All posts for the month March, 2021

March 28, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle & St. William Parish in Naples, FL

Mark 11, 1-10 Before the Procession

Isaiah 50, 4 -7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 – Mark 14, 1 to 15, 47

Saturday March 27,2021 3:30pm St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, Fl

She is the one who proclaims this Gospel Good news. She is the one telling us without a word who it is that has come among us. When all the others are avoiding the truth, living in denial or fear, she defies the inconsistent fickle crowd in which we too often find ourselves. We might let her lead us through this week, and renew our faith, our courage, and our spirits because we have nothing to fear from the truth, and everything to gain from the one who hangs before us, who loves us enough to die for us. Let her story be proclaimed to all the world today because we believe that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ……..

There is one person who stands out of the Passion account in Mark’s Gospel who has no name and says not a word. She is the one true believer who stands in sharp contrast to all the rest who in their cowardice, ambition, fear, and greed permit the greatest act of injustice in all of history: the murder of the Son of Man. The cast of characters is a cast of shame exposed by woman from Bethany with an alabaster jar.

It is no clay port. It is a precious jar, this “alabaster”. There is something about this jar and its contents that speaks of extravagance. She breaks it so that all the oil will flow out. It is not a common oil. Mark tells us that it was costly spikenard. All of it, every drop, flows over his head. Now he is the anointed one, the Christ. What others have denied, she has proclaimed. What others have refused, she has embraced, and he tells us that wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told I memory of her. We have just fulfilled that prophesy.

Yet, proclaiming it, telling the story, is not enough. We have to believe what she believed, and we have to act as she acted out of that belief. Unlike the disciples who ignored and lived in denial when he spoke of his death, she is there in public taking the ridicule of others. Unlike the fickle crowd who one day shouted “Hosanna” and then on another “crucify him”. She stands silent yet steadfast not the least bit concerned about their opinion or their judgement. She knows. She believes that this is God’s anointed one who taught and revealed that love was the only law of life.

She is the first of the women who stood at the cross and came to the tomb. The men were hiding. A woman who counts for nothing in the eyes of that world shames the power of Pilate, the greed of Judas, and the ambition of Herod. Unashamed to recognize the Christ that Peter himself denies, she steps out of that crowd easily manipulated by lies and fear. She is not threatened by the truth.

March 21, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 31, 31-34 + Psalm 51+ Hebrews 5, 2-9 + John 12, 20-33

St. Peter the Apostle 3:30pm Saturday

If you count yourself among those who want to see Jesus, I invite you to join me three nights this week and explore how Jesus is to be experienced through initiation into the Church and into the Body of Christ, how Jesus is to be experienced through the church in mission, and finally how Jesus can be experienced through healing and forgiveness just as he was experienced at the beginning of his mission.

Let’s get this Gospel set in place. The context is important. When this twelfth chapter begins, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem with that great crowd and their palm branches. On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stopped in Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. In writing this Gospel, John leads us to believe that the crowds that met Jesus at the gate of Jerusalem were there because of this last great sign. The two verses before today’s reading say this: The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.

With that, we have these Greeks coming up to Philip asking to see Jesus. We must pay attention to what happens. Philip goes to Andrew and then Andrew and Philip went to Jesus. What we have here is John’s suggestion that access to Jesus is through the apostles, and introducing these Greeks and their desire to see Jesus sets the stage for the universalism that will be the world mission of the church. And so, Jesus says: “This is the hour.” The drawing of all persons to Jesus now begins. As he predicted, the other sheep not of his fold are beginning to come. But, we never know if that day the Greeks got to see Jesus. They simply fade away in the narrative because it is not clear that seeing Jesus is the same as believing Jesus, and Jesus has already expressed his frustration over people coming to watch him and not make the last step to believe in him which is going to involve dying to self and rising to new life.

So, rather than just say: “Come on in”, Jesus launches into a powerful and faith challenging discourse on his death which might put some of the spectators off if they are not ready or willing to go deeper.

There is something in all of us a little bit like the Greeks. We want to see Jesus. In fact, a lot of people, more than us, would like to see Jesus. Some just for the spectacle, the signs and wonders. Some would like to see Jesus because they want to believe and experience the salvation he offers and the new life he has promised. If you count yourself among those who want to see Jesus, I am here to suggest that it’s possible, but like those Greeks, you’re going to have to go through the apostles. In this case, the apostolic church. The way to see Jesus for us today is through the church and her sacraments. These are what he left us. These are the tools the church has at hand to lead us all to see and to believe that Jesus is among us.

For three nights this week, I have been invited to explore the Sacraments of the Church with you as we move into the final days of this Lent. Our annual parish mission begins on Monday evening at 6:00pm here in the church. Monday I shall speak about the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion. Tuesday night I will speak about the Sacraments of Service: Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Wednesday night I will speak about the Sacraments of Healing: Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation.

March 13 & 14, 2021

2 Chronicles 36, 14-17, 19-23 + Psalm 137+ Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21

A favorite and frequently recurring theme in John’s Gospel is the struggle between light and darkness. You may remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus in the night, and as his faith grew stronger, he emerges from the darkness coming to Jesus again in the day for more and more instruction. He is drawn to the light. His experience and the struggle between light and darkness reveals the drama in every Christian’s life. We are all faced with an inescapable choice. We are constantly confronted with choices we cannot evade. We must choose and keep on choosing. Of course, the ultimate choice is to believe. Nicodemus made that choice, and we have too, or we probably would not be in this church. We also know that it is not a choice made once and for all, because time and time again we are tested by tragedies and plagued by doubts.

One of the most often quoted passages from the New Testament leaps out of our readings today. I can’t imagine anyone who has not been to baseball or football game and not seen it. It sometimes shows up on our TV screens when the cameras pan the crowd. Someone will be holding a homemade sign that simply says: John 3: 16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” While I admire that enthusiastic evangelism, I also suspect that there is a serious misunderstanding about what exactly that “eternal life” means in John’s Gospel. In the language of John’s Gospel that Greek word: Zoe Aioniosis not simply unending or posthumous life. This “ion-life” of John is “new life”, life with God that one enters with Christian Baptism. In other words, you don’t have to stop breathing to enter into Zoe Aionios.

I just gave you a preview of what you might experience and learn during the upcoming Parish Mission. I am going to talk about what this new life with God looks like, and what it is we actually become when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. We become Blessed. So, I am going to unfold the Beatitudes with you by paying close attention to the Greek words that Matthew uses in the Sermon on the Mount. Contrary to what many might want to think, his Beatitudes are not glowing prophecies or pious hopes of what shall be. They are exclamations of what is. It is not for some future world postponed either. Beatitude is the state in which a Baptized person has already entered. They proclaim the conditions in which people of the Covenant live. They are not about someone else or about some other time. They are about us. If you want to find out how to be holy? Internalize the Beatitudes. When you recognize someone who is holy, you have recognized the Beatitudes being live. So, that is exactly what I want to explore with you three nights this week: the Beatitudes that can lead us to a holy life just as they led Nicodemus to the light that was Jesus Christ.

The Beatitudes draw a strange and challenging picture of one who is blessed: they are poor and unimpressive, hungry and in mourning, trodden on yet able to make peace. Again, the Beatitudes are about me, now someone else. “Blessed are you” is the way it goes. It does not say “Blessed are those poor.” Nicodemus, a rich young man, and many others come to Jesus wondering what it is they must do to be saved. That question is asked by this world that always thinks you have must earn everything or deserve something because you did something. This is the kind of thinking that Jesus came to confront and challenge. With the God that Jesus reveals, it’s all about grace which is a gift not earned, but freely given. If it’s earned, it is a reward. That’s not grace. We must learn to live in the beauty of this grace and assume the attitude of someone who lives in the state of grace. When we feel ourselves poor, humiliated, desperate and all the rest of it, we will qualify for the label “blessed.” If you want to count yourself among the blessed and discover what it really means, come and join me this week. 

March 15, 2021 Day One St Agnes Parish Lenten Mission


Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Luke 16, 19-31

It is helpful to remember that the Beatitudes are not statements, they are exclamations which is why some translations will say, “Happy” But that English word is not so good because Happy gives away its own case. It contains the root “hap” which means “chance”. Human happiness is something which is dependent on chances which come and go. Life gives and also takes. It’s all by “chance”. Not so with the meaning of these exclamations. This is about Blessedness and Joy which nothing in life can take away. So, these are not pious hopes of what shall be. These are congratulations on what is. This Blessedness exists here and now. It is not something into which the Christian will enter. The very form of the Beatitudes is a statement of the thrill and radiant gladness of the Christian life. Their greatness is that they are not wistful glimpses of some future beauty; they are not even golden promises of some distant glory; they are triumphant shouts of bliss for a permanent joy that nothing in the world can ever take away.

When Matthew set about collecting these sayings of Jesus and putting them together in Greek, he used very strong and intense words for every one of them. Φτωχός is the word he chose for this Beatitude. “Poor” is an unfortunate choice of English words to carry the full power of what is being proposed. “Poor” is the woman observed putting in her offering at the Temple. She has a little to give, but by her gift she becomes Φτωχός which means destitute. Φτωχός is also the word Luke uses to describe Lazarus in this parable. It describes absolute and complete destitution. NOTHING is what this is about: complete and total dependency. It is this radical idea that leads the apostles to react so desperately when Jesus talks about how it is easier to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The suggestion that wealth and prosperity were not the blessing and favor many at the time believed them to be was a startling suggestion.  Proposing the reverse was unthinkable.

We might recall that the giving of the Law with Moses was accompanied by promises of blessing, and that wealth and prosperity were taken as signs of God’s pleasure. It was a long-lasting belief. As Israel came from the desert into Canaan and grew prosperous, it became evident to the prophets that wealth brought a great temptation to break the covenant. It was not simply wealth, of course, but the attitude of self-satisfaction that so often accompanied the acquisition of wealth that often turned the rich away from God. Seized by the passion for possession, for security, for power, those rich were willing to do anything in order to build their homes of ivory and their summer palaces. Prophets confronted this, they turned more to the poor of the land as the only hope for maintaining the covenant with God. The poor had nothing to cling to but God, and so the prophets proclaimed that the future restoration would be built upon the remnant represented by the poor. The kingdom would belong to them and not to the rich. It was not because God did not care for the rich and powerful, but because the rich and powerful had a way of regarding themselves as self-sufficient and without need of God. Into this steps the Rabbi Jesus with this Beatitude. There is only one thing we need, and those who have it are in Blessed!

         There is an old Jewish proverb that says, “You cannot eat at both tables.” It springs from this thinking about those who have a lot things being blessed and favored by God. The unspoken other side of that thinking is that those who have nothing are out of favor with God, or that God has abandoned them. The book of Job challenges this thinking so contrary to the reality of life. Bad things do happen to good people. Every day this reality is confirmed. Job is as good as a person could be, yet he is struck down by one catastrophe after another. His friends insist that he must have sinned which is the only way they can understand what has happened to him. Job insists that he has not sinned, and the author’s purpose is that we believe Job. By the end of his story, Job is restored to prosperity, but not before his concept of God is shattered and replaced by a far more profound idea of God.

         This is the heart of the matter. Before we can enter into Beatitude Life, our concept of God must be purified or fine-tuned. If there is any trace of that old thinking that prosperity is a sign of God’s favor, you are not ready. The concept has to be re-envisioned. That’s what happened to Job. He came to a much more profound idea of God, and a much more mature and healthy relationship as a consequence.

