All posts for the month September, 2018

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
30 September 2018 on board the MS Eurodam
Numbers 11, 25-29 + Psalm 19 + James 5, 1-6 + Mark 9, 38-43, 45,47-48

That apostle, John and his friends, have a big problem. They think that somehow this power or authority to cast out demons belongs to them. Now let’s be clear about this, the casting out of demons really refers to healing or helping since in those days, demons were behind everything that was bad. We must not be distracted by thoughts of wild or dramatic exorcisms. The issue here is power and authority.

John and his fellow disciples have to learn that Jesus is the only source of power, and that anything they accomplish is done by the power of Jesus Christ, not by their own skills or their own initiative. There can be no exclusive claim when it comes to doing good in the name of Jesus. In his response, Jesus is widening the outlook of his disciples, who seem tempted to seal themselves off as a closed group and maintain a spirit of jealousy over what they consider to be the exclusive prerogative of the community. When it comes to service and the care of others in need, there is no special group who have the rights to respond, neither is there any competition about who can do the most or do it best. There is only the power of Jesus Christ exercised in faith and motivated by the Gospel which has been handed on to everyone.

Competition is bad enough when it nurtures the “look what I did” attitude. There is another down side to be avoided here which is that “it’s not my job” attitude. When someone or some group rises up with an exclusive claim, others fail to respond thinking, “It’s not my job.” Then, nothing happens.

You have to wonder if the disciples were threatened by the gifts or achievements of someone else. If so, they have a long way to go before they realize that God’s gifts are freely given to everyone. Our responsibility is to welcome those gifts where ever they appear. In the end, we have to ask ourselves what difference it makes who does something good? When there is a need, there is no excuse for looking the other way or thinking, “let someone else take care of it.” Neither is there any reason to think with some unjustified smugness that we could have done it better. If we could have, why didn’t we? Why did we wait for someone else to do it?

In the next two weeks as we live together on this ship, there will more opportunities for doing good deeds than we can imagine. Stay alert for them, and do not assume someone else will do them, but if they do, recognition, a thank you or a compliment, would the disciple’s response rather than a complaint. Deeds, suggests this gospel, do not have to be big in order to be of help and comfort to the person for whom they are done. They just have to have a certain quality. That quality is warmth. All deeds which come from the heart have this warmth.

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
 23 September 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL
Wisdom 2,12, 17-20 + Psalm 54 + James 3, 16–4,3 + Mark 9, 30-37

The crowds are gone now. The journey through Galilee to Jerusalem has begun, and instead of being followed by multitudes and surrounded by the needy and afflicted, it is only the disciples now being privately instructed, and Mark puts us right among them. Jesus wants to prepare us for what is ahead; but, it is not just about what lies ahead for Jesus. Is about what lies ahead for disciples. This time Mark has Jesus speaking in the present tense about being handed over. All other references to his Passion and Death were in the future. This time it is different. In other words, “The Son of Man is being handed over, not “will be handed over.” This is something happening right now. Reflecting on this business of “being handed over” leads us deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation and what God is doing by “handing over” his son to this world.

Thought of in the light of the Incarnation, it becomes clear that Jesus is no helpless victim. He is participating out of obedience in God’s act of redemption and saving love. God’s son is being handed over to us right here and right now. Knowing what is to come, Jesus could have stopped it, gone somewhere else, avoided the confrontation, and he would have never chosen Peter and Judas who both betray him, and by moving into the present tense, he proposes that Peter and Judas are not the only ones. We had better count ourselves with them as well. In spite of that, the handing over continues.

The disciples always want to avoid what he speaks of. It’s understandable in some sense. No one wants to be misunderstood, persecuted, judged unjustly, or abandoned by one’s friends at the greatest time of need. No one wants to be vulnerable enough to be stripped and ridiculed. So, there is no surprise in the reaction of the disciples. Earlier, Peter even says: “Never”, and he is rebuked. Today however, they are silent, which actually prefigures their response to his Passion, because when Jesus is handed over to the Chief Priests and Scribes, they are silent again. Not a single voice is raised in his defense. All he gets is Silence. Silence will not do. As disciples, we do not pick and choose what we are called to be, nor what we are sent out to do, but the desire and struggle to do so continues. When words fail, Jesus shifts to action, wraps a towel around his waist and washes feet. On the floor with water and towel is where disciples of Jesus are meant to be not picking the best place up at the table. To start thinking in terms of who is first or who sits where misses the message, and it breaks our fundamental solidarity with our neighbor.

