All posts for the month January, 2019

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

27 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Nehemiah 8, 2-10 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 12, 12-30 + Luke, 1, 1-4; 4, 14-21

I just love the dramatic way the church stops this reading right here. Next week we pick up with the following verse, and we know what happens when the people start grumbling about what he says, and Luke will tell us that they are “filled with fury”, but we don’t go there yet lest we shift our focus onto them, onto someone else. We must take just these verses and deeply and personally wonder what God is saying to us, because these verses are aimed straight at us, the church, and these words are not proclaimed as comfort from the past, but as a program for today.

The scriptures are fulfilled in us. We are the body of Christ, and we cannot either proclaim or listen to this Word of God without be shaken into action. The plan and program for the life of Jesus Christ is the plan and program for anyone who dares to call themselves by his name as Christian and presumes to consume his Body and Blood. These are not options. What he proclaims as the program of his life and for our lives, if we choose to be his disciples, is specific and measurable. If the poor see us coming, it must be good news for them, not fear that we might take more from them or drive them away. If the poor see us coming, they should have hope because when they see Christ or Christians, they know that help is on the way. What are the oppressed to expect when they see us coming? Will it simply be polite indifference that suggests they should get lost? Luke leaves us to wonder just what is acceptable to the Lord by these words of Jesus, and by that wondering we might evaluate our values and our behavior because all that is left now is you and me. We are all the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed have left to hope for.

It seems to me that there are five kinds of Christians after all this time. There are some who are Christian in name only. They pay no attention to the customs and beliefs of Christianity. There is no commitment. The second group are Christian by habit only. They are committed to the outward observances, but it has no affect upon their way of life. The third are clearly devoted to their faith and are engaged in good works, but they are without any of the qualities of mercy and kindness that made their Master so appealing. A fourth group are practical Christians. They have grasped the heart of mission of Jesus Christ, concerned about others and are never ashamed to be seen as Christians. The fifth group however are spiritual people. In meeting them, it is always as though we have met Christ himself not just someone doing good works because it makes them feel or look good.

By wondering what is acceptable to the Lord we shall be led into this fifth group. By our faith and the power Jesus Christ in our lives, we have a daunting task and a great privilege. The only way many people are ever going to come to know Jesus Christ is from our lives not from a Bible Study or some program in self-help. As Luke begins his Gospel with this story, he is revealing who Jesus Christ is. What our proclamation of this Gospel also reveals is just who we are and why.

St Peter the Apostle

21 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 62, 1-5
+ Psalm 96 + 1 Corinthians 12, 4-11 + John 2, 1-11

Can’t you just imagine what Mary said to her son as they were leaving that wedding feast? I can, and have often enjoyed sitting with this episode wondering what it was like for the wine steward, the servers, the bride and the groom, their parents. We’ve all been to weddings big and small, and we know how many people it takes to satisfy the expectations of everyone. So, when we sit with this story, your imagination can lead to some wonderful insights which might well be revelations. So, on their way home, Mary says to Jesus: “Really?” Jesus says: “What?” She looks at him as only a mother can and says: “600 gallons of extra ordinary wine! Really? Was that necessary?” With that, I suspect that like every son, he rolled his eyes and shook his head wondering: “She told me to do something, and I did.”

As much as we might like it to be, this is not about marriage or families or weddings. The principal characters are not the bride and groom. This is really about wine and a wedding feast, and what we can see here is what God has planned by coming to be with us. The writer, John, calls this the first of the “signs”. He never uses the word “miracle.” In John’s Gospel, these are all signs of things to come. Now remember, those people didn’t drink water. They washed in it. They didn’t have coke, pepsi, or punch. They drank wine, and the wine of their life, we are told, has run out. In other words, they are lifeless. There is no joy. There is no excitement, no laughter, no anticipation of good things to come. A wedding without wine is an empty ritual without any passion. It is dead. Then comes God in the person of Jesus Christ, welcomed as a guest. Empty jars are like empty hearts and empty lives, so he says, fill them up, and the good news is that they obeyed, and best of all, they filled them to the brim! That’s the way to respond to what God asks. No half-hearted reluctance, no half-done response. Go all the way, and look what happens when they do.

It’s an experience that will be repeated more than once. Think about the loaves and fishes and what happens when those who are with him do what Jesus asks. These are signs of things to come. They are signs of what happens when with Jesus we use what little we have and discover that it is always more than enough. There is in our life time too much dryness, too little joy, too many empty jars, and too many liturgies that have too little spirit, and no passion. Too many have become accustomed to all this going through the motions without any expectation of what is to come. The real sadness is not the lack of wine, but the passivity of those who do nothing. Mary refused to do nothing and accept a joyless wedding feast. She was already convinced of how extravagant and bountiful life can be lived in the presence of God. She teaches us today how to make things different, how to take a dry, empty life, lived with no expectations about the future. This Gospel, and this Church proclaims again and again that God has come, that God is the guest who can change everything with lavish love when we turn Jesus and do what he asks.

