All posts for the month November, 2018

The First Sunday of Advent
2 December 2018 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Jeremiah 33, 14016 + Psalm 25 + 1 Thessalonians 3, 12- 4, 2 + Luke 21, 25-28, 34-36

For many of us who use technology today, making a journey sometimes means pulling up some program on the internet into which you enter the location you are headed for, the end of the journey. Today we pick up the Gospel of Luke, and from now until November 24, 2019 with very few exceptions we shall make our way as though on a journey with Luke as our guide. We begin the journey this first Sunday by entering the destination. If we don’t know where we’re going, we’re never going to get there. It’s as simple as that. This Sunday and next we shall take a look through the eyes of Luke at where we are going, at how this journey will end. The last two weeks of this season will then explore how it begins or where it starts: in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

In the course of this year and its journey, the whole of Christ’s life and teaching will pass before us. We will re-visit all the mysteries of his life, reliving his whole story. It is a story we have heard many times, and because of that, there is great danger, and that danger is that we will fall asleep like children listening to familiar nursery rhymes told over and over again. The constant urging of this season as that we stay awake, because in these days, there are many who sleepwalk through life. They have ears but hear not, eyes that do not see. Men and women enlightened by Christ Jesus are people awake, alive, and alert.

The Lord asks us to stay awake as watchful and faithful disciples. This world is in agony and full of suffering just like Jesus Christ in the garden the night before he died. What he asked of those disciples then, he asks of us today. Awake and Watchful, we shall see this story as new and present and alive. We are not playing and old video here. Each celebration of every feast brings back the event in its original clarity and vitality never glowing cold, lifeless, or fading away. We are not spectators, but actors in all of this.

Knowing where we are going, and headed into the second coming of Christ, we know by faith what is happening in this world. The earliest followers of Christ believed that the second coming was near, and would be preceded by cosmic signs. We are not so sure about that. All the false prophets of the end saw a time of gloom and doom. But, Jesus spoke of it as a time of liberation and salvation. The world is not headed for catastrophe in spite of what some may think or say. God has a plan and a goal for this world, and that goal is the coming of God’s reign in all its fullness.

What is expected of us is that we live with joy and bear witness to truth, to justice, to love and peace. Every commitment to peace, justice, and human rights is a witness to the Gospel. The way to witness to truth is to live truthfully. The way to witness to justice is to act justly in all our dealings with others. The way to witness to love is to act lovingly towards others. And the way to witness to peace is to live in peace with others. When all the world denies the truth and lives a lie, when justice and peace are mocked by the powerful who rule for their own preservation, Jesus says we should Stand erect and hold our heads high for in him we have and find the strength to remain steadfast and faithful, sure of what is to come.

In this hemisphere we are moving into the darkest time of the year, but we know that by the end of this season, the days will grow longer and the darkness of night will give way. In this world today, we are the hope and the light. This season gives us a marvelous opportunity to brighten the lives of everyone who lives in darkness, of everyone who is worn out and tired, working two or three jobs to make ends meet, living with pain or sickness and ready to give up. People of God, Church of God, stay awake, stand up. Hold up your heads. There is a third coming of Christ that Luke will tell us about in the course of his Gospel. It is the coming of the Holy Spirit that reveals the presence of God within us and all around us every single day and all night long.

The Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Solemnity of Christ the King
25 November 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Daniel 7, 13-14 + Psalm 93 + Revelation 1, 5-8 + John 18, 33-37

The two of them stand before us. We have no need of their conversation. We know who they are and what they have to offer. Pilate tries to diminish this one standing before him. He wants to put some limits on the power of Jesus. Pilot calls him, “King of the Jews”, a title that refers to a race rather than a nation or the people of God living in covenant. Jesus is silent because Jesus is the Truth while Pilot is the lie.

The “lie” is Pilot in a world of competition, fear, power, and force. In Pilot’s world people must make their own importance known and felt. It is a world of heredity, who you know, clothing, titles and power to manipulate and define a person’s worth. Pilot may have thought he was dealing with a religious fanatic or some revolutionary, but standing before Jesus, he meets someone who is absolutely free. Pilot isn’t free. He is trapped by what the people will say about him, and worried about what the Emperor will think of him if things get out of control. Pilot is trapped, caught up in very lie of his existence.

The truth is Jesus Christ who is free of Pilot’s world living already where the strongest have no need of power or force, where the only fear is being afraid, where the greatest is the one who serves the most, and where those who seek the truth about life will fall in love and stake their lives on the freedom he offers willing to give up everything Pilot’s world offers for the sake of this freedom and this love.