There is no privilege in discipleship. There is no glory or honor for disciples in this world. There is only responsibility and duty to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, we are being “handed over” day after day. Just as the Father handed over his son into human nature, disciples are handed over becoming one with the world’s most vulnerable, helpless, poor, and outcast. When we give up thinking about ourselves and embrace what and who has been handed over to us, there will come that day when we will be raised up and lifted up in victory with Jesus Christ, and the will of God will be accomplished.

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
16 September 2018
At Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 50, 4-9 + Psalm 116 + James 2, 14-18 + Mark 8, 27-35

To believe that Jesus is the Messiah is not the same thing as understanding what it means to be the Messiah, and that is what unfolds in these verses today. From now until the end of Mark’s Gospel, the focus will be an instruction in which Jesus will reveal the mystery of his vocation to be a suffering Messiah who will lay down his life for his people, and the disciple’s vocation to follow him. As Mark sets up this last part of the Gospel, it becomes a journey to Jerusalem. Now there is a change of places. Until now, Jesus was in Galilee, but now he heads to Jerusalem knowing what lies ahead. That journey to Jerusalem would be long and hard, and even when they reached the climax of the cross, the disciples still did not comprehend the message of Jesus or understand what the Messiah had come to do. In the structure of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will tell them three times what is coming, and three times they fail to understand. Finally, there is the healing of blind man, and it prefigures the coming “sight” of the disciples who will finally be able to see what he means and what he asks.

We sit here in this church again just like those earlier disciples sat in an upper room. It’s as though no matter what he says and what he does, we still fail to understand what this Messiah has come to do and what he has become by his presence among us. Too often like those earlier disciples, we want a Messiah who will rescue us, do what we ask, give us what we want, and respond on our timetable. When that does not happen, because that is not what this Messiah is all about, some leave. Disappointments or tragedies strike, and failing to grasp the deepest meaning of the Incarnation, the coming of the Messiah, some give up in anger and walk away. They may well have believed that Jesus is the Messiah, the one sent to save, but they do not understand what it means to have that Messiah among us.

This why the cross is so important to us, so revealing to us and so precious, because it leads us deeply into the wonder of discovery, the awesome mystery of a God who has chosen to suffer with us, to know betrayal and denial, to know what it means to be abandoned, to be unjustly condemned and humiliated.  We have to get to Jerusalem with Jesus to understand his Messianic work which is not to excuse us from life and all that life can throw at us, but to go with us through every trial to that ultimate day of deliverance, Easter. The Messiah we have all been given is not some comic book hero who sweeps down and makes everything perfect. That is what Peter and his friends were expecting. The Messiah we have all been given is one who looks like us, feels the way we do, suffers what we suffer, and dies like us. Yet, he remains faithful and obedient to the Father. That obedience does not imply that God ordered him to be killed. It does imply that he kept listening and responding to the love God poured out into his heart.

Those first disciples who stayed, listened and watched. They had the love and faithfulness to remain on the road with him, and that was all that was necessary. It is no different for us. We stay, we listen, we watch all the way on the road always with him until the end which is really the beginning of all things new.

9/11 Liturgy at Saint Peter the Apostle Church, Naples, FL
  Revelation 21, 1-7 + Matthew 5, 1-12

This assembly in a house of prayer is much more than a memorial about a horrible event in the past. If we were to gather here to memorialize horrible historical events, we would never be able to leave. We would commemorate assassinations, bombings, hijackings, riots, genocide, school shootings, and way more besides. This day and our assembly cannot be just about the past. A cross made from the debris of the Twin Towers and piece of stone from the Pentagon lie here before us to say without words what hatred can do. Yet, we place them before an altar which speaks wordlessly about what sacrificial love can do. One is a reminder of hatred expressed in death and destruction. The other is reminder of love expressed in sacrifice and salvation. Think of it this way. People motivated by hatred destroy and kill. People motivated by love buildup and save. Some believe that they have a right to kill people because they disagree with them, while others believe it is worth suffering or sacrificing one’s own life to preserve the right to disagree.

