All posts for the month February, 2021

February 28, 2021

This weekend I am serving the Maronite Community in Tequesta, FL

Genesis 22, 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18 + Psalm 116 + Romans 8, 31-34 + Mark 9, 2-10

As disciples of Jesus Christ today, we are not much different from our apostolic ancestors. We would like to take the short-cut, but the path to glory goes over this hell of Calvary. Those who choose the will of God over their own will have no way of escaping the humiliation of service, the sufferings of love, and the death not only the death to self-will, but the reality of death for our bodies which may sometimes come painfully and slowly. Yet, we can and must find hope as Jesus did at that moment. For like Jesus, we are privileged to get a preview of coming attractions.

This is the pivotal moment of Mark’s Gospel. It is a turning point in the life of Jesus and in the life of his closest followers, the first one’s called. After this moment, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem, and we have the privilege of knowing what happens there which is why the Church puts this Gospel at this early time in Lent. We are headed to Jerusalem with him in this season. There are some details in this story that can speak to us as clearly as the words of Jesus.

First of all, the description of this event that Mark provides is an unmistakable comparison to the experience of Moses. The cloud, the glowing, the voice, the location on a high mountain is all there, and Mark’s first listeners would not have missed these details and they would have made the connection between Moses and Jesus.

Then there is another detail that we could have caught. The voice that speaks says the same thing that was spoken at the Baptism of Jesus with a slight change. At the Baptism of Jesus, the voice speaks to Jesus. This time, the voice speaks to those apostles. The first time it says: You are my beloved Son. This time it says: This is my beloved Son. What Mark reveals here is the inadequate belief of the Apostles. Two times in this episode, Peter gets corrected. The first time the narrator corrects his by pointing out that he did not understand what he was seeing. The second time, the voice corrects Peter who has called Jesus, “Rabbi”. That voice wants Peter and anyone else paying attention that this is no “Rabbi.” This is God’s Son!

The whole episode reveals how slowly one comes to faith in Jesus Christ, and it admits how difficult it is to accept the reality of the cross and the grim reality of suffering and death. In the Gospel, this is why Jesus tells them to keep quiet about what they have seen, because they do not understand what will have to happen first, suffering and death. They want a short-cut, and so do we. There isn’t one reveals Mark. If the Father’s will is to be done, it will mean being ridiculed, mocked, and abandoned. To get to the glory there will be death. To get to the Resurrection, there will be a Good Friday not just for Jesus, but for everyone.

For Jesus, this experience is a revelation and a confirmation of what he heard and discovered at his Baptism. It was his moment to accept all that was to come. For Apostles the appearance of Moses and Elijah revealed not only who was in their midst, the beloved Son of God; but also, what was going to happen to God’s son. Moses and Elijah were both prophets who suffered greatly for their prophetic role. But, Peter, James, and John didn’t get it. They were not ready. They just simply did not yet have the Holy Spirit. Their appearance should have told that what happened to Elijah and Moses was about to happen again.  To those Apostles, an appearance of Elijah was to signal the end of time and beginning of the new creation. They got that part of it, because they were still trying to take the short-cut. “Let’s get to the glory” is their idea. Their Messiah was going to be a wonder worker, a man of power, strength, and unquestioned authority. At this point in their relationship with Jesus, that idea starts to come apart, and they become afraid.

February 21, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Genesis 9, 8-15 + Psalm 25 + 1 Peter 3, 18-22 + Mark 1, 12-15

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

It was the very first week of February when I spent a full day with this Gospel text preparing for this moment. I gave some serious thought to speaking before the Gospel rather than at his usual time, but I thought it might get everybody confused and then distracted. It would have been my way of trying to hear these verses without the influence of Matthew and Luke. They give all kinds of details about the desert experience with powerful images and dialogue between Jesus and the devil. Did you notice how Mark handles it? Two sentences. That’s all. It is a good example of how Mark’s Gospel works. It’s always short, but not lacking in depth and meaning.

