All posts for the month October, 2018

The Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle and St. Willian Churches in Naples, FL
Revelations 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

We should gather here today with the memory of saints we have known in our lives. This day is not about Francis or Clare of Assisi, the Apostles, or the Martyrs whose faith and courage made them heroic in suffering. This day is about people we have known in our lifetime, people who challenge us, or maybe even shame us into living a good, holy, faith filled life. These are people who imitated Christ, and they remind us of what life is about. They have in the past and still their memory inspires us. Beyond the grave they still guide us. They are teachers, friends, family members, public servants, or maybe neighbors. We remember them today because of what they have called us to become with the sure hope that they like the people we sang of in the Psalm today now see God face to face.

We gather here to celebrate our confident hope that ordinary people are standing by the side of Francis and Clare, the Apostles Peter and Andrew, Agnes, Ann, Mary and Joseph. This day of All Saints invites us to ponder our ultimate purpose and what we hope to accomplish in life and why. This holy day is about holy people, and we ought to live with the hope that someday someone will remember us on this day. The people I am calling to mind were not particularly pious, but they were very good. Piety is not a substitute for goodness. Perhaps there can be goodness without holiness, but I’m quite sure that there is no holiness without goodness. All of us have that capacity for goodness.

In the end, love is what it’s all about. A loving person is always holy person. To be a saint is to be a witness to love. There is no higher vocation than this. St John of the Cross gave us this great thought: “In the evening of our lives we will be examined on love.” It hardly matters whether we have been successful in school or some career. It certainly does not matter how much money we have made or how many prayers we’ve said or novenas we have made. In the end it will probably not matter how many times we have been to Mass or failed to go. We are going to be examined on love. All the prayers, the Masses, the generosity of our lives and what we choose to do with what we have will simply be a manifestation of that love, because we always gather here because of love.

It is the lovers that we remember today: the people whose love for God and who were loved by God and managed to love us even when there was every reason not to. These are the Saints we honor today. Remember them now, and in your mind speak their names.

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
28 October 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Jeremiah 31, 7-9 + Psalm 126 + Hebrews 5, 1-6 + Mark 10, 46-52

This is the last miracle in Mark’s Gospel, and the second time Jesus cures a someone blind. These two cure stories are like bookends beginning and concluding the section in which Jesus attempts to get his disciples to understand who he is in light of the upcoming passion. The first time Jesus seems to have trouble. He must touch the man’s eyes twice before he could see clearly. This time there is no touch at all, just faith that brings blind Bartimaeus into the company of followers. Bartimaeus wanted precisely what the disciples were avoiding: to see things clearly. It was the request Jesus had been wanting to hear and longing to grant, but his closest companions never ask for that. All they ask for is to have a place of honor in the Kingdom they imagine Jesus will begin.

Bartimaeus stands among us today as a model disciple suggesting that we might best get the attention of Jesus by asking for the right things. Asking for mercy and asking to see more clearly moves Jesus to invite us to draw near. There is in us all a kind of blindness that keeps us from seeing clearly as God sees. We sometimes cling to our old ways; to the prejudice and judgements we have made about others, to old hurts and offenses like blind Bartimaeus had clung to his cloak. For him, it was his security. Perhaps his only possession. Yet, at the call of Jesus he throws it aside in a gesture of hope and confidence in this one he has called: “Son of David”. His use of that title for Jesus is the first time it is spoken in Mark’s Gospel. Until now, Jesus has been “Son of Man.” The secret Jesus has been keeping and insisting on is about to be revealed in Jerusalem where the welcoming crowds will also cry out their “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  Bartimaeus who is blind is the first to proclaim Jesus as the one Israel longed and waited for who lift up the poor.

Now one who has been sitting at the side of the road gets up, and Mark tells us that he begins to follow the way. This does not necessarily mean that he followed Jesus on to Jerusalem, but rather than going his own way, he followed the way of discipleship. So many in this world are just sitting by the side of the road waiting. Maybe it’s time to get up, because the Lord is calling us all. If we can just manage to take up the cry of Bartimaeus for mercy, ask to see as God sees, and cast off the cloak of our past, we have every reason to hear with great joy the best news, “Take courage. Jesus is calling for you.”

