, maybe more. When we see something that is really evil we turn away. The things that keep us from our goal are most often good things which is why they are so hard to resist. Most of the time in our lives, our choices are not between what is good or bad; but rather what is good and what is best. The devil hardly ever looks like an enemy or some frightening beast. My experience is that most often the devil seems attractive and charming; sometimes like a friend who has our best interests at heart. In this season, we must look for and pray for the wisdom and strength to resist these kinds of temptations; especially those that look good. When the choice is between the good and the best, we know what we much choose.

Ash Wednesday

14 February 2018 At Saint Francis of Assisi Parish in Castle Rock, Colorado

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20-6, 2 + Matthew 6, 1-6, 16-18

The season into which we enter today is both a season for fasting and a season for feasting. In fact, I am coming to believe that just fasting without feasting makes little sense and is far from life-giving. We could learn more about this from our brothers and sister in Islam. When they fast, there is also a feast. They fast during the daylight, and come evening, there is great family feasting with food shared, companionship, and reflection. The fasting is time of anticipating the happiness and joy of the feast to come. It makes the fasting much more rich and meaningful.

As a child, I dreaded this season, and these forty days of Lent always seemed as though it was more like forty months than simply six weeks. There was little joy during these days making Easter seem more like a time of relief than a season of joy. Let me propose to you what may be a new way of approaching this wonderful season so that Easter and Lent might come together in a better way than we have imagined in the past. They really do go together just like fasting and feasting.

What I want to suggest is that we make a conscious and deliberate effort to both fast and feast for the next forty days: to fast from certain things and to feast on others.

It is time to: Fast from judging others; and feast on Christ living in them.

Fast from emphasis on differences; and feast on the unity of all life.

It is time to fast from words that offend and pollute relationships, and feast on words that purify.

It is time to fast from discontent, and feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger and feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism and feast on optimism and hope.

Fast from complaining and feast of appreciation and compliments.

Fast from bitterness and feast of forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern and feast of compassion for others.

Fast from anxiety, discouragement or fear while feasting on hope through Jesus Christ.

Fast from suspicions; feast on truth.

Fast from gossip; feast on silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm, and feast on prayer that supports.

Fast from everything that separates us from the Lord; feast on everything that draws us to the Lord.

When we do some of this fasting and feasting, the Joy and promise of Easter will make these days a time for celebrating life and faith, hope and peace. Fast and Feast my friends. This Lent will not seem nearly as long, and we could pass these days with smiles, laughter, without waiting for Easter.

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

11 February 2018 At Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 + Psalm 32 + First Corinthians 10:31-11, 1 + Mark 1, 40-45

We are all lepers. This story, as they always are, is about us. With no name, Mark casts this story with the focus on the leper, not the disciples or the crowd. We don’t know where this happened or when. This nameless man is anyone who needs what Jesus came to offer. The Jesus Mark puts before us is not just a man who has pity or feels sorry for someone sick. The word Mark chooses is powerful. It is compassionate. It’s as though he is saying that Jesus is moved to tears by the condition of this man. He responded man from the very depths of his being.

Jesus does the unthinkable. He touches that man. The fear of that impurity does not stop him. It happens again and again in the Gospel. Jesus touches those who seem beyond hope. It is almost as though Jesus wishes to trade places with this man, and in some ways, he does. In the end, Jesus, is the one who ends up alone, cast out, with a body broken, bruised, and bloody while that man goes free.

We are all lepers. We are all living like outcasts hiding from one another the truth of our lives. We even hide that truth from ourselves. The social consequences of sin are the last thing we want think about. In fact, we deny it by looking at sin as something private or personal. The evidence of that is the decline in our use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Why admit to someone else that we have sinned? After all, it’s just between me and God. No, it isn’t. We do not really admit our sinfulness, and we avoid the truth that sinful attitudes, like prejudice, racism, or sexism continue to isolate us from one another, avoiding those who are not like us, whose skin is different.

