All posts for the month December, 2019

1 January 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

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

12:00pm January 1, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

We are on “theological thin ice” when we call Mary “The Mother of God.” No one gave birth to God, but there is truth in saying that Mary gave birth to the Son of God. It takes some spiritual maturity to get this right, and when we do, some important things are then said about you and me. Divinity taking on human nature changes our knowledge of who we are and of our destiny. It allows us to understand God’s nature more fully; but this does not mean that understanding God, ourselves or our role in the divine drama is simple. It isn’t. It isn’t easy, and we don’t always fully understand what God is doing, and how God’s plan is going to work out.

Mary didn’t either, and I think that is what draws us to church today; the fact that what Christmas means, and how it is supposed to work out is not easy to understand. Those shepherd boys who showed up and told Mary and Joseph what they had heard must have come as a complete surprise. Luke tells us that others must have been there too, and they were amazed at what the shepherds had to say. That does not mean they understood what it was all about. In fact, I think it suggests that they might have been standing around shaking their heads. To be amazed does not suggest understanding. It might at first bring disbelief or confusion since none of this makes sense. It does not fulfill their expectations, and it isn’t the way they thought a messiah was going to come.

We must not romanticize our sense of Mary’s role. There is no reason to believe that she understood what it meant that her son was Messiah. There is no reason to believe that she understood the way in which Jesus was the Son of God. She could never have known that her son would die as he did, much less understand the significance of it. What matters, and what is important is that even though she did not understand, she believed. She kept faith with God, and that meant raising her son like every other Jewish boy, teaching him Torah, feeding and caring for him.  What she shows us all and what we are reminded of this day is that we can accept God’s ways and even be major players in God’s plan even when we do not understand the ways of God. There is nothing wrong nor any weakness in not understanding. What matters is that even when we do not understand we keep faith with God, and do what Mary did. She just pondered. That’s the word this translation uses. It means, that she just remembered – she remained close to and joined in faith with God.

God’s ways are revealed to us over time and in the development of tradition.  Because Mary became the Mother of God, the Son of God was born among us, and it is through Jesus what we are adopted into God’s family. By becoming “Mother of God” she allowed us all to become children of God, and celebrating and remembering that truth is a good way to begin this New Year. We are God’s children who can cry out: “Abba! Father.”

December 29, 2019 at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Castle Rock, Colorado

Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14 + Psalm 128 + Colossians 3:12-21 + Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

11:30am Sunday at St Francis of Assisi Castle Rock, Colorado

I grew up with images of the Holy Family that always made my family look like the Clampetts. There were those images of Mary and Joseph on holy cards. There was a picture hanging in my school classroom in which Mary was always weaving something. Joseph had obviously been out picking lilies because there was always one in his hand, and I guess he cut it with a carpenter’s square, because that was in the other hand. The boy was always gazing at his holy parents, waiting to obey their next command. They were the Waltons of Nazareth! They didn’t live in Oklahoma. If they did, they belonged to some other parish.

That image is a perfect recipe for discouragement. It is one more crushing blow to the single parent family. To many mothers it is an invitation to resentment because it would be so wonderful to raise only one perfect child with the help of a perfect husband, the model of chastity, hard work, gentleness and consideration. And in front of that image stands every father, frustrated, defeated, tired, and anxious looking at that perfect family and left to feel defeated, inadequate, and guilty.

The Gospel writers would have us understand that it was no different in Nazareth. We must keep the whole story in mind as we celebrate this day called: “Holy Family.” Their life was not a Christmas Card photo. What makes that family holy is not some kind of perfection, but perhaps some kind of fidelity.

The family whose story is told in this Gospel had its ups and downs. The family whose story is told in this Gospel lived through confusion, strange journeys, dealt with disgruntled relatives and people who did not understand. We are not here to celebrate the ideal family with a perfect mom, an honest dad, and an impeccable child. I think this feast is for my Aunt who was never blessed with children and now lives alone after the death of her husband. No children to care for her. I think this feast is for a woman I passed in a nursing home last week sitting by the door looking for someone, anyone to come for her. I think this feast is for a mother I know whose son is waiting for a bone-marrow transplant; she stays with him constantly while her husband simply cannot visit because of his fears and disappointment. I think this feast is for gay people whose lives never quite fit in and never really will. I think this feast if for single parents who just do the best they can, and it never feels like enough. I think this feast if for families torn apart by divorce, and because of it all cannot find their way to church anymore.

This feast is for all of them and for all of us because we are God’s chosen ones, holy, and beloved. What we all have in common is the power of the Gospel and the pain of living close to or distant from those we love best. It seems like a lot of pain sometimes, but in the end, there is nothing quite like a family, no matter how it is composed. After all, it is in family that we learn to be sensitive to the presence of others, the needs of others, and the rights of all human beings. Family is the ultimate school where one learns to love, to forgive, to be responsible, and to respect. It is also the first and best school of holiness.

