All posts for the month May, 2019

June 2, 2019 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Acts 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Like 24, 46-53

3:30pm Saturday at Saint Peter

There is a little story about young man in his twenties, walking along a city street. He spotted a hundred-dollar bill, and felt really good about it. Ever there after he decided to keep looking down where ever he went. By the time he was seventy, had had collected a lot of stuff: hundreds of wallets with credit cards and IDs, and the money he collected became quite a sizeable amount. From time to time he gathered some valuable stuff: he picked up at least ten mobile phones and i-pads. But above all, he also ended a hunch-back, unable to look anyone in the face.

This feast today invites us to look up. To have our eyes fixed on heaven. Now, to those first disciples of Jesus who produced this Gospel, the whole idea of looking up came naturally because this description in Luke’s Gospel would have reminded them immediately of something they knew from the First Book of Kings. You see, they knew the Old Testament a lot better than most of us. So, I have to tell you about it, but they got it immediately. In the second chapter of First Kings it tells of how one day Elijah was with his disciple Elisha near the river Jordan. Suddenly there appeared a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind as Elisha looked up to heaven. The old prophet left his cloak behind for his disciple to put on. From that time Elisha received the spirit of his master and was empowered to continue his mission in the world. In fact, from then on Elisha was able to perform the same deeds as his master. Luke, inspired in his writing, wants us to make a connection here.

Too often too many spend too much of their lives looking down; looking down on others, looking down on themselves, looking back down the past at old hurts and offences. Disciples of Jesus cannot do that. Disciples of Jesus are people who look up, who look ahead, who look for the constant signs of Christ’s promise to stay with us always. They look up in respect and love to all of God’s creation. We are people filled with the same Spirit that moved Jesus Christ to look into the eyes, the hearts, and the lives of lepers, the blind, the deaf, those pushed to the margins of society and see the face of their creator. You can’t see that looking down.

This place here in Naples is our Jerusalem. We gather in this holy place like those disciples who returned to Jerusalem to be clothed with power from on high. That power from on high is going to wrap around us all in just a few moments as we receive and put on, in a sense, the Body of Christ. Yet this communion is much more than “the body of Christ.” It is his life, his Spirit, his very soul and divinity. As always, we think it’s about us. We like think: “In going to communion” or “I’m going to receive holy communion.”  Did you ever stop think that it might just be the other way around? We’re not just receiving communion or going to communion. Christ is receiving us. Christ is taking over our lives. We’re about to be possessed, possessed as his own. His Spirit becomes our Spirit, and from now on just like Elisha, we continue the mission of our master, and in fact, we can perform the same deeds as our master who went about forgiving and healing what was broken.  We ought to try it, but it’s only going to be possible for those who look up and look ahead.

May 26, 2019 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 15, 1-2, 22-29 + Psalm 67 + Revelation 21, 10-14, 22-23 + John 14, 23-29

4:30pm Mass at Saint William

Two promises are proclaimed today: The Spirit and Peace. That Spirit he promises is the very soul of Jesus: that spark of life, that power that animated him. It is the very presence of God that empowers anyone filled with that Spirit to be the presence of God to another, to exercise the work of Jesus Christ forgiving and healing whatever is broken keeping us from each other and from the Father. It is by and through that Spirit that the dream, the hope, and vision of Jesus that we might all be one is made possible. And then, unity, the bond of love between us a God, is the Peace he promises.

This world keeps thinking that “peace” comes from boarders guarded by huge armies, or weapons stock piled to strike fear in a foe; but the truth is, that is a war ready to happen. This world grows comfortable with a “peace” that is merely that absence of violence while restless unemployed youth, hopelessness and poverty grow greater and greater like a fuse waiting to be lit. Jesus knows the difference between this world’s idea of peace and what he wishes to leave within us.

Each time Jesus stepped into that upper room crowded with fearful and disappointed followers, he said: “Peace be with you.” In his language the word of Shalohm at that time, when used as a verb, described the mending of a net. It had to do with putting back together what was broken. When Jesus speaks that word, it announces that he is present in their midst, and that the relationship he had with those believers was not broken by death. He is there with them in that Spirit.