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
21 October 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Isaiah 53, 10-11 + Psalm 33 + Hebrews 4, 14-16 + Mark 10, 35-45

There is something interesting going on here that takes a little thought and reflection to get straight, but it is really the essence of what Mark is leading us to discover. Simply put: once we know who Jesus is, then we know who we are. To put it another way, once we know what Jesus is, then we know what we are.

This all unfolds in a situation that is too real, too human, and too hard to miss. Those disciples have not yet, even after all this time with Jesus, come to grips with who he is and what he is. Therefore, they have no idea who they are much less what they are. With what can only be called, “Divine Patience”, Jesus goes at it again trying to explain to them what he is doing and what is about to happen. With what can only be described as a chronic hearing impediment, they don’t listen, and they go on blissfully planning a future that could not be more opposite from the future Jesus is putting before them as his option.

The disciples are anticipating and planning for the great and mighty Kingdom they expect from the Messiah. He is telling them he is going to suffer at the hands of the Scribes, Pharisees and the Chief Priest. He tells them he will die which to them must mean they will be on their own. They choose to be deaf to that kind of talk. It does not fit their expectations and what they think they need; so, they go on with their ambitions and lofty expectations. There is a dis-connect here that leaves them ignorant of who and what they are as his disciples. Because they have missed interpreted the signs and wonders he works, they think he is going to be “Jesus fixer”, “Jesus, The Almighty” who will restore Israel to its former glory, and therefore, they will be the privileged and powerful who will feast on the bounty of this reign, and claim a share in this glory.

There is no such Messiah here in Jesus. His Kingdom is not of this world. His mission in this world is simply to live with us, live like us, and even die like we us so that we can rise as he does when called by the Father. He reaches out, seeks out, and embraces those forgotten and left out of life, the sick, the sinner, the lost, the confused, and the doubtful. It is the privilege of our faith in this age to look at this situation and know better without judgement on the poor disciples. Eventually by the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit, they came around and discovered who they were as his disciples and what they were to become.

Finally, with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we can discover who we are as Disciples of Jesus Christ. When we know who and what Jesus is, we know who and what we are as Children of God and Servants willing to sacrifice and serve everyone in need. Ambition and power, prestige and privilege have no place among us. Disciples of the real Messiah go about his work looking for the lost, the marginalized, the forgotten, the avoided. Like the Messiah who has come, we can eat with the sinners and saints. We can make welcome those who are different, because we too are different in a greedy, self-centered, power-hungry world. Embracing the full and real identity of Jesus Christ defines who we are and what this world can expect of us. We shall never abandon or ignore the needs of another. We shall stand with them, suffer with them, and wait with them until the Father calls us all to the fullness of everlasting life. We will do this because we know who we are. Let us learn the lesson Mark puts before us today. The Messiah did not come among us to find us work, fix our families, or cure our illnesses and put an end to suffering and death. He came to be with us through these trials and miseries. His disciples, you and me, are witnesses to this truth by the way we care for, support, help, and comfort one another. In this, we shall fulfill the Father’s Will and find everlasting life.

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
14 October 2018 on board the MS Eurodam
Wisdom 7, 7-11 + Psalm 90 + Hebrews 4, 12-13 + Mark 10, 17-30

Two men appear in the verses of Mark’s Gospel we have just proclaimed; one at the beginning another at the end. One of them has no name, and the other is called, Peter. They are both men who have been looked at love. In the case of the first man, it is the only time in all the Gospels that Jesus is said to have looked with love on an individual. It is the gaze of divine love that should have completely overcome this man and moved him to give up everything at that moment. Yet, it does not happen. The reason why is worth our thought and some reflection. We could learn from him. In the case of Peter, the Gospel doesn’t ever say that he was looked at with love, but we can only hope that this was what Peter saw as he sat there in the courtyard of the High Priest when a cock crowed the third times. The Gospel tells us that Jesus turned and looked at him. Why would we think that look would have been anything other than the look of love? Unless our lesser selves imagine a look of reproach, like, “I told you so”, or a “how could you?” We know what that looks like don’t we? We also know how to give look, but that is not what he saw.

That man with no name could easily be us. He seems to have been so preoccupied with his own thoughts, that he does not notice how Jesus looks at him, and that’s a shame. The story might have ended up differently had he just looked up into that loving gaze. But no, he has too many possessions to look after. In reality, they possess him. He can’t imagine his life without them. What Jesus asks of him is not just to help the poor, but to become poor. Judging from his question, that man thinks that there is something he can do to gain eternal life, and here we see the difference between him and Peter. Having given up everything, Peter and his companions begin to discover that this “eternal life” is a free gift given by the loving Father to those who do not deserve it. At the moment of his greatest shame and sorrow, Peter looks at the face of the friend and master he has just denied and he sees the look of love.

