All posts for the month December, 2020

January 1, 2021 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Numbers 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4, 4-7 + Luke 2, 16-21

12:00 Noon Mass at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

We come into this holy place today to bear witness to our faith and begin a new year in the place where our hope will be strengthened, where we shall celebrate again and again the great mysteries that reveal God’s love for us.  We begin this year as we have in years past by reading aloud a Gospel that proclaims the mighty name of Jesus. It is a Gospel that sets before us the truth of what we celebrated a week ago, a truth that is the reason for our hope and the source of our strength: God is with us. We are not orphans in this life. We are not helpless nor hopeless. To affirm this truth, the Church puts before us this day, Mary, the Mother of God.

When in the fourth century, to settle once and for all the matter of Christ’s divinity, the Fathers of the Church, meeting in the Greek city of Ephesus, chose the word: Theotokos to express as clearly as possible the true identity of Jesus Christ. In doing so, they put before us one who had found favor with God, who is full of grace. A new year begins with a Feast in her honor. That old saying: “Like mother, like son” is today affirmed by us who see in the life of her son the values, the compassion, and the hopes of the mother. She who sang out her dreams and her hopes that the lowly would be lifted up, that the rich would be sent away empty, that the strength of God’s arm would scatter the proud in their conceit, and that every generation would know mercy, formed her son with this dream and this promise made to Abraham and his children forever.

A great Dominican theologian called: Meister Eckhart, way back in the 13th century preached that “We are all mothers of God”, for “God is always waiting to be born.” My friends, it is true, what we have celebrated is not something from the past. God is still waiting to be born in loveless stables, and forgotten caves. God is waiting to be born in the Bethlehems of anger, estrangement, and hopelessness. God is waiting to be born in the Nazareths of our own homes. The title: “Theotokos” means “Bearer of God”. Is that not what we are called to be? That great and holy handmaid of the Lord, with whom we pray so easily, can teach us how to give birth to the Word and the Presence of God.

We have a place in God’s plan, each of us, in union with Christ we have become a new humanity set in place to show a restored image and likeness of God to a world struggling to get past the habits of war, exploitation, tribalism, and egoism. The future of this planet and human life is at stake held in a shaky balance now as we ponder things in our hearts and decide that peace is possible when there is justice and a just sharing of the earth’s resources building a genuine global community as the family of God. That family has a mother. Mary is held up as a sign of hope. A world and a people that treasures women and children will, by God’s grace, evolve to claim a future that finally becomes the Kingdom of God.

December 27, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 15, 1-6 & 21, 1-3 + Psalm 128 + Hebrews 11, 8, 11-12,17-19

Luke 2, 22-40

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

For Luke, the fact that Joseph and Mary were law-abiding people fulfilling what was required at the time of a birth, this story is important. But, in this place and at this time, that’s not so important to us. Other details he provides are because, he puts before us two elders placing this child right into the history of his own people. From old Abraham and Sara in that first reading to old Zechariah and Elizabeth the unexpected parents of John the Baptist, we see God’s promise fulfilled. Jesus Christ comes out of that promise, and this story today confirms his membership in the people of God. Jesus is brought into the temple. The act says it all. It’s just the Rite of Baptism. A child is brought into the church becoming a member of the church family.

The temple was the very heart of life for the Hebrew people. Everything happened there. It would have been filled with Scribes, Pharisees, priests, and every kind of officials and there were ordinary people too like Simeon and Anna. These two, simple elders, step into the spotlight by name, and Jesus right into the midst of them. In a sense, this is another nativity story. First it was some shepherd and now it’s these two old folks. It’s almost as though Luke is just hammering away at us to get the point that Jesus comes to us, not to the big, powerful, important people. Jesus is to be found where ever people are gathered together waiting in prayer. That’s why this happens in that temple. These two are the perfect models of evangelists. They pray and give thanks, like Simeon. They announce the presence of Jesus to everyone waiting for redemption, like Anna.

With this Gospel today, we are led to realize that this Feast is not about a nuclear family with parents and a child. This is a celebration of the whole human community, the whole human family. Yet, we look around and we realize that something is broken. It does not seem possible to decided which is the cause and which is the effect, but family life everywhere is fragile and breaking. Neighborhoods are too. People hardly make time to speak to one another much less know the names of those just across the street. Calm and peaceful looking neighborhoods turn into places of danger where children are not safe to play on the street. Nations, just like our own, are broken, divided, and violent. There is work to do about this, and it is the work of the Lord whose presence we have just proclaimed. It is work of us all who inherit his Spirit and accept his mission.