The peace Jesus leaves with us has little to do with feeling good inside and even less with an assurance of a calm, unruffled life or a successful career. The peace given by the crucified Messiah does not manifest itself in trivialities. The peace of Jesus has to do with fidelity toward the Father, with the awareness that we are loved and accepted by God. Hear that in these verses. Once we accept the staggering truth that God loves us in spite of everything we are and have done to him and to others, we can look at one another as children of God and be at peace with ourselves. This brings about a unity among us that reflects the unity of God. Understanding this is why racism or nationalism is so curious and so odd making us so uneasy and far from peace. Instead of finding our common unity in God, we fragment and individualize our identity. Unchecked, we will hardly ever recognize that we have a common Father.

The Peace Jesus leaves with us springs from the truth of our oneness which is never achieved by paring down or ignoring the complication of life, but only by entering into the magnetic pull of God’s grace, God’s love, and the unity God shares with His only Son. Living in peace is not optional. It is a requirement of our faith, and the unmistakable sign that we are filled with the Holy Spirit. The basis of human peace is peace with God.

In the Maronite Rite: The Fifth Sunday of the Resurrection: Peter receives his ministry

May 19, 2019 at Our Lady of Lebanon in Norman, Oklahoma

Ephesians 2, 1-10 + John 21, 15-19

11:00am Sunday at Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Church in Norman, OK

These verses near the very end of John’s Gospel take us right to the very heart of faith and to the one condition, the one element without which there is no church, no faith, no hope, and no future. In the other Gospels, Peter makes some very profound and courageous acts of faith. Now in John’s Gospel, Peter’s act of faith comes at the end after his courage has been crushed, his pride broken, and all his weakness exposed for all to see. With three questions Peter makes a profound act of faith, and what matters most when it comes to discipleship and leadership is established once and for all. It is not a matter of being perfect. It is not a matter of being consistent. Theology degrees, speaking skills, knowledge of rules and regulations, who you know and who knows you does not matter at all. One thing identifies a companion and a friend of Jesus Christ, love, and Peter has it in spite of all his foolishness, mistakes, and ambitions.

What Jesus looks for in all of us is that love, a love that is greater than loyalty, charity, or sentimentality. It is the kind of love that leads one to surrender everything for the sake of the one loved. As Jesus describes it this is a love that even surrenders one’s freedom and one’s own independence, things we, in this world, prize above all. The kind of love Jesus speaks of finds in Peter and still looks for in us is the kind of love that means you can stretch out your hands and arms and be taken where you might not want to go. This is the kind of love that leads to complete surrender and total self-giving.

Love is the one, supreme condition for each of us who might want to be a disciple of Jesus. It is the one thing that Jesus looks for in us, and he can find it because he has given it to us. Having received this love, we do have it to give. What matters is that we recognize and trust that God’s love for us made manifest in Jesus Christ is real. What gets in the way all too often is a failure to believe, to trust, and to embrace the truth that we are loved and that we are loveable. Why else would Jesus have suffered what he did for us. Was he a fool? If, Peter had said: “Oh no, you can’t love me. I failed to defend you.” Or, “I denied you in front of others when I could have told them the truth.” You see? In the heart of Peter, there rested the love he had been shown and given. He realized that day that he was lovable, that he was good in the eyes of his friend, and the love that had been given to him was real and true drawing him into a relationship that had everything to offer and the promise of eternal life for those who would surrender to the power of that love.

I believe that Jesus looks at each of us today and through the power of a Gospel proclaimed in the context of this Sacred Liturgy he asks one thing of us. He never says, will you be perfect, will you obey the rules, will you always do the right thing, will you always look good, or will you always be happy. His question reveals all that really matters: “Do you love me?” Christ knows from personal experience that this is all that matters.

This love is stronger than hate. This love lifts the soul from the tomb and brings it home. Like laughter, love brings people to tears. Like Christ, love reminds us of where we want to go.

May 12, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 13, 14, 43-52 + Psalm 100 + Revelation 7, 9, 14-17 + John 10, 27-30

Saturday 3:30pm St. Peter the Apostle Parish

The story is told about two people asked to recite the 23rd Psalm for a congregation. One was a professional Shakespearean actor but a non-believer who stood up and delivered the verses. Using just the right tone of voice, the right inflection, pausing in just the right places and emphasizing just perfectly the right phrases, he left the congregation spell-bound. It was magnificent. Then, an ordinary member of the congregation stood up. He mispronounced some of the words. He stumbled through the images using the same tone of voice all the way with emphasis and pauses in the wrong places. He sat down feeling embarrassed, but he had one thing going for him. He spoke from his heart. Later someone from the congregation approached him and said: “You did a wonderful job.” The man said: “I thought the actor did a wonderful job.” The other man said: “Believe me, one thing was very clear. The actor knows Psalm 23. You know the Shepherd.

