All posts for the month August, 2018

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 September 2018
Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples & St. Sebastian Church in Ft. Lauderdale

When you push through the examples here forgetting about washing and all that stuff, you get to the real point of this episode in Mark’s Gospel. Think of this Gospel as a handbook or formation program for true disciples of Jesus. When you do that, this becomes a lesson on integrity. It ought to be obvious to everyone of us that we are living through a time of moral decay. The evidence is a loss of integrity which is just what Jesus is addressing in these verses. I remind you that the Word of God is always the truth, not opinion or suggestion. It is the truth from God. This integrity Jesus is demanding is the quality of being undivided. It is one. It is being true to one’s standard. It is, I guess, honesty. It is sincerity. It is incorruptibility. It is the exact opposite of hypocrisy.

Let me give you a real-life example. Some years ago, a family in the parish was having trouble with their older teen aged son. He was messing around with drugs and running around with serious troublemakers. They asked me over to talk with them, and in the conversation, expressing what he was most worried about, the father said: “He’s becoming a liar, and I can’t stand it.” Minutes later, the phone rang. His wife answered the phone and stepped in to tell the father who was calling. The father said: “Tell them I’m not home.” Who made that boy a liar, drugs or his dad?  How can that boy learn integrity, I wondered? In recalling this, I also remembered another father, the father of one of my closest friends. Reminiscing after his father’s death, he told me of an experience from years ago about a summer when his sister was looking for employment. She had two job offers. One she wanted very much and the other she didn’t but would take as a second choice. As you can imagine, that job came up first, and it was offered to her. She wanted to hold out for the other, but she didn’t know if an offer was going to come. So, she went ahead and accepted it for her summer job. A few days later, as you also might guess, the other job became available to her, and she wanted to quit the first very much and go to the second. So, she went to her father and said, “Dad, I have a problem.” And she told him about her dilemma. He looked her straight in the eye and said, “Did you take the first job?” She said, “Yes” “Did you promise you would work there this summer?” She said, “Yes.” He said, “Why are we having this conversation?”

The kind of integrity Jesus models for his disciples is validated by words and deeds. The pure of heart are pure in action, and so integrity is making daily actions line up with the heart’s values. Integrity demands that we stand for what is the right and the upright thing to do. If you look carefully at the person of Jesus Christ three things become obvious, and those are three ways to maintain and strengthen integrity. 1. Be the same person in front of the crowd as you are behind the scenes. The real test of one’s integrity is a crisis or being under stress. That is when we reveal who we really are for good or ill. 2. Be careful not to conform. Do you notice that about Jesus? He is the ultimate non-conformist! Integrity is about doing the right thing regardless of what others think or do. St. Paul in writing to the Romans says it straight out: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” 3. Recognize right now that having integrity is hard work, a challenge day in and day out, and it only comes through endurance. It’s slow going. You can’t get to the top without integrity. Some do, but they don’t stay long without it.

This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” is the lament of Jesus standing there before those hypocrites who are always picking away at him, watching and waiting for him to do something that will give them evidence or reason not to believe him. They say things they do not mean. They do things because others are watching them, and they want to look good and holy. He turns to us today, his disciples, and calls us to integrity. Integrity is what reveals morality which describes the principals of our behavior. For us, the principals come from Jesus Christ and from our relationship to him. The restoration of morality in our society and in our times will come about from believing disciples of Jesus who have integrated their lives into his so much so that there is no longer any difference between what God wants and what we do.

At the end of Mass after the blessing this story is told:

Ernest Hemingway wrote a story about a father and his teenage son. In the story, the relationship had become somewhat strained, and the teenage son ran away from home. His father began a journey in search of that rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, Spain, in a last desperate attempt to find the boy, the father put an ad in the local newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, Meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day, in front of the newspaper office, 800 Pacos showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness. They were all seeking the love of their father.

If you’re a Paco this morning, and you want the forgiveness and the integrity of Jesus Christ in your life, tell the heavenly Father that and through Jesus Christ, he will say, “You are forgiven. Welcome home, my child.” And if you do that in dead seriousness and with real meaning, you’ll rise up and walk out of this building a person of integrity. God wants that for us; we want that for us. Jesus is able to make us that. Go in peace, and proclaim this Gospel by your lives!

