All posts for the month July, 2019

July 28, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam

Genesis 18, 20-32 + Psalm 138 + Colossians 2, 12-14  + Luke 11, 1-13

There are three possible answers to prayer. Take my word for it. I’ve been at it a long time. I want to tell you about this because, every now and then I have met someone who is upset and disappointed. Sometimes they are actually angry with God, which I don’t think is, in itself, a problem. It’s hard to ignore someone you are angry with. It’s just that they don’t understand that besides “yes” and “no” there is a third answer, and I learned it from my mother. That third answer is not however, “because”, which was the answer I would sometimes get when I asked “why”? She had red hair and green eyes, and I learned early on that when the answer was “because” there would be no further discussion. That’s not how it is with God however,

What I have discovered is that with God when we pray and bring our needs and the needs of others, there is, of course, the “yes” and the “no” answer now and then, but there is another one that I think is for more frequent. “Wait” is the third answer. Sometimes that answer is harder to accept than “yes” or “no.” That’s always when I’m tempted to say, “Why”? At which point I see that red headed lady with hands on hips!

When we hear these prayer-words from Luke, it doesn’t sound quite right or quite the same as the words in Matthew’s Gospel, and that’s important to realize, because if the Gospel writers thought that the words were important, I am sure they would have made them the same. So, using the right words or the exact words are not very important. I have a niece who would pray aloud, and she would say: “Our Father Who art in heaven, how did you get that name?” I have a strong suspicion that those words from a five-year-old made more impression on God than the prayer of a Pope perfectly articulated. It isn’t about words, it is about the relationship what we bring and expect from it.

In the end, prayer is not some effort to impose our will or expectations upon God, but to ask God to make us open to God’s will. In other words, we pray not to change God’s mind, but for God to change our minds, and in doing so it might mean we have to wait.

July 21, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam

Genesis 18, 1-10 + Psalm 15 + Colossians 1, 24-28 + Luke 10, 38-42

This is a story about God coming to stay with us. A story about Jesus in the home of Martha and Mary is told to illustrate a much more profound and personal experience, and out of the story Luke teaches us a lesson. This is our story. We are Martha and Mary, two sides of the same person. I am convinced of this not because of some scripture scholar or some divine revelation, but because I spend time in the confessional. What is confessed and shared by most of those who seek the comfort and grace of the Sacrament is expressed in different ways, but it is always the same. “Father, I missed Mass. I was just so busy” or Father we were traveling and in hurry.” “Father, I am not taking time to pray anymore.” And more sadly, “Father I pray every day but I don’t feel anything. It’s as though God is not listening.”

To look at this story as though it was a dispute between the two women or a contrast between two different styles of hospitality, or even a contrast between two life-styles risks missing the point. It is about us. It is about a people who have welcomed God into their lives, their homes, and their relationships. What Luke invites us to see is that there is Martha and Mary inside of us all. What Jesus warns against is being anxious about many things. He doesn’t say, “Come out of that kitchen.” He went there to eat, and I’ve always suspected he went to that home because Martha was a good cook. He just wants her to stop being anxious and worried about many things. All she needs to do is trust in the one who has come to her home. What he praises in Mary is her expression of that trust as she listens to his words. People who are anxious and worried are rarely people who listen. There is so much noise in their lives that they can’t calm down, listen, and simply feel the peace of God’s presence.

Luke invites to put some balance in our lives. Those who confess not making time for prayer or lacking the presence of the Lord need to listen to the call of Jesus to stop being so busy that there is no time to sit quietly and listen to his word. This is about how we choose to spend our time, and the priorities we establish for the use of our time. To ever feel as though God is not listening to prayer probably means that God is not being given a chance because the one at prayer is talking all the time. Sometimes the best prayer is simply to sit quietly in the company of Lord.

There is plenty to be anxious about hours before we arrive in Seattle. Not for me however, because I’m staying on for another week, but some of you will be anxious about packing, finding your luggage, making it on time to the airport, and all the stress of getting back home. Luke tells this story during a journey, the Journey of Jesus and his disciples to Jerusalem. They had to have been anxious and worried about many things. Travel in those days was hardly safe and never comfortable. Those who had been listening to Jesus were aware that there would be trouble in Jerusalem. They have already had trouble in Samaria. “Be calm”, says Jesus. Trust in the presence of this divine companion. Be still. Be grateful for the guest who has come to satisfy our hunger, take away our fear, and be our strength and our guide on our own journey to the new Jerusalem.

July 14, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam

Deuteronomy 30, 10-14 + Psalm 69 + Colossians 1, 15-20  + Luke 10, 2-37

Luke, among the four Evangelists is the great dramatist. All of his stories can ignite the imagination, and we can really see the drama being played out. The risk with this style is that all of the characters are life-like, and we could spend a lot of time reflecting on them all. They all have something to teach us. Yet the center of this episode is the lawyer, and he is really the focus for Jesus with the most to teach us. The dialogue between them is what this is all about. The scene with the others on the road and at the inn is just background illustration.

