All posts for the month June, 2020

June 28, 2020 at St. Andrew Parish, Moore, OK

Kings 4, 8-11, 14-16 + Psalm 89 + Roman 6, 304, 8-11 + Matthew 10, 37-42

5:00pm Saturday at Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Moore, OK

There is an old saying that always gets me riled up.  It goes like this: “That’s just the way things are.” It has a parallel saying that is just bad: “It’s always been that way.” Disciples of Jesus Christ are never content with the way things are, and they cannot stand still or keep quiet when someone tells them that “It’s always been that way” because that’s not the way of God’s creation. The whole point of the Incarnation, the reason why the Son of God left the Father was to make things different from the way they are now. The reason the Holy Spirit came to us was to re-create the face of the earth.

The church Matthew is writing to is living under social, economic, political, and religious pressure. Sounds like us doesn’t it? The narcissism, individualism, and secularism of our age makes a striking parallel to the times of Jesus. It makes his word all the more important and relevant today, because this Word of God is alive and speaks to us when we are gathered together. We may not sit here and think that these instructions are for a time and place in the past. To read this text and admire the trials, difficulties, and the faith of early Christians is nice, but it is not enough. To call this the Word of God is to be addressed by it now.

Jesus both charges and encourages us today. He tells us we can expect opposition because he met opposition, and the servant is no greater than the master. We’re not excused or exempt. Jesus was called Beelzebub, an Aramaic name for the devil. We can expect to be called names too like, “Tree hugger”, or “Socialist” when we care about this earth as our Holy Father keeps insisting, or care about the health and safety of others who may not be as well as we are. Sometimes verbal abuse is just as painful as physical abuse. We may not be flogged or crowned with thorns, but the social abuse and verbal abuse we may face is just as hard. Remember that old saying about sticks and stones?

In the end, what Jesus addresses here is what we could simply call, “priorities”, and there is a strong push here to critique our priorities in light of the values and priorities held by Jesus. Ours cannot be different. If they are, we don’t belong. In this text, there is no suggestion that families should be divided. You know, the result of an action is not always the purpose of the action. There is something called unintended consequences. When Jesus speaks of families being broken up, it’s not his fault, nor necessarily the fault of the one whose values and priorities cause the breakup. The purpose of God’s call to us is not to divide families. The purpose of these words is to encourage those who find this painful by insisting that this is no surprise to God. These are words of encouragement to those already suffering because of a family divided.

For Jews and Gentiles at the time this Gospel was prepared, strong family connections were an ultimate value. Whatever religion the head of a household held, all the family and the servants embraced the same. Maybe the critique here ought to be: “Who is the head of the family?” When the head of the family is God, I find it hard to imagine there could be any division. So, beyond the encouragement of those suffering, Jesus is re-ordering family priorities so that God and God’s will comes first. When it does, it is good. When it is good, it is exactly the way the Creator intended.

My friends, we are all called to put things in the right order and trust that God will care for our needs. While this text may seem harsh, Jesus is inviting us into the love of the Trinity in a deeper way. Finding life is the ultimate adventure of discipleship. In doing so, we can never accept the unacceptable or tolerable the intolerable. We live and show an alternative to “the way things have always been.” Our mission is to prove that the forces working against life are doomed. The more we believe and live with Gospel values and Gospel truth, the more it becomes a reality in and through us.

This is what our vocation is all about. It matters not whether we are priests, teachers, cooks, physicians, farmers or carpenters. The heart of the matter is whether or not we are willing and whether or not our commitment is equal to the task before us. It takes a kind of prophetic dedication that will allow others to know Christ’s love because they have met us. Jesus said exactly that when he said: “Whoever receives you, receives me.”