                  What the Prophets were looking for then was a spiritual attitude, a disposition of soul which could be called to poverty: a self-dispossession which made room for the Word of God. The meaning of this poverty is seen in the beginning of Luke’s Gospel. The characters of Mary and Elizabeth, of Zachary and Simeon, all conform to the image of these “Anawim” – these faithful poor waiting patiently for the Lord. Think of Mary, who in the Magnificat praises God for looking upon the lowliness (the poverty) of his handmaid. She was poor in spirit; she was of the kingdom. She did not cling to anything, not even her own understanding of what her virginity should mean. Yet, no one is poorer than Jesus himself. He is the full realization of poverty, and of course, in as much as he is the revelation of what God is, we can say that God is poor. The obedience of Jesus Christ is a manifestation of that poverty. Jesus gave up everything including his own will surrendering to the Will of the Father.

As this doctrine developed there was a growing belief that there was a sharp distinction between the present age and the age to come which was God’s age and an age of reward. This is what provided that image of two tables. You cannot eat at both. If you have your reward in this world, there is no reason to expect another reward in the next world. All kinds of parables and sayings of Jesus point to this truth. What good is it to store up riches?  Think of that parable about the rich man and Lazarus and what happens to them in the age to come. Remember how the Lord observes those who make a great parade of their piety in order to impress the world around them. They can expect nothing in the time to come. “They have their reward” says Jesus. Jesus insists that it is useless to store up anything. Even if we can and even if we do preserve them, we cannot preserve our lives, so what’s the point of all this preservation?  “To whom will it go? Asks Jesus.

Our efforts to hold onto things is really useless in this world. People spend all kinds of money these days on security systems and arm them while they go out to dinner and then die in a car wreck on the way home. There is a great song from “Show Boat” that describes the reality of life. “It just keeps rolling, it keeps on rolling along.” Heraclitus, often called the “weeping philosopher” once said you can’t step into the same river twice. By the time you have stepped into it the second time it is not the same river, and you are not the same person. So, the effort to hang onto things gets called into question. “That’s mine.”  “I’ve got it.” This is the thinking of someone in for a rude surprise. Once you set a goal and achieve it, you have had your reward. The challenge ever before us is to get deeper into the poverty Jesus speaks of in the Sermon. To do so it helps to go back to the beginning; to “Genesis.”

The serpent says that if you eat fruit from the tree of knowledge “your eyes will be opened and you will be as God, knowing good and evil.” The subtlety of this comes from the other version that states that God made man, male and female, “in his own image and likeness.” That is to say, it is not simply a temptation to wish to be like God. We were created, intended, and meant to be like God by reason of the way God has already acted. There is nothing wrong with that temptation to “be like God.” The problem is the idea that we, or Adam and Eve, could make ourselves be “like God.” God does that, not us. What the serpent offers is a distortion of possessing something that is already there. The serpent is seeking to propose a new concept of ownership.

Likeness to God was something that God had already given. Originally there was nothing that man and woman had to do on their own. Think about it. When all creation had been given to them, what could they do to possess something that was already given to them by God? How could man and woman secure ownership of something that is always a gift from God? Satan suggests that they should do something to become like God, that they should take their likeness to God into their own hands. The gesture of taking the fruit and eating the fruit is a symbol of man taking something into his own hand and storing it away safely inside himself! It is a symbol of that security of possession which has become such an obsessive concern for fallen human people.

         Possession is the issue. Possessiveness is destructive of relationships by hanging on too tightly. Something like friendship can only be possessed in so far as it is constantly received as a gift which is ever new. I can’t count the number of relationships I have seen fall apart because someone in the relationship was too possessive. Fallen human beings like things they can hang onto or think they can. It is really the poor in spirit who can actually have anything because they are the ones who know how to receive gifts since everything for them is a gift. Consider the parable of the master who goes away leaving his property to 3 different people – the one who buries the money is afraid of risk. He is afraid of losing, and because of this fear he does lose. The master wants the servants to take risks just like the master takes a risk in leaving portions of his property with them. That loser wants to hang on to what he got, so he buries it. Not a good Gospel plan. Think about those apostles who had five loaves and two fish. It was all theirs, but Jesus asked them to give it up. He asked them to become poor like the people around them. When they did, remember what happened to that food?

         The reason why it is so important for us to unlearn the kind of possessing that Satan proposes is that ultimately the only thing worth possessing is completely beyond possessing. When we possess nothing, then everything is available equally shared by all. If everyone possessed nothing and did not hang on to anything, everything that is, everything God has created, would be available and equally shared by everyone. That would be an experience of “Blessedness.” As soon as we begin to take and hold as our own, there is that much less for everyone else. Some would call this thinking “Socialism” and others might call it “Communism.” I call it “Gospelism” or authentic Christianity.

                  Perhaps the first and most essential characteristic of this Φτωχός is the profound awareness of who we are as creatures before God. We exist moment by moment only because of the creative love and fidelity of the Father. We have and we are nothing apart from God. We are totally unnecessary. Yet much of our lives is spent avoiding this realization. It is not by chance that the first of the Beatitudes confronts the First of all Sins: Pride. The first characteristic of the poor is embracing this truth. Everything we have is a gift received.

                  The characteristic of this Φτωχός is the ability to listen. One rich in this world lives with a cluttered mind and heart, many voices, many longings and desires fill those lives. The rich do not and cannot listen to the other, for too much energy is spent in listening to the conflicting shouts of passion. In a song by Kris Kristofferson, “Me and Bobby McGee, there is a line, “Freedom’s just another name for nothin’ left to lose.” I love that description of poverty. The poor person is able to leave the land of father and mother and journey to a far place on a promise; the poor person is able to let another go in freedom; the poor person can hand over the body in crucifixion for others. The poor person is of the kingdom because the kingdom consists in those who hear the Word of God and keep it. And only the truly poor can hear.

                  As I said at the beginning, God is very poor because God clings to nothing. Blessedness is a measure of how much we resemble God in whose image we are made. The hymn of Philippians that is sing at Vespers so often says it all. He did no grasping, but poured out everything. A frightening thing about this is that to become poor we have to surrender even our grip on ourselves which very well might mean being exposed and experiencing times of mental, emotional and spiritual deprivations. We call this: “Dark Nights.” We have all been there, but I dare say, we probably failed to understand what it means and even what it offers as a blessing.

                  Think of Mother Theresa when a few years ago her letters to her spiritual director revealed that she spent the largest part of her life in that kind of darkness. She probably did not at the time understand that this very painful experience was her most real experience of poverty and her most intimate connection with the poor she served. I believe that this darkness is exactly what stripped her of everything she might have wanted to hold onto leaving her with nothing. In that poverty, she was able to realize the image of God in herself and become the angel of mercy, compassion, and self-giving by which we remember her. She became poor so that her identity with the poor lifted them up.

                  Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who have allowed themselves to be stripped of acquisitiveness and “security”, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, because they no longer seek to possess, but to be possessed. If we ask the question, ‘What does it mean for the Kingdom of God to be ours? We begin to realize that it means our lives are centered upon God and imitating the very way God lives and acts. This is the ultimate depth of a Beatitude, “Poverty of Spirit.”

Psalm 113


Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.

Numbers 12, 1-8            The Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel is always cast in the shadow of or in the image of Moses, so here is Moses “by far the meekest man on the face of the earth.” It is a new Moses then who proposes that real Blessedness, real Beatitude is found in Meekness. Πράος is the Greek work here. Again, this is a very strong word. The Greeks used that word to describe the domesticating of a powerful animal. It means, great strength under control. These animals, horses or oxen had to be “meeked.” Important to realize is that meekness is not weakness. It is quite the opposite: strength used in control, with discipline.

         Inherit is the word here that makes a big difference from the Beatitude before it. Meekness goes along with poverty of spirit so opposed to grasping and manipulating and perverting, and so this inherit word opens us to receiving. An inheritance is not seized, it is received. This is a way of seeing all things as gifts from God’s hands, our own lives first of all. It is a reverence which recognizes that where God is at work, as in creation, there is the Holy. It is a response, therefore, which lets things be what they are and uses them appropriately.

         Meekness inherited recognizes that the kingdom of God is itself a gift that cannot be seized at our own initiative. We do not possess it. We are gifted with it; moment by moment with the result that every moment of our lives should be characterized by thanksgiving.

         The meek are those who wait knowing that what they wait for has already been given and will be given again – the gift of God’s own life. The meek like the poor are radically dispossessed, because they desire nothing but that which comes to them as a gift from God. Those are the ones who truly are able to rejoice in, celebrate, and make use of the earth as children of God. Those who seek to grasp never really possess. The paradox of the beatitudes like the paradox of the kingdom, is that those who lose their lives will gain them. Those who are poor enough, meek enough, that is to say, free enough to desire nothing but what is given are the ones able to rejoice in all things. Blessed are the meek who are not in too big a hurry to get things done and know how to wait, helpless, nailed to a cross. Against all the odds it is they who will in inherit the earth.

         It is the teaching of this world that the earth belongs to those who seize it, that power is meant for domination, oppression and exploitation, and that the only limits to my freedom are the limits imposed by my appetites, that arrogance and lack of care are signs of strength. This attitude, and the understanding of humanity which it expresses, has dominated much of our history in the western world for the past four hundred years. It is an idea of man based upon the myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods that humans might have light and warmth. That theft was regarded as the heroic appropriation of an item to which man was entitled by virtue of his mere presence on earth. So, this “entitlement” has justified the thoughtless domination of technology in our world today. It has enabled us to throw railroads and ribbons of concrete across the land, to erect great mountains of steel and mortar, to seal our lives in plastic wrapping. With this view of humanity, we have created a “world of man” that is destroying creation. We have forgotten that the earth belongs to another. What we are only now beginning to discover is that by seizing the earth, we have destroyed it. And in the process, we are seeing this “world of man” turning into a demonic world, filled not with the light and hope and the optimism of science, but seething with the forces of violence and decay. With the blowing a fuse our shining cities become chaotic nightmares of luting and murder. An old folk song asked us once, “Where have all the flowers gone?” We might ask more appropriately, where has the image of humanity gone? Now that the world has been shaped to the image of Promethean man, is it possible to recognize ourselves?

         Now Psalm 37 gives us a focus for this Beatitude, and I believe that Matthew intended it so. The psalmist is looking around the world. He sees all the wrong people prospering. The people who ought to be doing well, the righteous followers of God’s law seem to be helpless before the successes of the wicked. It does not make sense. So, the psalmist, trying to find comfort if not understand, meditates on the state of the world in the light of the mystery of God’s plan.

         The message is clear. There is no future for the wicked. Consequently, there is no need to interfere any more than necessary to make the grass shrivel up in the sun. Indignation is inappropriate, and it is a long way from meekness. The meek simply laugh. The psalmist suggests that it is silly to take the unrighteous seriously. Reaction and outrage give them more substance than is their due, and it will accomplish nothing but harm. In other words, Evil has only as much reality as we give it.

         Now that is not to suggest something simplistic. Evil is a part of our world as we know it, and a powerful part. So, we should notice that there is a shift in verb tenses between the first and the second Beatitude. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Julian of Norwich summed up meekness best of all: “All will be well.” Our temptation is, and always has been, to try to achieve God’s purposes by using the methods of the world. But every attempt to do so is shut off by the cross of Christ. Matthew 5:39 says: “Do not resist the evil.” If the previous Beatitude suggests that something has gone wrong with our normal ideas about possession; this Beatitude suggests that there is something wrong with our normal ideas about our attempts to get things done. In fact, this raises some question about the whole idea of trying to achieve something.