The Gospel we just proclaimed takes place on a hill, says Matthew. On that hill the core principles that shape the lives of those who give life rather than take life are put before us. Being poor in spirit has nothing to do with economics. It is the characteristic of a people who rely on God alone knowing that without God they can do nothing. The meek are not weak. This is about strength under control and power being used with wise restraint. The sorrow that comes from mourning can also stir up our hope because it can show us the essential kindness of our fellow human beings who will pour out everything to comfort and help those who are hurting. This mercy put before us is way more than feeling sorry for someone or having pity. Mercy is about the ability to get into another’s skin, to walk in their shoes. It is a kind of sympathy that comes from a deliberate identification with another person seeing what they see and feeling what they feel. That’s mercy. It is real understanding. Nutrition is not the point of feeding the hungry. It is a desire to satisfy the deepest of human needs which is always the comfort of presence and respect. The Pure of Heart are simply people whose lives are not mixed up or conflicted by many motives. They don’t do good to be admired. They do good because they are, and they know that the basis of human peace is peace with God that comes with Justice. All of this is given credibility in the end by action. It is always what we do that gives credibility to what we say. So, Jesus speaks on a hill, then he does something on another hill. He lays down his life. He suffers and He saves.

The point of our assembly here today must be the future, not just the past. In the face of destruction and even death, people who live and who are “Beatitude” or people who are a Blessing, are people of hope never revenge. They are people of respect, patience, and tolerance confident that all will be well in the Kingdom of God. They are people like you responders inspired by the sacrifice of those we remember today. By your service and sacrifice, we are moving in the right direction, toward the Kingdom of Heaven every time there is sacrifice to save another.

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
9 September 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 35, 4-7 + Psalm 146 + James 2, 1-5 + Mark 7, 31-37

When you are different, people are afraid of you. If you’re blind, people step out of the way. If you are deaf few people will find a way to communicate with you. Moreover, some with a severe hearing deficit or with no hearing at all find it very difficult to speak, and so communication is difficult resulting in a great burden of isolation and often depression. These people suffer, not from hearing loss, because it isn’t painful. They suffer because they rarely get a chance to contribute to the community. They feel as though no one understands them, and many feel useless. The rest of us just feel sorry, but not Jesus Christ.

This episode of Mark’s Gospel is not about a deaf man. It is about deafness, and the inability to hear; and with it therefore, the inability to speak. All of us suffer from some kind of impediment that keeps us from making full use of speech. Some are shy. Some are apathetic. Some are just insensitive or unaware of the silence because they are busy making noise with their opinions or tuning in only the sounds that make them comfortable and secure. We might call it, selective hearing. They have impediments that prevent them from hearing as well like prejudice, inattention, or simply a decision to just not listen. Be open is the command of Jesus, be open.

What seems at first like a typical miracle story might be much more. Almost every one of the miracles recorded in the Gospels are public events that happen out in the open in front of everyone. This time, Jesus takes the man off by himself to a private place. It is an intimate, personal story with intimate and personal details. Jesus touched that man. First Jesus touched his own mouth and then touched that man’s mouth. Then Jesus touched his ears, and I believe that in doing so Jesus touched his heart, and that touch made that man new.

We have to wonder what Jesus is saying to us in this Gospel, because the Word of God is alive among us. This is no old story from “back in the day.” We have to wonder about those nameless people who brought that man to Jesus. Perhaps there is the suggestion that we might be expected to lead someone to Christ, someone who is different. On the other hand, we might well be the ones who are deaf and do not speak, deaf to the silent cry of someone who is different, even deaf to the Word of God that calls us to repentance. We may be the ones who do not speak in the face of injustice or wrong-doing. We may be the one who feels so different burdened by isolation and depression. Whichever it is, our best hope and our prayer today is that Jesus will touch us. Hearing and speech are great gifts. But without a heart that is able to feel compassion, we will never use them well. It is only with the heart that we can listen rightly, and only with the heart that can speak kindly and justly. For this today, we must pray.