All posts for the month May, 2018

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

27 May 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 4, 32-34, 39-40 + Psalm 33 + Romans 8, 14-17 + Matthew 28, 16-20

There are some unique and important features to Matthew’s Gospel at this point. In this Gospel, after the Resurrection Jesus never appears to anyone except the women. There is nothing about Peter and there is no upper room. The disciples meet Jesus only one time. In Matthew’s Gospel the first appearance is to some women. At the instruction of Jesus, they go to the eleven and tell them what Jesus told them: “Go to Galilee.” Notice that Matthew refers to them as “the eleven” making certain that we remember the failure and betrayal. Now, Galilee is about a 60-mile journey from Jerusalem, no easy walk.  When they arrived, Jesus was there, and Matthew tells us that they worshipped and doubted. Jesus gives them a command which in the original language is quite unique. It is a command that does not easily translate into English.

Matthew uses the noun disciple as a verb. A disciple then is no long a person, place, or thing. It is something you do. They are to “disciple” others. This is more than teach or preach to. This is about entering into a relationship. Jesus does not tell them to start up a study club or a teach a Scripture course. Discipling has to do with a relationship, with a bond between the message and the one who accepts it. Christians after all, are not simply people who listen to teaching, study it, and contemplate it as something outside of themselves. They are people who absorb the message into their lives so much so that it changes their identity, their very makeup. There is a conversion. They become something else. They become a disciple, a person who lives in union with the Divine Persons, and this begins at Baptism for those are “Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” We are Baptized into a relationship with the Divine, which means Baptism makes us a people who share in the life of the Trinity.

This relationship is always and best described as being God’s children, a member of God’s family. Like the children of any loving parent, we inherit everything that parent has to give. We are co-heirs with the Son to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is our inheritance.

It is lonely not knowing God. People seek security in wealth, possessions, connections, and even more, but God is the ultimate refuge. The discipled are secure however, more secure than anyone who seeks security in things. One fire or big storm and it’s all gone. Those who are discipled have the blessed assurance anyone could hope for. Even though disciples are not promised a trouble-free life, or even success, they know that as long as Jesus Christ is with them, they will have the courage and strength to face whatever difficulties lay ahead. Knowing that does not change the world, but it gives us all the courage to face it.

Discipled people and people who are discipling are a people of prayer which nourishes a sense of the presence of God. An old wise man once said: “When you are with everyone but me, you are with no one. When you are with no one but me, you are with everyone.”


20 May 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 2, 1-11 + Psalm 104 + Galatians 5, 16-25 + John 15, 26-27, & 16, 12-15

Today it all comes to an end, and today it all begins. That’s often the way it is with endings. Most of the time they are really the beginning of something else.  Graduation can feel like an end, but it’s really just the beginning of a new life. A marriage may seem to the parents like the end of parenting, but it’s really the beginning of a whole new life. I have discovered what many of you have discovered. Retirement is no end at all. It is really just a beginning of a new time, a new life, a new sense of self, of purpose, and of mission.

Today the whole story of the Incarnation is revealed. Now we know why a child was born in Bethlehem. Now we know why he did the things and said all the things he did, why he suffered, rose, and ascended. Today we see what comes of all that. It was all for us, and now on this day, our remembrance and celebration of all that is complete. It’s over for the time being. Yet, something new is beginning, and we can see what it is by looking at what has been. A careful look at the story of Jesus Christ is the pattern and the future of a Spirit filled people.

There is often a tendency to think that Pentecost is all about the coming of the Holy Spirit as though it was the first time but think about that for a minute. The Holy Spirit was there at creation, hovering over the chaos, lifting the dry land, and stirring life into human kind. The Holy Spirit was there in the desert as a pillar of fire leading the Israelites to their beginning as God’s People. The Holy Spirit came upon a young woman in Nazareth beginning the new creation. That same spirit descended upon her son at the moment of Baptism, initiating his ministry, and revealing his relationship with the Father and announcing salvation.