13 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 40, 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Luke 3, 15-16; 21-22

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with the RCIA group, and it was time for some open questions. Someone in the group asked why Jesus had to be Baptized. It seemed strange to this man that Jesus would be baptized as though he needed to repent or be saved. I always love the questions that get asked at RCIA, because they so often touch on things that those of us who were Baptized as infants and raised in Catholicism never think to ask, but probably should. The paradox of the Christ’s Baptism is in every way another Epiphany or manifestation of who Jesus Christ is for us. It’s a good question, and the answer leads us deeper into the wonder of the Incarnation, the wonder and the profound mystery of God becoming one of us.

For the earliest followers of Christ who were living side by side with the followers of John the Baptist, the very thought that their Lord had undergone baptism by John was embarrassing and troublesome. There was some competition between the two groups, and this issue pushed it further. They wondered, and we should too, how the Immaculate Lamb, the very Holy Jesus might have submitted to this act of purification. Could it possibly mean that he too was part of the unclean, guilty, and sinful humanity?

The Church’s best answer to the question is simply this feast itself, and its placement as the conclusion of the Christmas Season. This feast in a sense is a great AMEN to what we as a church have celebrated since Advent began. What we have here is a concrete example of God stooping down in loving kindness to us. What we have here is a deeper revelation of what it means for the Word to become Flesh. There is in a gesture, an act of humiliation on God’s part as an introduction to what is to come with the final humiliation and death on a cross.

When we look back at the Baptism of Jesus from the view point of his Crucifixion, it begins to make sense. What is revealed through Jesus, from his baptism to his death is the perfect love God for us. At his Baptism, the Savior chose to be one of us right where we are. He chose to enter into solidarity with us sinners though we are. The whole destiny of Jesus begins in the waters of the Jordan at the hands of John, and this feast and what it means can carry us on to Easter.

There is then cause for rejoicing here, because no matter where we are, who we are, and no matter what we have done, Christ has been there and done it with us. Ours is a God who enters the darkness again and again when we are in the darkness in order to lead us into the light.

Now we know what it really is we have celebrated since December 24th. Now we see the plan of God revealed in the simplest of ways: a plan to be with us, to be within us, and to raise us up through the waters of death to the Light of the Kingdom. Think about it through this week, and think about what it means for God to be so humbled and so humiliated as to stand with sinners who need to be purified. The real purification will not be by water, but by his blood poured out for us.

6 January 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, Fl

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

There is often a real historical element to Gospel events that the writers use as a basis for bringing forth some revelation. This story is a perfect example. It makes the story complex and requires some time to sit with it turning over all the facets and elements that Matthew brings together. At the time Christ was born, the word “Magi” described powerful people from the Parthian empire just east of Judea. First readers of Matthew would know that Herod and Parthians were not friendly. The Parthians had invaded Judea just a few decades earlier. When they were eventually driven out, Herod took advantage of the chaos to size the throne. The Parthians never gave up a dream of coming back, and Herod knowing that as long as people saw him as a Roman puppet he would never be secure on the throne. So, when Parthians show up using the “K” word (King), Herod suspects someone is after his throne, and he goes wild; and the murder of infants is the result. What all this does in Matthew’s Gospel is put Jesus right in the middle of a political struggle that in the end, threatens and eventually costs him his life. Even though just a baby, in the first year of his life, huge forces rise up to threaten his mission. No matter what is going on between the Parthians and Herod, Jesus is at the center, and Herod’s actions begin to make the mission of Jesus, even as an infant, the center of attention, and a threat to those who have something to lose.

When the political situation begins to touch the religious situation, something more disturbing spins out of this story. Those religious leaders of the day had every reason to keep the peace – to not make waves so that they could continue running the Temple as they always had in spite of the occupation of the Romans. Their rituals gave them a living and did nothing to disturb the peace. It is both odd and disturbing that when these religious leaders are called upon to explain what the Scriptures foretold about a messiah, they could quote chapter and verse, confirming what was happening. Yet, they were complacent, unaffected, and not even curious. Have you not ever wondered why they didn’t throw everything aside and join up with these magi? They know that the prophecy was being fulfilled.  They missed the point entirely, and it set them up for what they continued to do with Jesus: block what God had begun.

My friends, this story reminds us that Immanuel is still waiting to be discovered. We can either be threatened by the possibility of that happening or know that it is happening remaining unaffected and not even curious, or we can get into the search which might take us to places we never thought of and invite to look toward people we never considered worthy. Our best bet is that we join these “magi” who are curious and willing to wander, look, inquire, and seek. All around us there are contemporary magi: young people hungry for spiritual nourishment they have not found among us. There are women, who feel like unwelcome outsiders when they come to offer their gifts. There are gay women and men who are judged and treated as though they were contagious, and there are foreigners at every boarder whose children are taken or who are chased off at gun point, because they might ask something of us. Even more sadly, ten percent of the U.S. population identify as “former Catholics” not because they lack faith, but because they have been hurt or betrayed. All of these people are also sincere seekers like the magi who made a mistake and went to the wrong place, powerful Jerusalem rather than the humble place, Bethlehem.

The star of this story could be like the sun in the morning giving us a wake-up call inviting us to get up, to get curious, to wonder, to look and seek because the really wise came with treasures of earth in their hands and left with the treasure of Heaven in their hearts. My wish and hope for this New Year is that anything that leaves us complacent and unaffected by the Gospel will be gone leaving us excited, joyful, and expectant about the final coming of Christ.