All posts for the month June, 2018

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 July 2018

Wisdom 1, 13-15; 2, 23-24 + Psalm 30 + 2 Corinthians 8, 7, 9, 13-15 + Mark 5, 21-43

Two miracles stories and two women lead us to reflect upon the ministry of Jesus Christ, his mission, and his method. On the surface it looks like one of them is healed and the other brought back to life. That’s what it looks like, but what you see is not always what you get. Consistent with Mark’s style, there is commotion here. He seems to like that. There is always a rush and always a crowd. In the midst of that chaos there always stands one who is calm and peaceful. To get beyond the surface of these two incidents, it is helpful to understand that there is problem with English as this Gospel is translated. Two words in English come from one word in Greek and Latin: to save and to heal are the words that come out of the Latin word “Salus.” If you think of it this way, you can begin to get the idea: a salve like an ointment can bring healing, but when you see it in print and add to the spelling you get “salvation.” Once you get that point, you can go deeper into what is happening here. These are stories of salvation, not simply miracles of healing.

The consequence of sin that Jesus is always confronting is alienation or separation, and he comes face to face with that consequence in these verses. His presence and what he does restores relationships. The older woman is no longer ostracized from her husband and her community. Because of her bleeding, she would have been an outcast from everyone even her husband for fear of sharing her fate. The loneliness would have been worse than the bleeding. The little girl is restored to her parents, and even more so, by calling her “daughter”, Jesus is bringing her into the larger family of God’s loved ones.

The mission of Jesus is a mission of reconciliation, of healing what is broken apart, and the healing becomes even greater as it becomes salvation. These women are saved, and the wonder of it comes from the action: touch. That older woman touched him, and at that moment, be becomes unclean. He traded places with her. He brought her into his relationship with God, and now he will be the one who is cast out and the one who bleeds. Then, he touches that twelve-year-old who is dead. He trades places with her as well. Now he is the one who will die so that she can live.

You see, the mystery of salvation is being revealed here. We will be saved when we have been touched by Jesus Christ: touched by his love, touched by his grace, and touched by his word. What it takes is faith, prayer, and hope. We see this in that official, Jarius and in the woman. They both have hope, one has faith, and the other asks in prayer. The great hope for us comes through in a subtle way we might miss. God’s saving grace is available to everyone from important officials who have names to little old people who go nameless into eternity, but whose names are known by God alone. This is our hope today for we remain a people broken and in need of that divine touch. It will come to us in a few moments when we are touched by and reach out to touch the Body of Christ. In that action what is broken is healed, what is lost is found, and in Communion we are restored both to each other as a family and to God who longs to bring us home.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

24 June 2018

Isaiah 49, 1-6 + Psalm 139 + Acts 13, 22-26 + Luke 1, 57-66, 80

The shadow of old Sarah and Abraham falls over the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah. Almost like bookends two faithful couples begin and end the story of Israel bearing witness to the power of God’s favor, love, and grace. We should not reflect upon what God does with Zechariah and Elizabeth without recalling how God acted with Sarah and Abraham to begin restoring creation to its glory.

There was an expectation among the Jews that the prophet Elijah would return to earth to prepare God’s chosen people for the coming of the Messiah. Reflecting upon the prophetic witness of John, Jesus declare that John was that Elijah person they were expecting. Like the first Elijah, John was a truth teller. He spoke to the truth to power, which is a sure way to get into trouble when power is a living lie. He disturbed the comfortable and comforted the disturbed. The message of John, whose birth we commemorate today, is as challenging now as it was when his voice cried out in the wilderness. Not everything the powerful do is morally right. Not everything enshrined in the law of the land is right even though it has become the law of the land. Then and now, there are things enshrined in the law by the powerful that are not just or morally right. Abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, are obvious examples, and there are more. Those things may be lawful, but they are not right, and John would speak up about it.

John the Baptist was a finger pointer, and many artists paint him standing tall and wild looking and pointing his finger at Jesus of Nazareth.  In contrast to all of us, John points to Christ. We point too, but usually at one another in a gesture of blame or accusation just as Adam pointed to Eve who pointed to a serpent. We might do well to learn from John something about pointing, because that might be what God wants of us; a people who point the way, who lead others to Jesus Christ by what we say and what we do.

The question asked by the neighbors and relations gathered around as John is born is important. “What will this child turn out to be?” It is a question that could and should be asked of all of us. “What will we turn out to be?” It is another way of wondering what God wants us to be. Is there a divine purpose for our lives? Perhaps it is the same purpose God had for John’s life. Perhaps God would have us speak the truth with courage and speak that truth to power. Perhaps God would also have us point out the Savior and make way for Jesus leading others to him by the example of our lives.

