All posts for the month December, 2018

1 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Number 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4 407 + Luke 2, 16-21

When you say “Yes” to God, a lot of stuff happens that doesn’t always make sense, and just because you believe and trust in God there is no “free pass” when it comes to confusion, doubt, and even sometimes fear. This woman whose memory and whose name we honor today said “Yes”, and with that, her life began a spiral of surprises and unexpected events. There was that visit to Elizabeth whose child leapt at Mary’s arrival. There were these shepherds we hear about today. How could they have found her? There were those old people in the Temple, Simenon and Anna who said such strange things about her child. There were visitors from afar, and shortly thereafter there was a hurried, unexpected rush off to a foreign place to escape violence and death. Then there was her son himself who seemed so at home in the Temple and ran around with a wild man from the desert. Then he went off with those fishermen and began to keeping company with tax collectors and suspicious women. He got people upset with his behavior in synagogue, and some of the Pharisees were cautious around him while scribes were downright angry. With some other family members, she went to bring him home and talk some sense into him, but he started talking about other mothers, brothers and sisters. Don’t fool yourself with some misguided piety. She didn’t get it. She never understood.

There is no reason to believe that she understood any of this or that she understood what God was asking of her. Like anyone else who is a parent, like any of you, time after time you look at your children and wonder where they came from? Where did they get those ideas they brought home? Sometimes you may have even wondered where they found some of those friends they hung around with. They start out the door and you ask, “Where are you going?” The answer you get is: “Out.” “Who with?” you ask, and they say, “Friends”, and you are left to wonder why you even asked the question. “What will they be?” you wonder, and at that point you and this woman from Nazareth suddenly have something in common: wonder.

Wondering is the skill of a faithful parent who knows the difference between their will and God’s will. Think of it this way. Consider how this woman grew as she continued to ponder not just the stuff that was happening, but ponder and reflect on how that stuff that was happening could be God’s will and part of God’s plan which is always bigger than we are. When her son was twelve-year-old, she said: “How could you do this to us?” Years later at the foot of the cross, there is none of that reproach even though there was even greater pain. She does not stand before her tortured son and say: “How could you do this to us?” We all know that at any point, he could have gone silent and returned to the carpenter shop. Step by step, in a sense, he got himself into that mess. This time, I think she had grown enough in faith and wisdom to surrender to something she did not understand, and stand with hope and confidence in the one promise God had made to her at the very beginning. “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Wonder does not always lead to understanding, but it can lead to acceptance and surrender in the face of the unknown and unexpected. What we see here is the importance of reflection which is the active side of wonder. Only by reflection do we come to understand our experiences. From reflection comes insight. Sadly, some people learn nothing from experience. But there are others for whom experience is their real school. Wisdom is not simply accumulating fact and knowledge. No one become wise in a day. It takes years, and wisdom is the fruit of reflection.

Parents, Mary shows us, need a lot of wisdom. Mary got her wisdom from pondering, and I believe she passed that on to her son, who Saint Luke reminds us, grew in wisdom, grace, and favor before God. That Jesus was taught, nourished, and formed by a wise woman who loved God with all her heart. We honor her today, and we begin a new year led to wonder, ponder, and reflect upon the past year so that with wisdom me may be prepared for whatever is to come.

30 December 2018 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Sirach 3, 2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3, 12-21 + Luke 2, 41-52

There is some great wisdom behind our old tradition of reflecting upon family just after Christmas. After all, when God had finally decided it was time to enter into a real and lasting covenant with us, God seemed have decided that it should be through and within a real family. Taking a breather between Christmas and the celebration of a New Year offers us the chance to reflect and wonder about the mystery of family life. Of course, in our own times, what makes up or identifies a “family” is not quite as consistent as it might have been a generation or two ago. Regardless of who makes up a family these days when single-parent families seem to be growing in numbers, and extended families are more scattered, there is one element that doesn’t change. A family is bound, in one way or another, to consist of parents, and in that there lies some mystery.

