All posts for the month February, 2020

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5: 2—6,2 + Matthew 6,1-6, 16-18

1 March 2020 at St. William Churches in Naples, FL

2:45pm Mass Saturday February 29 at St. William Church, Naples. FL

The story that starts Lent for us is a tall tale to tell a deep truth. It’s not about a fruit tree or a snake. It’s about people thinking that they can do what God has already done. Their temptation is to be “like God.” The mistake is the thinking that they could do what God had already done, make them in God’s image. With that, the whole reality of sin is laid out for us. It’s always about us thinking or acting like God. The consequence is obvious, we end up with a distorted image of God, hiding from God and blaming one another.

Satan’s first words to Jesus in these verses from Matthew’s Gospel are carefully chosen: “If you are the Son of God….” The question forces Jesus to think about that. Another way of putting it would be to ask: “Who do you think you are?” That question, my friends, is at the root of every temptation from Eve with a serpent to Jesus in the desert and to every single one of us.  For that man and woman in Genesis, the problem is that they forgot that they were the created, not the creator. When the temptation comes for them to make themselves be like God, they fall for it thinking that they can do something God as already done. They fell into the trap of jealousy, being jealous of God, wanting God’s power.

Then comes the desert encounter with temptation. Jesus must figure out who he is as the Son of God, and what he’s doing here. Is he here for himself, or is here for us? This is the challenge that everyone of us faces: the core question: “Who do you think you are?” I have this almost frightening or at least still intimidating memory of my mother standing over me at some point of my childhood after being caught in some forbidden situation. Hands on hips, green eyes glaring, and through clenched teeth these words: “Young man, who do you think you are?” I feel certain that whatever she was mad about, my sister did it, not me! Maybe that same thing has happened to you. If not, you were cheated out of a significant experience. We have to remember who we are. We may not forget that we are children of God, that we are here to serve and care for one another, and that the gifts we have are for God’s glory and the lifting up of our brothers and sisters. When we forget that, temptation has a hold on us.

As this Gospel reveals, it is always going to be about power, power abused, and power used for one’s self, for one’s comfort and one’s own pleasure. It was not about stones, bread, rescue angels or who has the most kingdoms. It was about power abused. The failure to face this temptation affects us all from the greatest seats of power and authority to classrooms and offices. There is a kind of amnesia epidemic around. As children of God and communicants of this church, we have a moral compass that must guide what we say, what we do, and how live together. What is happening all around us is that the will to power has overwhelmed the words of Jesus. The power of truth is being trampled by a thirst for control and self-serving interest.

“Who do you think you are?” is the question raised by the Word of God today. First, we ask that of ourselves as method of self-examination. Then we ask that question of those who are to lead and teach, to govern and serve. When we do, our future will be more secure. Truth will prevail, and we will have a better chance at peace with ourselves and with God.

Ash Wednesday

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5: 2—6,2 + Matthew 6,1-6, 16-18

26 February 2020 At St. Peter and St. William Churches in Naples, FL

10:00am St Peter the Apostle Naples, FL

         There is some kind of rule we have all heard about that instructs us not to talk about politics or religion at a party or over dinner. As a frequent guest at the table of many friends. I find it curious that in the last eight or ten years, no one talks about politics over supper. In fact, no one talks about politics anywhere except to trusted friends who think and feel the way we do, and we are careful to sort out those who agree with us. Of course, inviting a priest to dinner does mean that some passing item in the news or some trivial question about religious customs might come up, but it’s always in passing, and never about anything troubling or challenging. If an issue about religion might even possibly cross over into politics, someone will politely and quickly change the subject. I find it a little odd that topics and issues so important to our lives together have suddenly become private matters that no one will talk about openly. It’s a little risky to ask someone if they are Independent, Democrat or Republican. But then, why ask? Anyone who really watches and listens to someone closely and pays attention to what they say or think is important could probably figure that out.

         It’s all a part of some new kind of privatization that has taken hold of us. This whole age of “Me first” is part of it. This whole way of thinking that my rights supersede your rights, and I can say anything I want to no matter how it might offend you is part of it. If you take offence, there must be something wrong with you. It can’t have anything to do with me, because I have a right to say and do anything if I feel like it. The consequence of this is just pushing us further and further from one another, tearing up loving families, and ruining wonderful relationships that once were light hearted, fun, and life-giving.

         We are about to do something that breaks that rule I mentioned a minute ago. We are going to publicly mark ourselves as sinners, and we’re going to go public about it. After Mass, if you go to the grocery, the bank, or anywhere else, people are going to see you and know something about you. Best of all, I hope and pray, you will see others marked in the same way. These ashes on our forehead – it’s no private matter. Neither is sin. The secret, or the taboo about private religion will be revealed. In a very real sense, the biggest secrets of our lives are going to become public. People will know. They will know you went to church on a Wednesday. The smart and the wise will know that in spite of all our efforts to cover it up and look good, we have sinned., and when you see another with the mark of sin on their face, you’ll know that you are not the only one, and that you are part of a people who are not afraid to admit it and are now committed to doing something about it.

