All posts for the month January, 2020

2 February 2020 This homily was never delivered in liturgy, but simply prepared for this use while I am on vacation in France.

Malachi 3, 1-4 + Psalm 24 + Hebrews 2, 14-18 + Luke 2, 22-40

The Law for the Hebrew people (Leviticus 12) commanded that a woman who had given birth to a son should not approach the Tabernacle for 40 days; after which time she was to offer a sacrifice for her purification. By another law, every first-born son was to be considered as belonging to God, since the first-born sons had been spared in Egypt. They were to be redeemed by a small sum of money. With this historical context clear in our minds, we can dig deeper into what Luke is revealing to us in these verses today.

It is the first visit of Jesus to the Temple, and in Luke’s Gospel, there will be others. Think of it this way: on this first visit it would seem that the Temple sanctifies and redeems Jesus. On the last visit, it is Jesus who sanctifies and purifies the Temple as he proclaims it to be the House of God, House of Prayer, driving out money changers and others who made profit from the Temple. In some ways it seems odd that this one conceived without sin, who is Blessed among women would need to be purified, and that the one who has come to set us free from slavery to sin would himself need to be ransomed in this ritual way. But this odd arrangement of things is exactly what Luke wants to put before us shaking off preconceived ideas about how God should work and opening us to the new wonder of a Divine plan that does not match our human ways and expectations.

The hour has come for Emmanuel to take possession of his Temple. Two remarkable and memorable figures emerge from the commotion of that busy Temple. Mary and Joseph cannot have been the only ones observing the law that day. It was a busy place, a meeting place, a place of commerce and exchange as well as a place of sacrifice and prayer. We could get an impression from the later story that it was more about commerce and exchange than sacrifice and prayer. It had to have been noisy not just with the sounds of buyers and sellers, but with the animals themselves caged for purchase and eventual sacrifice. Out of all that comes these two, Simeon and Anna. They are for us representatives of the Old Testament, longing for and waiting for the Messiah, and they unite their voices to celebrate the happy coming of the child who will renew the face of the earth. What I find remarkable is that these old people whose eyes dimmed with age are able to see in this child what others cannot and will not see in the years to come.

Eighty-four-year-old Anna begins to speak about the child to everyone who was looking for the liberation of Jerusalem, and you wonder if anyone is listening to an old lady who is there every day. Then old Simeon steps up. Some traditions suggest that he was blind. Yet, he can see something no one else can see. He proclaims this child to be “the light and glory of his people.” Then, he gives back to Mary the child she is about to offer to the Lord. The two doves presented to the priest, who sacrifices them on the Altar, are the price of the ransom paid. The whole Law is satisfied. This child is set free now to proclaim liberty to captives, and sight to the blind.

My friends, today is the Feast for Light for those of us who wait in prayer and fasting. Some hide in the darkness because of shame or guilt. We do not want to admit the truth of our lives even to ourselves, let alone others. It is the things we have not done that often matter the most. Often, we live in a night of fear not knowing what will come next or how we can handle it. A sense of powerlessness lurks around us. A black hole of sorrow and grief can suck the life and light out of our world. There is the darkness of ignorance and confusion making us blind to our own goodness and identity as God’s children.

The light we proclaim like Simeon today reveals mercy and forgiveness in the shadow of guilt and shame, presence and courage in the night of fear, compassion and hope in the black holes of sorrow and loss, a way forward in the blindness of ignorance and confusion, and life in the darkness of death. The flame of God’s love consumes the darkness. It fills us, and it frees us to go in peace just as God promised. We have seen salvation, and Simeon’s song has become our song.

Isaiah 8, 23-9,3- + Psalm 27 + 1 Corinthians 1, 1-13 + Matthew 4, 12-23

St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL 26 January 2020

5:30pm Saturday at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

The voice in the wilderness that we know as John the Baptist has been silenced, and now the one he announced is found in Galilee, an unlikely place. Galilee is prosperous, a kind of international territory through which trade routes passed and local industry thrived, like fishing. In those days, it was quite a distance from Judah and the holy city of Jerusalem to the south. Between the two lies that unfriendly place called “Samaria.” Matthew places the beginning of the ministry of Jesus in Galilee to confirm the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which we just heard again after reading it on Christmas. Zebulun and Naphtali are in Galilee. It is a place that suffered greatly after conquest by the Assyrians, a conquest made easy because of internal corruption and intrigue in high places. Isaiah writes to console and lift the hopes of these people.