         This whole business of “trying” is suspicious to me. Trying to do something always involves a division: it means doing one thing with an eye on another. Someone may play scales because they are trying to play the piano. Some may exercise because they are trying to stay healthy. It always seems to me that this can lead to two mistakes. First, we get into the way of thinking that everything that we do needs some kind of extrinsic justification. So, we become suspicious of people just doing things because they want to. The consequence is that we resort to all kinds of pseudo-justifications, like going for walks “for exercise” or worse we declare that walking is really important. We end up decorating harmless occupations with high-sounding meanings. Then the second thing kicks in. We forget that no amount of trying ever automatically produced the desired results. We can practice our scales, but some will never become pianists. I had a very close friend who went running every day, and one day while showering after his run, he fell dead in the shower. Fifty-seven years old! I’m not going to run. Between the trying and the doing, there is always some disconnect. My point is that our concern with trying to do things can often get us out of tune with God, because God does not try to do anything. Eckhart whose insights always leave me dumbfounded said that God acts without a reason why. God does things just because God is God. A German mystic remarked that a rose exists without a reason why; it blossoms because it blossoms. Now a biologist would want to take that further and talk about pollen, seeds, and reproduction. By the time the biologist or plant scientist is finished, there is no wonder, no awe, and hardly any beauty which is often the gateway to the divine.            Aristotle used that Greek word, Πράος to define the virtue between two extremes. It was for him, the “happy medium” between opposite passions. For example, Πράος described a generous man as opposed to a miser or a spendthrift. He goes on to describe the difference between complete passivity and rage as “meekness” or Πράος. As Aristotle saw it, there was a happy medium between too much and too little anger. This folds over into our understanding the Capital Sin, Anger, which Augustine rather artificially matched to this Beatitude in one of his sermons. Meekness thought of in this way, as I said at the beginning, is not weakness. The Meek are not without the passion or a virtuous Anger. It is just that they get angry about the right things, and they are never angry about any injury or affront to themselves. 

         Power is among the great temptations Aquinas warns against, and this Beatitude is its antidote. This Beatitude as about yielding. This is about directing our talents to a virtuous end. “Learn from me” says Jesus, for I am meek and humble of heart.” We have to become students; we have yield to the Teacher. The Epistle of James (1, 21) insists that we must receive with meekness the Word which is able to save our souls. We yield, we give control of our lives to Christ. If not, our lives will forever remain out of control.

         If we are going to be and act like God, if we are to appreciate the act of God, we must come to appreciate the point of pointlessness or the joy of unnecessariness. There is some meekness in learning that there is satisfaction sometimes in just doing something for its own sake. As this truth began to dawn on me not too long ago, I began to understand my mother’s response and the wisdom of it when I would ask “Why?” She would look at me, shrug, and then say, “Because.” And that was all there was to it. It was always the end of the conversation. The reason why you go to Mass is not to try and be holy or obedient. It is because you do. It is because of who you are. It is because that is what Catholics do. There does not have to be some great and noble reason. There is meekness in this.

         The meek will inherit the earth. The meek can be trusted with the good of this world. They will not hold too tightly. They will use everything in creation without exploitation or abuse. The meek do not feel the need to rush out and do something. It is better to rejoice in the Lord and be content to rest in his truthfulness and to gaze with wonder upon the world of his making with the eye of faith and the heart of hope. The meek are the source of hope and optimism in the face of helplessness.


March 16, 2021 Day Two St Agnes Parish Lenten Mission

Blessed are Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Luke 19, 41-44 and John 11, 33-35

                  There is an intensity with this Beatitude just as with the others. The Greek word that Matthew chooses means more than sorrow. It means, agony. Πενθουντες speaks of a broken heart, the kind of broken heart that comes from a great loss like the grief felt by a parent over the death of a child. Thinking of it in this way, with this sense, we gain a deeper insight into God himself, a God who grieves, the kind of grief that a father would experience over the death of his first and only son. Think of David and his response to the death of his dearest son. 2 Samuel 12, 15-17 tells us: The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you – O Absalom, my son, my son!” This sorrow is among the most profound of human emotions. There is the feeling that something of us is lost, and aware of it we mourn. Our freedom confronts the tragedy of finite human existence.

                  The first two Beatitudes considered established a kind of emptiness. Letting go of possessions and of “go-getting” activism. Left to themselves, they could just leave a void, but now we are warned against that void. Blessed are those who mourn warns us against a negative kind of detachment and helplessness which could lead us to say: “I have nothing and I can do nothing. So, what the hell! I don’t care.” Those who do not care do not mourn, and so they are outside of Beatitude. Jesus is calling sorrow itself a blessed human condition, and like all of the beatitudes, it is a sample of his life.

                  The world in which we live would do everything to avoid this experience, and it finds grief, sorrow, or mourning to be anything but a Blessing, and so like all the others, this world would deny it and avoid at all costs. A perfect example of this is this world’s attitude of avoidance toward death. Death remains a taboo, one of the few we have left. We talk freely enough about sex but blush at a serious talk about death. There is almost a conspiracy of silence about death. Funeral directors assure us by the careful use of cosmetics that nothing has really happened our loved ones look as good as ever, so if there is no loss, there is no pain. One of the most vicious lies invented by our age is the refusal to acknowledge to a dying person that he or she is dying. We deprive those who are dying of the dignity of death and chance to mourn the passing of their lives. We want them to stay cheerful so we do not have to make any change. Life as usual, business as usual. Brisk efficiency, a sunny smile. We live in a “cheer up” kind of world in which the reality of grief and sorrow is considered morbid and unhealthy; anything but a blessing.

                  The same obsessive fear of and avoidance of death drives our compulsive seeking after pleasure and comfort. Deep in our hearts we know that we must face the greatest of losses in our death, but we try by every means available to ignore the fact. We narcotize ourselves; we do not allow ourselves to feel; we keep moving. The same tranquilization of the heart affects our relationships. We are afraid to truly take the risk to love another person in any depth, because we fear the loss of that love and cannot face the sorrow that loss will bring. It is safer never to let ourselves be deeply touched by love for another. It is safer to control our relationships, keep things on a businesslike basis. It is not surprising then that love can become manipulative, calculating, and cold. True, we never really exposed ourselves, never really allowed ourselves to become involved, and never opened our hearts to the possibility of being hurt.

                  There are two parts to this Beatitude, and the two Gospel fragments bring them to our attention. The scene at Bethany relates to natural human sorrow and grief that is known only to people who love and care for one another. There is here the promise of com-fort. Fortitude is the suggestion of this promise, not denial nor escape. The comfort comes from an awareness that we are not alone in our grief, for God himself has grieved the death of his Son, and his Son grieved the death of his friend. God know sadness, and God knows what to do about it, for in this sadness it is possible to experience the presence of God. For Martha and Mary, the presence of Jesus Christ was itself a Beatitude. While he wept, it was also a moment of faith and hope in the resurrection. God worked in the midst of that grief to accomplish something.

                  At the death of his mother, St Monica, Saint Augustine tells us that at first, he refused to weep. He believed that his hope in the Resurrection would be denied by his tears. Eventually however, he realized that he needed to let his tears flow mourning not her death so much as mourning the sorrow, sadness, and pain his wild sinful life had caused her. The hurt he caused brought him to tears. He wrote: “My tears became like a pillow for my soul.” He became a great pastor and could comfort others because his mourning became a blessing. Augustin speaks to a second kind of mourning, that which comes from the experience of Jesus standing over Jerusalem. He weeps because of sin.

                  This speaks to us about a kind of spiritual mourning over the sins of this world and our own. It brings us to grief over terrorism, abortion, genocide, orphans of war, and children abused by people trusted and respected. I had a spiritual director once who told me that their morning prayer went like this: “Lord, break my heart with the things that break your heart today.” When we look honestly at what our sins have done, and look at a crucifix we ought to be moved to tears of sadness and pushed beyond regret to repentance. If we are called to rend our hearts not our garments by the prophets, the we ought to do so because a broken heart opens a crack into which we can look with honesty. In this kind of sorrow, the depths of our hearts are touched, are carved out leaving a space for God. Without sadness or sorrow, grief or mourning, are lives are shallow, and that creates a very false spiritual life. It means we have lost our greatness; the greatness of what God created us to be. Se we coast along in an insulated cocoon of non-feeling. Something as simple as our eating habits reveals spiritual conditions with great accuracy. We never fast anymore, we only diet. Because we do not know what feasting is we have forgotten how to fast. Because we do not know sorrow, neither do we truly know joy.

                  Leon Bloy once said, “There are places in our hearts which do not yet exist, and it is necessary for suffering to penetrate there in order that they may come into being”. I think this is the key to the blessedness of suffering and sorrow. True sorrow opens our being breaks through the smooth veneer of routine and regularity and exposes our inner selves. The message of the kingdom remains constant. To Peter, who wished to save Jesus from the pain of suffering, Jesus said simply, “Out of my sight, Satan.” To the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus sad and grieving his death he walked along and revealed himself comforting and bringing them to joy. “Only those who sow in tears and sorrow can really reap with joy.” Says Psalm 126.Only the heart which enters with Jesus into the agony of death and sorrow can rise with him in glory.

         The Arabs have a saying: “All sunshine makes a desert.” The land on which the sun always shines will soon become an arid place in which no fruit will grow. There are certain things which only the rains will produce; and certain experiences which only sorrow can realize. Sorrow can do two things. It can show us, as nothing else, the essential kindness of our fellow-man; and it can show us as nothing else can the comfort and the compassion of God. We see it all the time with the tragedies the media puts before us. The outpouring of good will, charity, and concern is always amazing, and so often we hear the victims of storms and tragedies give witness to the ways in which they have found the power of God’s presence

         When we considered the first two Beatitudes, we saw that it is always right to be detached from things, but it is never right to be detached from people. Our faith begins with a sense of sin. Blessed is the man who is intensely sorry for his sin, the man who is heart-broken for what his sin has done to God and to Jesus Christ. The man who sees the Cross can only be appalled by the havoc wrought by sin. It is why the cross is so important for us, not just as sign of victory for Christ, but as a sign of sorrow for us. We look at a cross and are bound to say: “That is what sin can do. Sin can take the loveliest life in the all the world and crush it onto a cross. When the reality of that sinks in we are moved to penitence with a broken and contrite heart which Psalm 51 insists God will never despise. The way to the joy of forgiveness is through the sorry of a broken heart.

Psalm 51

Blessed Are The Merciful

Blessed are the Merciful for they shall have mercy

Exodus 34, 1-9

         Fifty years ago, when I was a transitional deacon and assigned for the summer months at Blessed Sacrament Church in Lawton, I learned a lot from Father Wade Darnall. He was one of the “giants” in Oklahoma Church History. He was what we call “a late vocation,” meaning that he finished a career as in infantry man before he went to the seminary. He was as tough as any drill sergeant to some, and biggest push-over in the world to others. To me he was a unique, noble, and prophetic man who left a great hole in our lives when he went from this life into Beatitude.