This unique family who leads our reflections today may be unique in how it all got started by the message of some angels, but I don’t believe for a moment that after that birth there was anything terribly unique. Mary and Joseph were parents facing the frustrating and demanding challenges that St. Luke describes throughout the Gospel. Those two parents, just like any of you who have parented face the difficult discovery that your child is just not going to go along with you every step of the way. Their story with their son is the story of a real family living with conflicts, disappointments, frustrations, fear, and surprises. I think that this little family in Nazareth, or where ever they were, are symbolic of all kinds of relationships.

What those parents experienced is nothing different from what any of you have experienced. When they couldn’t find their son, you know what that fear is like. When they did find him and faced the fact that he was going to discover his own path in life, it had to have come as a jolt. He wasn’t going to be carpenter. He wasn’t going to inherit the shop. No matter what they might have hoped for him, he did not belong to them, and you know what it is like to come to that realization.

It might be fun to let your imagination run with that scene in the Temple when they finally found him. Isn’t it interesting that the Temple is where they went to look for him? Not in the market or a Mall, not in some night-spot that might attract adolescents, but in the Temple. As his first teachers, they taught him what every child needs to learn: something about God. So that is where they went, and that is where they found him. I love to imagine the real conversation not polished up by Saint Luke for his Gospel. My best bet is that he got grounded, and from the way the Gospel is put together, he was grounded for about twenty more years. I like to think that in response to his comment Mary really said: “Your time has not yet come. Get on the donkey.” It would be with a son’s knowing smile that some years later, he would repeat what she said at a wedding in Cana: “My time has not yet come”, and in quick response I think she said: “Oh yes it has, there is no wine. Do something to help.” Consistent with everything we have to go by in the scriptures, Joseph never says a word, but he is always there and he listens, and then he vanishes. The scriptures put very few words on Mary’s lips; but not much. Yet, every mother in this church could put words in her mouth, and they would probably be true. I can imagine her prayers now and then: “Dear God, that angel never warmed me about this!” “Will someone explain to me why he went off after that wild trouble maker named John.” “What in the world was he doing out there in the desert?”

What we are left to celebrate today is our relationships with those we love most deeply. What we may ponder in our prayer today is that the greatest gift we can give others is respect and the freedom to become all that God has created us to be. It is the secret of parenting I think. It is the key that unlocks the mystery of God’s plan for each one of us. Don’t be grieving because your children did not do what you wanted or live the way you expected. Rejoice in their freedom and trust in the one thing promised to Mary: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

If I had children, I would call them today and just tell them once more how much they are loved and give them a blessing.

Christmas 25 December 2018

St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 9, 1-6 + Psalm 96 +Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 1-14

St William Church 4:30pm December 25, 2019

At the heart of this story there hangs a “no vacancy” sign that even today can trouble a sensitive conscience, and leave us wondering about what to do. Not too long ago a school Christmas pageant was being presented by a group of enthusiastic children all ready to play the parts. Among them was a boy named Billy who has “Downs”. The teacher, Billy’s parents, and members of his class at school worked hard to help Billy remember his lines: “There is no room in the Inn.” For weeks, they rehearsed the lines with Billy, “There’s no room in the Inn. There’s no room in the end.” Over and over they practiced with Billy. Then came the night of the show. Everything was just as planned and as rehearsed. Mary and Joseph walked up to a sagging door, knocked, and Billy opened the door and spoke his rehearsed lines: “There is no room in the Inn.” Everyone was relieved. Mary and Joseph looked sadly at each other and began to walk off at which point Billy shouted: “There is no room in the Inn, but you guys can stay at my house.” It is almost a casual remark, but yet it is a cry that leaves us wondering why we can’t see things the way an innocent child sees, and why we can’t think the way an innocent child can think. Billy was listening to that story he was part of, and he added his own tidings of great joy.

