All posts for the month November, 2019

1 December 1, 2019 at St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

12:00pm Sunday at St Peter the Apostle in Naples

The prophet whose words break open this Advent Season speaks up at a time when people were giving up on their dreams because it seemed as though their time had passed. They had decided that it was time to get real and simply accept their new world as it was, not as they wished it could be. Isaiah was obviously a man with a great imagination, and he was heart-broken to find himself in the midst of people who had quit, given up, and just ceased to imagine how wonderful things could really be. Instead of just shaking his head and saying: “It is what it is”, he dreamed, spoke up, and expected something different, and he was not quiet about it.

Isaiah 2:1-5 + Romans 13, 11-14 + Matthew 24, 37-44 at St. Peter the Apostle

Isaiah realized that most people’s prayer was just whining complaints full of self-pity. Their prayers were little more than the repetition of words that spilled off their lips endlessly with no power, passion, or expectation. There was no fire, no energy to combat their anesthetized hearts. To all of us who experience disappointment and broken dreams Isaiah still cries out just as before. To a people in danger of giving up on their dreams, his words and his spirit come to awaken us all. With Isaiah there is no golden age in the past, and there is no looking back. What matters is the future in which we must have great hope and confidence. Isaiah cried out: “In days to come!” He had no time for looking back. He was desperate to reawaken his people. His message to the Israelites is still a message for us: “God is not finished with you.” To them he said: “Your exile is a part of your road, not the end of the story. Re-adjust your outlook and change your behavior!” To us he says: “Retirement is just part of your road, not the end of your story.” For many of us, retirement in Naples, Florida is only a part of our story. This is not the time to sit around a reminisce about the old days. There is still a future for us all, and we must look ahead.

There is in all of us an odd and unfortunate temptation to look backward when things seem to be going wrong, to believe that the old days were really the best days, and that nothing yet to come could be possibly be good. That kind of pessimism is not to be found in disciples of Christ Jesus. There is in this kind of temptation, a cowardice that may come from fear or simply from a lack of confidence or helplessness. My own opinion is that thinking the old days were better days is the sign of a bad memory.

Jesus translated Isaiah’s message into his own time: “Remember the story of Noah? Things were headed to hell in a handbasket. For some, it was all about making money, luxury resorts, fast cars and the golf course. Others went about their business, assuming that nothing can change the way things are going.” (That’s a modern rendition of “eating and drinking and marrying.”)

Advent ushers us into the challenge of believing that the world as we know it is not what God intends and that God wills to help us do better. Isaiah tells us what God intends for the world: The life and prayer of believers will attract all peoples to know and love God. He speaks of a time when weapons of war are transformed into agricultural tools, and when human beings will care for one another and their Earth as they were created to do. There is no excuse for a failure to look into that future. Neither is there an excuse for failing this very day to start making it happen.

November 24, 2019 At Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 2 Samuel 5, 1-3 + Psalm 122 + Colossians 1, 12-20 + Luke 23, 35-43

4:30pm ar Saint William Church in Naples, FL

On this last Sunday of the Church’s year we stand with this Gospel on the edge of Paradise. We can look through the doorway to heaven because in his promise to that “good thief” Jesus opens the door to real freedom inviting us to embrace Paradise today. His work is complete with his last breath and his final words. He looks at all of us who realize our need, and he says: “Today you will be with me.”

This was his mission. This is why the Father sent him, not so much to suffer and die an agonizing death, but to identity with us, to be incarnate in our flesh, and to remain with us until the very end. On our part it takes only one thing, the desire and the courage to express our need, our need to be remembered.

The Kingdom of God which Jesus announced and now reveals is the victory of the poor, the lost, the forgotten, the marginalized, and even thieves who know their need for mercy. What looks like a defeat and death is really the triumph of forgiveness, generosity, justice, and peace. In this final moment and with these last words, we can realize that the Kingdom of God has truly come.

This is a Kingdom that has no borders or barriers and no distinction between classes, races, skin color, or gender. This is a Kingdom in which the mighty kneel before the weak and the frail to wash their feet. This is Kingdom in which authority is found in compassion not in power. This is a Kingdom that finds justice in forgiveness, not revenge. This is a Kingdom that finds us all included in spite of everything we have done and failed to only because in humility we ask to be remembered.