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

26 August 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle, St. Willian & Elizabeth Seton Churches in Naples, FL

Joshua 24, 1-2 & 15-18 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 21-32 + John 6, 60-69

Now with our final Sunday in John’s sixth chapter, a crisis arises. Given what has been said earlier, it should not come as a surprise to discover that being a disciple of Jesus is more than casually looking for him and eating what he gives. Remember that this is how this crowd came together. They saw a miracle with loaves and fish and they have come looking for Jesus the next day so that they could be fed bread again. Discipleship with Jesus is not casually looking for him and enjoying some physical blessings. It is not about being close and faithful when you want something or feel grateful. It is also about staying close when things go crazy and we don’t understand the how and why of what happens at bad times or times of trial or disappointment. For these people, it is okay when he fed them and healed them. But it was not okay when he told them what to do. Jesus expects faith, obedience, and trust in him in the face of difficulty. He is the only answer for our lives. When the things of this world mean more to us than Jesus, these Gospel verses are about us.  When anything else is more important than being here around this altar, Jesus has something to say to us.

The Gospel and Discipleship with Jesus demands a change in lifestyle and it is uncomfortable. Once those followers realized that following Jesus was going to be more than social networking among friends they began to think twice. Once they acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One of God who has the words of everlasting life there is a truth that must either be ignored or accepted. For many it is easier to ignore it and stay in their comfort zone. Once we meet Jesus face to face, we either have to live as he has taught us or get out. There are no other options.

This is what makes it so difficult to live the Gospel in this world. We cannot accept violence of any kind. We stand for the protection of all life from conception to natural death.  Execution is not a natural death. We are compelled to work on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. We are expected to welcome strangers. We live lives of mercy and forgiveness, and inclusively welcome everyone regardless of who they are and what they believe. We subordinate ourselves to God and do everything we can to live our lives on God’s terms not our own. We protect this earth, all its creatures, and creation itself as faithful stewards, and we cannot deny that out planet has suffered at our hands. We are called to be humble and walk with justice, promote peace, be poor in spirit and maintain a pure heart.

Regardless of our political views on any of these things, the Gospel view remains unshaken and unquestionable, and that’s a tall order that causes to some walk away and they still do. We may be tempted to walk with them from time to time, or we might try compromising the Gospel by suggesting that Jesus “didn’t really mean that.” The Gospel is always the truth, and it cannot be watered down. Once we embrace that truth, we can say with Peter, “Where else can we go?” The Holy One of God speaks in this place now in this liturgy.

If we know there is no other place to go, and no one else speaks the truth, we look again at our personal lives and ask how closely they reflect the values and ideals of God’s Kingdom. We prioritize our lives so that we give due time and attention to those things that truly matter. We can change destructive and distorted patterns of thinking and begin to see all people as unique and valued children of God. When we do, we will silence those who deaminize others to justify taking their children or turning away those who have nothing to give us. And, just as we make time for exercise and for friends, we can develop a strong life of prayer that keeps us centered and focused and spiritually healthy nurturing in our relationship with God. So, the question he asks then he is still asking: “Are with me or are you just going to go your own way.”

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

19 August 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL

Proverbs 9, 1-6 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 15-20 + John 6, 51-58

We all look at food differently. For some, food is about taste. Who cares if it’s full of sugar or salt? If it tastes good, it is good. If it’s fried, it’s even better. Bring it on! We’ll work it off tomorrow or after the game if we can get ourselves out of the recliner. There are others who read labels, and they think about food in terms of organic and health promoting. For them it is all about ingredients. For some, food is their best friend, and they are always after “comfort food.” While some think of food as an enemy when you can’t get into most of the things in your closet. Food can be a manifestation of love when a grandmother happily prepares cookies for her grandchildren, and brothers and sisters crowded in a kitchen all helping prepare a Thanksgiving family feast with laughter and joy.

For the past several weeks, we have heard a lot about food in John’s Gospel. Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life and speaks somewhat disturbingly about consuming his flesh and blood. To the scandal and discomfort of those who were listening as he first spoke, he was comparing himself to the Manna in the desert which was to them a constant sign of God’s care and provident presence. They also did not fail to notice, with the talk of eating flesh and drinking blood, an image of the Lamb sacrificed at Passover. They caught the full impact of these implications that he was saying that union with him was the way to eternal life. Small minded critics in the crowd focused on the literal idea of drinking blood which appalled them while really serious critics understood exactly what Jesus was saying and protested the audacity of his claim to be speaking for God.