In his Gospel, Saint John takes up this chance comment about the lack of room when in his Gospel he talks about the Word became flesh. “He came to his own and his own received him not.” My friends, we have gathered here because Jesus Christ is still coming, and after all this time, too often there is still no room. This world is filled with time saving tools and devices, but we seem to have less and less time, and there is too little room for God. In a real and practical way, our attitude toward the homeless and refugees takes on a deeper dimension here when we think there is no room. Yet this season reminds us that God keeps knocking, and those who saw that Christmas pageant with Billy may make room and invite God into their hearts and home.

On the night and in the ancient Gospel story we have just proclaimed, there are two kinds of people who heard the cry that night. Shepherds who know they know nothing, and wise men who know that they do not know everything. They are the very simple and the very learned. In both cases with these two kinds of people, something happened because they listened and headed what they heard. They listened. In fact, every part of this Gospel is about listening; and every person whose story is woven into this Gospel are people who know how to listen. Old Zachariah, young Mary in Nazareth, and a man who never says a word in our scriptures named, Joseph listened. That’s all he did: listen and act. They all listened, and because of their willingness to listen, God was able to accomplish something great. When they came, these shepherds and these wise men whose story will soon be retold saw tiny hands that would one day hold a heavy cross and tiny feet that would walk on water. They saw eyes that could see the secrets of every human heart. They saw ears that could hear people in a distance crying out over the noise of a large crowd, “Son of David, Have Mercy on me.”

Some historians believe that western monasticism saved civilization in the dark ages, and I believe that the ancient wisdom of their Rule may once again save civilization as we know it. A man named Benedict wrote that Rule by which western monasticism has been guided to this day. For hundreds of generations those monastic men and women were inspired by the wisdom and common sense of that Rule to be generously hospitable to anyone searching for a place to stay, while the very first line of that Rule says: Listen, and the silence of those holy places is just what it takes to hear the cries of people in this world.

 Once in an interview, Stephen Spielberg was asked, “What would you hope God will say to you when you finally meet him. Spielberg responded, “I hope God would say to me: ‘Thank you for listening.’” What a great answer! It is true about the Christmas story. All have heard it, and some have listened. At the Annunciation Mary is listening. In today’s Gospel, those shepherds are listening. Two-thousands years later we confront this stunning message of comfort and joy, and look around and wonder if anyone is listening. God is with us. God wants a place in our lives, but not just in some back room or just when some crises arises, but in the very center of our lives and our homes. The great light that people in darkness must see is the light of our lives and our faith in the hands of people like us who have been baptized and handed a lighted candle to be kept burning brightly.

Those shepherds whose story we have just proclaimed did not only listen, they shared with others what they had heard and what they had seen becoming messengers of Joy. Their glad tidings touches human hearts and changes human lives, and it bears repeating more than once a year.  In those shepherds, we find our own identity and purpose: messengers of joy. Today we can say to them, thanks for listening and for sharing, and we can say to the Lord and to every holy family, “You can stay at my house.”

The Fourth Sunday of Advent on board the MS Nieu Statendam

23 December 2018 on board the MS Nieu Statendam

Micah 5, 1-4 + Psalm 80 + Hebrews 10, 5-10 + Luke 1, 39-45

As we stand at the threshold of this year’s celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, we find ourselves being asked to reflect upon the unexpected ways in which God works. Here we are on a ship that a year ago was not even on the water. I knew it was planned, but on December 23, 2017 I never expected to be here. Yet here we are about to disembark, and many will head back home where it is entirely possible and even likely that the unexpected will again break into our lives. Because, that is how God works, unexpectedly. The three readings for this final Sunday of Advent all communicate some element of the unexpected. There had been a long tradition of sacrifice as the ultimate religious practice. In the second reading we find it replaced by something else. Who would then have ever thought that God would tire of sacrifices in a Temple. Then we discover that Jerusalem, long the place of honor and prestige, the city of power, is passed over and a little no-where place provides the savior. The major actors in this story are women, and it is a woman whose faith is the beginning of a new covenant. No one in that man’s world could ever have imagined such a thing. Then, story we are about to tell once again is a reminder that God approaches us through the seemingly insignificant in surprising ways.