We are here today in this church two days after a very difficult Christmas because, a great number of us celebrated alone with others in our family unable to travel. For some these holidays are hard because broken marriages, family feuds, or the loss of a loved one this past year leaves a great hole in our hearts and an empty place the table. But we celebrate a promise that began with Abraham and Sarah. We celebrate a truth that Christ has come just as promised to the least expecting and the most simple and humble of people. The story we tell begins with Abraham and simply reveals that God fulfills promises and will accomplish the impossible with people who strive to be faithful. What we do today as church is celebrate and confirm our place in communities of love; communities that make us more human and more godlike. It is the holy family of humankind, bound together across the ages by the God who loves us into life now and forever.

December 25, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 9, 1-6 + Psalm 96 + Titus 2, 11-14 + Luke 2, 1-14

4:30pm Christmas Eve at St. William Church in Naples, FL

More years ago, than I care to think about, my school was putting on the traditional Christmas pageant.  Believe me, none of us boys were the least bit interested in being angels. Not because it would have been out of character, after all everyone knew that I was the perfect angel from the beginning. It was just a matter of those white dresses and the wings. The little kids were better at that. Then there was the role of shepherds: it wasn’t a bad role. You just had to wear your dad’s bathrobe and tie it up with a rope. But none of us were particularly interested in carrying that stuffed lamb around either. The starring role for us guys was Joseph, most of all because he never said anything, no lines to memorize. So, like the role of Mary, everyone secretly wanted to get called to be Joseph. I didn’t get it. Instead, Sister cast me as the Inn Keeper. It wasn’t a bad role. I just had to open and close this door without knocking over the set. My lines were easy: “There’s no room. Go away.” I still remember my lines, and to tell you the truth, they have begun to bother me from time to time.

All of our images and experiences in celebrating the Birth of Christ Jesus are more influenced by imagination than by the Sacred Scriptures, and as we proclaim this all too familiar story today, we might need to pay more attention to the facts we are given than to the traditions and images that have grown up around it. The truth is, what we think we know may not be very accurate. For instance, the word “Inn” so often used to translate the Greek word: “Kataluma” is far from accurate. It’s a word used only one other time in the Bible, and that time is the “Upper Room” of the last supper. Archeologists tell us that most of the human dwellings at that time had an upper room reserved for guests.

The fact is, Bethlehem was an out-of-the way little hamlet. The only reason to be there would be to pass through on your way somewhere else. There was no Hotel 6 or Holiday Inn 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Joseph could not have called ahead to reserve a room. Why would he? It was his home town. Add to this the fact that the Hebrew people would have considered it a terrible offence against God to refuse hospitality to anyone. No Jewish person would have sent a stranger away. So, when the Gospel tells us that they were there for several days, there is suddenly no urgency to the scene at all. What is more probable, given the details Luke provides, is that the guest room was taken, and the home he approached welcomed them into the family space in which these people kept their animals at night as way of keeping them from being stolen and as a way of staying warm.

Listening to the story Luke provides allows us to focus on the message it carries rather than be entertained by the lovely little skits and plays we have enjoyed over the years. At some point we have to get through all the extras that have been added over the years and get down to the true meaning and message, because what really happened is nothing short of astounding. It is so profound, in fact, that maybe we need the little stories to cope with it.

God came. God came into this world at that time, and God came to stay. Jesus stepped into our world. He willingly took on human flesh not just to pretend or try it on for size. He did it fully aware of what it might mean: being mocked, harassed, beaten, flogged, and crucified for one reason. He revealed the truth. He was the truth, the truth about the power of love.

Love makes human do some very amazing things, and we all have our stories about that. But, God has us all beat. God humbled himself to become one of us, to be revealed first in a manger, a food trough, and then to become the very food that saves. He died on purpose to take away sin that is the cause of death so that we might live.

In this most sacred liturgy on this memorable day, we must step into this story with hospitable hearts making sure that God has a dwelling place within us. We cannot personally grasp the meaning and message here if we are too busy to listen to one another, too busy make room for someone seeking safety or shelter, too distracted with our work or our careers, too busy to come to church and adore, or too busy all the time with our shallow and selfish pursuits.

There is a reason for this season. It is to awaken us if we have dozed off to the truth that God has come, that God is here, and that God is to be found not in power, in glamor, in the richest places and the finest palaces. God comes to the Bethlehems of this earth: to the simplest, the least and littlest, and the most insignificant places and people. When we finally do get the message and hang on to it, this will be a time and place of universal love, warm hospitality for all, and we will all be at peace.

December 20, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

2 Samuel 7, 1-5, 8-12, 1 6 + Psalm 89 + Romans 16, 25-27 + Luke 1, 26-38

9:00am Sunday at St. William Church in Naples, FL

These are troubled times for people longing for God. It’s been so for quite some time before an invisible virus upset out comfortable way of life that was often predictable and even somewhat controllable. Slowly and gradually this scientific age of ours has eroded away all possibility of the mystical and the miraculous preferring what is predictable and measurable. Anything beyond our control troubles us and soon makes us anxious. When we don’t know something, we can’t live that way, so we spin out conspiracy theories and pretend that we know something when we really don’t. To make matters worse, social media opportunities give center stage to for too many who know nothing but would like us to think they know everything and they are sure of it.

When confronted with an unknowable God who uses the impossible to reveal the plan of redemption, we are left to either shake our heads and wander off into some so-called personal spirituality, or we stand in awe and learn how live with and embrace what is not always clear, expected, or controlled. Those who can do so have learned from the young woman, whose story we tell on this weekend before Christmas, how to discover in the unexpected or even what seems impossible the chance that God is there in the midst of it turning what might be a tragedy or an unexpected, unpleasant surprise into a mystical moment.

Sometimes it’s a big thing like a terrible accident that strikes down a young person full of promise and life. Sometimes it’s the death of love and a broken promise once made for better or worse. Sometimes it is simply the ravages of aging that turns a once kind and loving partner into a mean and cruel abuser. And then these days, it might be that invisible virus that has driven us apart and away from a church and sacrament that gave us comfort. We want to understand how and why, but science and medicine, psychology and sociology don’t really help. Most of the time, they just look for something or someone to blame.

That young woman in Nazareth never tried to blame anyone or even look for a reason why or how. She looked for God in the surprise of her life, and simply let it all work out without trying to explain, excuse, or even know how or ask that question: “Why me?”. She allowed a mystical moment to change her.  Drawing from that deep well of grace she simply “let it be” which is what “Fiat” simply means. We are all a people full of grace. We just sometimes forget about it. It began with water pouring over our heads and a sacred oil anointing us as God’s chosen ones. Marked at our Baptism with the sign of the cross, grace and favor filled us to the brim. It’s still there. God does not take back gifts freely given. With that grace, we can grow, we can change, we can learn to look at the unknown, the unknowable, and even the unwelcome and find the mystery of God’s presence and be touched by a mystical presence beyond our imagination and our puny science that will forever seek and look for the divine which is right here among us all the time.

The Third Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2020 At St. William Church in Naples, FL

Isaiah 61, 1-2 & 10-11 + Psalm Luke 1,46-38 + 1 Thessalonians 5, 16 -24 + John 1, 6-8 & 19-28

11:00am Sunday St. William Catholic Church Naples, FL

Something invisible has crossed every boarder on this earth revealing how intimately connected we are across our entire planet. We cannot help but be moved and saddened by the number of families who will celebrate this Christmas without someone greatly loved, and we cannot help but be troubled by those who deny the truth that the actions of one have real effects on all. We are all one body and one people whether our skin color is the same or our language. Strangely, while we have been in less physical contact with one another, many of us have begun to see others and our Earth with greater clarity than ever before. The inability to meet in person has led many of us to virtual face-to-face encounters with people miles and continents away. I suspect that with live-streaming Mass, many are attentive to Mass and the Word of God more than they have in the past.

Even so, something is missing. Our Communion in faith is on “hold” for too many now. More than receiving the Holy Eucharist, it is a matter of being in union with the whole church, in the very physical presence of others who sit close beside us in silent prayer sensing the intimacy and presence that Jesus Christ so desired for his people. It is a challenge to hear this day’s call to Joy. The question of how we are to rejoice with so many suffering people crowded into hospitals, so many grieving, so many cut off from their sick loved ones rumbles through us like spring thunder.

The prophet who cries out in our midst today offers something to consider, and encourages us to pay attention to the ways God has acted among us transforming us through these days into a people who no longer take for granted good health, friends and family nearby, and the communion we are so privileged to receive so easily and so often.

John the Baptist stands before us today as he did last week, and we hear his firm and confident response to those who want to know who he is. Reflecting on this moment in John’s Gospel ought to lead us to wonder if anyone is asking who we are, and if they did, could we answer as firmly and with such conviction as did he?

I believe that what gave John such confidence and such clarity about his identity is that he knew the one who was to come and show him the way home.

For us who are so gifted with faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no tragedy and no virus that can keep us from bearing witness to the one who is to come by our confident joy, our steadfast hope, our desire to be one in love with all of God’s children who are brother and sister. Christ Jesus is our home, my friends, and like old Isaiah the prophet who has spoken here today, in the middle of bad times we can say without hesitation what he proclaimed to suffering Israel:

I rejoice heartily in the Lord. In my god is the Joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice. Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels, as the earth brings forth its plants and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

December 8, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 3, 19-15, 20 + Psalm 98 + Ephesians 1, 3-6, 11-12 + Luke 1, 26-38

3:30pm December 7 at St. Peter the Apostle Church Naples, FL

Sometimes I think that the idea behind this feast suggests that because Mary was “conceived without sin” suggests that she had no choice that day, that her life was so planned out by God that she could not have said “no” and gone on with her life just as she had planned. I’m not so sure that is the case, because I am very sure that God who gave us all the gift of freedom would not take away that gift from anyone. The bottom line here is that she was free to say “no” and chose not to.