But, Jesus was speaking the language of the heart and soul, not the language of chemistry or physics. When he presents himself as bread, or as flesh and blood for the eating, the invitation is to receive and take him in such a way that his very life becomes our own. One group of his listeners objected that this idea was bringing God too close, and they objected wanting to keep God “in the temple” or “behind the veil.” The God Jesus revealed to them was just too near and maybe too close. Then there were others who recognized the responsibility of what Jesus was proposing. Worship and keeping the rules was suddenly hot enough. They were going to have to live in the love of God doing the works of God.

Jesus was claiming to be the meeting point between the Father and humanity, and he still is. Taking him in, eating is the way to eternal life that must cause such a transformation that anyone who accepts him will become his branches and share his life as truly as he shared the life of the Father. So, it’s still about food. It’s about food that is shared in love. It is about food that restores health, strengthens the body and the soul, and food that must be shared in service, in love, and with joy. The invitation to eat is an invitation to become.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

15 August 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL

Revelation 11, 19 – 12, 6, 10 + Psalm 45 + 1 Corinthians 15, 20-27 + Luke 1, 39-56

All of those images from the Book of Revelation about golden clothing and wild battles with Satan can be left to another time for a serious study of this complicated style of writing. Having not entertained the thinking of some in Corinth that the resurrection of Jesus did not really involve his body, we can excuse ourselves from Paul’s tirade today. Let’s just settle down with this simple reading from Luke’s first chapter. What is so beautiful and charming about this Gospel passage is that it is so very ordinary, unspectacular and not particularly controversial as the reading from Paul or the Book of Revelation.

We are often led to remember and admire the spectacular events of our lives ignoring the importance of the ordinary day-t0-day things, but I think the wisdom of the church on this feast would suggest that this is not wise. I think of this in terms of Blessed Stanley Rother, that Oklahoma priest who was martyred in Guatemala. Everyone who knows anything about him remembers that day at the end of July when he was shot to death in the rectory. That violent day almost overshadows all the other ordinary days of his life when he got in the morning, celebrated Mass, cared for the people, comforted the suffering, and protected the vulnerable. There is a similar risk here with this feast. We should not ignore the simple ordinary things that in the end make a person great, noble, or holy. The Assumption of Mary is the consequence of an ordinary life lived by a mother and a faithful servant of God. For Mary and for us, it will be the ordinary days that determine who we are.

In the Gospel today, Mary hears that Elizabeth is pregnant, she leaves behind her own concerns and affairs and asks, “What does my cousin Elizabeth need?” When a visit seems appropriate, Mary acts. She goes in haste to the hill country to visit her cousin. Other than the risks involved and the inconvenience, it’s no big deal. Yet, what we see here is the pattern of ordinary days: asking and acting. What does someone need followed by an action responding to that need. As simple as this pattern is, the result is often more than we might imagine. Following the pattern of pregnant Mary, we not only bring ourselves to others. We also carry Christ who is in us to everyone we service.

The glory of Mary assumed bodily into heaven is simply a preview or foretaste of our glory. Her risen body is with the risen body of Christ in a new creation. So, it shall be for us who have lived every blessed and ordinary day asking and acting.

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

12 August 2018 at St Peter the Apostle and St William Parishes in Naples, FL

1 Kings 19, 4-8 + Psalm 32 + Ephesians 4, 30 to 5,2 + John 6, 41-51

Something happens with this text today that is important. Until now the people engaged with Jesus have been called: the crowd. Now the identity of the crowd is given. The crowd is “the Jews.” This sixth chapter of John’s Gospel is loaded with images of the Exodus in the Old Testament. There is the report of Jesus walking on the water to the other side of the Sea which brings up the image of Moses leading the people of Israel through the Red Sea. Then there was last week talk of Manna in the desert that God provided through Moses. Now today there are people murmuring just like the Israelites murmured at Moses resisting his leadership. They murmur now because they think they know where Jesus comes from. When he says: “Stop murmuring among yourselves” he means “Be quiet and listen.” They can’t see who is right in front of them because they think they know the truth about the origins of Jesus. Their knowledge stands in the way of the truth. They are not listening! The consequence is unbelief, and the only way out is to be drawn into faith by the Father, and that is the focus of this text.