The divine project that we are about to celebrate is revealed in actions as much as in words. Old Zachariah, one of the Old Testament’s priests is silenced. He and his wife Elizabeth are like Abraham and Sarah for their day, but their day has passed, because now Mary arrives, the mother of a new covenant. Her pregnancy has nothing to do with human plans, because God is doing something entirely new. This passing away of the old, and a recognition of something new and unimagined is a cause for joy. Unlike many these days who find change to be threatening and unwelcome, these people of faith believe that God can and does work in surprising and different ways never before dreamed of.

That God is not finished; not finished with creation, not finished with us, and not finished being revealed. Make your journey home in the morning a bit of an imitation of Mary’s journey to a loved one and family member. Carry with you the refreshment of these days. Celebrate the Joy of your reunion. Remember to look for and enjoy the surprise of little things and the little ways in which God can be found all around you, and especially in the little and least of gifts you may receive from those who, like God, love you very much. When you do remember, you will be among the Blessed who believe that what has been spoken to you by the Lord will be fulfilled.

The Third Sunday of Advent at Saint William Parish in Naples, FL

16 December 2018 at Saint William Church in Naples, Fl

Zephaniah 3,14-18 + Psalm Isaiah 12 + Philippians 4, 4-7 + Luke 3, 10-18

The prophet is the voice of God speaking in this assembly today. This prophet whose voice cries out to us is a man whose authenticity is beyond question because of his honesty and his passion for justice. Unafraid to speak truth those in power, he deserves the same respect and attention today that he earned ages ago. Here was a man who cared nothing for comfort, money, or fame. He could not be bought or manipulated by anything or anybody. For the people of his time and for all of us in this time, he still speaks for God with a message that is direct and simple.

There is no watering down what he proposes. There is no way to intellectualize or avoid his message. It is so urgent and clear that people asked, “What shall I do?” If we believe as they did that a Prophet is the voice of God, we should be asking the same question. “What shall I do?” This has nothing to do with “What shall I buy or give” or, “What will I get for Christmas?” The question has to do with, “How I shall make ready for the coming of Christ?” This message is not a seasonal one or something we just think about at Christmas. It is something that should nag at us all the time.

John does not ask tax collectors to stop collecting. He does not tell soldiers to desert. To the tax collectors he simply says, “Do not collect more than the amount owed to you.” To the soldiers he says, “Do not extort money from anyone or intimidate them with threats. Be satisfied with your wage.” There is nothing profound or complicated about this. It is simply the rule of integrity. The message is timeless, the Word of God is alive, and God speaks to us in this assembly. Do not cheat. Share what you have. Be honest. Never use or exploit others for your gain, comfort, or security. Being prepared for the coming of the Messiah requires no great heroics although sometime heroics might seem easier than living a humdrum daily life well. Let’s be clear about one thing: when we speak of and anticipate the coming of Christ, we are not in some nostalgic fantasy imagining Christmas in Bethlehem. We are thinking about and anticipating our death and the final coming of Christ at the end, which we may not really want to think about right now. Be that as it may, the whole divine plan beginning in Nazareth and Bethlehem was to save us and prepare us for that day when we shall stand before God face to face. When we are sincerely facing that reality, the question: “What shall I do?” is very real and very urgent. To that question the prophet speaks today. How do we get to ready to die and face the Christ? It’s not hard nor complicated. None of us here have to do anything really remarkable to be ready. What God expects of us that we simply live life with integrity and honesty, with a passion and desire for justice and truth. That may require some repentance, some changing of our ways, our thoughts, and our desires. The good news is, there is still a little time to do that, and John would suggest that we not waste this time.

The SecondSunday of Advent

December 9, 2018 at Saint William Church in Naples, FL.