While the Gospel compresses this scene into a few verses as though the whole matter was settled in a few seconds, there is no reason to think that Mary did not have to pause, and perhaps even “sleep on it” as many of us do when confronted with a life-changing choice. What we affirm today as Catholics is the power of grace.

What words cannot explain, faith accepts as the mystery that makes our salvation possible. “Immaculate Conception” is our best attempt to put into words what we believe was God’s plan for us, the Incarnation. There is another big word that takes some thought and reflection. What it all boils down to is this. What humankind once did with a bad choice, humankind restores with a good choice. The relationship God intended to have with us as described in Genesis and the figures of Adam and Eve, is restored when one of us chose to put the Will of God above their own will. When that choice is made, creation begins again. Sometimes when my computer jams up or stops working right, turn it off and reboot. Most of the time, the problem goes away and it all works fine. It is a silly comparison, but for me, it works.

By the choice of young woman, creation was rebooted in a sense, and as long as God’s people continue to consider and honor the Will of God before their own, all will be well. Taught by this faithful woman, we shall be like her Son who surely learned from his mother to choose God’s will even if it seems inconvenient or suddenly life-changing. He learned from her how to say: “Thy Will be Done.” He said it the night before he died in the Garden of Olives outside Jerusalem. When we do the same, there opens for us a new and glorious future: Life with God forever. If you want that, learn from this woman we honor today how to achieve it.

December 6, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 40, 5, 9-11, 19 + Psalm 85 + 2 Peter 8, 1-14 + Mark 1, 1-8

St William Church Naples, FL 4:30pm Saturday

The first two words of Mark’s Gospel are important for anyone who wants to be open to the power of God’s Word. Does anyone here remember what those two words were? They are the same words that open the Book of Genesis, the story of Creation, and reveal the wonder of God. They are the same first words of John’s Gospel too. There should be a drum roll when we hear those words: “The beginning”, says Mark as he proclaims the coming age of the Messiah, the beginning of a new work of God as original and stupendous as the creation of the universe.  “Prepare”, says a man in the wilderness dressed like Elijah whose return in the faith of Israel signaled the age of the Messiah. If “wait” was the word from last week’s Gospel, today we are told by the Gospel what we should do, prepare.

We have just been through a preparation time getting ready for Thanksgiving. For some of us it was a day of grocery shopping, cooking, baking, and table setting. Now, like it or not, we are all preparing again. This time it is for Christmas. There are cards to address, lists to make, shopping on line, and decorations to put out. In the middle of all of this, our Church puts before us a strange, austere, humorless character out in the desert as reminder that Israel’s time for preparation took place in the desert. That wild man John, leads those people to the Jordan just as Moses led Israel to the water through which they crossed into the promised land where it all began just as it was promised to them.

My friends, these pandemic days have been a kind of “desert” experience for most of us. We are away from family and others we love. We have broken some plans, missed old ways of doing things, skipped celebrations, and some of us have even lost friends who have died alone while we cannot embrace the grieving. Here in this wilderness of a pandemic, Mark speaks of beginnings, and we might take the time today or all through this season to think of our beginning, the beginning of our faith, the beginning of our life. Baptism was that beginning for all of us, and we might do well to ask ourselves what was it the beginning of, and is there any evidence that what began is moving toward fulfillment?

Many of us love to play the role of Santa around this time of the year. I’ve already chipped in with my brother-in-law to get some great gifts for his grandchildren, my grandnephews. They will be so excited! I’m still thinking about just what to give my nieces and a few close friends. We all love to play Santa. Yet, there is another role for us that is not so easily understood and not always as much fun. At the time of our Baptisms, there was an expectation that we become Baptizers and embrace the work of the Baptizer, take on the call to be a herald like John as we go through this holiday season.

When we were anointed in the Rite of Baptism, these words were spoken as the Sacred Chrism touched our heads still wet from the water. Listen carefully them now. “The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, and given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so my you live always as a member of body, sharing in everlasting life.”

We are a priestly people who offer sacrifice and prayers for others. We are a royal people who do the works of Justice and Peace teaching, leading, and serving in the style and image of Christ the King. We are a prophetic people too, a people who take on the role of the prophet which means we are a people who proclaim. We, by the power of God, take on the prophetic work of transforming the wilderness and the wastelands around us into harvests of justice and forgiveness creating highways for our God to enter and re-create our world in charity and peace. It has begun, says this Gospel today. It is not right for us to stand in the way of God’s re-creation. We are the ones who prepare in these days for its fulfillment.