Keep in mind, that before these verses we hear today, Jesus was commissioning a community, not individuals. No one of us will ever be sufficiently worth or equal to take up the mission of Jesus. Husbands and wives share in each other’s vocation. Communities are called together to create the physical, psychic and spiritual spaces that heal the wounds and divisions of this world. That is exactly what Saint Andrew Parish is about, and every other community sharing in the Gospel truth must be as well. The broken must find a place here. Those who feel alone or isolated, or left out, must come here to be loved and healed not scolded or judged. As we who are followers of Jesus, our every love fits uniquely into our mission. Rather than limit our focus and care as Christians, our love for father mother, son, daughter, friend and lover can make us ever more-worthy and ever more-ready to love without limit. No one is outside the boundaries of God’s love and compassion. There are no limits, and it must be the same for us, or we fail to be what we are called to be, leaving this world the way it has always been, because that’s just the way it is.

God sent Jesus to say: “No, it isn’t.”

June 21, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 20, 10-13 + Psalm 69 + Roman 5, 12-15 + Matthew 10, 26-33

Now, well into summer, we are settling into Matthew’s Gospel which consists of five distinct sermons. Be calm, you’re not going to get them all today. You know the first one well, it is the Sermon on Beatitudes. Today we are into the Sermon on Mission. Later we will move into the Sermon on the Parables, then the Sermon on the Church, followed by the Sermon on the End Times.  And so, it is to us that Jesus speaks in this church today. He speaks about our Mission, and about the fear that can keep us from fulfilling that mission.

         We’ve all learned by now that fear can be both good and bad. When it is good, fear can keep us from doing foolish and dangerous things. When it is bad, it can keep us from doing good and doing the right thing. Fear can either turn us into wise and prudent people or it can make us cowards. Courage is what Jesus proposes as a necessary virtue for us, his disciples. This courage sets us free. The courageous are not without fear, they are simply not reckless. They know what to fear, and how to avoid it trusting their gifts, skills, and wisdom. As Jesus nurtures us today as his disciple/missionaries, he never suggests that taking up his mission in this world will be easy and without risk and danger, but there can be no silent disciple/missionaries. We are either known and recognized by what we say and what we do, or we count for nothing in God’s sight.

Having been called in faith and gifted with the gospel, there is no going back for us, and there is no hiding. There is no denying that the values of our faith are being eroded all around us. The evidence is there day and night. It is greater and more complex than abortion. It is a choice being made every day that choses privilege and convenience over life itself. It is a kind of moral decay that rewards the powerful and wealthy with more and more safeguards to their privileged position. It is the kind blindness that sees nothing wrong with demonizing people who are different from us fleeing from violence and poverty. In that blindness the face of Christ is never recognized. It is a kind of deafness that does not hear the cries of children snatched from the arms of parents who just want their children to be free and safe like us. It is not likely here and at this time in history that we will put our lives in danger. What we are likely to face is not so much hostility or opposition, but something which is even harder – a deadly indifference. To bear witness in this case requires a special kind of courage. It means overcoming our fear of what people think of us or call us, and the fear of what it will cost in in terms of letting go of our ego.

When Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid,” he is not saying that we should never feel afraid. The issue is what fear will do to us, paralyze us, silence us, and make us unable to fulfill the mission he has entrusted to us. What he does is encourage us to trust in his Father who sees, cares for, and loves even the littlest and the least valuable of all creation. Faith, my friends, is not a comforting illusion that all is well. Rather, it means knowing that life is full of risk, full of insecurity, and yet rejoicing in it. That is the essence of faith. Nowadays, thanks to security cameras, we are often being watched, watched by a cold, dispassionate eye intent on catching us in the wrong. The feeling that someone is watching you is not a pleasant feeling. But the feeling that someone is watching over you is a really good feeling. God is not watching us. God is watching over us. That conviction offers us comfort, strength, and courage. Most of all it gives us hope in times of difficulty and danger, and only God can dissolve our deepest fears.