We are all lepers. The response of Jesus Christ is deeply emotional and compassionate. So much so, that he takes on the consequences of our sin in one last act of love. He accepted us and our sinfulness, and that acceptance is the answer to rejection and denial. In accepting ourselves as we truly are, we find the key to accepting others. The Jesus of this story is man of kindness, not a man of judgement. This is a man who reveals the mercy, the kindness, and the compassion of God to those willing to ask for what they need. It isn’t healing from a disease that we really need. It is acceptance, compassion, and reconciliation that we need, not just with God, but with each other. That’s why the man is sent to the priests, to complete his total healing and reconciliation with those who have looked upon him with judgement and cast him aside. That man become perhaps, the first apostle. He tells everyone what the Lord has done for him. It wasn’t just the healing, as I said, but the astonishing kindness and respect with which he had been treated.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people began to run around and talk openly about how they had been treated by us Catholics: about the kindness, the compassion, and the respect with which we met them day after day? Jesus reached out a loving and healing hand towards a pariah. He challenges us his followers to reach out to those society rejects today: prisoners, addicts, refugees, migrants, or those sick with AIDS. It’s amazing what people can do for others. People can rekindle hope, bring back a joy for living, inspire plans for the future, restore self-respect and pride. They can mirror the infinite charity of God. Isn’t that what we want to do and who we want to be?

The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

4 February 2018 At Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Job 7, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1, 29-39

First there was last week an exorcism in the synagogue, now there is a healing in a home. Perhaps the places are significant for Mark, but you can think about that later. This is still the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Like most literature, characters and themes are introduced at the very beginning, so what we get here is a movement from synagogue to home and from home to a deserted place. Much of this gospel is going to move around in these locations. The paring of exorcism and healing is a preview of things to come, as well as the behavior of the disciples, and the pressing crowds. The disciples want to control Jesus. They see their role as his “manager”. It will take time to move them out of that role. The crowds see him as a wonder worker, and they will run all over the place to see what he does, what he can do for them. There is not a lot of interest in what he has to say which leads him to insist that he has come to proclaim the good news.

Little has changed since that day in Peter’s home making this Gospel just as relevant today as it was then. To put it simply, Mark is saying that we cannot let our relationship with Jesus be based upon what he can do for us or what we can get out of him. Those crowds would not look beyond the material signs. So, Jesus insists to the disciples that he came to proclaim the good news. The signs and wonders he performed were done to draw people to the Kingdom, to awaken them to the reality and presence of that Kingdom, and lead to repentance and conversion of life that is required for life in the Kingdom. There is something deeper and more important than these signs and wonders. These healings and casting out of demons are like visual aids making the Kingdom real and perceptible.

The driving out of demons is releasing people from the kingdom of darkness. The preaching comes first, and as the truth of the gospel begins to enlighten people’s minds, the demons can no longer maintain their hold. When Jesus enters the home of Peter, there is something very significant, but if we do not wonder or ask, “What does this mean”, we cannot grasp what Jesus is really saying and doing there. Mark uses a word that provides a clue. The Greek word represented by “helped her up” is the same word used by Saint James in speaking of the sacrament of the sick when our ritual quotes James and says: “the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise them up.” The word has a number of meanings: wake, rouse, raise, help to rise, relieve, restore to life. We should not try to limit the word to a single meaning but should use all the meanings. The mother-in-law gets up and begins to serve the guests. The presence of Jesus restores this woman to her life of service. The Greek word used by Mark to describe “waiting on them” is diaconia. Mark is not just talking about household tasks here, he is referring to service in the sense of “ministry.”

As we continue to explore Mark’s Gospel from now until Lent, we would do well to keep asking “what does this mean?” Even more so, we might take a serious look at how we relate to and what we expect of Jesus Christ. Getting all pious and prayerful when we want something without listening and responding to what he says to us puts us in the category of those crowds who never looked beyond the signs to being the repentance and conversion that is required for the Kingdom of God. Finally, in the last verse today, there is an invitation, “Let us move on to the neighboring villages.” The “us” here is not Jesus speaking of himself. It describes the role of his disciples. Spoken here today, this Gospel calls us into a more intentional discipleship and a share in the very word of Jesus Christ, a work of healing, restoring, liberating, and lifting up.