Today is about us as much as it is about the Holy Spirit. It is about our salvation, affirming how the providence and the will of God has united us as a people and as a church when sin would have driven us apart. Today we listen to one of those ancient stories that describes the consequence of sin, the disintegration of unity and community. Today celebrates the restoration of our nature as social, communal people who belong to a single family, the human family, humanity. Having created us with free will, God permits us to use that will permitting evil for us to choose or refuse. If we chose to commit evil, we are allowed to. We did, and we were. God permitted the sin of one man – the sin of Adam – to affect all other people. And then, God used that very same feature of our human nature to restore our nature – and more than restore it, to bring it through complete fulfillment to super-fulfillment to the life of glory. One man’s sin affects us all. One man’s love and sacrifice redeems us all. In fact, it makes us better than we were before.

This is what we see happening at Pentecost. The life of the Holy Spirit who, stage by stage, had filled humanity for Christ with all its powers, from the Annunciation through the Baptism to the Resurrection, was at Pentecost extended to the disciples of Jesus, his Church, which from now on was to be his very body, his very presence. Because we were made to be social beings, bound to one another and mutually dependent as described in those people called; Adam and Eve, this is the way God has chosen to restore and redeem us, not as individuals, because that’s not our nature; but as a people, a family, a church. Rejoice today, Church. We have been saved because we have been incorporated into the living Christ – call it Baptism. We gather around this altar now as the people of God, not as private individuals fragmented into Haitians or Cubans or Parthians or Mead, Mexicans or Germans; not right or left, blue or red; but as a Holy People, a Chosen People. The Spirit we acknowledge today has filled all humanity with its power and its gifts among them is the gift of peace which will finally be ours forever when we once embrace the truth of our social and communal nature and stop acting as though we were independent, isolated beings with pumped up Egos who can do what we want without a thought about how those decisions might affect everyone else. Adam and Eve did that, and we still live with the consequences. Yet, God is still creating and breathing that Spirit into us, restoring us, healing us, and enabling us to live with dignity and nobility sharing in God’s very own life through Christ Jesus. This is the Day the Lord has made!

The Seventh Sunday of Easter + Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

The Golden Jubilee of John O’Keefe’ Ordination at St. Patrick Church in White Lake, Michigan

13 May 2018

It was May 16, 1993 and the Sixth Sunday of Easter. It was the celebration of your 25th ordination anniversary. I was here then too at Saint Pricilla in Livonia, and you were there presiding. We were a lot better looking then and we moved around with a lot more energy, but by the grace of God, the encouragement and support of many friends, plus the skills of a many medical professionals, here we are again. I don’t know about you, John, but I’m not counting on doing this again in 25 years.

We take up the Gospel today as you and I have for 50 years, and it takes us deeper into the Paschal Mystery and a more profound meaning of Easter. The resurrection is the proof. Now we know that Divine Love is more powerful than anything, even death. We know that God’s reign has broken the power of this world’s kingdoms that too often survive on oppression and tyranny, hatred, cruelty, and fear. This Gospel and this day announce once again the exciting news of the Incarnation: heaven and earth have come together. God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Jesus Christ is the meeting of heaven and earth. He is bringing divinity and humanity together, inviting the poor to the table, healing the sick and restoring us all to our intended and original place in God’s heart. In his passion and death which we have recalled for the past six weeks, Christ Jesus brought heaven all the way down – all the way into the darkest places of hatred, suffering, and death itself transforming them. The darkest places and most hopeless conditions are suffused with divine light.

We must not think of the Ascension as though Christ was taken from us, that he has left or gone and now we are on our own. The image the Ascension proposes is that now Christ is reigning over all the earth. Heaven and Earth overlap, intermingle. This is the heart of the great prayer of Jesus, this coming together. Now Christ can be more present to the earth than before when he was confined to a small place on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. Now he is present to all creation.

The Key question raised by this Gospel is who we serve. 50 years ago, John O’Keefe and a bunch of his friends listened to the music of Bob Dylan and many others. Dylan wrote a song called: “Gotta Serve Somebody”. He goes through all kinds of identities and work with several verses like this: “You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk, you may be the head of some big TV network. You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame, you may be living in another country under another name. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody”. It’s a great song in the Dylan style, and I wish there was time for all the verses, but it touches on the key question in the Ascension: Whom do we serve? Who is the king of our lives? The claim of this day is that Christ is King.