         Every day at noon there would be line of men and women at the Rectory door on 7th Street, but charity was not confined to that hour. It was simply more predictable. There was always some cash in a metal box, and the rule was, if someone needed some help, food or cash it was to be provided. It was expected that whoever opened the door would give a polite and respectful ear to the story presented. Then without judgement something was to be provided. I will admit that after a few weeks I caught myself rewarding good stories with more generosity. If it was creative and colorful, I produced more. After being ordained priest, I went back to Blessed Sacrament to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving, and I spent the night. The next morning I was headed to St Joseph Old Cathedral moving into my first assignment. During breakfast, the bell rang, and a regular I recognized from the summer months was there. He was so regular that Wade had nick-named him, “Crooked Nose.” He was an old Apache who rang the bell about once a week always with a new story thinking we did not recognize him. I handed him a sandwich, a coke, and a $10.00 bill. I got in my car and drove directly to the Old Cathedral, and within an hour of arrival while moving a few belongings into the rectory, the bell rang, and it was Crooked Nose. He looked at me, and I looked at him. He shook his head and started to back away. I said, “You made good time.” He said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m everywhere, just like you.” At that point Msgr. Harkin arrived, greeted the man with the same name and handed him a sack of food. I learned from them both how reckless charity and its motive, mercy, must be.

         In Luke 6, 30 it says: “Give to everyone who asks.” It does not say we should find out what they are going to do with it. It does not say that we should make sure that they are not alcoholics, nor does it give us any way of protecting ourselves against being exploited by people who are perfectly capable of supporting themselves. All of the normal prudential limitations we set upon our generosity are conspicuous by their absence from the Lord’s teaching. We like to think that we are being responsible in not giving to everyone who asks. But maybe it is even arrogant and even ungodly to want to be responsible in this kind of way.

         When our Lord tells us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful, he prefaces this command with the declaration that God gives to good and bad alike with no distinctions. He is, if you like, irresponsible in his giving. But then, who does God have to be respond to? He does not wait to see whether we are going to make good use of his gifts before he gives them. His grace is not given strictly in accordance with how he for sees we shall profit by it. He rains upon the just and the unjust in equal measure, regardless of whether or not the unjust has an umbrella.

         My own personal definition of mercy comes from my experiences with Father Wade and Msgr. Harkin. Mercy is at work when we do not really get what we truly deserve. In other words, if God was not merciful, we would receive the full measure of his wrath. Mercy in a sense is just the opposite of grace as mercy is that which we don’t get but we do deserve, and grace is that which we do get but don’t deserve.

         It is in this spirit that God forgives. Forgiveness is only a special instance of the way in which God manages all his giving. He does not say, “Well, all right. You’re a good man underneath it all. I’ll give you one more chance.”        When St Peter wanted to make sure he had the arithmetic of forgiveness right, he was answered only with a sum he probably did not know how to do. Forgiveness is an example of reckless mercy. It squanders itself upon rogues who have no intention of improving themselves. All it asks for is that it be received. The only unforgivable sin is the sin against forgiveness, the sin which directly and immediately refuses forgiveness.

         Now it is in this spirit that forgiveness must be received too. We must not pretend that we are forgivable and that is why we are forgiven. We are no more forgivable than anyone else. If we think we can privilege our claim to forgiveness, it is not forgiveness we are looking for but some other kind of recognition. If it is forgiveness we are after, then it must be unconditional and unlimited forgiveness. And we can accept that only if we are prepared to accept the company that forgiveness places us in. It is no good wanting to be forgiven and then reserving the right to look around disapprovingly on all the others. We belong in their company.

         This is why forgiving is so inseparable from being forgiven. It is why reckless almsgiving is an apt expression of the spirit of forgiveness. It is a way of acting out a new way of seeing the world that is quite different from our normal, calculating approach. There may be many benefits we can convey to our fellow human beings in more calculating ways; but if they exhaust our repertoire it may be that the most important act of all is missing: mercy.

         Without it we have to admit that we fall short of being merciful and share in all that is wrong with the world. We must not disguise this failure as responsible giving. We may sometimes not give because we cannot be bothered, or we are afraid of the consequences, or because the particular beggar stinks, or because they speak rudely to us, or because they behave like a con man, or because they have annoyed us in the past. There are a thousand reasons why we will sometimes not give, but they are bad reasons. And so long as we know that they are bad reasons, they will probably not do much damage. They will be simply part of the brokenness which we entrust, in hope, to the hands of God. But when bad reasons become good reasons, then we are moving out of the sphere of mercy, and shifting back into the world of our own making and planning. In that world, there is nothing to save our souls.

         To be consistent with my earlier remarks, I investigated the Greek word again ελεημον which we all recognize from the liturgy: ελεημον. I discovered that this word was the best earlier translators from the Aramaic and Hebrew could do since the Hebrew word is untranslatable! It does not simply mean being sympathetic nor does it mean being sorry for someone in trouble. The Hebrew word translated as ελεημον means to get into someone’s skin until we see things with their eyes, think what they think, and feel what they feel. This is a lot more then, than emotional wave of pity. It is a kind of sympathy not given from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person until we see what they see and as they feel. There is something profoundly incarnational about this experience. In Jesus Christ, in the most literal sense, God got inside the skin of human kind. He came as a man. He came seeing things with men’s eyes, feeling things with men’s feelings, thinking things with men’s minds. God knows what life is like, because God came right inside life, and that is the motive for, the wonder of, and truth about Mercy.

         The quality of God’s mercy is the point of that parable of the prodigal. The hero of the story, as we know, is not the son but the father. Jesus tells this story to teach us about the possibility of repentance, yes, but even more to tell us that we can always repent because there is a merciful father who runs before us with mercy, a ring and a robe every day. He is no scorekeeper; he is in the game and risks his love with us constantly.

                  It is a strange thing about us, the way we all long so much for love, understanding, trust, and acceptance, yet so systematically reject all of them by our fear of being hurt. This is the great sign of sin, a lasting scar of evil. We long for others to trust us, yet cannot show them trust; we ache for understanding, yet are pleased to view others from prejudice; we crave tenderness, yet deal in cold currency. And we see all around us how a lack of knowledge, closure, and distance generate destruction and alienation; how fear gives birth to fear. It is so hard to break out of this cycle. It is so hard to realize not just in thought but in fact, that where there is no love we must put love in order that we might draw love out. It come as a wonderful and somewhat overwhelming shock when we finally do risk our hearts in trust and discover we are trusted in return, when we show mercy and receive mercy back.

         Of ourselves, our fear is so great we cannot do it. But our God has not only shown us what mercy is, he has given it to us in the gift of his Spirit. We who deserved nothing have been given all things by gift. The more we realize this, the more we will be able to entrust ourselves to each other in the gift of mercy, the more we will be able to take with each the risk God has first taken with each of us.


Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will have their fill.

John 4, 4-15

            If you can tolerate a brief Greek grammar lesson, there is something going on here that is very revealing with a clear understanding of the way Matthew uses the language. It is a rule of Greek grammar that verbs of hungering and thirsting are followed by the genitive case which in English is expressed by the word of. For instance, of the man is that genitive case. The genitive which follows verbs of hungering and thirsting in Greek is called the partitive genitive. Hear the word “part” in this instance. The idea is this. The Greek would say: I hunger for of bread.” It was some bread he desired, a part of the break, not the whole loaf. A Greek would say, I thirst for of water.” It was some water desired, a drink of water, not the whole tank. Now, in this Beatitude the genitive case is not used by Matthew. He uses the accusative case. This changes the meaning very dramatically. Instead of hungering and thirsting for some, the hunger and thirst is for it all! Everything. The whole thing! To say I hunger in the accusative case which Matthew uses here it means, I want the whole loaf, or the whole pitcher. Now keep that in mind as we explore a bit more of this Beatitude.

 There is a sense in which the Beatitudes are our way of participating in divine life. That experience we used to call “the Beatific Vision” is what participating in Beatitude is all about. Being poor, meek, mourning, and being merciful is for us a participation in divine life because, as I’ve said, God is poor, meek, mournful, and merciful. God is also hungry and thirsty, so our willingness and readiness to enter into this hunger and thirst makes us “beatified” so to speak. It brings us very close to God. It draws us into the mystery of God.

         When Christ says to the woman, “I thirst”. He is speaking to us today. There is in God since there is in Christ a very real and very powerful thirst and hunger for us. As the verses unfold, a reversal takes place and the one with the bucket becomes the thirsty, and the one without quenches the thirst by his presence and his Word.

         The experience of hunger and thirst is an absolute reminder that we are not independent and self-sufficient. WE are dependent in kinds of ways on all kinds of things. We are dependent on a God whose very God-nature is love, a love that seeks and has created something/someone to love.

         This Beatitude does not promise the hungry that they will be given bare sufficiency, but that they “will have their fill”, stuffed full. If filled, we then have everything we need is the clear implication here. St Thomas teaches that no authentic desire is created in vain. Beatitude itself means having everything you want. What this Beatitude proposes is that the Blessed want Righteousness.

         It is Paul who tells us what righteousness is when he writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1, 30) Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, and not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the week of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing to reduce to nothing those who are something so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

         What those in Beatitude hunger for then is not some Thing, but some One. This hunger leads us into communion; heaven’s bread for our deepest hunger. When we come seeking water, when we come to the altar seeking food, Christ comes because he seeks us and knows our hunger. First, he asks for a drink revealing the longing God has for us. Prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst for us so that we might thirst for him.

         One of the things I learned from and about the poor who would come begging to Wade and Monsignor at those parish doors was that the truly hungry will lose all their pride to get something to eat. There is no pride in those who are really hungry. They will dig everywhere and search through every bit of trash to find something to eat. Hunger casts out pride, and once stripped of it, the hungry will be filled. The promise of that is prefigured in the stories of Jesus feeding the hungry who have come to feast first on his Word. The story starts with two fish and five loaves. It ends with twelve baskets full after they have all had their fill. There is always enough in the presence of Christ. But even then, it is not enough. Did you ever notice on big holidays after a huge meal like on Thanksgiving or Christmas that after a few hours we’re up with the refrigerator door open again looking around for more?  We often want more when we have been satisfied, but what we really want and seek is that communion that feeds us as much as the food itself. The glutton eats alone and knows no joy in eating. For them, food is an end itself. For people in communion, there is always joy because food is a means to further communion. The glutton lives to eat. The Blessed eat to live.

         Too often in life we are content with bits and pieces of things. Deep in this Beatitude there lies a challenge for us who are sometimes satisfied too easily. What we hunger for is not a snack, it is the banquet. What we need is not just the first course, but the whole thing. We cannot be content with a part of goodness or righteousness even though we might have achieved some measure of goodness in our lives. The Beatitude says that we should not be satisfied with partial goodness, but that we must be desperate for, desperate like a starving man or someone actually dying of thirst, desperate for total and complete goodness. It does not suggest that we have to have achieved that level of perfection, but that we want it as much as a man dying in the desert that drink of water that will save.


March 17, 2021 Day Three St Agnes Parish Lenten Mission

Blessed are the Pure of Heart

Blessed are the Pure of Heart for they shall see God

Ezekiel 36, 23-27 & Luke 10, 38-42

         We are told that Saint Catherine was at one time very devoted to the verse from Psalm 51, “create in me a clean heart”; and one day she had a strange experience in which it seemed that the Lord came to her and removed her physical heart. Later he inserted a new heart into her, his own heart saying, “I am giving you my heart so that you can go on living with it forever.” Now whatever else we may want to make of a story like this, it is at least a dramatic representation of the teaching of St Paul. “I live now not I but Christ lives in me.” (Galatian 2, 20). Our deepest identity is Christ.