Salvation is always a gift from God. God gives it most freely to those who, like the good thief know they are poor, and who ask for it with empty hands and hearts filled with hope. That hope is what we must take with us from this church today. The hope that with our last breath we may say: “Remember me”, and just before we sleep we shall hear one last and final word: “Today.”

November 17, 2019 At Saint Peter and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

 Malachi, 3, 19-20 + Psalm 98 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19

12:00 Noon Mass at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naple, FL

There are two issues in these Gospel verses today. The first concerns the end of the world.

Jesus states that there will be an end time, when the Son of Man will come as judge, but we cannot determine when that will be. There is really only one way for people of faith to live with this reality. You can recognize them by the way they live, always in the present, always full of life and joy. There is something spontaneous about them. You never hear them say: “One of these days I’m going to……”  Has anyone here ever said that? If you are nodding your head, I would propose that you need to let these Gospel verses sink into your soul. People of real, living faith never put off to tomorrow what they can, should, and will do today. It’s not a matter of how much you can do in day, but how you prioritize what do each day, because you never know if it is the last. This is the way disciples of Jesus live. If someone is in need, you don’t wait till tomorrow to help them. One of you may be dead, and then you live with regret. If there is a word of thanks, compliment, or some encouragement you want to offer, you don’t wait till tomorrow. Saving something for a great day, for a special day, or for just the “right moment” might mean nothing ever happens. What Luke would have us understand is that every day is a special day, and every day is a great day.

The second issue in these Gospel verses today concerns the destruction of the Temple. By the time Luke wrote his Gospel, the Temple had already been destroyed by the Romans, and historians suggest that perhaps one million people died as a result of the Roman fury at a minor rebellion. Looking only at that, Luke’s readers at the time could begin to feel like victims as one catastrophe after another was happening. But these verses and words of Jesus suggest that people who experience tragedies are not just sad victims because, Jesus sees these events as opportunities. They are opportunities for disciples to bear witness to Jesus and the Gospel. By forewarning them Jesus forearming them.

It is exactly at the worst of times that Christian people are needed to stand in the darkness of despair as a light to the world. It is exactly when lying and falsehood is everywhere that the truth is needed, and who has the Truth? Jesus Christ and those he sends before him. Exactly when hatred seems to be in control, love is needed. In the midst of and in times of war, it is peace that is needed from peaceful people in the name of Christ whose very presence is peace.

In a world of social and political turmoil, people of faith will often be regarded as naive and irrelevant. However, we must not be afraid of skepticism and cynicism, but trust that God will give us the strength to hold our ground. That strength comes from the hope that this Gospel promises. Remember this about Jesus. He was an outcast from the very beginning. There was no room for him in the inn when he was born. His neighbors ran him out of town. His family questioned his sanity. One of his closest friends betrayed him. The others abandoned him, and his countrymen traded his life for that of a terrorist.

This Gospel urges us all to not lose heart in times of difficulty. Our faith does not rest upon human institutions, but on God alone. Human things fall apart and fail. What we put our trust in is the faithfulness of God. We are privileged to share in Christ’s suffering, and by sharing the suffering, he will share with us his strength and endurance, and together we shall all share in his glory.

November 10, 2019 Onboard the MS Koningsdam

2 Maccabees 7, 1-2 & 9-14 + Psalm 17 + 2 Thessalonians 2, 16 – 3, 5

Luke 20, 27-38

Since June, we have been going along with Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Last week was the last stop just outside of town at the city of Jericho where he met Zacchaeus. We have skipped over the great entry into Jerusalem. He has already had his confrontation with the merchants there and a serious confrontation with the Pharisees and every other authority possible. Things are coming together, and his fate is now unavoidable. Luke structures this part of his Gospel around a series of questions posed by different groups. We have skipped over the first two, but it might help to mention them.

The first question came from the chief priests, elders, and scribes. The very group who instigate the Romans to put Jesus to death. They wanted to know by what authority Jesus acts as he does.