         This is a public act, not something we do alone or in secret. In a world where no one seems able to accept and claim responsibility for what they have done or not done, this is unique! It is a public act that announces to anyone who looks at us that we know we are sinners, and we accept the responsibility for our actions and for what we have failed to do. On top of that, we have set ourselves on a forty-day program to right some of the wrong, to change what we have done and do something better. This is not about giving up chocolates, deserts, movies, or pop-corn. This is about sin and getting it out of our lives. It is about confronting that “”me-first” attitude that looks at others as though there here to serve us. It is about confronting and stopping whatever pushes us away from others and therefore from God.

         Take these ashes today, and take responsibility for what you have done. I will. Then, do something about it so that it does not continue, so that sin is no longer so powerful, and that finally the unity and peace that God so desires for us will be within reach.

Leviticus 19, 1-2 17-18 + Psalm 103 + 1 Corinthians 3, 16-23 + Matthew 5, 38-48

23 February 2020 at St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

4:30pm Saturday at St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Retaliation is this world’s response to almost everything. We see it from playgrounds to Congress. It has left us paralyzed in every effort to seek justice, to care for the poor and oppressed, to protect human life, and discern the common good. In fact, too often these days, “the common good” has been reduced to my win and your loss. Too often the old “eye for an eye” is used as an excuse for finding a better way that brings a stop to offense. Those who rely on that excuse don’t seem to get it. That Old Testament response was a way of establishing some limit making the response proportionate to the offence. It simply meant that is someone put out one of your eyes, you could not take both of theirs. It was way of stopping excessive revenge in a pay-back kind of world. Jesus will have nothing of this, and he proposes for his followers a very radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament rule. He uses some interesting and slightly humorous examples to illustrate his proposition.

Think about this. How do you use your right hand to strike someone else on the right cheek? You would have to turn your hand over or stand upside down. The only other way is a backhanded slap, which in almost every society is more of an insult than a physical assault. It’s silly. If someone is taken to court and ordered to surrender their outer garment, the example suggests that the debtor should offer the inner garment as well, which means they would be standing naked in the court. This is more than silly, it is absurd! In the final example, a disciple should offer to carry a Roman soldier’s heavy pack for more than what was required. In fact, it was a Roman law that a soldier could not require someone to carry their pack more than a mile. Going further was an offence for the soldier. Offering to go further is absolute foolishness. You don’t have to, and puts the oppressing solder at risk. To put all of this another way: turn the other cheek to a bully; give all you have to those who don’t need it; or pay a traffic ticket when you only get a warning. This is what Jesus proposes to us who are his disciples. Remember that just last week, the Gospel insisted that just doing the minimum, just keeping the rule was not enough for disciples. The Scribes and Pharisees do that, and we have to go further.

Retaliation and revenge have no place in the heart and the lives of true disciples of Jesus Christ. There is no rationalizing or getting around what Jesus expects of us. To make it even harder, he concludes this instruction by presenting the alternative to revenge and retaliation: love. He’s not talking about romantic affection here. He’s talking about respect and something we call, benevolence, which means wishing for goodness. When we take our offenders or our enemies to prayer, we are becoming more perfect which is to say, more God-like and more holy. Reconciliation is a lot more god-like than retaliation. It simply gets down to the fact that God prefers reconciliation to retaliation all the time.

It seems to me there are two ways to take away something of what is revealed here. One is challenge and the other is comfort. The challenge is the revelation of God’s will, that we be holy and perfect. It requires a conviction that reconciliation is the only way to peace and that retaliation and revenge can only drive us further away from each other which cannot be the will of God. The other revelation here has to do directly with God and God’s relationship toward us. The comfort is that God does not use retaliation and revenge. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is God who does not punish those who do wrong, even those who betray and murder his only son. So, we walk away today with a challenge and with hope: a challenge to put retaliation and revenge out of bounds. This is not an option for us. There is a better way, a more perfect way, a more holy way, and it is the way of God. We leave here with hope that God is not waiting to punish us. God does not resent our failures and sin. God uses the power of love and respect to transform our lives when God’s will is revealed and sought seriously by his disciples.

Perhaps, as we approach this altar today, it is time to address and settle the disputes in our lives that have led to resentment and a desire for retaliation or revenge. We cannot lead a holy life with any of this in our hearts. It is totally incompatible with the presence of God. It drives God out of our lives and our hearts. The Word of God has spoken calling us to cherish our adversaries more than we cherish our grudges. We do that first by creating alternatives that express our reverence for the dignity of all God’s children. We need long thought and a lot of prayer to become creative, transforming holy images of our God.

The Gospel of nonviolent resistance is very serious — yet humorous to boot. This Gospel calls us to cherish our adversaries more than we cherish our grudges. We do that by not letting anyone get away with denigrating others, and creating alternatives that express reverence for the dignity of everybody involved. We need long thought and prayer to become creative, transformative, holy images of our God, and that is what will lead us to perfection.