24 December 1, 2019

Isaiah 52, 7-10 + Psalm 98 + Hebrews 1, 1-6 + Luke 2, 1-20

 For the children at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

(The children have been given a wrapped gift box containing the statue of the infant for the creche. It has been opened by several of the children and then in procession they have taken the “gift of Jesus:” to the creche. Then, gathering around the presider’s chair I continued.)

We have this wonderful day called, “Christmas” because of one very important word. Because Mary used that word and taught her son to use it, we are here tonight. If we can learn to use that word, many wonderful things can happen in this world. Learning the word is easy, but learning when to use the word is the hard part. When you use that word at the right time, wonderful things happen. When you use the word at the wrong time, things can go wrong.

The blessed mother knew that word. She learned it from her parents. She used that word one day, and everything started to go right. It is a word your mother and father have used, and one time when they used that word right, wonderful things started to happen. That important word is” Yes.”

One day, a long time ago, a message came from God to Mary. God asked her to do something she didn’t understand. It was something that meant she might have to change her plans and do something she did not want to do right then. She did not say: “No.” Her answer to God was, “Yes.” If she had said ‘No”, we would not be here tonight so happy and so full of joy. “Yes” is the word we have to learn how to use. On another day a long time ago, one of your parents asked the other one to do something: to marry them. That day they used that word and something wonderful happened. They started to make a home and get ready to welcome you; and it’s all because of that good word, “yes.”

You know what happens we you say: “No.” If Mom or Dad asks you to do something like clean up your room or pick up your things or come and help and you say, “no” – things go wrong and no one is happy. But sometimes you have to say “no”, and that is the hard part: knowing when to say “no.” If one of your friends is doing something wrong and they want you to join them, you have to say: “no.” That’s the hard part, knowing when to say “yes” and knowing when to say, “no.”

Saying “yes” to your parents and your teachers helps you to know what God wants you to do, and it gets you ready to say “yes” to God. Tonight, all the world is celebrating and filled with joy and hope because someone knew when to say “yes,” and because people like your mother and father have continued to say “yes” for a long time.

Mary said it. She taught Jesus to say it, and now, Jesus is teaching you to say it. When you say, “yes” to God, wonderful things happen. There will be peace and forgiveness, love and joy; and all those wonderful things will not go away. So, what is that wonderful word God wants us to learn and use wisely?

24 & 25 December 2019

Isaiah 52, 7-10 + Psalm 98 + Hebrews 1, 1-6 + Luke 2, 1-20

St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

2:45pm St. William Church, Naples, FL 12/24/2019

We are in this church tonight because we have heard them. We have heard the greatest truth of all, that God is with us. Yet still, there may be some here with us who have not heard that prophetic voice, whose days and lives are long and lonely, who have been abandoned by someone they loved, who live with secrets that if known will push them to the edge of an abyss by the judgements of others. Yet, we are a prophetic church. In spite of our personal failings and our institutional sins, we still must and do proclaim the truth: God is with us.

As a community of faith and prayer, we have moved through purple days lighting candles against a world that sometimes seems to prefer the darkness singing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which tells us to Rejoice but sounds like a dirge. For four weeks, we have listened the peculiar poets, the prophets. They pop up from time to time throughout the whole year, but in Advent they take center stage. There is John the Baptist announcing the “Spirit and Fire”. There is Isaiah awaiting the “great light.” These are voices that seem to flutter between warning and consolation, between the present and the future, cause and effect.

Today we live in a world in which prophecy has been swamped by prediction: the weather, elections, the stock market. Week after week we are told what the “polls” predict. But, John the Baptist never conducted a poll or a survey. Isaiah did not have a margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Prophets simply tell the truth.

When that truth finally sinks in all of life on earth will become one great Advent with the promise that the best is yet to come. Christmas is a call to reconnect ourselves, to accompany Jesus more deeply into the mystery of our shared humanity and our life with God. This is why guest rooms are full, airports are crowded, highways are jammed with people connecting again.  Our hope does not rest upon a Biblical account of something that happened two thousand years ago. You can’t hope for something that has already happened. Our hope rests up on the promise that Christ will come again, and for those of us who choose to live with that hope, it brings excitement and joy as well as the strength to rise up from every catastrophe.

The real good news we have to proclaim goes way beyond what we sing about today and what we remember. The real good news is not that Christ was born in Bethlehem, but that Christ will come again. Our prayer today as we stand before the scenes that recall Christ’s birth should be: “Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus.” Live with that hope, my friends. Let the promise that Christ will come again bring you a Joy that never fades. The story that draws us together tonight is that God is with us. But right now it is a story that has no ending.  When the story finally ends, we shall be with God, and the plan in the heart of God will be fulfilled. Maranatha: Come, Lord Jesus.

15 December 2019 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William in Naples, FL

Isaiah 35, 1-6 & 10 + Psalm 146 + James 5, 7-10 + Matthew 11, 2-11

11:00am at St. William Parish in Naples, FL

If you stop to think about John the Baptist sitting in Herod’s prison, it isn’t hard to realize what is going on in his mind. I imagine that his thinking goes something like this: “I did everything I felt called to do. I never called attention to myself. I recognized the Messiah when he came, and even though we did not agree on which of us should be baptized, I followed his wishes and did what he asked. I spoke the truth even when it was not popular and was dangerous, and look where I’ve ended up.”