Luke tells us that this Lawyer has come up to Jesus to test him, but Jesus ends up asking the test questions, and a simple look at the lawyer’s answers might suggest that he passed with flying colors. But, it’s not that simple. First of all, that lawyer may know a lot about the law, but he doesn’t seem to know and appreciate the purpose of the law. His knowledge is superficial. He thinks it is a way to justify himself, and he’s looking through the law for a way to do the minimum. We do that all the time. There is written into the code of law how much tax we must pay, and we resort to all manner of schemes looking for loop holes to find out just how little we must pay. Does anyone here every pay more than is required? This lawyer wants to figure out just how little he has to do and still keep the law. He is a minimalist who thinks he can justify himself by doing nothing more than what is required. That does not work with Jesus Christ.

Never mind that the whole purpose of the Law for Israel was to draw people closer together, to build a community in covenant with God. If we can draw any conclusion from the Songs Israel sang, which we call the Psalms, the Law gave them Joy, because it brought them together in love and led them to God. This Lawyer has no clue about the real purpose of the Law. He knows just enough to excuse himself or figure out just how little he has to do.

Jesus is on to him, and he is not impressed by the Lawyer’s ability to quote the Law. With that little story by way of example, Jesus reveals how far off the mark the lawyer is with his justifications and the narrow limits he puts on himself by using the law to set up minimal limits. The Priest and the Levite kept the law very nicely, and the other man stayed in the ditch. The lawyer just wants to do the minimum, and so he comes up with that question: Who is my neighbor” so that he can exclude those he doesn’t like. He thinks it is someone who lives nearby, speaks his language, looks like him, and thinks like him, but Jesus who is always pushing the limits we like to set up blasts that narrow definition of the neighbor by insisting that a neighbor is anyone in need. This is why in the story the man on the side of the road has no clothing and no identity. He can’t be identified in the narrow definition as a “neighbor.” He’s just someone in need.

In an age when Somalis and Palestinians, Hondurans and Guatemalans come into our living rooms night after night on the evening news, beaten and abandoned by the human traffickers who take what little they have with promises of safety and freedom, we are at verge of being overwhelmed and can easily decide that the problem is bigger than we are, and that alone we can do nothing to make a difference. After all, those people are not our “neighbors”, or are they? That’s the issue Jesus puts before us today with one command: “Go and do likewise.”

July 7, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam

Isaiah 66, 10-14 + Psalm 66 + Galatians 6, 14-18 + Luke 10, 1-10, 17-20

Just in case you have wondered about the number 72, let’s get started by understanding that in the tenth chapter of Genesis, 72 is the number of nations in the world. Luke’s point is that the mission involves the whole world. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sent out “The Twelve” representing Israel’s 12 nations. Now the mission of Jesus and his disciples is bigger than just Israel.

The instructions are very clear: take nothing. The sharing of the Gospel, our mission which we call today Evangelization is a ministry of presence. That’s all there is to it. Jesus did not give them a Handbook, a Catechism, Canon Law, a Map, a set of CDs, or a Power Point Presentation. They were to be the message. The mission all rests on their relationships with one another, their joy, their gentleness, the mercy they show, the generosity, and the forgiveness they offer.

Years ago, when I was the Director of Seminarians in my diocese, a really fine seminarian full of zeal and good intentions was spending the summer out in western Oklahoma with a good pastor who happened to be away for a few days. The seminarian called me late one evening. It seems there had been a tragic accident on the highway, and the hospital called the Rectory for a priest. The seminarian was alone, so he called me and said: “I don’t know what to do.” I said, “Don’t do anything. Just go over there and stay with them. If you “do” something you might mess it all up. All that family needs is for someone to be with them.” Later I heard that when he got to the hospital, someone in the family said, “But, we wanted the priest.” The seminarian responded. “He’s out of town. I’m all you get. Let’s get in there and pray.” With that, everything was fine, and I know the story because one of the family members called to tell me how wonderful it was to be comforted by that young man.

I have never forgotten that experience when I am faced with a situation in which I don’t know what to say or what to do. Sometimes it is best to simply say nothing and just be there. There is no excuse for running away. This is the instruction that Jesus gives those 72 among whom we must find ourselves. There is no substitute for presence. It is the way God has chosen to redeem us and give us hope. God simply came in the person of Jesus Christ, and God stayed. Sometimes God says nothing. Sometimes God does nothing, But, God is present, and you and I are all called to be that comforting, loving presence. It’s not a matter of ordination or some long program of formation. It is a human experience that touches the human heart.

We cannot be afraid in a world that is hostile to the Gospel message of love and service, of peace and mercy. Revenge is the way of this world, and as this Gospel reminds us, it has no place in our lives because it has no place in God’s plan or in God’s Kingdom. The real point of the reign of God is union with God. Power is a dangerous thing, but the assurance that God loves you and that you have a future with God is the antidote to getting hooked on power and puts the battle with evil in its proper perspective. They do not go alone, those 72, and neither do we. We go together on the adventure of this mission. The laborers will grow, not from promotional advertising, but through attraction to the liberating life-giving movement we tend to call the Church.