As always, there are clues in the original text. The word used by John when he speaks of the action of the Father drawing people is the same word used to describe fishing nets being hauled into the boat. We must be dragged into faith by God: there is no other way to come is what Jesus is saying here. This is a troubling idea, because it leaves us to wonder what happens to those who murmur, to those who seem not to have been drawn to Jesus, and what about us, a people who are sometimes so shallow or inconsistent in our faith? It raises some questions that are not easily answered because there is no answer to the work of God except the promise and the hope that God does draw people to faith.

Jesus is not making it easy on that crowd. He does not make it easy on us either. The more they resist, the harder he makes it. When they do not accept Jesus as the Bread of Life come from the Father, he starts talking about eating flesh which is not only difficult but offensive to the crowd. He has no interest in making it easy. The fact here is that we must follow Jesus on his terms even if it seems difficult or offensive. Following Jesus on his terms is what it means to be a disciple. Bread from heaven is no free lunch but thinking that it was is what brought the crowds chasing after him to begin with. Bread from Heaven will cost Jesus his life and feeding on this bread will bring us as well to the cross.

When we begin to listen to this through the context of the Passover which is about to happen and the Eucharist we are about to celebrate, we are drawn to this altar which is more than just a table set for a feast. It is also the altar of a sacrifice. The food we find at this altar is not a free meal. To take this Bread of Life we take a share in the sacrifice, the suffering, the obedience, and the service of the one whose flesh we consume. It is costly. It is tough. But it is the only way to life, as the Father continues to draw us deeper into the mystery and wonder of his love.

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

5 August 2018 at Saint Andrew Parish in Moore, OK

Exodus 16, 2-4 & 12-15 + Psalm 78 + Ephesians 4, 17 & 22-24 + John 6, 24-35

The first question in today’s verses has a double meaning, and the obvious or simple answer is not necessarily the best. The problem comes from the English translation of John’s original text. “When did you get here?” is the English translation, but the verb that John uses for “get” is the same verb used to say “come to be” or “begotten.” So, you see, there is another level to explore here. It is likely that John really wants to explore the reason for the Incarnation. Why is Jesus here among us on earth? With that question asked at the beginning of these verses, the rest of what Jesus says has much greater importance.

The crowd wants a sign because it is entertaining. They didn’t have Cable or Internet for fun. So, when a wonder-worker comes along, they are going to get up and get moving. They also want free food without working to earn it. It does not cast them in a particularly flattering light. That crowd ought to disturb us and invite us to take a good look at ourselves. They are chasing around all over the place looking for Jesus, but not to give something. They want to get something. Never mind that Jesus might want something from them: their faith. There is a deliberate attempt in John’s writing today to connect this event to that meeting of Jesus at a well with a Samaritan woman. Jesus wants something there and he wants something now from us. At that well, he wants that woman’s faith even though they are talking about drinks of water. Here, just as before, Jesus wants faith as now he talks about bread.

As we proclaim this Gospel in this assembly, Jesus looks at those who are here because they want something, and John raises a challenge to those whose prayer is always looking for a sign or begging for something. He raises a challenge also to those who go wandering around from place to place, church to church because they want to be entertained, or who complain that they didn’t get anything out of it. It fails to cross their minds that Jesus may want something they can give, faith. Perhaps it is time for us to give some sign, just as it was time for the woman at the well to give a sign and run back to bring the townspeople to Jesus because she believed. Perhaps it is time for us to give some witness to the one who is bread on this altar.

Faith and fidelity require a lot of work. There is nothing free or easy about faith. Repentance is hard to maintain. Breaking the habits of sinfulness and achieving real virtue and true holiness is the work of a lifetime. We have to grow out of the idea that Jesus came among us to get us a job, or solve some problem, heal some sickness or make us happy and more comfortable. He says today that he came to accomplish the works of God, to give life to the world. Jesus reminds those people that the manna their ancestors received with Moses came from God, not from Moses. Gratitude to God is the only appropriate response. Not “Give me more.” For us it is no different. Everything we have is a gift from God, and faithful believers never forget that. Those clothes you wear, and that closet full at home is really a gift from God. The food we eat is a gift from God, and we must remember that. The very act of that remembrance is what Eucharist is all about: remembering what God has done for us and giving back to God what God has given us, His only Son.

Jesus came to give us life. That is what we must seek above all and first of all. People of faith know the difference between what is perishable and what lasts forever. All of us must work to figure the difference, to know the difference, and to believe in the one who says to us: “I am the bread of life.” When we do, we will lack nothing, seek nothing except that which gives us life.