         The age and culture in which we live is very conscious of identity and sometimes the lack of it. An “identity crises” is not uncommon. Personally, I think this is what gives rise to great deal of patriotism and a new kind of nationalism across the globe. Language is big part of this. I suspect this is why there is so much sad political turmoil between the English speaking and Spanish speaking peoples among us. I saw this several years ago when I was Rector of the Cathedral in Oklahoma City as a generation of Vietnamese struggled over their identity and desperately wanted Mass in Vietnamese. More recently the establishment of new Lebanese Maronite Rite Parish, a Syro-Malabar Coptic Parish, and a Korean Parish in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, right in the middle of the Bible Bely is amazing, and it is a clear indication that identity wrapped in cultural customs, language, and rituals of faith is very important these days. 

         Our identity however you choose to look at it has one source, our Creator. Made in God’s image. There is only source of life, and as much as we share that life, the source of it is within us. The more there is life for us, the more of God there is, and the more fully human we become in this life, the more we become divine. To me in this way of thinking, the most fully human and the most perfect human was and is, Jesus Christ. Consequently, the more human we become, the more divine we become. God is the heart of our heart. To think and believe in this way puts us deep into the mystery of God. To have a pure heart then is to have a heart that is known to be rooted in the mystery of God. The mystery of God and the mystery of the soul belong together. There is a little story of how an early Christian responded to the demand of a powerful pagan: “Show me your God”? He said, “Show me your man and I will show you my God.”

         To have a pure heart is to have a heart that is not just created by God and then abandoned to us for us to make the most of it; it is to have a heart which is constantly being created and sustained by the newness of the life of God. If our life is rooted in God, so that the source of life in us is God, we shall see as God sees. And what God sees is God. This is why those who are pure of heart will see God. God does not have two different kinds of vision, one for seeing himself and another for seeing his creatures. It is within his eternal and blissful contemplation of himself that he sees all that he has made. That is why he sees that it is very good.

         If we have a pure heart, a source of life welling up from the eternity of God, then what we shall see is God. “Everything is pure to the pure.” (Titus 1, 15) Those who have a pure heart cannot see evil, just as it is said of God that he is too pure to be able to see evil. To have a pure heart means that wherever you look, whatever you are looking at, what you see is God. God, revealing himself in myriads of different ways, but always God. This does not mean that when you look at butterflies, you have a “Hallmark” moment and hear violins playing inside your head and sing out, “How beatific!” It means that you are going to have to look at a man on a cross, broken, his wounds streaming with blood, and know that you are looking at God. To have a pure heart is to be capable of that. Origen, and early Church Theologian thought that it is in learning how to see things properly that we fist begin to be enchanted by the beauty of God. We are led by the beauty of things we can see to an awareness of what cannot be seen.

         The Greek word Katharos that Matthew chooses for this Beatitude can mean clean in sense of clean laundry or clean hands, but just as often it is used to describe something that is pure or unmixed as we might describe a wine that is not a blend. When used to describe a person, it describes the simplicity of a single motive. There are no mixed motives. For instance, a charitable donation is made because of the great need without a single thought that it might also be a tax deduction or make us feel good that we did something for someone. If we do some fine work of kindness, it means we have care at all about whether anyone noticed or whether anyone says, “thank you.”    Purity of heart clarifies things, so that we can be humble in our view of others seeing them as good. It also clarifies things so that we can see even sin in the context of a whole vision of God and of God’s providence and his creation. An opportunity for compassion then is what we see from a pure heart. It makes us sensitive to the good that is truly present even in what is evil. Ancient Fathers of the Church (Pseudo-Dionysius) thought it inconceivable that anything or anybody should be totally devoid of good. Even a person who opts for the worst possible kind of life is at least desiring life and the life that seems best to him so far as it goes is good. To have a pure heart is to enter into the very drama of God’s creating. It is to have a heart like the heart of Christ, taking into itself all the anger and hatred of men and consuming them in and into a fire of infinite love. Purity of heart is in fact one of the ways in which God actually makes himself present in our world. To have a pure heart is to become a person renewed, a person restored to our original calling and purpose. And that person, in the image and likeness of God, shares in the creativity of his creator.

         Finally, Jesus himself speaks to this concern with Luke’s story of Martha and Mary with which we began just now. Martha’s complaint receives the comment, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and trouble about many things. Only one thing is needed.” Martha’s anxiety is the issue. An anxious heart is a divided heart. The divine guest urges her not to stop cooking, but to stop being anxious. It is an interesting challenge to those of us who sometimes think we are being efficient and productive by “double tasking.” The message is, all of what we do must be for one purpose. All of what we do must somehow be focused on God. This calls for a practiced kind of attentiveness. When our heart is focused on the One, Jesus, we will be able to see God.

Psalm 51

Blessed are the Peace Makers

Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Romans 14, 17-19

There is an intimate connection between this beatitude and the previous one, because purity of heart and peace belong inseparably together. True peace in ourselves is a product of purity of heart, and without true peace in ourselves we stand little chance of being peacemakers for anyone else. There is a little story about this in the tales of the Desert Fathers: There were three friends who were eager workers, and one of them chose to devote himself to making peace between people who were fighting in accordance with ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’. The second chose to visit the sick. The third went off to live in tranquility in the desert. The first toiled away at the quarrels of men, but could not resolve them all, and so, in discouragement went to the one who was looking after the sick, and he found him tiring as well and not fulfilling the commandment. So, the two of them agreed to go and visit the one who was living in the desert. They told him their difficulties and asked him to tell them what he been able to do. He was silent for a time, then he poured water into a bowl and said to them. Look at the water.” It was all turbulent. A little later he told them to look at it again, and see how the water had settled down. When they looked at it, they saw their own faces as in a mirror. Then he said to them, In the same way a man who is living in the midst of men does not see his own sins because of all the disturbance, but if he becomes tranquil, especially in the desert, then he can see his own shortcomings.”

         The word SHALOHM describes wholeness. Used as a verb it described the mending of a net. It has to do with putting back together whatever is broken. As Jesus used the word it was a greeting that announced that he was there present in their midst, and that the relationship he had with the apostles was not broken by death. The way to peace is the acceptance of the truth, the truth about our brokenness, truth about our lives broken by emotions and passions that are not in union with our goodness or in union with our very beatitude.

         Peace is not something that we can produce for ourselves. It is something given and proclaimed by God in Christ. This peace that we seek is a wholeness that does not exist simply in ourselves, it is in Christ; but because it is in him, and we are in him, our acceptance of ourselves as we are, with all the upsets and tensions becomes less of source of anxiety.

         As I said on Tuesday of this week quoting Meister Eckhart: the spiritual man does not seek peace because he is not hampered by the lack of peace. If we are in Christ, we can be in peace even when we feel no peace. The beginning of peace must be the acceptance of lack of peace just as the beginning of relaxation must be the acceptance of tension. This peace is something that enfolds us rather than something which we grasp. It is a peace that Paul in Philippians says “surpasses all mind”, all comprehension.”This peace is something declared not something we work at or work for. It is not negotiable. It is God’s the complete tranquility of God’s presence.

         With that understood, the peacemaker is then not someone who comes to patch things up, arrange a settlement with balanced concessions all around, or try to find a compromise. The peacemaker declares the truth of God announcing that a fallen world can be remade. So, there is no room for give and take, no room for concessions and compromise. There is only room justice which knows nothing of compromise. I am old enough to remember the day when Pope Paul VI stood at the General Assembly of the United Nations and shouted emphatically: “If you want peace, work for justice.” That work is the labor that tills the soil and prepares our hearts for the seed, the gift, the promise of peace. It will bring about a unity among us that reflects the unity of God. The unity of God is the focus for everything that is real. Understanding this is why I find this rise of “nationalism” so curious and in some ways so uneasy. It is taking us in the wrong direction. Instead of finding our common unity in God, we are continuing to fragment and individualize our identity. If left unchecked, we will hardly be able to recognize that we have a common “father” and therefore hardly be children of God. This peace that springs from the truth of our unity is not achieved by paring down or ignoring the complications of life, but by entering into the magnetic pull of God’s unity. 

         Within the heart of every person, and in the memory of every society there exists a profound nostalgia for paradise. The creation and origin myths of every people describe our beginnings as a time when God and humanity dwelled together as one. Our own primordial tale in Genesis speaks to us of the peace of Eden and it describes the relationship that existed between the creator and the creature. In those days, God spoke to his creature face to face, and there was no fear. The Bible tells us that God strode the garden in one evening to converse with his beloved creatures. From this oneness man experienced peace within himself and with woman. From that moment, in the primal paradise, the longings of the human heart were properly ordered, and there was peace. The significance of that order remains for us: The basis of human peace is peace with God.

         In the mythology of nearly every people there is also an account of how the human creature fell from this state of peace. It does not matter whether this took place at one moment in history, because for us all it takes place at every moment. There is something flawed in our hearts. There is a tragic misdirection of freedom which we inherit, reaffirm, and pass on. The Genesis story speaks to this condition. First is the break with God. At the sound of his coming there is fear, hiding, and deception, evasion, and shame. But the even more saddening effects of this are seen most clearly in the way the man and woman turn on each other with anger or blame. He blames the woman. She blames the serpent. Here at the beginning it is the same as the end, division between human beings. The story goes on with anguish and progressive alienation. There is murder with Cane and Able. There is treachery of Noah’s son who exposed his father’s nakedness. Then there is the story of the tower. It is all about man seizing by force what has been offered as a gift.

         Then there is a shift from universal to particular with Abraham. It is a new beginning in the story of our people, and the start of God’s plan to restore peace between himself and his human creature. It unfolds slowly, but as we proclaim in one of the Eucharistic Prayers: Again and again you offered a covenant to human beings, and through the prophets taught them the hope for salvation.” The purpose of covenant was to bring about a state of shalom between the parties. It was God’s choice, and God’s right to establish the covenant and terms. As the people failed to keep the terms of the covenant, they failed to be at peace with one another. Oppression and the perversion of Justice was the consequence. The prophets of Israel not only called the people back to covenant, they looked forward to the coming of one in whom the promise might be realized. Psalm 72 tells of this hope.

         Jesus came. The very first announcement of his coming was a proclamation of Peace: “Peace on earth and good will to men” say the angels. In his life among us, he reached through and across every barrier by the simple gestures of acceptance and speaking the truth. He showed us what divine peacemaking was all about. It was his “atonement” with the Father that enabled him to bring that unity to humans for one purpose: That they may be one as we are one.” The great mystery of his peacemaking is that it was accomplished by an act of violence. In this foolishness was the wisdom of God’s way revealed; in this weakness was his power to save. In this violence by which his body was torn apart, the man of peace handed over his spirit. Before his death he told his followers, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” And when he appeared to them alive after his death, he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. We are to continue that peacemaking of Jesus by manifesting effectively the same attitudes of forgiveness and mercy, of acceptance and reconciliation that he showed toward us. In this we shall be called children of God.

         To do this, we must be at peace with ourselves. The peace Jesus leaves with us has little to do with feeling good inside, much less with assurance of a calm, unruffled life or a successful career. The peace given by a crucified Messiah would not manifest itself in trivialities. The peace of Jesus has to do with fidelity toward the Father, with the awareness that we are loved and accepted by God. Once grounded in this, we are able to reach out to others in peace. Because we need not find our center in pleasure, possessions, or power, we have no conflict with others over the world and the things of this world. Not needing to possess or use others as assurance of our own worth, we are able to freely see them for what they are, God’s children and place ourselves at their service.

         Without this basis in God, all the world’s attempts at peace-making re futile. They all eventually break down because of the conflicting idolatries of humans. Without peace with God, there can be no peace among us. What is different now is that peace has been given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Psalm 72

Blessed are the Persecuted

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven

John 15, 18-20

Asked about the growing secularization of the world and increasing violence against people of faith, Cardinal George once said: “I expect to die in bed. My successor will die in prison. His will die a martyr in the public square. The next one will pick up the shard of ruined society and slowly help to rebuild civilization as the church has so often in history. As this culture falls away or destroys itself from within, the Church will always remain to rebuild the civilization of love.”