We should never forget that King David who wrote that Psalm which clearly was inspirational to Jesus did not say, “The Lord is a Shepherd” even though he is. He also did not say, “The Lord is The Shepherd” even though that is the truth. You know what King David wrote, say it, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” That one word makes all the difference in the world, and it makes all the difference in the world to come. It is that one little two-letter word that affirms, establishes, and bears witness to a relationship that is personal, intimate, and unique. Outside of that relationship, there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing to be.

The focus of these verses today is not the Shepherd. It is the sheep. Comforting as the image of the Shepherd might be, these verses are about us, about those who have heard and who listen to the voice of the Shepherd. In this noisy world where there are competing and conflicting voices, the sheep must know which voice holds the promise of unconditional love, the promise of freedom from death, and holds the hope of life everlasting. Those other voices are loud and attractive. There is a voice of power and prestige, a voice of privilege and wealth, a voice of pleasure, of sexual liberty, the voice that says “I am first.” “I am the best.” “I deserve whatever I want.” “It’s my right to do whatever I please or have whatever I want.” There is no end to those voices. You know them as well as I do. Yet, those voices have nothing to offer that lasts, and in following those voices we would always be vulnerable from outside. Only one voice can make the promise that we shall never perish, and the protection promised by that voice does not come from force, fear, guns, or walls. It comes from what the Shepherd has to offer, a relationship with the Father like his own. “The Father and I are one.”

The Shepherd invites us to know him and to enter into the very intimacy and oneness he shares with the Father. It is an invitation to be touched by the divine, to be created again in the image of the one who loves. The only way for this to happen is for us to listen to his voice spoken in the Word and desire with all our hearts to know him, to love him, and to serve him as the Shepherd knows, loves, and serves his father in obedience and sacrifice. Let it always be known to anyone who would observe us that in this church, in this faith, in the communion of the altar, we are one with each other, one with the Son, and one with the Father through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit which is the very breath that breathed life into us and called us each by name.

May 5, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts 5, 27-32, 40-41 + Psalm 30 + Revelation 5, 9-11-14 + John 21, 1-19

4:30pm Saturday at St. William Parish

By listing the names of these fishermen, John is giving us more information than just who was there. First of all, counting Peter, there were seven of them, and that number seven in the Scriptures always carries with it a deeper meaning. In this case, the sense of totality. Everyone is there. The seven named by John represent every possible type gathered in assembly just like us today. There is the impulsive Peter, the doubting Thomas, the shrewd Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee so intense in their feelings, and “two others” just in case you can’t recognize yourself among the five with names. The wonderful grace of being with the risen Christ is being revealed and discovered, and John tells us today where we shall find the Risen Lord.

“I’m going fishing”, says Peter, and the others say, “We’ll go with you.” They are going back now to their ordinary lives, and with that the scene is set and the message of John’s gospel is revealed. Remember, this is not about those individuals named, it’s about us. John is writing to you and me with a message about where and how the risen Lord is to be found. There is no earthquake, no thunder and lightning. There are no talking angels. A group of people are going about their ordinary lives, doing what puts food on the table. Someone comes along the shore and asks a question that anyone would ask of someone fishing: “Did you catch anything?” It can’t be more ordinary and simple. They say “No”, and the stranger on the shore suggests something. They try it and it works. Suddenly there is more fish than they can manage, and this last episode of John’s Gospel takes us back to the first one, a wedding feast with a lot of wine! The gospel of John ends as it begins with a remarkable story of the great abundance that comes when you do what Jesus asks.

What is so very ordinary evolves into something almost mystical however and John adds some little details that invite us to wonder. Peter gets dressed and jumps into the water. Maybe it should have been the other way around, but he seems to want to be presentable to the Lord that John has recognized from his loving heart. Then there is that scene around a fire so different from the scene around the fire in Courtyard of Pilate. No denials this time. Once again, Jesus feeds them, and the way John describes the gestures invites us to think of the Eucharist.

What is being revealed to us today in this Gospel is what we are doing here in this place. The wonderful mysteries of grace are unfolding as we go on with our ordinary lives. No matter what you are doing, cooking dinner, washing dishes, folding laundry, serving somewhere as a volunteer, or even playing cards or walking the beach, a loving heart filled with faith will see the risen Lord. As we go from here back into our very ordinary lives, we carry with us the message that echoes deep in our hearts realizing that he is here in our midst, and his promise to never leave us has been kept.