The scene immediately before this is the Baptism of Jesus. He comes up out of the water of Jordan, “the heavens open and the Spirit descends upon him like a dove,” it says, the then he heard that voice affirming his sonship with the Father. The very next verse is this text today. “The Spirit drove him into the desert and he remained there for 40 days.” You don’t have to have Jewish roots to make some connections here with the clues: Water, Desert, and Forty. Connect the dots. For us there is a message here from God’s living word about Baptism. To help us connect those dots, the Church gives us that first reading today about a flood, a promise, and a covenant.

The language or the “words” that Mark uses suggests great intensity. The Spirit did not lead, coax, or invite Jesus into the desert. The Spirit DROVE him there, and in that desert, he was tested. “Tested” is the most accurate word for what happened as Mark tells it. It’s not temptation in the sense of having to choose right or wrong. It’s a “test” much like the tests we might undergo to see if we have a virus. This test is not some interior struggle. It is a battle of the greatest forces: the holiness of God verses what Mark calls: “Satan.” That whole image of wild beasts and demons is part of the intensity Mark wants us to feel. There is a fierce struggle suggested here between evil and good: wild beasts and angels who waited on him not at the end, but all during his time of testing. He learns to count on this heavenly support, this bread of angels.

For Mark’s first hearers, memories and stories of Israel’s forty days in the wilderness are raised up, and hearing of Jesus in the wilderness tested for forty days, they knew that this one knows them. He knows their trials. This time instead of so often failing the test, rebelling against God, and suffering God’s wrath, there is victory. The wild beasts are tamed. We get from Mark no details of the testing, but we know it had to be strong and clever. Given the relationship Jesus had with God, we can be sure that it was appropriate to his person and his powers. In other words, the greater one’s abilities, power, and influence, the greater one’s temptations.

It is still the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. What we get today is a preview of the many struggles that will test him during his ministry. It will involve Satan, forces of nature, opposing clergy and even his closest friends, but there is a victory to come. Just as this preview ends up with the victory of Jesus, so will his whole life and ministry. It is natural when hearing this Gospel to look ahead to Gethsemane. It was a garden, but for one night it, too, was a wilderness and another time of trial and testing.

In the end this is all about us and how our hope for victory in the face of every test and trial will end. In the Epistle to the Hebrews it says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” In some ways, this whole life we have here is the test. This earth, beautiful as it is, is really a wilderness where Satan and wild beasts can threaten and frighten us. We could name one of the beasts, “Covid” or Cancer, while Satan’s disguise might look like a violent terrorist. Yet, angels feed us on the sacred food of this table as often as we like every day just like that mana in the desert.

For Jesus and for us, the testing begins immediately after Baptism. The wilderness is this life here which, compared to paradise, is a wilderness. We are right in the middle of it these days, and we need this season, as Mark gives us a preview of how it shall be for us all. Listen then to a story of testing and trial. Listen with hope, for as long as we do not repeat Israel’s failures in that desert with doubts and idols, we will find ourselves in the promised land.

February 17, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Joel 2, 12-18 + Psalm 51 + 2 Corinthians 5, 20 – 6, 2 + Mark 6, 1-6, 16-18

10:00am at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Using a word that has its origins in the vocabulary of theater, “mask”,Jesus warns us against being hypocrites.In simpler terms, he tells us to take off our masks so that there is no difference between the inside and the outside. With these ashes today, we turn our lives inside out, and what is hidden inside comes to the surface.

What all of us find inside is a lot of debris. It needs to be cleaned out allowing the mercy of God to find a place that is too often crowded with guilt, resentment, and sometimes, anger. This is not a season to give up or do without. It is a season of becoming. There is no growth found in doing without unless something takes its place.

If we stop something, we should start something. Otherwise, what we stop could find it’s place again. So, I would suggest that if you give something up for Lent you must take up something to put in its place. The point of all this is growth which amounts to conversion and repentance. Penitential acts are at root deeply positive. They give us an opportunity to express our sorrow to God for wrongdoings, and to do so in a spirit of joyful confidence in the mercy of God. Having experienced that mercy, we have it to share.

