All posts for the month January, 2021

January 31, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 18, 15-20 + Psalm 295 + 1 Corinthians 7, 32-35 + Mark 1, 21-28

1:00pm Sunday at St William Parish in Naples, FL

At the time of Jesus and when this Gospel was prepared by Mark, if there was anything that happened, any tragedy, sickness, or a natural phenomenon that the people did not understand, they attributed it to unclean spirits. They simply viewed miracles differently that we do. In our scientific and technological age, we would look at this scene and ask, “How did that happen? How did he do that?” They asked a different question, “Who is responsible?” Their answer was always the same, God. Their amazement is not with the miracle. It was this new authority. Notice that they don’t talk exorcism. They are amazed at a new kind of authority.

There is something new here for them and for us as well. Jesus speaks with an authority different from the scribes. Their authority came from the power to enforce. They never spoke on their own. They always began by quoting the law or some greater authority.

For Jesus, authority comes from within himself. It comes from his love, from respect, and from compassion. That inspires. What impresses those people in the synagogue is that the action matches the word. This is what establishes his authority. Jesus is not just satisfied with words. He does not go on and on with lectures. He acts. He does something. He sees a need, and out of love, he acts. It is inspiring. That pattern of Word and Act carries over into the church with our Sacraments. Words are spoken, and something happens.

For most of us, just like those folks in the synagogue, it is exciting to find someone who does what they say, who follows up their talk with action. This is the look of real authority. Someone who does what they say gets our respect and admiration. The admiration is inspiring, and it ought to make want to be like that. The teaching of Jesus would simply be abstract, just a lot of nice ideas and theories if it were not for the action that always follows. He shows what can happen when compassion inspires a response and we know that from the way he treats people that no one else at his time would even look or let alone touch.

As a church, as members of Christ’s body, we can’t just talk about mercy. We have to show it. We can’t just talk about forgiveness, we have to give it. We can’t just talk about love, we have to share it. We can’t just talk about, study, or wish for the Kingdom of God. We have to live in it now. What is the point of saying a lot of prayers if we fail to live in the presence of God. There are certain men and women who possess an unaccountable spiritual superiority. This gives them enormous moral authority. They have this authority, not because of an office they hold but because of the kind of person they are. This is the greatest and highest authority of all. It has roots in the authority of God. Jesus possessed this kind of authority. It was unequaled at its time. But since then, it ought not to be so rare. Every disciple of Jesus Christ by reason of baptism and communion as the people of God share in Christ’s authority. It ought to make us trustworthy and give us integrity and a credibility that inspires others to seek the truth and always act and speak with compassion. When that happens, people will not wonder how we did something, but they will know that God is present and active in our lives.

January 24, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Jonah 3, 1-5 + Psalm 25 + 1 Corinthians 7, 29-31 + Mark 1, 14-20

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

There is a very subtle yet important distinction needed to understand this Gospel. It is the difference between a “vocation” and a “purpose.” They are not always the same. A vocation might be a career or a talent that shows up with a job skill. A purpose is entirely different, and that is what Mark leads us to reflect upon and eventually to resolve as this Gospel moves forward.

            Those men Jesus calls today have a career: fishing. It is their vocation. Jesus comes along and invites them to follow him and discover their purpose. He finds them at work, exercising their skill. He invites them to use that skill for a different purpose. Rather than using that skill to earn money and success, he will show them how to use that skill to win the hearts and lives of others for the Kingdom of God. They are going to keep fishing, casting a net; but the purpose of fishing will be different.

            We all have a vocation that emerges from the skills we were born with or the those we acquired in school. Many educational systems have Vocational-Technical schools that teach the skills of a vocation. When it comes to purpose, there is also a school that we call the Gospel. In that school, we learn how to discern what our purpose in life should be. Parenting is a vocation. The purpose of parenting is to bring children into this life and lead them into everlasting life. Social work is a vocation. The purpose of Social work is to extend the mercy of God to those who need it most. An attorney has a vocation. Their purpose is Justice. Teaching is a vocation. The purpose of teaching it to awaken the minds and hearts of students to recognize their gifts and seize the opportunities that come in life to use those gifts to build a better world.

            So, here we sit as Jesus speaks to us through Mark’s Gospel. There is an invitation being extended to all of us. It is an invitation to discover and realize our purpose in life. It isn’t to make a lot of money. It isn’t to look good, or be admired by others. What Jesus invites us to do and is ready to show us how is to discover why and what we were made for. This arouses in us what I like to call, a “homing instinct” which is a desire for our true home where we shall be what we were always meant to be. That is what he calls those men in this Gospel for. He calls them to become disciples which ultimately means to become like the teacher: to know what the teacher knows, to do what the teacher does, and to be what the teacher is: a child of God. In other words, discipleship is the path to divinization. It is the way we cleanup, polish up, clear up, or whatever you want to call, it is the way we restore how we were made: in the image of God.

            The Incarnation, the coming of God in human flesh in this life is God taking up our fallen humanity. It is a free gift of God’s own loving kindness in a truly personal way. What has been revealed to us by God through the Son and by the power of Spirit is that God is an overflowing fullness of personal relationships: The Holy Trinity. By the sinful choices of human kind, we step out of that relationship, and the consequence is called “individualism”. It is deadly. It shows itself in an attitude that insists on doing things my way, or doing things that I want to do with no thought of how it might affect another. This destroys communion. It breaks up community. The undeniable sign of that individualism shows up in thinking and acting as though I am independent; or, as some like to say these days, “I’m free because this is a free country”. This is not the way home, and that kind of thinking and acting could hardly be further from the image by which we were made.

            There is an invitation offered today. Be my disciples. Follow me, and learn from me your purpose in life. Ultimately that purpose is communion: to be at one with each other and with God. Remember St Paul said to us that there are three things that last: Faith, Hope, and Love. When we come to the end and are awakened into eternal life, there will be no need for faith, and there will be nothing to hope for, but what will last is Love, and to live in that love right now is our purpose, and remembering that is all that matters.

January 17, 2021 at Mary, Mother of Light Catholic Church in Tequesta, FL

In the Maronite Rite it is the Second Sunday after Epiphany and the Gospel text is the same as in the Roman Rite.

1 Samuel 3, 3-20 + Psalm40+ 1 Corinthians 6. 13-15 + John 1, 35-42

9:30am Mary, Mother of the Light Maronite Church Tequesta, Fl

Thirty-five verses of John’s Gospel have passed, and then Jesus speaks. He asks a question. It is a question he asks every one of us in this church. “What are you looking for?” It is the question he will ask of those who come to arrest him, and he asks it of Mary Magdalen on the morning of his resurrection. No matter where we are or what we do, and whether we think about it or not, we are always answering that question. Because, everything we do responds to the question and reveals our answer. What we are looking for is the reason we get out of bed in the morning. What we do with our evenings and how spend our weekends says something about what we are looking for. What we read, what we dream about, and what we most want in our lives answers the question, and sometimes it’s not worthy of us.

What it all boils down to if we really stop to look at all of those things, is that we are looking for love. Sometimes we say it. “I would love to take a nap.” “I would have a long vacation.”  “I would love to have that car.” “I would love to look like that.” When we say those things, we know they are silly and shallow, but at the same time, they tell us something about ourselves and our basic need which really has nothing to do with a nap, a vacation, a car, or a look. What we need is love and a relationship that we can depend on, a relationship that is lasting, a relationship in which we can really just be ourselves. What we are in love with affects everything from imagination to our motivation, and all our decisions.

That’s what happened to those disciples who had been hanging around John the Baptist. They fell in love, and as we might say, it was love at first sight. That’s what happened to Samuel when he realized who was calling him. It wasn’t any hero or awesome role model. It was the one who made him. We could call it a vocation, a calling, and the real vocation which we all have in life has nothing to do with the priesthood which we are conditioned to think of first. The first and real vocation we all have is call to be in love, a call to enter into a relationship just like those apostles whose love-story we tell today.

In that moment, struck by the opportunity to make sense of their lives and give purpose to their being, they asked a question. They were not asking for an address or a home town. They were asking him where he will remain. For the word John uses in this question is better translated as where will you remain. Again, it is a word that will come up again when Jesus says: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” In another place he says: “Unless you remain in me you will not bear fruit.”

In answer to their question, he simply invites them to “Come and See.” They do, and where he takes them is not where they may have first thought of. He takes them to leper outcasts. He takes them to the poor, to the homes of sinners. He takes them to Samaria and well where he meets a woman and a whole village of enemies who end up asking him to remain with them. Ultimately, he takes them to an upper room, then to a garden for prayer, and on to hill and a cross where he shows them the truth about love.

So, the question has been asked again today in this place. “What are you looking for?” The only answer that saves, the only answers that give us any hope at all is to finally recognize that we are looking for love, and this is the place to find it. Our most basic vocation is to fall in love, to fall in love with God. I have believed, and it comes from my experience that this is what happens in marriage. Two people fall in love, and that love they share begins to reveal and lead to being in love with God. Cultivating the decision to love can fill up our lives. The Jesus who asks us that question also invites us to come and see, because seeing leads to believing.  “Many began to believe in him when they saw the signs he was doing”, says John. In another place he says: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life.”

My friends, what we have here are four things we ought to cultivate beginning today: seeking, coming, seeing, believing. When we do, we will have come a long way toward really being children of God.

January 10, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Mark 1, 7-11

The Baptism of the Lord at St. Peter the Apostle 3:30pm Saturday in Naples, FL

It is only the seventh verse of Mark’s Gospel. There has been nothing about a birth, the location, or the visitors. In Mark’s Gospel, there is a quotation from the Prophet Isaiah to confirm the work of John the Baptist, and the suddenly, there he is, Jesus, coming up from Nazareth: no choir of angels, no star, no shepherds or magi, just Jesus and John who says nothing in the presence Jesus. The only words are those Jesus hears: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased, and he saw something. Mark tells that he saw the heavens open in the same way the curtain of the Temple would be torn open at the moment of his death. There is no longer anything keeping the divine from the human and human from the divine. It is a moment of revelation for Jesus: Heaven is open to earth. Then comes from Mark a revelation of the Trinity as the Spirit descended upon him.

Out of the waters of the Red Sea emerged the chosen people. Across the Jordan, led by Joshua, the people of God entered the promised land. Now Mark is announcing a new Passover, a new moment of creation. “Spirit” means the “Breath of God”. It is blowing on the water again, and up out of that water comes the new creation, the new Adam, the Son of God. The whole wonder of the Incarnation is described for us here. Heavens opened. Now through Jesus Christ it’s all accessible to us. What was closed by the of Adam and Eve is now wide open because of the choice of Jesus Christ. He chooses to be Baptized. How else could he identify with us completely enter into our human condition?

Whatever Jesus had been doing before, coming up from the water was his moment to discern how God’s life would fill him and call him forth. He heard a voice just like we all hear a voice now and then. We all heard when we were little. That voice when you wanted another candy bar, or just as you were about to escape the boundaries of the back yard. That voice said: “Don’t you dare.  You know what Mom said.” Then we get older, and that voice is still there. It sometimes says: “That was dumb. What were you thinking?” That voice sometimes prods or clobbers, but eventually you learn to know that the voice is right. Then comes that time when we make friends with that voice and we talk: “I’m not sure what to do here.” “What was that all about?” Then, sometimes the voice speaks comforting words: “You belong. You are loved even if you deserve it.” That little voice is really the voice of God speaking to us in the events of our lives, in the people we love, and in moments of confusion and doubt. Jesus heard a voice that day that confirmed that he was loved by God and that he was God’s own.

What we celebrate on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is what has happened to us all at our Baptism. It is nothing less and nothing more than hearing a voice that says, ‘You are mine.” From that moment on, we begin to live that way, to trust in the promise of those words.  At the time we were brought to the waters of Baptism, we too were claimed by God with the sign of the cross traced on our foreheads. Like a brand that marks livestock for its owner, we have been branded for God. We have crossed over to new life and the heavens are open for us when we hear and head the Word of God. We are not called to simply worship and just believe in Jesus Christ. We are called to believe in ourselves and to believe that all of us are given a share in the same intimate relationship that Jesus experienced with our Father. We are invited to seek God’s will and experience what Jesus experienced when he was obedient to the Will of the Father to the end. When it was all over, as will be for us, God says, “Get up from that grave. Now you have my life in you.”

January 3, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

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

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

There is something here that I find a bit ironic. These foreigners were trapesing all over the place with the expectation that God was doing something new. While the very people in whom this action of God was takin place did nothing. The very leaders of the chosen people did nothing at all. Those leaders at the time had worked out a relationship with the Roman Empire that allowed them to function as long as they did not rock the boat. They were content to read their scriptures and do nothing. In the meantime, those “Magi” allowed something to awaken their dreams and shake them out of their routine and their comfortable existence. They had no Abraham and no Moses with their stories, dreams, and faith. Yet, they believed they believed that life could be more than they knew, and without any details, they believed in a God of revelation.

We do too, and at least I hope you do. Yet we all muddle through our lives sometimes just barely making it from one day to the next. We hardly ever look very far ahead, and only on rare occasions do we look deeper into anything with wonder. Of course, we have all looked forward to that vaccine that will remove the constant threat of sickness. Some of us looked forward to election day so that we would no longer be insulted by outrageous lies, distortions and complaints about someone’s opponent. Regardless of how you feel about the outcome, we can all agree that we’re glad that’s over with. Those political adds seem to assume that we are all simple-minded fools who would believe anything they hear or read on a screen.

What Matthew puts before us today is a choice. We can either be like those leaders of the Jewish people and be content to keep things as they are accommodating the world around us, and just read the scriptures, or, we can be like these Magi who have big dreams and are willing to follow them even it means leaving what is comfortable, predictable, and traditional. In truth, those who just want to keep things as they are accommodating the world as it is are guilty of complicity because they never offer anything new or even expect anything new.

We call this Feast Epiphany. It’s a word that means manifestation or revelation. As people of faith, we don’t accommodate this world as it is because this world can be better than it is. Doing nothing new, never rocking the boat, is a kind of complicity that will not do for disciples of Jesus Christ. Just keeping your mouth shut when others around you are talking trash about someone who isn’t there is complicity. Saying nothing when someone spouts off with some opinion that racist, sexist, cruel, or immoral is complicity.

An invitation is being extended to us today. It is an invitation to become a Magi, a seeker, a dreamer, or perhaps better called Wise.