Jesus demands the best of us. That is what he asked of that man and of Peter and the Twelve. The challenge: “If you want to be perfect” is issued to all of us as well. However, the thing we might be called upon to sacrifice in order to take up that challenge could vary for each of us. We have to look into our own hearts to see what it is that we would have to give up in order to respond. Our presence here this final Sunday of our adventure around the Pacific brings us face to face with great questions. We are reminded like the nameless man and Peter that we are invited to come along with Jesus, that life is a pilgrimage to God’s eternal kingdom.

On Thursday, we shall disembark the Eurodam, and as you go, take a look at the luggage 1900 people have hauled all the way to Vancouver. I never fail to be stunned by all that stuff, and I look at my own and wonder if I really needed it all. To accept the invitation of Jesus means we must travel lightly and remember that salvation is always what God accomplishes in spite of us. Eternal life is not something we can earn, buy, or accomplish on our own. Those who trust in themselves and their possessions have it all wrong. Only those who trust in the saving power and redeeming love of God can enter freely into salvation. What he asks is sacrifice. It is the sign language of love. What Jesus knows is that there is no point in forcing people to make sacrifices. If you take things from people, they are impoverished; but if you can get them to give them up, they are enriched. With these men before us today, we have a choice to make and a model to follow. One leads to sadness. The other leads to the joy of forgiveness and eternal life.

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
 7 October 2018 on board the MS Eurodam
Genesis 2, 18-24 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 2, 9-11 + Mark 10, 2-16

As much as some might and in spite of how many have tried to make it so, these verses are not about marriage as we know it. To make it so is to focus on the example rather than the issue. It would be like getting all interested in the waves out there rather than the wind that causes them. What is at stake here is what it means for all of us to be made in the image of God; men, women and children. What is questioned here is whether or not a man is more important than a woman, and whether or not adults are more important than children. To get their attention, and to return the challenge of those Pharisees who come looking for a way to trap him, Jesus out smarts them with their own scriptures, and proposes something so startling and so unheard of, that they are left in confusion.

In their system of values, it was OK for a man to commit adultery. It was not OK for a woman to do so. In their system of values, a husband could get rid of a wife he no longer found helpful or productive, but not so for the woman. If she had a husband who was useless and slept around, she was stuck where she was. Moses thought that was so unfair, that he required a “Bill of divorce” from the man so that the woman would be free to be taken in marriage by someone else. And that was because men had become so hard-hearted that they were leaving the first wife with nowhere to go. Then in the second part of this episode, Jesus reacts very strongly to the behavior and attitude of the disciples toward children. It’s as though those children were not worthy to touch or be embraced by Jesus. The disciples seem to think that the Blessing of Jesus was just for adults.

So, this is not about marriage at all. It is about equality and worthiness in the sight of God. It is about affirming the fact that God made us all, and in God’s sight no one is more important, more blessed, or worthier than anyone else. In this conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus goes far beyond the question of divorce to teach about the meaning of human relationships in general. When he speaks to the disciples in private, he reinterpreted the legal explanations of the day by treating men and women as equals before the law. This really shook up everyone, and it was something totally new to their thinking. We are hardly finished working out that matter of equality today.

Behind the reflection of Jesus on marriage lies the question of all human relations which is why Mark follows up with the story of the children. Just as the Pharisees debated what could be done with a troublesome woman, the disciples did not want children bothering their master. Of course, all of this was a threat to the assumed prestige of the disciples when Jesus seemed to prefer the unimportant or disreputable to company with them. Like the Pharisees who debated the right to divorce, the disciples’ treatment of the children demonstrated their willingness to make distinctions between important people like themselves and those who could simply be dismissed.

Jesus would have none of that. With all of us made in the image and likeness of God, an offense against one of the least is equal to an offense against whoever is considered the greatest. Isn’t it fun to close this complicated Gospel with the image of Jesus tackled by a throng of kids? Perhaps when we lose all the inhibitions adulthood seems to impose on us, and find a way to get around all the rules and regulations that make some more important than others, we will all know the embrace, the blessing, and the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ.