All posts for the month August, 2020

This homily was not spoken the weekend of August 29/30.

This weekend is Maronite Weekend at Tequesta, Fl

Jeremiah 20, 7-9+ Psalm 63 + Roman 12, 1-2 + Matthew 16, 21-27

Last week he is called: “The Rock” and given the keys. This week he is called: “Satan” and put in his place which is where a disciple belongs, not in front of the master. Peter, flush with his new authority wants to do the leading, and he learns quite quickly that the kind of leadership Jesus desires is a leadership of service not of power or authority.

Peter has just made a profound statement of belief that Jesus is the Messiah. But, as often is the case with Peter, he got the words right but not the meaning. And so, now begins in Matthew’s Gospel an instruction period, a time of formation and preparation for Peter and anyone else who wants to get to Jerusalem; but the Jerusalem Jesus is headed for is the right hand of his Father. Jesus is going to show them where he is headed, and then he will show them how to get there. They want the “good old days” like it was when David was King. If we translate their idea into today’s political talk, we could say that they wanted to “make Israel great again.” But Jesus knows that Israel wasn’t all that great, and what we heard from the prophet today reveals that truth. There was corruption, oppression, and infidelity rampant at the time, and Jeremiah spoke up against it.

What Jesus will show them in the time remaining is that making Israel great again will be the consequence of sacrifice and service that puts other’s needs ahead of one’s own. What makes for greatness is not law and order which is what the Scribes and Pharisees are always after, but love. It is love that leads us home. It is love that heals. It is love that forgives. It is also love that makes sacrifice possible and often preferable to a promiscuous life that chases after one’s on security, pleasure, and privilege. In Jesus Christ there is no privilege place except at the back of the line. Meanwhile, Peter and his friends will argue among themselves about the seating order at the banquet.

What Jesus asks of us is a commitment to the risk denying to one’s self. It means, I am no longer number one.  When love of someone other than love of one’s self has taken root in our lives, suffering is not a likelihood; it is a certainty. Anyone going to Jerusalem with Jesus is in for serious business. It’s not that suffering is being sought, but that it will inevitably be part of our lives just as it was for Jesus. What we can learn in Matthew’s school of formation is that this all begins with little things. There are all kinds of things in life we don’t like doing, but which we know we have to do if we want to be faithful to our responsibilities and obligations. Sacrifice is not an easy road. But, it is the way that our best self takes shape. This how one becomes a person of character and integrity. And paradoxically this also the road to happiness.  Our happiness does not lie in doing our own thing or what we feel like doing, but in doing what we have to out love for another.

This homily was not delivered, but simply published here.

This weekend is for me a Maronite Mass Weekend at Tequesta, Fl

Isaiah 22, 19-23 + Psalm 138 + Roman 11, 33-36 + Matthew 16, 13-20

This is the same Peter “of little” faith who jumped out of a boat two weeks ago and had to be pulled up and put back in the boat. It is the same Peter who, on a dark night, insists that he “never know the man”. It is the same Peter who is accused of being drunk, then throws open doors and windows proclaiming that “Everyone shall be saved who calls on the name of the Lord.” Peter’s is a story of faith that grows slowly from self-doubt and confusion to rock solid courage. It is a story of how bravado and grandiosity transform into audacity and absolute commitment to the message and person of Jesus Christ. It is the story of how Peter learned from Jesus that power was given for service not for prestige or control. It is the story of Peter’s gradual discovery about what those keys he was given were for; not to lock out but to open up. It is the story of how Peter begins to understand that binding and loosing are not opposites, as legalists might want to suggest. They are, in fact, old rabbinical terms for “permit” and “forgive.”

It is Jesus Christ who speaks in this church today. The Word we just proclaimed is alive and present here. He speaks to us as he did Peter aware of our inconsistent and perhaps “little faith.” Just as he chose Peter to lead, to teach, and to sanctify, he now speaks to us the same words. Never mind that we get things wrong sometimes, that we are given to denial when means standing up for someone or something. Never mind that sometimes our actions do not match our words. What does matter is that we have stood up on our feet and been addressed by Jesus Christ. What  he entrusts to Peter, he gives to us all, because we are church, and this church is not better or worse than any single one of us.

We have been entrusted with the keys. We can either use them to lock out or to open up, to lock our hearts or open our hearts. We can either use them to include others or exclude others, and if do, we should be careful about which side of the gate we are standing on when we turn the key. We, the church, have been given the power, or we might better call it, the “grace” to bind and loose. Why we always want to think these are opposites is curious, and not a thought in our favor. Instead of always thinking that “binding” means refusing to forgive, we might consider the idea that binding mean holding or tying someone to us, to the church, or to Jesus Christ as the way an old Irish hymn sings out: “I bind unto myself this day, the strong name of the Trinity.” This is the only kind of binding that Jesus knew and practiced. He never left anyone in sin. He never left anyone wanting for forgiveness. He bound those people to himself, and that is the kind of binding we must be about as people who have inherited the keys. We have some growing to do. Let us be about it.

