All posts for the month July, 2018

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

29 July 2018 at Saint Andrew Catholic Church in Moore, OK

2 Kings 4, 443-44 + Psalm 145 + Ephesians 4, 1-6 + John 6, 1-15

There is someone in this Gospel today who says nothing. Because Jesus, Andrew and Philip do tall he talking, it is easy to ignore his presence. There is young boy in these verses who very is important and he is worth some reflection and wonder. Without him, there would be no story. Without him there would be no wonderful sign worked to draw people to faith. He has no name which in Gospel literature is always important.  Having no name makes it possible for us to stand in his place.

There is no way of knowing how or why Andrew noticed the boy, but perhaps five loaves of bread over and above two fish might be hard to hide. Even the appetite of a growing young boy would probably not need five loaves. He clearly had more than he needed that afternoon. John records no conversation between the boy and Jesus. All we know is that he surrendered what he had to Jesus and something extraordinary happened.

Even before five thousand were fed, and before twelve baskets of left overs were collected, there is something that leaves us to wonder about what happens when someone who has enough or even more than enough sees a need and responds to the request of Jesus to surrender it all. It brings to my mind another young man who came running up to Jesus asking what he must do to be saved. When Jesus asks him to sell what he has and give it to the poor, he walks away sad. I’ve always thought that what was lacking in that young man was imagination. He simply could not imagine living without all his stuff. In contrast to that young man stands this boy face to face with Jesus willing to surrender everything he has knowing that there were five thousand hungry people behind him. I doubt that he could ever have imagined what was about to happen, but that did not keep him from handing over all that he had.

Without a word said, that boy speaks to us today. He speaks to a people who have more than enough, more than they need. In a world that is hungry and thirsty, homeless and lonely, that young boy shows us how to create abundance. In that unrecorded conversation with Jesus, I suspect that Jesus never said: “Keep some for yourself.” I think Jesus asked for it all. With childlike faith, that boy trusted and gave without a worry about going hungry himself. He could have stood on the sidelines watching, or like those other disciples said: “It isn’t enough”, but he didn’t.

We are reminded today about how life flourishes when virtues are practiced. In a world of both over-consumption on the part of some, and suffering and hunger on the part of many, we are reminded about living simply and virtuously, and what can happen when we know we have enough and turn over to Christ everything we have. As this chapter will continue for the next several weeks, we will discover that Jesus never came to feed us on bread, but to satisfy our hungers with his Body and Blood.

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

22 July 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 23, 1-6 + Psalm 23 + Ephesians 2, 13-18 + Mark 6, 30-34

This is the only time in Mark’s Gospel that disciples are called “apostles.” It only appears in Matthew’s Gospel once, six times in Luke, and never in John. I think it is important to understand this fact because we tend to think of “apostles” in terms of those twelve who may have some special place or calling, which then allows us to be excused too easily from taking up our duties as disciples of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark is really a School of Discipleship. It is a catechesis, a formation program for anyone who would be a disciple of this Rabbi, Jesus. Notice today that he teaches the people and that they have come to hear him teach. They have already expressed their amazement at his teaching in a Synagogue. They express their amazement because he teaches with authority, which means he is authentic backing up what he teaches with deeds and behavior. He teaches them care for one another, and then he heals. He teaches them to feed the hungry, and in this Gospel, he is just about to do that. He teaches them about forgiveness, and he forgives Peter and even those who nail him to a cross. He wants them to hear the Word of God, so he opens the ears of the deaf. He wants them to see the glory of God, so he restores sight to the blind. He wants us to have life, so he raises up a dead girl, the only son of a mother, and he calls Lazarus out of a tomb. All so that we might be one, might live in unity, and live in peace.

Every one of us in this place has heard the call to be a disciple, a student of this teacher. It is why we are here and not somewhere else at this hour. In terms of history and time, the teacher has gone after teaching us everything that was revealed to him by his Father. Day after day, we understand the feelings of Jesus when he looked at the people. It was way more than pity which is a soft way of translating the gut-wrenching word that Mark uses in the Gospel. It is the same feeling a parent would have at seeing their child in suffering.  Jesus makes the needs and wants, hurts and pain of these people his own.

Disciples of Jesus Christ look at our world and ask what deep and truly human hopes and hungers are being unconsciously expressed in the blind competition of sports fans, the addictions that plague every level of society, the supremacy movements and all the “isms” that divide us who live on this earth. Some political leaders benefit from discord and division, and some religious figures make a fortune suggesting that we should wait for everything to be resolved in heaven and then look upon all our riches as blessings without a word about the obligations that come with these riches.

Jesus taught those people, and he still teaches us. What he teaches is the Will of God, his Father. He teaches that the needs and wants, hurts and pain of all people are our own, and that when anyone is hungry are hurting we are all hungry and hurting. So, he teaches that God wills for us to all be one. He teaches that mercy and compassion is the only way people made in his image can respond to another. He teaches us to feed, to heal, to forgive. He does not teach us judgment or vengeance. Having taught us these things, he has sent us out to teach and preach. We do so first by what we do at home, in an office, at school. It is not necessary to teach or preach with words. In fact, until there are deeds and until there is action, the words are in vain and are empty. As the Lord waited for those twelve to return and report on what had happened, he still waits for us to complete his work on earth, and only after we have fulfilled his command should we find a place of rest. The question now is, how much longer does he have to wait?