         Dealing realistically with persecution is a delicate business. It is so easy to become paranoid or masochistic or to develop a messianic complex “Everybody hates me; therefore I must be right.” These delusional systems have been a part of our story too. But authentic Christian witness does not seek out persecution or seek to justify itself by the opposition it receives. On the other hand, authentic Christian witness seldom has to seek our persecution. There is something about the truth being lived boldly which draws it out. People are just not prepared to come to terms with the truth of what they are – either the truth of their total dependence on God or the truth of their actual, sinful and painful condition. They are likely to be offended by a message which will have no truck with their defensive “face”. They are likely to react with hostility. 

         A world defining itself by darkness does not want the light. A world built on a system of lies will have little patience with the word of truth. Based on what we have seen in Jesus, we can estimate that the more authentically and powerfully the Gospel is preached, the more it will stimulate rejection. This, should make us consider our own degree of acceptance by the world. We ought to wonder sometimes why we are liked in this world. Is it because we are indistinguishable from this world? I get really uncomfortable when I hear people say: “Father is just like the rest of us.”  Isn’t there something in my life which might make people question the way they are living? Or have I just made people comfortable because the Gospel we have grown comfortable with offers them no threat?

         This suffering insists the Beatitude must be for the sake of righteousness. It is for the sake of doing the right thing: not the safe thing, the easy thing, the popular thing, or the convenient thing. Today we can count the persecuted because they defend the unborn, the stranger, the immigrant, and the poor because it is the right thing. Not all of us are called to be social activists; not all of us are meant to take prophetic stances; not all of us can march and picket and lobby and debate. But all of us are called to do the right thing and live lives which express truly if implicitly a judgment on the standards of the world apart from God. One of the surest signs of how far we have come from the standard of right is the way people respond who get caught doing the wrong thing. They are always more upset over getting caught than over the fact that they were doing wrong. Instead of wondering if they should have done something in the first place, they wonder how they made the mistake of getting caught. 

         We suffer persecution not to fulfill some need to be punished, or out of self-righteousness, but “for holiness” sake, that is, for God’s sake. We are able to suffer creatively only because God suffers with us in the wounds of Jesus, which remain even in his risen life the testimony of God’s participation in the anguish of his world. And because we suffer persecution for holiness’ sake, our suffering is for the sake of those who persecute us. It is as servants that we suffer, handing over our lives for the sake of their lives. Suffering persecution in this way is an act of peace-making in the world; an ultimate act.

         The first Beatitude and the Last offer the same thing: The Kingdom of Heaven. The first Beatitude and the Last offer the same thing in the present tense while the other Beatitudes speak of things to come. The persecution is happening now because the Kingdom is not something for the future. The Kingdom has come, and the Kingdom of this world stands in opposition. The Kingdom of truth meets the Kingdom of lies. The Kingdom of freedom meets the Kingdom of slavery and bondage. The Kingdom of Life meets the Kingdom of Death. The truly blessed, those who bear witness in glory to the one who is Blessed and whose life is Beatitude, do so for the sake of righteousness. They do so for the sake of the one who is poor, merciful, meek, hungry, mourning, pure, and making peace. He is Beatitude. In as much as we conform ourselves to him, then we shall expect to be persecuted, but we shall do so with joy which is that inner delight that never changes no matter what the circumstances.

         It is surely no accident that the people who do get martyred are often precisely the people who have shown the most love. We are sometimes bewildered when we hear, for instance, of devoted missionaries being killed by those whom they have served for years with unfailing generosity. “Why them? We ask in perplexity and distress. Could it not be that it was precisely their devoted service which draws martyrdom towards them? Because they have been seen to love, they give confidence to those who are unsure of love; but this confidence eventually becomes a need to probe further. Their final sacrifice is very much a sacrifice of love, and who can say what its fruit may be?

         Christ did not come to make life easy, but to make us great. From the times of the Roman Empire to this day, the only crime of a Christian is that they put Christ before all others. Suffering persecution makes things easier for those who follow. We ought not forget that truth. We enjoy the blessing of liberty and freedom which we possess because men in the past were willing to buy them for us at the cost of blood. They made it easier for us, and by our own steadfast witness for Christ we may make it easier for others who are still to come. It has always seemed to me that those who suffer for Christ are the closest to Christ, for they suffer with Christ, and Christ suffers with them. There is always one question: “Why”? “Why does the church suffer at all?” The answer is that suffering is inevitable because the church is the conscience of the world. Where there is something great, the Church must praise. Where there is something wrong, the Church must condemn, and inevitably there will be an effort to silence the troublesome voice of conscience. 

For most of us, being persecuted for the sake of Christ is not going to mean anything very public of glorious; it is going to mean an endless and boring array of petty harassments. And the “they” who persecute us will, in all probability not be obvious enemies, but our friends and neighbors. This is the persecution that is real and the persecution that is ours, and because it is so subtle, so petty, and so little, it may not seem to measure up to what people like Archbishop Romero, the Sisters in El Salvador, or Stan Rother have experienced, but it will be in the measure of our capacity for bearing that persecution and facing it with Joy because of the company we keep in that experience. 

Psalm 59


For three days now, we have opened ourselves to the light and to the wisdom of the Gospel of Matthew. The first beatitude promised the kingdom to those who were poor in sprit. The last promises the kingdom to those who are persecuted. And so, at the end, we learn again how the Kingdom of God is rooted in the mystery of the One who proclaimed it, proclaims it still, the Lord Jesus himself. He, the poor and persecuted, the suffering servant, was alone among human kind meek and pure of heart. He above all others hungered and thirsted for his Father’s holiness. He alone touched the depths of both the human and divine sorrow, and alone showed perfect mercy. It is only because we share his spirit that we can hear his words, accept them, and being slowly and painfully transformed manifest them in our lives. It is always through him that we utter Amen to the glory of God the Father.

         Having reached the end of the Beatitudes, we ask ourselves if there is any place on this earth for the community they describe. There is only one place and that is where the poorest and meekest of true humans is found, on the cross of Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified. With him his followers have lost all and with him they have found all and from the cross there comes the call: Blessed. Blessed. It is there we see the ultimate expression of Beatitude. It is there we see the poor the meek the merciful the peace possessing and the persecuted once there we see the ultimate blessing/beatitude. His Son giving everything for us in an ultimate act love. Die to self-Make our lives a Beatitude a full and free gift of ourselves to be the blessing of God to the world.

         Perhaps the best way to conclude this week together is to recognize that we have all gotten into the boat and set sail for the other side. Along the way, the storms come up and we get frightened and discouraged and are not too sure that we are going to make it to the other side. It is easy to forget who is in the boat with us. As the story is told, he sleeps some of the time. As the story is told, when they wake him up, he does not rebuke them at all, but turns and rebukes the wind and the waves. My best guess is that he turned and looked at them with a smile, rolled his eyes and shrugged shaking his head and went back to sleep. The real heart of this story and the thing to remember is that every now and then, we need to remember who is with us and wake him up. Wouldn’t it be foolish to sink the boat because we never woke him up? 

March 14, 2021 9:00am at Saint Agnes Church in Naples, FL

1 Samuel 16, 1, 6-7, 100-13 + Psalm 23+ Ephesians 5, 8-14+ John 9, 1-41

In a striking and confrontational contradiction to popular thinking, Jesus challenges the idea of the time that God punishes sinners by inflicting terrible things upon them, like leprosy or blindness. Sadly, that terrible idea has not vanished entirely from the thinking of some. A lot of people like to think that way about the tragedies that strike out of nowhere when they look at others, or sometimes in self-pity wonder “what have I done wrong” or “why is God doing this to me.” That kind of thinking continues in spite of everything Jesus had to say and done. He never says it more clearly than in the incident we have just proclaimed. That man was not blind because he did something wrong, was bad, or because of his parents. That blindness, as with many tragic events, was an opportunity for God to be revealed in glory and in mercy. I’ve seen it time and time again. When I was teaching in a Catholic High School, one of our seniors was thrown from his car in a tragic accident that left him a quadriplegic.  That young man’s courage and faith through it all transformed the most cynical and shallow classmates into awe-struck believers at how God could inspire and lift up someone whose whole future was changed in split second. Instead of raising money for their prom that year, and raised money to add a handicapped accessible wing on to his parent’s home. I stood in the midst of the smoldering wreckage of Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. In the middle of that chaos, a man with furry in his eyes ran up to me, got right in my face and said: “Hey Preacher, where is God now?” I said, can’t you see him crawling around in that rubble looking for his children?” That man stormed away, but I could see God, a God of mercy and compassion mourning the death of his people.

All those Pharisees and “leaders of the people” could see was a threat to their power, their prestige, and authority. They could not see the truth. They could not see what that blind man was gradually able to see. From a “man called, Jesus” to a “Prophet” to his “Lord”, that man began to see, and what had been his affliction became the means by which the visible works of God could bring someone thought to be a sinner or the son of sinners to believe. They threw him out of the synagogue. Jesus welcomed into the Kingdom where the Blessed are to be found.

Three nights this week, I am going propose to you how God’s works can be visible as I explore Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Some might think that the poor, the mourning, the persecuted, the hungry and thirsty are to be pitied. I want to suggest something else to you. What I believe Matthew proclaims is that the poor, sad, persecuted and hungry are really a revelation of what God is, Blessed. After all, isn’t that what we proclaim when plate of bread and cup of wine are lifted and we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God…” What we have in the Beatitudes is a description of God. What I hope you might discover three nights this week is that the Kingdom of God is rooted in the mystery of the one who proclaimed it and proclaims it still, the Lord Jesus Christ. He, a poor and persecuted, suffering servant, was meek and pure of heart. He hungered and thirsted for his Father’s holiness He touched the depths of human and divine sorrow, and alone showed perfect mercy. 

My friends, it is only because we share his spirit that we can hear his words, accept them, and like the blind man today, gradually and painfully be ourselves transformed into the Blessed. There is only one place where the poorest and meekest of true humans is found, on the cross of Golgotha. The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the crucified. With him his followers lose all and with him they find all. It is there, at the cross that we see the ultimate expression of Beatitude. It is there we see the poor the meek the merciful the peace maker and the persecuted. It is there that we see the ultimate beatitude. His Son, giving everything for us, is an ultimate act love. Dying to self makes our lives a Beatitude a full and free gift of ourselves to be the blessing of God to the world.

Opening of the Lenten Parish Mission

March 13 & 14, 2021 at Saint Agnes Church in Naples, FL

2 Chronicles 36, 14-17, 19-23 + Psalm 137+ Ephesians 2, 4-10 + John 3, 14-21

A favorite and frequently recurring theme in John’s Gospel is the struggle between light and darkness. You may remember that Nicodemus first came to Jesus in the night, and as his faith grew stronger, he emerges from the darkness coming to Jesus again in the day for more and more instruction. He is drawn to the light. His experience and the struggle between light and darkness reveals the drama in every Christian’s life. We are all faced with an inescapable choice. We are constantly confronted with choices we cannot evade. We must choose and keep on choosing. Of course, the ultimate choice is to believe. Nicodemus made that choice, and we have too, or we probably would not be in this church. We also know that it is not a choice made once and for all, because time and time again we are tested by tragedies and plagued by doubts.