August 16, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Isaiah 56,1, 6-7 + Psalm 67 + Roman 11, 13-1, 29-325 + Matthew 15 21-28

10:00am Sunday St Peter the Apostle, Naples, FL

Matthew writes to a church that consists primarily of Hebrew converts. As a way of addressing a problem, he tells them this story. The root of the problem is that they have all grown up formed in their Hebrew faith to believe that they were special, chosen and favored by God. They were God’s “Holy People”. Probably making matters worse, Jesus, who had inspired their conversion and was the center of their community life, was also a Jew. Their status, their identity is being challenged all around as Pagans, Roman, Gentiles, Samaritans, and Canaanites were responding in faith to God’s call.  Suddenly their special place, their very identity is being called into question. As always happens when one’s identity is challenged, they withdraw, become defensive, act offended, becoming rude, selfish, oppressive, and sometimes violent.

Matthew sees this happening, and in this story, he holds up the apostles as an example of this haughty and privileged attitude. Then he puts Jesus out there as an example of how this problem is to be resolved. Jesus changes his mind. When confronted with the reality of that woman’s need and the gift or power he has, everything changes. Matthew tells us that she did him homage. That is a detail that would have amazed everyone. This audacious woman with two strikes against her: her gender and the fact that her people, the Canaanites, were traditional enemies of the Jews, risks the scorn of her neighbors and friends by coming to Jesus of Nazareth. She breached her gender role by approaching a man for help. Then she defused the ethnic antagonism by calling on him as “Son of David”, thereby showing respect for him and calling on the Jewish tradition that makes kings responsible for the welfare of widows, orphans and foreigners. She calls him, “Lord.”  With that, something breaks open. Jesus, the very image of the church remembers who he is, and what the Father expects of him. The prayer of this woman came from her heart speaking to heart of Jesus. Out of mercy and compassion, Jesus shares what he has with someone he may have first thought didn’t deserve it, had not earned it, and so, had no right to it.

This is not so much a story about the power of prayer or persistence as much as it is a story told to the privileged who have forgotten why they have been so gifted. The Living Word of God still speaks to the privileged of every age; to people like us who sit in this comfortable air-conditioned church or in comfortable air-conditioned homes enjoying all that the internet and computers can offer. People like that woman who have nowhere else to go come to us, to this country, and to this church asking for help. There are still some like the apostles in this story who insist that they should be sent away because they bother us. Yet, Jesus is among us still the teacher who reminds us who we are, why we are here, and how to respond. The privileged can learn something today not only about how they must live as worthy recipients of God’s gifts, but also about the power of humility to soften hardened hearts.

August 9, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Kings 19, 9-13 + Psalm 85 + Roman 9, 1-5 + Matthew 14, 22-33

St Peter the Apostle Church Saturday 3:30pm

There is a lot more going on here than just a Gospel story about a storm on the lake and Peter jumping overboard. It is basically a story that confronts a serious mistake we often make when there are trials and stormy times in life. It is a mistake that has been hanging around for a long time, and it shows itself all too often in the face of natural disasters and personal tragedies. The mistake is a game too often played by people of shallow or little faith probably best called: “The Blame Game.” It is a bad way of explaining the reality of disasters and tragedies by suggesting that God is behind it all and does these things to test our faith. When in fact, most disasters or tragedies are simply the consequence of a natural phenomenon or the result of human sin. The truth is that God does not test our faith. That whole idea is almost cruel. The idea of a God who would take pleasure in scaring us or in pain is abominable. This Gospel invites us to think a little differently. It invites us to think more deeply about the trials and tests that inevitably arise in life.

What we can discover here is that God does not test our faith. Troubles, trials, tests are just a part of living. Politics, riots, disease are everywhere, and they are enough to scare anybody. Yet, these things help us to discover what we believe about God and about ourselves. Peter and his friends came to realize in the midst of their fright that they were not alone. They learned that day that God listens to our pleas, and just like last week’s Gospel, if we do what God asks even if it seems impossible like feeding five thousand people or walking on water, amazing things can happen.

Those disciples wanted an end to the storm, but rather than calm the storm, Jesus invited them to just walk over trouble waters. When one of them does what he asks, Jesus gets in the boat with them. It doesn’t say that he did anything or rebuked the wind. It just says they got in the boat and things calmed down. Rather than meet our expectations, God seems to offer to save us in ways we might think impossible.

If you can listen over the noise of this world and the storms of this life, you might hear God’s call: “Come.” It takes a little more than faith to get out of the boat. A great Jesuit mystic is quoted as saying, “What paralyzes life is lack of faith and lack of audacity.” What Peter and his companions learned that day is that faith itself is an audacious way to live, and all of us would probably do well, to learn that lesson from Matthew’s Gospel today. Half measures will not do. If you are going to get out of the boat, if you are going to “Come” when God calls, it takes more than faith. It takes what we might commonly say is “guts”. Faith without some plain old audacious courage isn’t enough, but put the two together, and you can walk over anything this old can throw at you.