We should not listen to this Gospel and think that these four named and called in these verses were poor and had nothing to lose by falling under the spell of this man from Capernaum. It is not so. There are plenty of clues here to suggest that they were men of means, professionals at their trade, family men who worked and did well enough to own their own nets and boats. They had something leave behind, an established business, and they did it. What I believe Matthew wants to stress is the initiative and the personal impact of Jesus, and Peter and Andrew’s readiness to follow him immediately. A light has come, says the prophet, and these men are drawn to the light.

When we proclaim this living Word of God today, it is not to recall an invitation back in the past. It is to awaken us to the fact and the truth that this light, Jesus Christ, is calling yet again. His call to discipleship is addressed to each one of us. No matter what our life-style or social situation may be, we are called to follow him and it will mean we leave something behind. There are things in each of our lives that keep us from being faithful disciples. There are too many things in every life that contradict our baptismal calling. We tolerate or ignore too many social structures that are contrary to the Gospel of love and respect for human dignity. Each of us has to name for ourselves, in our own time and place, how we must radically turn our hearts to the following of Jesus and leave behind whatever it is that keeps us from being a true and committed  disciple.

The world in which we live is still confounded by corruption and intrigue in high places, just like Galilee. It waits in darkness full of fear, illness, pain, sin, guilt, loneliness and way more besides. The light of Christ is needed here as much as it ever was in Galilee. Disciples of Jesus Christ called to follow him are the only hope for this world, the only hope for light in the darkness. Let me remind you that on the day of our Baptism, a candle lit from the Easter Candle was handed over to us into the hands of a parent or god-parent.

We take courage today in the face of violence that is as global as terrorism or as local as abused families, encouraged to hope in God’s deliverance as today’s Psalm proclaimed that God may work through the surprising presence of our sisters and brothers, so that we may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our lives.

Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6 + Psalm 40 + 1Corthians 1, 1-3 + John 1, 29-34

Deacon Retreat: Diocese of Venice in Florida 19 January 2020

As we end these good days we have spent together, John the Baptist appears before us, and perhaps in spite of all the great deacon/saints in history like Stephen, Philip, Lawrence of Rome, Francis of Assisi, or a Deacon named Vincent who is the great martyr of Spain, there is still John the Baptist. Even though no Bishop ever laid hands on him, I believe his presence through this Gospel is a significant way to close this year’s retreat and return home.

Thomas Merton has been quoted as saying, “If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for.” It is an intimate question that forces us to identity our deepest values. At the same time, when I say that I am living FOR something, there is recognition that I am incomplete and longing for something more than what I am now.

John the Baptist was living for God’s promised future. John admitted that what he did was only the beginning. It wasn’t just for the sake of virtue that people had to clean up their lives. They did it to get ready for something more. John was water; he was waiting for fire.  John awakened the desires of his disciples. With him, they began to understand what they were seeking, what they were really living for, John knew that they shared his desire and that, though he could not fulfill it, God could and would.

Today’s meeting with John the Baptist invites us to ask Merton’s question, and as ourselves what we are living for and for whom we live. What is it we long for? Asking those questions demands courage. Longing is not a comfortable feeling or way to live. It exposes an emptiness and recognizes how incomplete we are. It’s easier to think about wishes and wants: a favorite food, happy and successful children, a winning team, or nice vacation. Those things are easy to attain, but they don’t really make a difference in life, and are quickly seen as shallow and incomplete because we always want more.

Leave here today with the words of Merton in your mind. The more you cultivate the virtues I have spoken of here, the more what you live for will be revealed. Live for Worthiness. Live for Communion and Holy Intimacy. Live for Justice with indignation, and live to emulate because as you do, there will be room in this world for what is more beautiful and more divine than we can imagine. As Deacons of this Church, like John, you baptize with water and pray for that fire Jesus Christ still brings to us: not fire that destroys, but a fire than brightens the night, warms the cold, and draws us from the darkness into the Light. Perhaps, if someone asked what you were living for, you might be able to say: I’m living for the fire and the light. If you are the deacon that carries the Easter Candle, think of that this coming spring. Now, let us take food for the journey home.