Take note that we celebrate this birth just days after the summer solstice as the daylight now begins to fade and decrease. We will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on this night in exactly six months, a few days after the winter solstice when daylight will begin to increase. We are the bearers of that light through the darkness to come and will be the ones to whom others should look when they fear the darkness and long for hope.

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

17 June 2018 at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Mustang, Oklahoma

Ezekiel 17, 22-24 + Psalm 92 + 2 Corinthians 5: 6-10 + Mark 4, 26-34

It was December 1, 1955. A 42-year-old black woman boarded a bus to go home after a long day working and shopping. She found a seat at the start of the black section. At the next stop some white people got on so the driver ordered her to get up and give her seat to a white man. Tired and worn out from cleaning up after white people all day, she simply said, “No.” The driver called the police. She was arrested. Word got around quickly, and a local preacher called a meeting. They made one simple demand: that passengers be seated on a first-come first-served bases. To achieve this end, they began a boycott of the buses, and people walked to work. We know the rest of this story. It has become part of our national history in the slow and step-by-step movement toward achieving justice for all. Just because some colonists signed a piece of paper that proclaimed “liberty and justice for all” didn’t mean it was going to happen before the ink dried. It took from 1776 until 1955 for this nation to get serious about it making it a reality, and we’re still not there.

In a world growing more and more accustomed to instant everything these parables and the truth they reveal are difficult to hear and incorporate into our faith and life. There is something about us and our culture in this country that leads us to think that bigger is better. We have to have the tallest, the fastest, the biggest of everything. Then we fool ourselves into thinking that these superlatives are the best. We expect everything to be instant from the flipping of a light switch to the opening of a packet for an instant meal. It may be quick and it may easy, but that stuff in the packet is not really healthy, and the truth is, it does not taste as good as something made patiently from scratch.

These two timeless parables speak to us. They speak to the powerful and the control freak in us a disturbing message and reminder. We can’t do everything, and our attempt at it borders on idolatry. We have our role, our mission, and in speaking to his disciples, and with Mark writing to an impatient church, the message is clear. You plant the seed, and that’s all you need to do, but keep planting. We cannot make the seed grow. We can’t make a seedling grow faster by pulling on the top of it. We will just pull it out of the soil and destroy it.

Further, this pair of parables warns us about thinking or trying to do things big. Big is not best, and big does not necessarily produce a great amount or a great harvest when it comes to seeds. Great buildings begin with one brick. A book begins with one word on a page. A lifelong friendship begins with a chance encounter. With everything that lasts, there can be no hurry. Hurry ruins many things. The true savor of life is not gained from big things but from little ones. To sample a wine the taster needs on only a sip. Bad habits and sickness creep up slowly in little steps. Alcoholism begins with one drink and then maybe just one more “little one”. Marriages come apart not from one big fight, but from countless little slights and offenses over a long time.

The Parables that Jesus speaks to us today encourage those who are disappointed over how slowly comes the victory of goodness. They calm those who are in hurry with an invitation to slow down and savor the moment. Learn how to wait and enjoy it. These little parables correct those who want to be in control with a reminder that there is only one God, and it isn’t any of us. We may plant the seeds, but we must resist the temptation to think we know how to make them grow.

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

10 June 2018 

Genesis 3, 9-15 + Psalm 130 + 2 Corinthians 4, 13 to 5,1 + Mark 3, 20-35

We see something in these verses today that ought to make us sigh with disappointment and frustration. Disappointment as we realize how long this behavior has been going on, and frustration because it continues and because sometimes we get caught up in it ourselves which is not helping move this world toward peace and justice. This is a kind of behavior that to this day continues to tear apart the fabric of unity that is in the mind of God. It is a behavior that borders on the unforgivable and is a sin against the Holy Spirit. One look at what is happening in this story, and we recognize it. The scribes who have come all the way from Jerusalem are demonizing Jesus. This whole business of demonizing an opponent or someone who does not think, act, or say things we like is still going on today, and looking at it through the lens of this Gospel is important. Demonizing someone dehumanizes that person making it easy to kill them because they are no longer seen as a human being. This demonizing has been used by zealots and tyrants as a tactic to legitimize war atrocities in the past and to this day. Torture and genocide is only possible when the other has been dehumanized. It’s how you get a human being to take the life of another. It is easy when you think your opponent is evil which is what made it so easy for the Scribes and Pharisees to take the life of Jesus. They declared him evil calling him Satan.

Throughout human history, the relationships of individuals and groups as been disrupted by this demonization which results in constant suspicion and blame with a systematic disregard of any positive events. There is pressure to eradicate the demonized person. In the face of this behavior, people of faith should rise up in protest and challenge the demonization others. For people of faith to get caught up in this reveals a serious failure of faith. Yet, this behavior has become the norm in politics with enormous harm done to whole groups of peoples. Families are torn apart because a whole ethnic group has been demonized, and that is just the most frequent example that comes to mind at the moment.