There is before us this day and set by this Gospel a choice to be made. It is a choice that defines our identity. Since that day until now this world has been filled with Pilots, and when the world that Pilot rules stands before the truth it is empty. It is violent. It is destructive. It enslaves citizens in service of the big lie that somehow happiness is found in riches, peace is found by force, and anyone’s individual rights become a permit for doing or saying anything they want. In that world there is no future, no respect, no communion, and no vision of the common good. The citizens of that world are defined by their language, skin color, sexuality, or political party. Those in control stay in control like Pilot who is threatened by the very thought of another way.

Since that day however, there is another way, another world filled with people like us whose citizenship papers are baptismal certificates that entrust with the mission to live in another realm defined by the Truth revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Today, the Feast of Christ the King reminds us that we have been called into a Kingdom, a realm that embraces those who love, who serve, who are free to live without fear of what is different or unknown, not particularly concerned about what others outside of this realm may think of them. In this Kingdom, our identity comes from a God who loves us all: a God who knows nothing of Romans or Jews, black skin or white skin, yellow or brown, gay or straight, republican or democrat. This feast says we can see through all of that because we are of God, because we share the divine life, and the same divine spirit. Like Jesus, we stand before the world of Pilot refusing to be confined, defined, or reduced to the service of power and self-interest.

If we declare that Christ is King, then we must make it clear that Christ is our King, and we are of his kingdom not of Pilot’s. In our Kingdom, it is no longer a winner-take-all survival of the fittest kind of life. It is a kingdom based upon love not power. It is a kingdom of respect, a kingdom of communion not a kingdom of individuals. There is nothing exclusive, territorial or coercive. In our Kingdom we redefine power and greatness in terms of care, kindness, and service, free to give all that are.

Our pledge of allegiance is our Creed and the prayer that Jesus taught us. If you truly belong to the Kingdom of God, stand up and say so, act up and make it so. “I believe in One God, the Father almighty…….”

The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
18 November 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Daniel 12, 1-3 + Psalm 16 + Hebrews 10, 11-14, 18 + Mark 13, 24-32

Today, the Book of Daniel and Mark’s Gospel invite us into the apocalyptic mindset which is a point of view that proclaims that the worst of times will give birth to the best of times. Apocalypse simply means an “uncovering”. So, apocalypse uncovers the hidden trajectory of the world. Apocalyptic visions present a panorama of destruction that will affect everyone, but not everyone will respond in the same way. Some will prepare for the apocalypse like those frightened citizens in the 1960s who dug shelters to save themselves from the nuclear war. People spent a great deal of time and energy (not to mention the cost) creating an illusion of security even to the point of teaching children how to duck and cover in case of a nuclear attack. Jesus warned his disciples to avoid that sort of behavior. He offers an alternative, hope.

Hope is the conviction that God is at work in our lives and in our world. It differs from optimism that is based on good odds and our own resources. Hope, for a disciple, is the certainty that God can transform any situation into an occasion of grace. Jesus went to the cross believing that God would raise him “on the third day” which meant in God’s good time. Jesus preached about an apocalypse to invite his disciples to share his hope, to believe that God continues to be at work even and especially when we do not perceive it.

Of the three great virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity, Hope is the greatest challenge. Faith is no great surprise. Creation is so magnificent, it is easy to believe in a creator greater than ourselves. Charity is no surprise either. Unless you have a heart of stone, suffering people always move us to gentle and kind charity. But hope is another thing altogether. It is always a surprise and a marvel of grace to stand in the midst of turmoil, danger, or fear and hope that God will do something in God’s own time.

Learning and growing into hope requires that we abandon our desire to duck and cover, our desire to hide from the suffering of this world. We cannot anesthetize ourselves in the face of suffering. All that does is make us blind to what is happening both the evil and the hidden good. The more we are challenged by these terrible realities, the more apocalyptic literature offers us hope. That hope comes from the truth that we are willing to proclaim our faith in spite of mockery and to stand in mourning with those victims of injustice. When we are willing and ready to face the fear, to share another’s suffering, recognize and condemn the evil of injustice all around us, we will be ready to perceive the Son of Man appearing among us not as an angry fearsome judge, but rather the Son of Man that Mark gives us; a man of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. In the midst of this angry and violent world, that takes hope, a virtue for which we must now pray.


The Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
11 November 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
1 Kings 17, 10-16 + Psalm 146 + Hebrews 9, 24-28 + Mark 12, 38-44

Today, Mark says that Jesus draws his disciples to himself. Something really important is about to be shared. Something is about to revealed that they must not miss. What we get here is another example of what I like to call, “divine logic” which turns human logic upside down. The apostles had been raised and believed that people who had a lot of things and a lot of money were the blessed and favored by God. Those who were poor and lived on the margins of society had somehow sinned and brought this all on themselves. Once again, Jesus turns this thinking upside down. In their eyes, the woman’s contribution was just about worthless compared to what others had given. Jesus reveals that God measures the gifts given on a bases totally different from human calculations. God looks at the motives of the heart. The others had contributed from their surplus. They gave to God what was left over after they had taken care of themselves, but this woman gave from her poverty. She gave from her substance not from her surplus.