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

15 July 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Amos 7, 12-15 + Psalm 85 + Ephesians 1, 3-14 + Mark 6, 7-13

After last week’s rejection of by those who’s unbelief left Jesus with nothing to do there, he has moved on to neighboring villages. The memory of that distressful and disappointing experience was surely still fresh in the mind of the Apostles. Given their behavior on other occasions, they no doubt expected quite a welcome for the home-town hero who was already so famous bringing glory to little Nazareth. Now they are being called in pairs for a serious and detailed instruction. Then they are sent out with power to do all that Jesus was doing and preach repentance. When I stop to think about it, I am always amazed over what is going on here. Jesus had a lot of confidence in that rag-tag group of twelve he has called away from fishing boats and tax tables, their families, and everything that is familiar and comfortable. There is no evidence at all that they are capable of doing what he asks, but he sends them, and they go. Next week we will find out how it goes. But for now, we are left to decide whether or not we are outside of this story looking in, or whether or not we too are being sent. It should be noticed that he sent them all, not some and not best and brightest. Every single one of them is sent. There is no one left out of the mission. It would seem to me that St. Mark is making a point here for his church and for us all.

In the end, this is what the whole experience of discipleship has been about. In some ways, I’ve always considered Mark’s Gospel to be a “school of discipleship”. The disciple learns and then does something with what they have been taught. For these disciples of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, it would seem that a kind of “internship” has begun, a trial run, to see what they can do with what they have learned. It is the same for all of us. At some point in our discipleship, we have to do something with what we have learned. At some point it’s time to stop going to Bible Study and get on with Bible living! While all learning is a life-long endeavor, there does come a time when you start doing something with what you’ve learned. It is always a great challenge for us to be active, not passive followers; to be not only receivers but also givers. Not barren or dead branches on the vine, but living and fruitful ones.

My friends, belief in God is very uncomfortable because it increases our responsibility. If there was no God, then there would be no point in being responsible because if there is no God, life is just random chaos and eternal night. If someone comes to us and asks for help, we should not turn them away with pious words saying: Have faith; take your troubles to God and God will help you.” Doing that acts as if there is no God, as if there was only one person in the world who could help this person, namely yourself. Reliance on the providence of God is essential, but it cannot be used as an excuse for doing nothing.

One winter day a man came upon a small boy sitting begging on a wind-swept city street. The boy was shivering from the cold and obviously in need of a good meal. On seeing him the man got very angry and said to God: “Lord, why don’t you do something about this boy?” And suddenly God replied: “I have already done something about him.” The man was surprised and said: “I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but whatever you did, doesn’t seem to be working.” “I agree with you.” God said. “By the way”, the man asked, “What did you do?” The reply from God came. “I made you.”

We are God’s instruments. That is our dignity and our responsibility. Notice carefully that in the instructions before we set out, we disciples are told to take nothing. All that we have to give is what we have received from Jesus Christ. These are qualities that cannot be contained in a sack or a belt. If Jesus sends us out in his name, he must know that we have what it takes to do what he asks. When we leave here in about thirty minutes, the mission begins. We do have what it takes, and it will be enough.

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

8 July 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Ezekiel 2, 2-5 + Psalm 123 + 2 Corinthians 12, 7-10 + Mark 6, 1-6

We are beginning a new chapter of Mark’s Gospel today. In the past weeks with chapter five we have seen an enormous momentum building as Jesus travelled throughout Galilee and beyond. His presence has been marked by healings, exorcisms, and even as we heard last week, the raising of a dead child. Crowds of people have experienced liberation, healing, and the tender compassion of Jesus. Now in chapter six all of that comes to a sudden stop. What demons, sickness, and death could not stop disbelief does. This is a greater obstacle. It is not that the power of Jesus is limited, but the people are hindered from experiencing his power by their unbelief.

The problem being experienced there is not confined to that place and that time. For lack of a better term, I’ll call the problem “Limited Religious Imagination.” In other words, Jesus was not acting right. They could not imagine that God might be revealed in someone so familiar, in a neighbor, in someone from Nazareth. They expected God to be revealed in the way Moses or Abraham experienced God. More simply put, they could not imagine the truth or the reality of the Incarnation. The whole idea that God might come and be revealed in the flesh and blood of someone who is just an ordinary and familiar neighbor was too much for them. They could not imagine this. Jesus would not fit into their religious imagination.

Ultimately, those people of Nazareth were stuck with the idea of their ancestors who begged Moses to tell God not to come too near lest they die of fright. They would rather have a God who was frightening and dangerous. When God became Man in Jesus Christ, it was too much for them. They refused to believe that God could be revealed through ordinary people and events. It is easy to have faith in a God who is distant and silent, a God who sits behind a veil in the Temple or for us, a God who is locked in a Tabernacle. But, let that God cry out as his son is nailed to cross, and it’s too much. Let the Body and Blood of that God be consumed by a neighbor or an enemy, and the challenge of becomes too much. Our imaginations and our expectations about how, when, and where God will be revealed have to be wide open, wide enough to believe that God could be revealed in a lowly son of a carpenter from Nazareth or be revealed in the man who is nailing shingles on the roof next door who comes from some foreign place or the man mowing our grass!

Sadly, every now and then, I am asked by people what I think about Pope Francis, and sometimes those people express displeasure about his leadership, style, and the things he says and does. Why? Because he does not fit their mold, their model of what the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter should act like. They remind me of the people of Nazareth. It’s not that they are bad, but they are going to miss something powerful and merciful because their imaginations are so limited.

My dear friends, there is another subtle part of the message in Mark’s Gospel that comes as a warning. The all-powerful God can be limited by human unbelief. We must learn from those people in Nazareth says St. Mark. The message of God’s nearness comes packaged in what looks very familiar. When that familiarity frightens or challenges us, calls into question the racism, ageism, or sexism of our age, we must take a look at and awaken our imagination because God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s voice may sound very familiar.