16 February 2020

Sirach 15, 15-20 + Psalm 119 + 1 Corinthian 2, 2-10 + Matthew 5, 17-37

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

2:45pm Mass at St. William Church in Naples, FL

We get a lot of instructions from Jesus today, part of his continued commentary on the Beatitudes which we might have heard on the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time had we not celebrated the Feast of the Purification two weekends past. Matthew is really clever with the way he starts this section, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law, BUT.” That word, “but”, is a really clever way of teasing our expectations. It makes us stayed tuned for what is to follow. Yet, when he goes on, I’m left scratching my head over what it means to fulfill, and that is exactly where Matthew wants us to be today: wondering about what it means to fulfill the law.

Perhaps we might think about it this way. Most of us think that when we are obeying the law, whatever law it is, we are doing the right thing and doing what is expected. That is what the Scribes and Pharisees thought and taught; just keep the law. That is why they got so bent of shape when Jesus cured someone in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He broke two laws! He did some work on the sabbath, and he touched someone who was sick.

The conflict that gets in your face over this is whether or not just keeping the law is fulfilling the law, since the purpose of the law is to express the Will of God. What this Word of God calls into question is the minimalism of keeping the law when there are greater needs.  A law is fulfilled when we do more than the law requires. The fulfillment comes from recognizing that doing the minimum is not enough. It’s just enough to squeak by and not be accused of anything, certainly not being accused of any greatness.

The law says: “Do not steal.” Well, ok; I don’t take anything that isn’t mine. What greatness is there in that? How does that fulfill the law? How about not stealing, but at that the same time giving something away to someone who might steal because of their need? The law says: “Do not Kill.” Well, OK. It doesn’t look as though there is anyone who has murdered in here, but does that fulfill the law? How about giving life, or doing something that makes life more bearable for someone on the margins of life? Is it really God’s will that we just pass through this life on earth and never kill anyone? Is that all God asks of us? We know better.

Matthew knew and warns that in every religious community there are scribes and Pharisees, learned but self-serving people, and hypocrites whose external religious masks can hide an irreligious heart. We are a people called and taught to surpass the scribes and Pharisees. There is a call here to righteousness that is not achieved by just keeping the rules. There is only one Righteous One. It is God. In seeking righteousness, we are on a path to become like God. At the beginning of this chapter, Jesus revealed to us what God is like and how we might become like God – by practicing and living in Beatitude. When we become poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure, and clean of heart, the law will be fulfilled, and there will be no more killing, no more infidelity, lust, divorce, lies, or broken promises. Best of all, we will be living without anger, and will be at peace with ourselves and with one another just as God intended.

9 February 2020

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

Isaiah 58, 7-10 + Psalm 112 + 1 Corinthians 2, 1-5 + Matthew 5, 13-16

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

These verses follow immediately the Sermon on the Mount that provides us the Beatitudes, which describe a style of life that reflects the image of the one who made us. As Matthew has Jesus commenting further on the Beatitudes, Jesus calls us the salt of the earth with a warning that we can become so bland that we are unable to enhance anything. Then he calls us light like a city on a hill. This is a light that cannot be hidden. So, everything we do gives witness to our faith or the lack of it which is salt that has lost its flavor. We cannot hide. Everything we do, everything we say, every decision we make reveals our faith, and sadly sometimes it isn’t much like flat salt – no flavor. By itself, salt is useless. By choosing this image, Jesus confronts the greatest challenge to the Gospel, individualism. We are not here for ourselves. We are here to bring out the best in God’s creation. The bottom line to this is simple. Our lives must make a difference in this world, or there is no use, no purpose, no reason for us to take up space on this earth. People ought to know we are Catholic, not just by where we are at this moment, or by crucifixes or sacred images in our homes, but by the way we live, by the way of treat other people, and by the simple consequence of just knowing us. People who are “salt of the earth” are not just virtuous in themselves. They bring out the best in other people.

It all comes down to what we heard from old Simeon last week as he stood in the Temple holding the Christ Child and proclaiming him to be a light to the nations. Now, that Christ proclaims us to be that light. The question is whether or not we illumine this world or become nothing more than light pollution, which is defined this way: “the brightening of the night sky caused by street lights and other man-made sources, which has a disruptive effect on natural cycles and inhibits the observation of stars and planets.” There is a lot of bright light around these days, but it does not illuminate anything that matters. What good is a light that only shows people’s faults and shortcomings? Who needs a light that shines on their sinfulness? No wonder some people might prefer the darkness.

The light we become in Christ illumines this world. It brightens dark days and dark lives. It shines on grace and beauty. The light of Christ which we are called to be shines on kindness and hope. Think about it for a minute. No one looks directly at the sun which is the source of light in this world. But, because of the light from the sun we can see. We can see color, and beauty. We all know how dark, gray days bring us down after several of them a row, and how we long for light and the sun. What Jesus expects of us is exactly what the sun does after dark and cold winter days many of us know from up north. When we who are truly disciples, followers, and one with Jesus Christ come into a room it ought to brighten up and bring smiles and comfort, hope, and trust. We have no right to judge others, but we do have an obligation to examine ourselves and decide what we must do because we are salt and light.