The second question came from secret agents disguised as what Luke calls, “Honest Men.” Their question concerns whether or not it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor.

The third question comes up today.

There is a fourth and final question coming later with the same group concerning the title, “Lord.” At this point, Jesus warns the people to beware of the hypocrisy found in their leaders.

Now, it is the third question that comes up in today’s Gospel. Again, the Sadducees are the questioners, and they do not believe in the resurrection of the dead or any kind of judgement after death. It was a disputed matter between scholars at the time, and Jesus sides with the Pharisees on this issue. infuriating the Sadducees who consider themselves to be the protectors of ancient tradition and the status quo. They want no change, especially one that might challenge their aristocratic and very secure way of life cooperating with the Romans. They could smell danger to their status around Jesus and the company he kept, so they are determined to show that he is either crazy, irrelevant, or disobedient to the Mosaic teaching and traditions. The question they raise comes from the Mosaic law which taught that if one married brother dies without a son to carry on the name, his brother must marry the widow. The first son of this marriage will bear the name of the dead brother. While strange to us, the purpose was to strengthen family bonds and care for the widow. The Sadducees push the idea through the six brothers in a silly and exaggerated way thinking that the question could only be considered by those who are stupid enough to believe in such a resurrection.

Jesus refuses to play the game of trivial biblical pursuit. His answer challenges any belief that the next life will be a continuation of this life. It is a completely new mode of existence, he says. Quoting their cherished writings of the Mosaic law, Jesus reminds them that God spoke to Moses about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the present tense, as still being alive before him and not as long-dead memories. God is not a God of the dead, but of the living. All of this is Luke’s final way of leading us into the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. We get a hint at how Jesus had the courage and the confidence to risk his death. He believed in the resurrection. It prepared him to accept his death, even though the suffering that led to it might have been frightening.

All of this seems a bit morose riding along on this beautiful ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but I would suggest to you that thinking about death from time to time can result in a true love of life. When we are familiar with death, we accept each day as a gift, and this day is one of them. In a few moments we shall say together: “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Belief in another life after this one is one of the most important or our beliefs as Christians. Without it, life would be a journey to nowhere. With it, life becomes a journey to the promised land of eternal life.

November 3, 2019 Onboard the MS Koningsdam

 Wisdom 11, 22 – 12,1 + Psalm 145 + 2 Thessalonians 1, 11 – 2,2 + Luke 19, 1-10

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector provides one of the most well-loved stories in the Bible. It a story with many layers from which we can all explore the will of God. It is an Incarnational story that in figurative language reveals what God intended by sending his Son. He came to stay in our house, here on earth, here in human flesh. It is a story of the salvation Jesus brings as he seeks the lost and the most despised by this world, but yet loved by God. It is a conversion story, the best kind of conversion, it begins with a conversion of heart, a change of life, a change of values, which is always better than an intellectual conversion This is also a story/lesson about wealth, a topic frequently raised in Luke’s Gospel. It affirms that there is nothing wrong or bad about being rich. What matters is how one became that way, and what is done with it.

As we sail today headed toward Spain and then ultimately toward home for some of us, those words of Jesus to Zacchaeus are comforting and challenging. “I have come to stay in your house today.” It is both a reminder of what God is doing through his Son, and a reminder of the conversion to which we are called. Zacchaeus ceased to be a spectator that day, by the grace of God and presence of Jesus Christ. At first, he wanted to see, and he got more than he wanted. He got to see the great, patient mercy of God. As he climbs down from that tree, a new man, he is no longer a spectator, but now a participant in the work of Jesus Christ. He had been a man who took from others. Now he is a man who gives to others. He does way more than what might have been required or expected. He gives half of what he has away, and then repays four times over what he took. There is extravagance here that is only matched by the extravagance of God’s love and mercy.

While the crowd can only murmur and judge seeing this man by his past, it is not so with God who created us all good. That goodness never goes away. It’s always there somewhere and just needs to be rediscovered. The old German writer and statesman, Goethe, left us with a description of what God is doing here and a suggestion of how we might continue the work of God. He said: “The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become”. We have to learn from Jesus how to see people.