In this second week of Advent, it might be a good idea to put the image of the desert in front of us because it is the antithesis of the mall. In the desert there is nothing to buy. In the mall it is all about noise and lights and crowds of people. In the desert the only light is the stars, a beauty that is beyond our reach yet seems to have been created for nothing more than our wonder and delight. All around us there are other kinds of deserts. There is one on our southern boarder where poor people wander seeking something better as they bet their lives on a chance for peace and safety. There are deserts of loneliness in the midst of big cities and in nursing homes everywhere. These are deserts of desperation and helplessness, and we don’t have to go far to find them. These are deserts created by selfishness and greed, by human sinfulness, by power abused for self-protection rather than service. Those who suffer in these deserts are never the guilty.

This prophet who speaks for God is speaking to us today. The promise of this season is made for people in these deserts, and we are being charged with a mission to straighten out some things. These mountains he speaks of are still dividing people from one another. Mountains of debt keep poor people and poor nations helpless and hopeless.  The crooked paths that the helpless follow seeking a place that is safe for the sake of their children need to be straightened. Twisted words and lies need to be straight forward so that words of compassion and understanding may bring comfort where these is none.

We need courage to enter into the valleys of depression and desperation that have trapped our brothers and sisters for too long leaving them with loneliness and fear. The prophet calls us to build bridges and repair broken relationships healing old wounds sometimes by simply saying: “I’m sorry”. To do that, we have to bend low, come down off our mountains of pride and privilege. None of that will ever happen as long as we hang out in the Mall and distract ourselves in a season of commercialism and consumerism. It is desert time for the people of God. The promise of these readings, and for that matter, the promise of Christmas is made for desert people. When you already have everything money can buy, there is not much to hope for; but in the desert, we can re-discover our greatest needs, to be loved, cared for, forgiven, and healed. These are gifts we can give one another because they have already been given to us so often and so freely.

The Immaculate Conception
8 December 2018 at Saint Elizabeth Seton Church in Naples, FL
Genesis 3 9-15 + Psalm 98 + Ephesians 1: 3-6, 11-12 + Luke 1, 26-38

The reading from Genesis assigned for today is a reminder that this world, God’s creation, is broken. It’s not as though we have to be reminded, but the struggle to live in that brokenness might cause us to forget that God made a promise to restore creation to its original sinless and perfect condition so that it might more clearly and consistently mirror the goodness and the beauty of the creator. The first step in that restoration is the woman we honor today, a new Eve, whose very sinless conception is the beginning of that restoration. Being born without sin, she is what the first Eve was in the very beginning. This Immaculate and sinless birth is the beginning of God’s plan to restore all creation to its original sinless and perfect state.

What we can discover from being attentive to the brief and infrequent appearances of her in the Gospels reveals a great deal about what God must have hoped for when life was first breathed into human kind. What little is said about her is very significant even though it is just a glimpse. She appears at crucial moments in the story we have in the Gospels. She who conceives and gives birth to Jesus begins the story of our restoration. She is there when Jesus begins to discover his calling to be about the Father’s business. Then again, at the beginning of his ministry at Cana’s wedding, speaking to us all as she says: “Do what he tells you.”  She is there in the middle of the story when worried about his safety because of the direction of his life, she wants to bring him back home. She is there at the end of it, present on Calvary, and she is present at the launching of the church on Pentecost. More than any other figure in the Gospels, she is there with a role to play in salvation.

What we can discover from those glimpses is that she was concerned about other people, that she had courage and strength of character that came from knowing that she was loved by God. She had faith, and because she believed, then acted on that belief. She is the first disciple, and for us a model of holiness.  We learn from her that even with faith we may not always understand everything. But, faith commits us to a life of searching, of holding things we may not understand in our hearts. Essentially, faith like her faith simply means trusting in God, and allowing God to do things we never dreamed of or thought were impossible.

She is a woman of our time, a woman of all time, a friend of the poor, giving hope to those who struggle for justice, challenging us all to live more simply and trust in God. She stands before us as the model of holiness and a reminder of what God had hoped for us all in the beginning. Unlike that first Eve, the new Eve attained holiness and perfection simply by obedience to God. She is blessed not just because she gave birth to the Son of God, but because she heard the Word of God and did it.