An angel speaks to all disciples of Jesus Christ in Luke’s telling of the Ascension. The message is unmistakable. “Get to work.” Then Paul tells us what this look like in the second reading today. “Building up the Body of Christ.” In doing that we discover what we are as disciples, because the single most important thing any of us can discover in life is our vocation. Discerning our job, our spouse, how to help our kids — the most important thing is what am I? Once we do that, we know our unique and particular way of following the command. This feast is about finding our vocation.

The joyful and remarkable assembly here at St Patrick Church is about a vocation. As much as it might be about John O’Keefe’s vocation and his work for 50 years in Building up the Body of Christ in Europe, in Africa, and in the US. I think it is even more about the whole O’Keefe clan in which his vocation and the vocation of his whole family has been realized for the sake of the Kingdom. It was my privilege in life to know John and Patricia, and an even greater privilege to join you in celebrating their lives when they went before us into the fullness of life. I remember well the pride and joy with which John received in the mail the childhood drawings of little Patricia. He would show them to all of us. It must have been the first clues that there is artistic talent in this clan which Tim has eventually pushed to the limit. Bill, Bob, Tim, Maurine, and Patricia stand up. It is the faith received from your parents that we celebrate today. They must still be very proud. This is a faith passed on for two more generations gathered in this church. It is this faith and the rowdy love of this whole family that kept John O’Keefe going for 50years. What is there to say except, Thank you, and Praise God.

6 Easter Sunday

6 May 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10, 25-26, 34-35, 44-48 + Psalm 98 + 1 John 4, 7-10 + John 15, 9-17

Two weeks ago, the Gospel proclaimed through the words of Jesus that we were being invited into the same relationship Jesus shared with the Father. Last week, with the image of the vine and branches, the Gospel described the relationship we have with one another and with Christ Jesus reminded that alone we can do nothing. Today the Gospel gives both of those relationships a name: “Friend.”

The change from “servant” to “friend” that Jesus announces for us today gives every reason to gather around this altar in joyful thanksgiving. This is a change initiated by God through the words of Jesus Christ: “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” Finally, in human terms we can all understand. We know what our relationship with the Father is all about. We know what was in the mind of God at the moment of creation. The description we have of the relationship between God and those first humans makes sense. They were friends! They walked and talked together in the garden. They knew the sound of each other’s voices. There was loyalty and patience, faithfulness, and a shared joy that comes from love. It isn’t as though God needed friends, and it wasn’t as though God’s friends needed God to give them something. They had it all because they had God. God was God because there was love, and there still is.

As the story we know so well goes, God’s friends decided to go it alone on their own. There was betrayal and blame, hiding and shame; behavior that usually destroys a friendship. However, friendship for God and friendship with God is not broken by those things as God reveals something about friendship we sometimes forget: forgiveness. From our own human experience, we know how friendship works. There are no secrets. There is complete acceptance. In fact, one becomes totally blind when it comes to the flaws and imperfections of the friend. There is time spent together, sometimes exclusively, intimately, words are spoken and thoughts are shared. Friends know what the other is about. Nothing can get in the way when a friend is in need. Jesus, put it simply: we are willing to lay down our lives for our friends figuratively and often literally.

While friends may act as servants to one another because of their love, slaves or servants do not eat with their masters. Yet, here we are, gathered around a table with the one who calls us “friends.” So, it is not just a matter of words spoken with this Gospel, it is also a matter of things done. Coming to this altar affirms our friendship with each other in communion and confirms our friendship with God. The forgiveness we share, the life we enjoy, the way we listen, the patience we give, the loyalty we express by our commitment, and the way we serve each other is all about this friendship.

It has always seemed to me that greatest compliment we can ever offer to another, and the most obvious sign of someone’s grace and holiness is call them a “Friend of God”. May it be so for us all as we near the feast of Pentecost.