12 January 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

     Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Matthew 3, 13-17

1:00pm Mass at St. William Church in Naples, FL

The Baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist has by this time in history lost its shock value, and hardly raises an eye-brow much less a question. But at the time Matthew was writing, there was a serious issue that he wants to put to rest. The disciples of John used this event to justify their continued following of John’s preaching since John was for them the real prophet because John baptized Jesus. To address and attempt to settle that issue, Matthew has a dialogue between Jesus and John over whether Jesus should submit to baptism by John.

However, who is more important is not really the issue here. The fact that Jesus accepted the Baptism of John turns out to be the first revelation of how Jesus presented himself as Emmanuel: an unimaginable, exceptionally humble, incarnation of God in the midst of humanity. His baptism reinforces the message we have heard in the Christmas story. God has chosen to be with us not as an awesome ruler of the universe, but as one who chooses solidarity with us in all our weakness. The Baptism of Jesus reveals Emmanuel as one of us.

This is the unique message of Christian people unlike every other world religion. We can imagine and can accept a God incarnate, sharing all our limitations in order to reveal limitless love. Here is the unique Christian God: a Trinity.  In this moment of Baptism, the Trinity is revealed. God speaks, Jesus stands, and the Holy Spirit descends up on him.

As a faithful Jew, Jesus perceived that John was a prophet. This baptism is a proclamation that God is up to something and John was an integral part of it. In asking for baptism, Jesus was seeking and submitting to God affirming John’s message. The detail of this baptism shows us how discernment of God’s will confirmed that Jesus was doing the right thing. It’s a dramatic scene. Imagine it. He came from the water the heavens were opened for him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove coming upon him. He knew the Scriptures. He knew that he was called to be the servant of God Isaiah had prophesied. That voice, heard again later at the Transfiguration, was a public confirmation that Jesus was the longed-for son of Israel, the son in whom God was well pleased.

What this says to us is that God’s solidarity with us is total. God is with us in every circumstance: in hope and love, in weakness and sin, disgrace and desperation. The way to union with God necessarily passes through this kind of presence Jesus shows us. If we want to know God we can only do so with solidarity, through sharing one another’s need and weakness so profoundly that we also share one another’s joys. Then we will know God because God will be acting in and through us. The baptism of Jesus brings Jesus into communion with us. Our baptism invites us into union with God and all of God’s own. The baptism we tell of today was a sign of his communion with us. Our baptism calls us into communion with God and one another. That’s all there is to it.

5 January 2020 St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

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

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

Fun as it might be to sing, “We three King of Orient Are”, and no matter how long and how often we set up our Christmas nativity scenes, this Gospel never says that there were three, and it does not say they were kings. So, if we are going to let this Gospel speak to us we have to pay more attention to Matthew than to these little traditions no matter how old they are. The Gospel is older.

This is a feast about an Epiphany, an unveiling, or a revelation. It is not a feast about three kinds of the orient. For all we know, there may have been a whole caravan of them. What Matthew tells us is that they were from the land of the rising sun. That’s the orient which in those times probably meant what we today call Iran. “Magi” is best understood to mean astrologers or magicians. Perhaps they were Zoroastrian priests. What is most important is that they were religious seekers. They were not Hebrews, so they did not have the Scriptures to guide them. So, they relied on their way of knowing God which was through nature and the night skies.

What we are left with once we get those details right is a contrast between those who seek God, and those who have no interest, even though they know something about God’s plan. The contrast here is between these “Magi” and those Scholars of Herod, who even though they know what is to come, they do nothing and they stay home. These Magi were open enough to look beyond the limits of their own wisdom. They were so hungry for more meaning in life that they went to a foreign land and consulted the wisdom of an alien tradition. When they learned what they could from those Hebrew Scholars, they continued on the way their own lights led them, and finally they met the mother and child and realized they had found what they were seeking.

When Matthew tells us that they departed for their country by another way, what he is telling us is that they were not the same as they had been when they set off on the journey, and we know nothing more about them. We are given here a story of the unexpected and the unfinished. These religious seekers brought nothing for Herod and his great royal court. They were not impressed nor interested in that power and that kind of authority. They sought what was simple. They sought real meaning and were led to a simple family.

As we close the Christmas season once more, Matthew invites us to a kind of double vision. We must realize that all our theology and catechisms must lead us to encounters with God. If they do not, we are like those scholars in Herod’s court, and will shall miss the very presence that saves us. At the same time, with that other eye, the more we become like the Magi and look beyond our little world with openness to new horizons and revelations, the more likely we are to find what we all seek, a home with the living God.