Psychologists believe that when demonization happens, there is “cognitive impairment” meaning simply that people stop thinking and with that they stop talking. When someone has been demonized, anything good they may have done, or still be doing, is ignored or dismissed. Jesus may heal and comfort, but because he touches women, lepers, and comes to the aid of those in need on the Sabbath, he is the enemy of good religious people, and he must go. Is there any thinking or reasoning here in this conflict? No. The scribes are blind to what and who is right in front of them.

Meanwhile, outside the house there is another group, and the way Mark crafts this episode is important. The conflict is going on inside, and there is a group outside who just want to take him away. They do nothing to stop what is really wrong here. They just want to save their own skins because Jesus is bringing a “bad rap” to their name and their town. At which point, Jesus reveals the universal nature of his mission and even though those scribes, those name-callers, those demonizers chose to destroy any relationship with Jesus, he holds out and reveals the new relationship that those will enjoy who choose the Kingdom of God.

That unforgivable sin, that sin against the Holy Spirit, is in evidence here. It is the refusal to be open to new revelation. Assuming the role of God those scribes declared that Jesus could not possibly be revealing the divine because, in spite of the life-giving works he performed, he did not fit their categories or follow their interpretation of the law or agree with their ideology which had long before stopped being theology. Their blasphemy was that they had divinized their ideology. As long as they maintained that position, they kept themselves safe from any disturbance by the Holy Spirit and the possibility of change and forgiveness. We all need to hear and heed this Gospel today, so that our minds and our hearts might be open wide to the work of the Spirit which is calling us over and over again to unity and to peace. It will never be found among people who treat others as though they were Satan.

Corpus Christi

3 June 2018

Exodus 24, 3-8 + Psalm 116 + Hebrews 9, 11-15 + Mark 14, 12-16. 22-26

One of the things I miss most in retirement is being a Pastor in the spring when First Communion comes around. As I learned more and more about being a pastor, I took more and more of a roll in the preparation of the children for this Rite of Initiation. That’s what it is, you know, it is one of the steps in Initiation following Baptism which is why the tradition of wearing white stays with us. That white garment of Baptism gets put on again. When I would visit with the children, I would insist that they not think about Holy Communion as something they come to get lest they begin to think it was prize or a reward. The parents had a hard time with that for a while, but I never gave up. I would insist that they watch their language and stop telling their children they were going to “get communion.” I didn’t really like “receive communion” either. Not because there is something wrong with that language, but because there is something better. I would suggest that it was better to say that their children were going to “enter” communion. I wanted to shift off the object and explore the experience. Communion is something we go into, not simply something we get. Communion is no reward for being good. It is an experience of belonging, a sacrament of Unity that builds up the Body of Christ.

I think of all this today on the Feast of Corpus Christi. A feast that in many cultures and places gets focused on the consecrated host with beautiful processions, hymns, and prayers. I grew up in an Italian Community where this feast day ignited an unbelievable contest to see who could build the most beautiful altar on their front porch because the priest, servers, and other neighbors would process through the neighborhood with incense and bells ringing before the monstrance. Any home with an altar would be a place where the procession stopped for a few moments, Benediction was given, and then the procession continued on to the next home picking up of the faithful as they went. While it was a wonderful and faith filled experience, there was always a risk that it might become more about the consecrated host than the experience of having the Divine visitor at your home along with all the growing numbers of the faithful who joined the procession as it went by. While I can remember that sometimes a little competition would get involved in building the biggest altar or having the most flowers or candles, the whole feast was in the end about community, belonging, and most importantly about Unity. Those people knew who they were, and their identity as Catholics was rooted in this Feast.

There is one word that nearly leaps off the page of this Gospel today. That single word leads us into the mystery and wonder of what the Church celebrates today. That one word sums up the whole of the Gospel and the life of Jesus Christ. “Take”, he says. “Take” is his command. Anyone who thinks that this invitation to take and eat is simply about a consecrated host is missing the point and failing to receive what is offered. There is much more to Christ’s command here than simply taking something to eat. He wants us to take alright, but in taking Communion we take up unity and now take a responsibility for preserving that unity. He wants us to take alright, but this more than taking Holy Communion for in doing so, we take up the work and the mission of Jesus Christ.

Take is the message. Take is the command. We may not just take and eat or grab and run as some seem to think. If we take, we also receive. We receive a place in communion, a place among what we call in the Creed, the “Communion of Saints” for what we enter into through communion is a mystical experience that ties us together with all who have gone before us, with all who are living in the timeless Kingdom of God. So, brothers and sisters, Take today. Receive today. Enter today in the Body of Christ, into the Church, into the Communion of Saints. Take food for the journey of life. Take up the life this gift offers. It is not reward for being good, it is a remedy for what is evil.