June 14, 2020

St. William Church and St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17

John 6, 51-58

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

Every year, immediately after Pentecost, the church reflects upon our unique Christian experience of God revealed by Jesus Christ, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have come to call this revelation: The Holy Trinity. Then this weekend comes, and we are called deeper into the unique relationship expressed by the Trinity celebrating the Body and Blood of Christ. Weeks ago, I prepared a homily for this Sunday reflecting upon Body and Blood of Christ, and then this country erupted in a spasm of rebellious anger over a violent act, and way more besides. It has opened for us a deep wound that has never been healed but simply denied and ignored as a sense of privilege and exceptionalism has left too many of us comfortable and secure. We are no longer comfortable and secure even way down here in Naples, Florida.

The words I had put on paper about five weeks ago seem shallow and useless for the most part until our Bishop challenged the priests in the Diocese of Venice to let the Holy Spirit guide and open our hearts to the present unrest, fear, and anger. It is certainly not the first time this nation has experienced this upheaval. In fact, history reminds us all too well that this nation was founded by rebellious revolutionaries who rose up against oppression, burned, and looted. The event has taken on a softer look by the name history has given it: “The Boston Tea Party.” It wasn’t a “party”. In fact, it is impossible to imagine that the looting of those ships in Boston Harbor was done without injury to those who may have been on those ships. This kind of thing is simply deep in our history and our psyche. I’m old enough to remember Selma and the violence and deaths that forced us to look at a particular example of injustice and oppression that showed itself in schools, waiting rooms, and drinking fountains. I remember it all. Then and now I felt ashamed.

This is perhaps a good day to begin a conversation within ourselves about just how racist we are, and just how racism affects not just our lives here on earth, but the very heart of our faith, our belief, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with God. When we look at how slowly and quietly we have become polarized over the last twenty years, we can hardly deny that the way we look at, think about, and sometimes speak about those who look, think, or act differently from us has broken the beauty of the human family. Name calling, excluding, judging, and ridiculing are common practice these days from the highest office to conversations over coffee. It reveals a wound, a sad brokenness that longs to be healed, and this is the place where it must begin. It will not be resolved in a courtroom. We’ve seen that. Legislation never changes human hearts.

This feast of The Body and Blood of Christ is about communion, and that’s not a little consecrated wafer. Communion, in our faith tradition, does not refer solely to the act of eating the Eucharistic Bread. It refers to the reason, the purpose for which we consume it: to become one Body of Christ. The purpose for which Jesus Christ left us this sacrament with the instructions “Do this to remember me” is to make us one body, a communion of brothers and sisters. This Sacrament is our identity. The mere hint of racism in our midst reveals how far we have to go to accomplish what Jesus Christ began and commanded, and not one of us can say, in truth, that there is no racism in us. It’s deep, it’s lasting, it’s ugly, it’s tricky, and it’s hidden. I caught myself in a racist act this week. I was in Miami driving through a neighborhood in which I felt like an outsider because of my skin color, and I checked to make sure the doors were locked. Why did I do that? Was there danger? I doubt it. It was broad daylight, and there were other tourists mingling about. It was a trendy part of town. But fear of something different triggered a reaction that reveals something I need to think about, and this is exactly what we ought to do moments before we accept the gift of God offered to us for our salvation.

Since near the beginning of this year, we have had an opportunity to remember that we must not ever take God’s gifts for granted, the gift of our health, the gift of our life, and the gift of our faith resting upon this altar. If I have ever taken you for granted, I know better now. Standing at this altar looking out at empty pews, hearing no response when I say: “The Lord be with you” or “Amen” when the great prayer of thanksgiving concludes has been a sad but good lesson. Being a priest without people doesn’t make much sense to me. I hope it has been the same for you.

At the conclusion of the Eucharist liturgy in the Maronite Rite, the pries and people bid farewell to the altar, the symbol of Christ around which we gather, and they say these words: “I leave you in peace, O Altar, and I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you be for the forgiveness my faults and remission of my sins, that I may stand without shame of fear before the throne of Christ. I do not know if I shall be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. I leave you in peace.” People who celebrate the Maronite Liturgy never leave early. They all stay to say that prayer that acknowledges their faults, sins, and shame. They remind each other that they may not have another opportunity stand before this altar, so this time, they need to get it right. It should be so for us, we never know if we shall be able to return.

June 14, 2020 at St. William Church & St. Peter Church in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17 +

John 6, 51-58

This annual feast we once called, “Corpus Christi” is an annual occasion to get back to basics. So, let’s go there for a moment. Ancient peoples believed, as we still do, that earth, air, fire and water are the fundamental elements of creation. With that in mind, we can begin to understand why Jesus chose bread as the element we should use to bind us together. It is, as we say in prayer, “Fruit of the earth and work of human hands.” It is, first of all, a gift of God to us. Bread in every culture and language is a metaphor for food. It is the most basic human sustenance. To lack bread means to lack food, to lack that on which we depend to live and without which we die for lack of nourishment. Wine however, is not a principal of sustenance. It is not necessary. We can live without it. But, wine is a symbol of gratuity. It is part of feasting and fulness of life. It is something of joy that calls to mind community, sharing, and social bonds. So, we take bread and wine to the altar together, never one without the other, because they are a symbol of human life all of which comes from God.

With that in mind, we must choose carefully the words we use to express what we do in here. We do not “Go” to Mass. We are called here by God. Mass does not begin with the opening song. The Eucharistic celebration begins when we accept God’s invitation to come and be here willing to be transformed by what God gives us. In a society where individualism triumphs, the Eucharist reminds us of the common destiny of all humanity. It awakens us to the injustice that leaves so many of God’s people with out bread. We are also a society in which waste prevails. I read a credible statistic that tells the truth: half of what we buy is thrown away. Look at the food piled on the plates in restaurants. Then think about the boxes people carry home and forget about until they get moldy and get thrown out. The Eucharist forges a bond of charity between us all, and it awakens us to injustice and disturbs us enough to give us a mission.

         What has happened to us since mid-February or early March has alerted us to more than physical challenges. There is a spiritual one as well. I cannot count the times when I have heard people say: “I miss receiving my Holy Communion.” I heard it so often that I was beginning to think that somehow, we have lost more than Holy Communion. Then, one day sitting in counsel with someone, they said; “I miss being at Mass.” With that statement, the challenge was focused for me. As church, we cannot be satisfied with having the Eucharist; we do not possess it. The Eucharist serves no purpose if it remains simply an object to be possessed or adored. We are called to become the Eucharistic body of the Lord; the truth and the proof of the Eucharistic body is the worshiping community. What we lost for most of this year was not having communion served, but being in communion, being together, being renewed, and strengthened as only friends and family can do for us. In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the priest says these words: “Humbly we pray that, through the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.” That is why we receive communion, that is why we have communion, and it is why Christ Jesus gave us the Eucharist; so that we might become one by the Holy Spirit.

         When I say we have to take care about how we express what we do and believe, we must be conscious about the expression “communion.” It does not refer solely to the act of eating the Eucharistic bread. It also refers to the reason, the purpose for which Christians eat it: to be church-communion, to become one body in Christ. This is why we do not have “open communion” or just say “Y’all come.” It is not just a moment of me and Jesus. It is not just a way of remembering the Last Supper. Taking communion in here means we accept God’s invitation to become church, and as church to be the Body of Christ for each other and the world.

         Communion is an actual communion, because through it we have communion with Christ and share in His flesh and His divinity; through it, we have communion and are united with one another. To receive communion is to be a communion. When we begin to understand that the purpose of the Eucharist is to make us one body, a communion of brothers and sisters in faith, we will no longer view our participation in the Sunday liturgical assembly as a matter of law or obligation. It will have become our way of expressing our identity. Being present, in the church is an essential part of calling ourselves Catholics. If you choose for no good reason to be absent, you’re not Catholic. It is the assembly, that provides our identity, and the Church is not Church until is gathers together. When a brother or sister cannot be here, we do not leave them alone, we take them holy communion from this altar table mindful that they belong, that we miss them, and we don’t want to lose them. This is why not being here because we don’t feel like it, because we’re tired, or because we have to shop or play a round of golf is to put ourselves outside and break communion. It is to decline the invitation of God and the gift of life God offers us in this place. It is simply a big, NO THANK YOU to God.

         What we have experienced for most of this year has been an opportunity to remember that we must not ever take God’s gifts for granted, the gift of our health, the gift of our life, and the gift of our faith resting upon the gifts of our common faith. If I had ever taken you for granted, I know better now. Standing at this altar looking out at empty pews, hearing no response when I say: “The Lord be with you” or “Amen” when the great prayer of thanksgiving concludes has been a sad but good lesson. Being a priest without people doesn’t make much sense to me. I hope it has been the same for you.

         At the conclusion of the Eucharistic liturgy in the Maronite Rite, the priest and people bid farewell to the altar, the symbol of Christ around which we gather, and they say these words, “I leave you in peace, O Holy Altar, and I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you be for the forgiveness of my faults and the remission of my sins, that I may stand without shame or fear before the throne of Christ. I do not know if I shall be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. I leave you in peace.” People who celebrate the Maronite Liturgy never leave early. They all stay to say that prayer. It should be so for us because, we never know if we shall be able to return.

God is Good.

June 7, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Exodus 34, 6, 8-9 + Psalm Daniel 3, 52-55 + 2 Corinthians 13, 11-13

John 3, 16-18

It’s easy to glide past this Great Feast Day without giving it much thought or without thinking a little deeper about what it is that should draw us together today. Most of us my age can remember a wonderful Sister in religion class telling us that the Trinity was a “mystery”. With that we turned the page, and we were on to the next theme in the Catechism. If you were not in Catholic School, whatever religious formation you had probably did not spend much time on this issue, or fact, or dogma. The fact that I just tried three different words should tell you that the Holy Trinity objectively is a complicated piece of our faith. The whole formula passed down for generations can easily leave most of us scratching our heads: “Three in One and One in Three.” Complicated or not, it is the distinguishing mark of Christianity that sets us apart from Islam or Judaism, and for no other reason, it is good idea to set aside at least one Sunday each year to ponder this unique experience and revelation of God, because it is an experience that reveals something important about our God.

In the seminary I sat through an entire semester with a course called: “De Trinitate”. I think I went to that class three times a week. I remember an old file of notes. Most of all I, remember staring out the window at a big Linden tree wondering when if it would get leaves before the bell rang. It was awful. Since then, I have come to realize that you have to experience the Trinity before you really understand it.  For me, that experience is in this church. Several weeks ago, in the midst of this pandemic, it happened right before my eyes right here in front of this altar. It was a marriage. That couple were in love, desperately, deeply, and beautifully, and I have seen countless others just like them in my fifty-two years. What I realize in that experience is that what I see with my eyes is two people, but what I see with my faith is three: a man, a woman, and love, because God is love.

The privileged way to know God is through love. Theologians have turned themselves inside out trying to explain the Trinity. Philosophers have resorted to mathematical precision. Mystics have lost themselves in God’s being. Perhaps the rest of us will come to understand the Trinity best of all through marriages, through a deep love that is sacrificial and forgiving, inspiring a joyful spirit that reflects the Joy of God’s spirit when we are one, living in the peace of God’s life-giving love. You don’t have to be married to experience this either. Those of us who had our beginnings in a real, sacramental marriage have lived in the Trinity, experiencing, if choose to reflect upon it, something creative, something sacrificial, and something joyful. Name it what you want, but we Catholics ought to call it, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is real. It is there.

         In a few moments, we will profess our faith believing that God is reveled to us as Trinity: three persons who are who they are because of how they love one another. We know this God because it is God’s nature to reach out to us, and to bring us all together into Divine Love. The evidence of that love is found in Holy Marriage, in Holy Church, and in Holy Families.