What we do during the next forty days must set us free, free from our complacency, free from the masks we wear pretending that we are something we are not. It is time now to ask the Lord to do once more what he did on the sixth day; to form the dust and ashes of our lives into humble vessels of his glory. By the Incarnation, by becoming one of us, Christ has changed, made holy and divine the dust of our humanity. His blood soaking into the dust of Calvary’s hill sanctifies the very dust from which we are made.

These ashes we shall soon bless were made by fire.We should remember that we are dust, but that is not all we are. We are created to be fire.

February 14, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Leviticus 13, 1-2, 44-46 + Psalm 32 + 1 Corinthians 10, 31-11,1

Mark 1, 40-45

St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL 12:00 Noon Sunday

There are two things to remember as we listen to this Gospel with open hearts, because Jesus has something to say to us today. We have to remember that people in the days when Jesus believed in a theology or a system of reward and punishment. It is a system that is quite nice for those who think of themselves as “blessed” because of their privilege, good luck, or good health. It’s not such a good system for anyone who is sick or who has had string of bad luck. The result of this kind of thinking is that poor people, sick people, those with some disability, foreigners, or someone struggling with sexuality or gender identity ends up being treated like trash.

Into that steps Jesus Christ, the Son of God who refused to buy into that thinking and that attitude. He sees a leper and treats him with respect acknowledging his dignity. In doing so, he exposes that current thinking for how far it is from the will and plan of God. Jesus touches that man, and in doing so, he does not just heal him, he recognizes that this man is fully capable of bearing witness, of being a sign of God’s presence and action in this world. Then, he sends him to the priest inviting that priest to do his job of building up the community. He is actually giving those priests the first chance, before anyone else, to recognize what God was doing through him. They didn’t. They had their own ideas about how God was supposed to work, and who God would choose to reveal God’s presence. And it wasn’t going to be some nasty leper.

It is a powerful and unmistakable lesson about the need for disciples to be humble. You can be sure that those fishermen who had just left everything to follow him got the message and it was a hard one. If they thought for one minute that they should have been the ones sent to bear witness to Jesus, they were wrong. The news that leper had to share was that God does not want anyone cast out, marginalized, or left out. That leper was himself the message. His healing and his strength came from knowing that he was loved and accepted, and that no one could take that away. He was healed by compassion, touched by love, restored to humanity by respect.

It is not until those men called from their nets have themselves been beaten down, disgraced, and shamed by their own actions that they can bear witness to their Savior. It is not until Peter has denied Christ and been restored to his place among the apostles that he has any credibility at all. What restores the apostles who have hidden and failed Christ at the hour of his greatest need was compassion, the same compassion Jesus had for that leper.

Compassion, my friends, is not just pity or feeling sorry for someone. This emption is passion. It is suffering. It is heart wrenching. It is a response from the very depths one’s being. Jesus does not just touch that man with his hands. He touches him with his heart. He feels what that man feels, the desperation of being alone, cast off, shunned, despised. It is as though Jesus would trade places with him, and in some ways, he does. In the end, Jesus is the one who ends up alone, cast out, with a broken body, bloody and bruised that no one would want to touch while that leper goes free.

We are all lepers living like outcasts hiding from one another the truth of our lives. We even hide the truth from ourselves. We hide our sins. We deny our racism and judgements about others we don’t even know.  So, we talk ourselves into believing that sin is something private and personal with no real social consequences at all. The evidence of that is the decline of our use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. “Why admit to someone else that we have sinned? After all, it’s just between me a God?” No, it isn’t. we avoid the truth that sin is often an attitude like prejudice, racism, sexism. It isolates us from one another avoiding those who are not like us, whose skin is different, or whose accent is different as though we don’t have one to their ears. We will find the key to accepting others, when we begin to accept ourselves as we really are. If anyone in here thinks they are not sinner, they don’t belong here.