Her gift meant that now she would have to rely on God. There is a kind of reckless generosity here that reveals something about God which in the end is the whole purpose of the story. She is an example of the kind of giving that is God-like for God gave his only Son for our sake holding back nothing for himself. These words of praise for this widow are the very last words that Jesus ever speaks in the Temple. It is his final revelation of the Father’s love for us. What he would have us see is that God is like this poor widow who does not give left-overs, extra change, or hold back anything for himself. It is all or nothing for God. The focus of Jesus here is not the Scribes of whom we should beware, but the focus is on this widow. Jesus equates her gift to the house of God with the gift of God himself.

Something about us always leads us to be impressed by what is big or what is expensive at the cost of overlooking or ignoring what is small. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that if size is the criterion then a whale should be the image of God. He was often upset by natural scientists whose excitement about the scale of the universe reduced humanity to insignificance. He said it was a vulgar notion like trying to infer the value of someone’s personality from the size of their bank balance.

If it is the size of things that matters then the death of a young man 2000 years ago outside of Jerusalem was to all but a few contemporaries, an insignificant event, the last moments of a crucified criminal dying unnoticed by secular historians in an obscure corner of the empire. You would think it might have been reported with a two-line notice on page four of the local paper. After all, it’s only a little thing compared with the media coverage of celebrity lives these days. However, that little thing, that single death outside of town was filled with a power to which no limits can be set in heaven or on earth. It ought to affirm for us once and for all the truth that little things matter in a big way, and that giving from our substance rather from our surplus is the kind of sacrifice that matters.

The Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
4 November 2018 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl
Deuteronomy 6, 2-6 + Psalm 18 + Hebrews 7, 23-28 + Mark 12, 28-34

Every now and then I have to tell myself that I am living in a remarkable, unique and special time in human history. I do that to keep from getting negative and discouraged. I convince myself that I am witnessing and living in an age that will fascinate historians for a long time. So, I keep on going through terrible times in our church, and troubling and divisive times in our nation. Then election time rolls around, and I am relieved because in two more days I’ll be able to watch TV again without all those assaulting and insulting political commercials. One of the things that pushes my panic button is that suggestion that we ask ourselves, “Am I better off today than I was four years ago?” My first instinct is to yell, “No way. My joints ache, my eye sight is less, I move more slowly, nap longer, and my hair is gone.”

What really gets to me about that question is how it appeals to personal selfishness. Why not ask if society is better off today than it was then? Nobody seems to want to go there. Somehow being better off has something to do with what you drive, where you live, and how often and where you can go out to eat, and what you wear when you do. Into this question steps a Scribe who respectfully gets into an interesting discussion with Jesus that gives us plenty to wonder about. From their discussion it becomes clear that the measure of our Love of God is determined by our love of our neighbor. In other words, if there is someone you can’t or have not felt some love for, there is some good reason to question how much you really do love God, and we can’t go watering this down by fooling around with the meaning of “love”. No matter what, love has to do with feelings. It seems to me that there are three possibilities: good feelings, bad feelings, or indifference. Only one of them works.

You can’t read much of the Scriptures without getting the idea that God is deeply concerned about the way we treat one another. Our faith and our vocation as disciples is to love, and when we do we will allow ourselves to feel another’s pain. We feel great by doing good, more so than by doing well materially or financially, because it is in our nature as God’s image. Generosity brings rewards, and joy springs up in us when we do something good for another. When we refuse or look the other way, a strange sadness comes over us.

Maimonides was a famous Jewish teacher in Spain in the 12th century. He outlined eight steps or degrees in what he called the ladder of charity.

The first and lowest degree is to give, but with reluctance. It is a gift of the hand, not of the heart.

The second is to give cheerfully, but not in proportion to the distress of the sufferer.

The third is to give cheerfully and in proportion to the need, but not until we are asked.

The fourth is to give cheerfully, proportionately and even unasked, but to put it into the poor man’s hand causing him shame.

The fifth is to give in such a way that the needy may receive the alms and know their benefactor, without the benefactor know them.

The sixth is to know the recipients of our charity, while remaining unknown to them.

The seventh is to bestow charity in such a way that the benefactor does not know the recipient, or the recipient the benefactor.

Finally, the finest way of all is to anticipate charity by preventing poverty. This can be done by giving a gift or a loan of money to enable another to get back on their feet, or by teaching them a trade, so that they can earn an honest living and be forced to the dreadful alternative of holding out his hand for charity.

Mark Twain once said: “One of the nicest things that can happen to a person is to do good by stealth and be found out by accident.” I