One of the most often quoted passages from the New Testament leaps out of our readings today. I can’t imagine anyone who has not been to baseball or football game and not seen it. It sometimes shows up on our TV screens when the cameras pan the crowd. Someone will be holding a homemade sign that simply says: John 3: 16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” While I admire that enthusiastic evangelism, I also suspect that there is a serious misunderstanding about what exactly that “eternal life” means in John’s Gospel. In the language of John’s Gospel that Greek word: Zoe Aionios is not simply unending or posthumous life. This “ion-life” of John is “new life”, life with God that one enters with Christian Baptism. In other words, you don’t have to stop breathing to enter into Zoe Aionios.

I just gave you a preview of what you might experience and learn during the upcoming Parish Mission. I am going to talk about what this new life with God looks like, and what it is we actually become when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. We become Blessed. So, I am going to unfold the Beatitudes with you by paying close attention to the Greek words that Matthew uses in the Sermon on the Mount. Contrary to what many might want to think, his Beatitudes are not glowing prophecies or pious hopes of what shall be. They are exclamations of what is. It is not for some future world postponed either. Beatitude is the state in which a Baptized person has already entered. They proclaim the conditions in which people of the Covenant live. They are not about someone else or about some other time. They are about us. If you want to find out how to be holy? Internalize the Beatitudes. When you recognize someone who is holy, you have recognized the Beatitudes being live. So, that is exactly what I want to explore with you three nights this week: the Beatitudes that can lead us to a holy life just as they led Nicodemus to the light that was Jesus Christ.

The Beatitudes draw a strange and challenging picture of one who is blessed: they are poor and unimpressive, hungry and in mourning, trodden on yet able to make peace. Again, the Beatitudes are about me, now someone else. “Blessed are you” is the way it goes. It does not say “Blessed are those poor.” Nicodemus, a rich young man, and many others come to Jesus wondering what it is they must do to be saved. That question is asked by this world that always thinks you have must earn everything or deserve something because you did something. This is the kind of thinking that Jesus came to confront and challenge. With the God that Jesus reveals, it’s all about grace which is a gift not earned, but freely given. If it’s earned, it is a reward. That’s not grace. We must learn to live in the beauty of this grace and assume the attitude of someone who lives in the state of grace. When we feel ourselves poor, humiliated, desperate and all the rest of it, we will qualify for the label “blessed.” If you want to count yourself among the blessed and discover what it really means, come and join me this week. 

March 7, 2021 at St. William Church in Naples, FL

Exodus 17, 3-7 + Psalm 95 + Romans 5, 1-2, 5-8 + John 4, 5-42

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

The people are weary; they have been on the march for a long time, they are fatigued and have nothing, they have no sense of unity, no organization. They forget their past slavery in Egypt, and do not remember the Lord’s constant are for them. They grow angry and complain. They cry out “Give us water to drink.”

We tell their story today to open our minds and hearts to hear this Gospel when Jesus himself, fatigued and thirsty finds himself at well in the heat of mid-day in enemy territory. He has no bucket. His companions have gone off in search of something to eat. Then she comes. Probably not for the first time that day. She comes with her bucket at noon. It’s hot, and rather than come in the cool of the evening or early morning, she comes at mid-day when no one else is there to avoid the stares and whispering about her that is constant among the people of that place.  She is sinner. She is laughed at and scorned.

Two conversations are provided in this Gospel.  The first with the woman concerns thirst and water.  The second with the apostles concerns hunger and food.  In that first conversation, Jesus makes it clear what it means to be thirsty as he reverses roles with that woman.  In his presence, the one with a bucket becomes thirsty, and the one who came thirsty gives her a drink. She leaves that bucket behind because, she will not thirst again refreshed by his presence. Without a rude word, a scolding, or any hint of disrespect, he refreshes her and the thirst she had for love that led her through one relationship after another is satisfied as she faces the one is love. 

Then, they bring him food, but he is not hungry now because, doing the work of salvation which is the will of the Father is food enough for him. He hungers not for food, but for the lost and forgotten, the sinful and the thirsty. To the astonishment of those disciples, the whole town comes out in one great profession of faith just days after another crowd without faith full of fear at his power, begged him to leave. 

My friends, we are all weary these days, and some were weary before an invisible virus tested our patience and courage. Many of us have been on the march of life for a long time. We get tired. We get hungry, and we get thirsty. We complain to God like the Israelites, and we forget too easily how the Lord has cared for us. This place where we gather is like that well where sinners meet the sinless one. We hear no reproach, and are not shamed nor scolded by the one we meet here. We stand under this great cross remembering what flowed from his side: the water that bathes and refreshes, and the blood that give us life. We are called once again to worship in Spirit and in Truth, and to profess our faith, like those Samaritans, in the Savior of the World. 

In a moment, the Catechumens will stand before us for our blessing and our prayers. They have come here in one way or another because like the woman of this Gospel they have seen or heard about this one who knows everything they have ever done and loves them still. They are headed for the water. They are headed for the bread of life, and the cup of salvation. We rejoice in their presence. We see in them all own constant need for conversion. These catechumens are hungry and wait with great hope for the day when they shall be among those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.  

March 7, 2021 At St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Exodus 20, 1-17 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1, 22-25 + John 2, 13-25

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

John’s description of this scene provides so much detail that we are easily distracted or captivated by the whole commotion. The whip, the overturned tables, the chaos of frightened animals suddenly set free, and the money changers running for cover wondering what they had done wrong since their role was necessary for keeping the Temple rules about money with images. With all that going on, it is likely that we give little attention to the message so easily misunderstood: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days.” For generations this scene has fueled all kinds of discussion and motivated all kinds of protests over corruption and commercialism all the while giving no though to what Jesus said.

At the time, his opposition went into a rage over the suggestion that he was talking about that building. They even used it as testimony against him at his trial. Meanwhile what was really being proclaimed was never heard. He was talking about the Temple of his Body which was way beyond their imagination, a thought that their faithless thinking could never comprehend.

This is a dramatic and powerful proclamation that strikes at the very core of their belief that the Temple was God’s dwelling place. Of course, believing that put them in control over where God was to be found and how God was to be honored and respected. The challenge of this Gospel is that we have not quite gotten over that kind of thinking. It is so easy to imagine God confined to a church and tabernacle that the implications of what Jesus is saying still gets lost.

The whole wonder of the Incarnation is that God’s dwelling place is first of all, and perhaps best of all found, honored, and respected in human life. Genuine humanity offers an experience of the real presence of God just as truly as any Temple, building, or man-made object. When God argued with the King of Israel over building Temple, and the King tried to bribe God by suggesting that a tent was not worthy of God. Yet God resisted the proposal, but Israel went on with its plan anyway. God had a better plan at the beginning.

When Genesis tells us that God created us in God’s own image and likeness, we ought to get the point that humanity is God’s first choice for a dwelling place. That old Temple was a place of concentrated power that served the privileged, took advantage of the poor, condemned and excluded others. This Gospel invites and challenges us today to examine just how we decide what is sacred and profane. Isn’t it odd that it is a felony to deface a church, and people get in an uproar every time one is vandalized? Yet, there is hardly a whisper of concern when one of God’s people dies of hunger or is homeless living in a car or a tent.

My friends, the very rock of our foundation in faith is the Incarnation, God’s desire to live, to love, and to be revealed in human flesh and blood. God speaks to us with the very human voice of Jesus Christ when we are here together. We must listen and learn. Often, we must repent and change how we think, how we see things, and how we treat each other.

March 1,2,3, 2021

Parish Mission on Sacraments First Night: Sacraments of Initiation

Begin with singing, “Sweet Refreshment”

In my own story, a man in the sixth century had a greater influence. His name is Benedict, and I spent 8 years of education and formation at a large Benedictine Monastery. What I took away from there after eight years was way more than a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Theology. I took away the very heart of Benedict’s vision and the spirit of the Rule he wrote that to this day guides the lives of monks and nuns all over the world. The Christian life is both prayer and work. Work without prayer is ungrounded and can be self-deceptive. Prayer without work is a fantasy and does not reflect a real Christian vocation which is to find and serve God who is not confined to church or a tabernacle. A Benedictine Abbot once said to his monks something that applies to us all: Take God very seriously. Take your vocation seriously, but do not take yourselves too seriously. 

I am a monk at heart. I live a rather solitary life. It’s just me and God. Having finally retired, I now work and pray, which is what monks do. Sometimes someone will ask me why in retirement I seem so busy, and my response is that we never retire from prayer, and when we realize that, we can’t retire from work either, since work is often the consequence of prayer. You pray about something, and God says, do something about it. What I have retired from is meetings. I no longer care about the loan, the lights, the locks or the leaks. When I see a wet ceiling, “I’m glad for a roofer. They have a job! When someone says, as they did for years and years, “Father, can I have the key to gym?” I say, “I only have car keys, and I obviously don’t know where the gym is located.” I will never forget the very first time I celebrated Mass here at Saint William after I was welcomed here in retirement. The opening hymn had begun, the procession was just starting, and someone came up and pulled on my elbow and said: “Father, there’s no paper in the restroom.” At that moment, I knew I was a monk at heart, and I remembered something my mother always said just before we left the house: “Go to the bathroom, and don’t forget to wash your hands.”

For three nights this week, I am going to invite you into the mystery of who and what we are as a Catholic Church. Something happens to us when we become Church, and as a Church we make something happen in this world. Sacraments are what we are. Sacraments are Holy Moments: the moment when the divine and human touch and become one. Sacraments are our experience of the Incarnation. In theology there is only one Sacrament, Jesus Christ; but as a Church we experience the Christ at the most significant moments of our lives: birth, death, and everything in between. The Sacraments accomplish the work of Jesus Christ. They heal what is broken, they strengthen what is weak, and they proclaim the forgiveness of sin. That’s what was happening all around Jesus when he was on this earth. It is still what happens all around Jesus when we are together as a Church. Sacraments are how we express without words what we believe, and what is happening to us in faith.

Whenever we come in contact with our church, understanding is the challenge we face because it is not about the brain, it’s about the heart. Understanding is not really a cognitive act. It is not about the brain. None of us really think our way into a relationship or even more so, into faith. It is about experience. You did not think your way into love. You experience it, and then along the way your figured out what it was. Understanding comes from the experience. Without it, there’s nothing to think about. The problem in our day and age is that we rarely take the time to experience anything let alone reflect on that experience and come to some understanding about what it means. A Harvard Sociologist (Robert Putnam) described our contemporary age by saying that in these times we have increased the number of believers but not belongers. There are now lots and lots of people who style themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” While we can say with pride that Catholicism is for those who are both “spiritual and religious”, as well as for believers and belongers, we also have to deal with the reality that for everyone one person who enters the Catholic Church in America, three leave. Why? I suspect that there are lots of reason in this “spiritual, not religious” culture, but certainly two factors are the excessive individualism of our culture, and the credibility of the church itself for a variety of reasons, sex abuse, financial mismanagement, ineffective witness of contradictory lives, and lots of other personal reasons. 

We live in an iPod, iPad, iMac, iPhone and endless other “i”-devices world. My point is that a small “i” begins to show how we name countless technological advances and machines. If you glance at the magazine rack in the grocery store, I wonder whether we are not moving from People Magazine to US and SELF. And self is where we seem to be stuck. I recall a famous line from the movie Beaches. Bette Midler leans over the restaurant table and says to her lunch companion, “But enough about me – let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”

Our church is a “we” church. If you have not noticed, every prayer in the missal uses the first-person plural pronoun. We ask this……ends every prayer. Living our faith (catch the pronoun?) is always a corporate enterprise. We belong to a covenant religion that started with Noah, his sons, his wife, and the wives of his sons along with two of every thing living on earth. Of course, it should have started with Adam and Eve, but a tree and an apple got in the way after which it all went bad. Whenever I think this way, what comes to mind is an apple with a bite out of it. Have you ever thought about that when you look at the icon or emblem on the cover of many computers? 