The Jesus of this story is a man of kindness, not a man of judgement. This is a man who reveals the mercy, the kindness, and the compassion of God to those willing to ask for what they need. It is not healing from a disease that we need. It is acceptance, compassion, and reconciliation that we need, not just with God, but with each other. That’s why the man is sent to the priests to complete his total healing and reconciliation with those who have looked up him with judgement and cast him aside.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people began to run around and talk openly about how they had been treated by us Catholics: about the kindness, the compassion, and the respect with which we met them day after day? It’s amazing what people can do for others. People can rekindle hope, bring back a joy for living, inspire plans for the future, restore self-respect and pride, and it’s all a mirror of the infinite charity of God which is what we are all called to be.

February 7, 2021 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

Job 7, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 9, 16-19, 22-23 + Mark 1, 29-39

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

There is a characteristic of Jesus that is a unique element as Mark records the ministry of Jesus. It’s that constant fast-paced movement of Jesus and the crowds who are always chasing around after him. Already in just 29 verses of Chapter one, we hear that Jesus needed to sneak away quietly from everyone by getting up early, but even Simon and his companions track him down. One of the reasons he keeps moving on is to escape those people who are after him because he’s become a celebrity. These days we could call that crowd “Paparazzi”. They are interested in only one thing, another miracle, one more amazing demonstration of power. We have to remember, there was no TV or internet. Someone like Jesus was the best show in town, and no one wanted to miss the next episode or miracle. The people following him have failed to go deeper into what it all means. They have failed to ask the question that matters: “What is God doing here?” In fact, there is no evidence that they think God is involved at all. It’s all sensationalism.

This movement on to another place gives us a sense of how disillusioned Jesus was becoming with these people. No one ever asks who he is. Those healing events are meant to prod people into asking, “Who is this?” and “What is he doing here?”  He wants to preach. They want miracles. We just heard Paul reflecting upon his role and his mission to preach, and the purpose of all preaching is to bring people into contact with God. That’s what I do here, but I’m not the only one. Bringing people into contact with God is a role and responsibility of every baptized man, woman, and child. I have always thought that children do it best. You know, preaching isn’t really about words, and you don’t always have to say something to bring people into contact with God. Every now and then, I get a few minutes of Facetime with my grand-nephews who about two and a half years old. Just listing to them jabber and watching their wide-eyed wonder at the simplest thing, like a caterpillar. Leaves me with a sense that a loving God is very near. When I hear a two-year old laughing, I think I hear God.

Yet, something happens to us as we grow up. We get self-conscious. We get cautious. We worry about how we look and what someone might think of us. We turn our faith into some kind of private matter for fear of offending someone or fear of looking silly or simple minded. Meanwhile, countless opportunities to preach by example and simple kindness slip by forever gone. People who are quick to forgive preach powerfully about the nature of God. People who are patient and kind, slow to anger and rich in mercy make these qualities of the divine believable and desirable opening a path to holiness and nearness to God.

There is something important to learn from the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel that can give our preaching credibility. It is the compassion that continues to motivate Jesus. It is extraordinary, because in spite of his weariness, in spite of his discomfort over becoming the “rock – star” of his age, he continues to love and care about those in crisis or pain. The miracles he works are not to get him more fame and greater crowds, but to awaken faith and trust in the Word of God and restore in all of us God’s vision of a world united as brothers and sisters.

Compassion like his breaks down stereotypes and our flimsy defenses that divide, segregate and marginalize. The ministry of Jesus is about far more than healing the sick. It is more about spiritual healing that does more than heal the body. It heals the soul. Compassion uncovers the basic humanity we all share. It knocks down the walls of self and allows us to realize our connection to all of God’s people. Compassion enables us to open our hearts to others to see one another as more than numbers or races. It enables us to feel the pain of others and compels us to heal that pain. In the compassionate, there is no hint of racism. Jesus healed a centurion’s child. He touched lepers. He met an enemy at a well knowing every dis-reputable thing she had ever done without a hint of humiliating her or abandoning her in disgrace.

In as much as we may preach the wonder of God’s love, we may also work miracles of charity and generosity through which our families and communities may be restored to hope and trust in the God who loves us.

There is a world outside of this church still waiting for a miracle of generosity and forgiveness. In world overwhelmed by anger and revenge, anything that does not give us more of that would be a miracle indeed, and the world may once again acknowledge, honor, and adore the God who is with us.