I believe that John is having a crisis of faith. He is filled with doubt. He must have been filled with fear. He must have wondered why Jesus did not work some sign and get him out of that prison. After all, they were family. If Jesus could do all those things he has heard about, he surely could set him free from Herod’s prison. But, nothing happens. Either in desperation for himself or out of a desire to shift the loyalty of his disciples toward Jesus, he asks that painful question: “Are you the one?”

Jesus called John the Baptist “The greatest man born of woman.” Yet, the greatest man born of woman is left to sit alone in a prison, and there we find him waiting, longing, and perhaps even doubting. Doubt, you know, is not the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is certainty. When you are certain about something, you don’t need faith. Probably the opposite of doubt is trust, and that is what John was struggling with, trust. So, he wonders if Jesus is trustworthy, and his answer comes from those disciples who went to Jesus.

John is not the only person who sits in a prison waiting and longing for the Messiah. Many in this world today are waiting, wondering, and longing. Their prison is ignorance, poverty, abusive relationships, addiction, and their own sinful choices, and they can only look to us for an answer to their question: “Is Jesus the one we are waiting for?” “Is Jesus the one who can save us?” It ought to be obvious to anyone by now that no King, President, no Prime Minister, no Emperor, or Dictator is the answer. No ideology and no “ism” this world can make up will free us from whatever it is that holds us back. Doubt goes with the longing because doubt can eventually lead us to faith. Those who live their lives certain that this idea or program, political agenda or political party will save us have yet to believe that this world cannot offer us what we truly desire. They are yet to affirm that Jesus is the answer. They have not yet seen what a difference a life lived in relationship to God can make, and there is only one reason for that. We have not adequately and totally revealed the power of Jesus Christ to them. My friends, John the Baptist, great as he was, never understood that Christ would die for us. He never experienced the Resurrection, and he never received the Holy Eucharist. He was never Baptized in the Holy Spirit as we have been. There is a power in us he could never have imagined. The Word of God speaks to us today about the imprisoned and about the mission of Jesus Christ handed on to us who share his life through his very Body and Blood. This world needs and waits, longs and yearns to know what a difference life lived with Jesus Christ makes. They will only know by seeing our lives transformed by the peace which only God can give. Every act of kindness and mercy, every offence forgiven will leave people wondering what motivates us to be so kind. Every generous response to a someone begging at the side of the road with a smile and blessing may open one heart to the love of God and the peace of his Kingdom. Knowing us is to know Jesus Christ, and in coming to know him, they will have grasped the answer to the longing of their hearts.

8 December 2019

Isaiah 11, 1-10 + Psalm 72 + Romans 15, 4-9 + Matthew 3, 1-12

St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

3:30pm SATURDAY at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Isaiah opens our liturgy today just as he opened this Advent season last week. He spoke passionately about refusing to accept things as they are and demanding that God’s people look to a future that is better and do something to bring it about. Today that future is described as a time of Justice, and Isaiah envisions a time when a leader will be clothed in justice and faithfulness. This leadership promotes harmony to the point that even natural enemies will become friends. The vision of this prophet sees leadership that will promote justice and protect the vulnerable.

Ages later, John steps onto the scene echoing Isaiah’s expectation announcing that the kind of leadership and the justice it will promote is at hand. His critique of the kind of leadership under which the poor and vulnerable suffer ultimately leads to his death at the hands of Herod. He was not afraid to speak the truth to power. John’s description of leadership goes far beyond pointing to the Christ who was in their midst. What he says about this one who is to come is far more than a description of Jesus Christ. It is a description of us, of who we must be having become one with Christ, and of what we must do as members of Christ’s body.

We cannot let ourselves “off the hood”, so to speak, by simply turning this into an historical account of what John the Baptist once said in the past about Jesus of Nazareth. This living Word of God speaks to us on this day. The voice of the Baptist is the living Word of God living today and speaking to us about the kind of leadership we must provide in the world of this age. Like John the Baptist, we must hold our leaders to high standards, urging and expecting them to promote harmony, not sow discord. We must expect them to create a just society where people are not judged by appearance or by hearsay, but by the fruits of their labors and life.

There will be no such leadership unless we provide that leadership. All too often leaders are simply mirroring the people from which they come. Paul speaks today about the hope that must come from what was written previously. Well, Isaiah was written previously. He describes us who are born into and found in Christ Jesus. We have been baptized in the Spirit, not just Jesus Christ. We have a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. Don’t you remember that day when the church confirmed this Spirit? The questions this Advent are: “When are we going to put these gifts to work?” or “What are we waiting for?” Someone else?

There is an urgency about this in Matthew’s Gospel, and an assurance that the Judge will come not to judge someone else, but to judge us in terms of how faithfully, fruitfully, and consistently we have become one in Christ. Our best hope is that when that judgement comes, we will have become so much like Christ that God will not be able to tell us apart and welcome us home.