We belong to a covenant religion that continued with our forebears in biblical faith, covenants we read about every three years in the Sunday readings. There is the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9, 8-15), the covenant with Abraham and Sarah, and their beloved Isaac (Genesis 22, 1-2, 9, 20-13, 15-18). Then there is the covenant with Moses, (Exodus 20, 1-17) and a renewal of the covenant at the time of King Cyrus (2 Chronicles 36, 14-17, 19-23)   followed by Jeremiah (31, 31-34) promising a new covenant. These covenant texts are the bedrock relationship on which our faith is based. We are in this together. It is that simple. Part of what binds us together is ritual which is something we do when words are inadequate. For instance, when you feel overcome with joy and happiness at seeing someone you have not seen for a long time, there are no words, you just want to embrace and kiss. So, with ritual there are simply certain gestures that have an agreed upon meaning. We don’t make them up as we wish They are given to us to shape what we say and do in common. When a birthday cake comes into a room, no one has to tell the one being honored what to do. For that matter, we don’t start singing the National Anthem! Our rites as a church, these rituals that shape and express us are not a place or a time for self-expression. Even the wearing of certain vesture covers up our uniqueness. All of this brings focus to the meaning of what is happening it’s not about some external behavior.

The Sacraments are not something we do. The Sacraments are not something the Church creates. We are drawn by God’s mysterious designs and God’s mysterious ways into these experiences. The Sacraments, the Liturgy is always God’s gift to us and our response to God. Tomorrow when I speak about Matrimony, I will tell you more about something I always said to couples who came in for their first meeting to talk about marriage. I always said: “From now own, do not talk to me about your wedding. It isn’t yours. It isn’t mine. If you think it’s yours, and you think you can design it, you are forgetting that God is in charge, and this Rite and what we do is our response to God’s self-revelation.” Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, Reconciliation, Ordination these are never ours. I have no business talking about my Ordination. It was not mine. It was God calling and commissioning me to be and do something in His name. All I had to do was show up, kneel down, and say: “Present” when my name was called. After that I had to listen.

We get this message proclaimed every time one of the priests uses the Third Eucharistic Prayer at Mass. He says, and you may recall the words: “You never cease to gather a people to yourself., so that from the East and to the West….” We gather at the Lord’s invitation, not because of a habit. That’s important to keep in mind sometime when you don’t feel like going to Mass some Sunday. Are you seriously going to turn down the Lord’s invitation because of a Tee time or you just don’t want to get up? Seriously?  You see, we always think it’s about us way too easily forgetting that God is up to something. We are made members of one another in this worldwide Catholic Church through the waters of Baptism and the invocation of the three persons of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the prayer over the offerings on Holy Thursday, the priest proclaims these words: “Whenever the memorial of his sacrifice is celebrated the work of our redemption is accomplished.” Wow!  If that’s true, you have to be there if you want redemption, not at home with your feet up and beer in your hand watching a football game.

Early on, for many generations, Initiation into the Body of Christ, the Church, was one ritual with three parts. Most of the Eastern Churches continue this ancient custom. Our Latin or Western Roman Church has split them into three separate rites or “Sacraments.” There is some movement to restore the more ancient practice, but for now we have it as it is: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion. Actually, we have sort of messed up the order. For most of us it goes like this: Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation. Historically, Baptism and Confirmation were broken apart when the numbers of people being initiated were greater than the community’s leader, who we now call a Bishop, could manage at one time. So, the local delegate of the Bishop Baptized and the initiation was completed at a later time when the Bishop got around to the community. Once the faith of the person initiated was “Confirmed”, then they were allowed to share in the Eucharist. The bringing of a person into communion, into the covenant was the point of it all. That is the apex of initiation: being in communion.

As we all know, many other Christian communities we call “Protestant” do not baptize children, and they do not understand why we do and what it’s all about, but the custom is there from the beginning, and it springs out of the fact that often entire households were initiated: Dad, Mom, and the children. They all came into the covenant. The evidence is there in Acts of the Apostles. In the case of the children, there is a promise made that they will be raised up in a covenanted family that makes it possible for them to grow and live in communion. That is why in the Rite of Baptism for Children, parents are asked to give public testimony that they will bring this child up in the practice of faith. Contrary to what some may want to believe, the parents are not speaking for their child in answering those questions. They are giving testimony that they have faith they to share with their child. 

I honestly don’t know when, why or how we got into the odd custom we have in the Roman Rite Church of dribbling a few drops of water on the head of someone and calling that Baptism. In the end, it is the intention that matters, but we sure have to talk a good line to make the point. Baptism is birth into everlasting life. It is the beginning of new life with all of its promise and hope. About thirty years ago, when I was Rector of the Cathedral in Oklahoma City, we set about fixing up that 70-year-old church with some paint and some other arrangements that suited the Church of our time. One of the things we did was build a Baptistry. If any of you have ever been to Rome and seen the Lateran Basilica which is actually the Cathedral Church of Rome, you might remember that the Baptistry is a separate building off to the side of the church. If you’ve been to Florence, the very famous Baptistry there stands out as great piece of architecture in itself. The Baptistry was separate for a couple of reasons. For one, it was often heated when nothing else was, and for another, people being baptized got into a pool of water without clothing. They laid down, went under water and came up alive. It was a powerful and memorable experience.

A few years ago, I took a group of pilgrims to Lourdes. At one of the planning meetings, I spoke about the “baths” there, and I encouraged everyone to get over any hang-ups they might have and plan to go into the baths. It is a powerful and extraordinary spiritual and physical experience. On the second morning we were there, I reminded everyone that there was time set aside in the schedule to go into the waters. In the group was the retired Police Chief from Oklahoma City. He was a tough guy, burly, tough spoken, and there were no filters on his mouth. He said what he thought all the time. He was sitting in the back of the room with his arms folded. There was no expression on his face other than mild disgust. I concluded by saying that this was the chance, and the only chance to have this experience since few of them were likely to return to Lourdes. Skipping the experience of the baths might be something they would regret for a long time. I explained that there was a small room for removing clothing, and that an attendant would be there to wrap a very large sheet around you, and lead you to the pool. It is something you step down into, and water is flowing through it. The attendant helps you sit down in the water removing the towel-like sheet, and then they offer to pray for you or with you as you settle into the water. When the prayer ends, you stand up and the attendant wraps you in the cloth and leads you very respectfully and quietly back to the dressing area. By this time, the man in the back is looking up at the ceiling after glancing at his watch.

Every evening of the pilgrimage, the group would gather together, have a drink, and then share their most powerful thought or experience of the day. So, that night we followed the usual plan, and after many comments about going to confession, the beautiful Mass in the grotto, the procession the night before, Mr. Police Chief spoke up from that back. He said: “I did it.” With that he choked up and wiped his eyes. He said: “You never told us the water was cold.” I said, “No one asked.” He brushed aside my comment and with tears in his eyes, he said: “I will never ever forget that moment. Now I understand why some of my Protestant friends speak with such passion and so intently about their Baptism. I think I was Baptized today, and I feel wonderful, clean, and almost holy.  I feel alive for the first time since my wife died.” The room was silent, and someone quietly said, “Forget about the “almost part.”

So, back to the Cathedral, we built a baptistry that was attached and visible from the church, but distinct. During the construction, that part of the church was walled off for the sake of safety, and to keep out the weather as they built the addition. After a few weeks, some of the 8th graders in the parish school wanted to know what was behind the wall. So, I arranged for the contractor to let the children look in. The concrete form had been poured, and they were about to begin the tile work. The children stood and looked at it for a minute or two, and one of the boys said: “It looks like a grave”. With that, I knew we were getting it right. Baptism is about dying and rising. Going down, going under, coming up, breathing in new life. That is what we’re doing.

Water and Fire! These are the most powerful earthly tools and earthly elements. When a forest burns, it dies. When it rains on that scorched earth, everything comes to life again. When it’s time for a baby to be born, the water breaks out of the womb, and life comes through the water. My friends, we have to get in touch with this truth and this reality again. Those of us Baptized as children run the risk of thinking it’s all over, and it’s just something you do to have a party or keep the grandparents happy. One tool that we have to make a connection with something that happened before we can remember is that water in the doorway. Touching it is important. Feeling it on your face and on your hands ought to be a reminder that the room you are entering is a place where Water and Blood bring us again into the very presence of God where the work of our redemption is accomplished.

Water is not the only element we use in our tradition for expressing something that is just a little beyond what words can say. There is white garment, there is fire and light, and there is Chrism. In the thrilling Book of Revelation, we read: (Chapter 21, 1-10).  You know that white garment needs to be real, not some ironed strip of fabric. It’s a garment that gets used again to identify the white robed. Look at what I’m wearing. Think about what a child wears at First Communion. This about what a bride wears by tradition at a wedding. It has nothing to do with virginity. It has everything to do with being a white-robed member of the covenant. It is also our way of putting aside our silly need to be different, to stand out, or be stylish. We cover up and we look alike because by this sacrament we are one people, one body, one in Christ. It’s not about me any longer.

We take fire for light, and with great intensity, we pass that light on to a family on the day of a child’s baptism with the hope and the prayer that the light of that candle, the light of Christ, may never go out. Then we say: “Keep this candle burning brightly so that when the Lord comes you may go out to meet him.” With that, there is covenant. With that, there is identity. With that, there is mission, something to do.

How I wish we would have the courage, understanding, and wisdom to get this right, but it doesn’t seem to be within reach right now, and so we bumble along with a system that clearly doesn’t work. Instead of announcing some grade level or some age for completing Initiation, common sense, if not good theology, ought to say that a person should be “Confirmed” and admitted to the Covenant when they want to and have the desire to be in Communion. In some places around the country, that is beginning to happen, and those of you with grandchildren in different places might already be aware of this change. Communion comes after Confirmation. The very fact that making this correction takes courage, understanding, and wisdom tells you something. These are three Gifts of the Holy Spirit: a sure sign that God is at work. Take if from an old pastor, as long as we keep up the present system of making Confirmation a “rite of passage” into adulthood, it’s going to be a one-way street out the church. It implies for young people that they are now adults and can make choices for themselves.  So, who can blame them for leaving. They are not adults when they are 15 and 16! Our more ancient custom says that once faith grows from the formation, prayer, service, and the witness of parents, signs of that faith will become obvious. When that day comes, a person who is living the Covenant of Sacrifice and Service will want to receive the Eucharist and share in the grace, the strength, the support of the covenant community (the Church). Then, the Leader, the Teacher, and Sanctifier (That’s the role of a Bishop, by the way). He comes, and in his presence, those whose initiation is about to be complete step up, profess their faith, perhaps symbolically announce a new name by which they wish to be called, and a solemn anointing takes place that seals them, makes them holy, and draws them into the company of priests, kings, and prophets who throughout the Old Testament were anointed for service at God’s call.

Then it’s time to enter into the mystery of the New Covenant and it’s time to remember that whenever the memorial of his sacrifice is celebrated the work of our redemption is accomplished. At that point, there can be no doubt about who someone is, because Covenant People are so identified with Christ that what they do is what Christ does, and what Christ does is what his people do. In case you don’t remember what Christ does, he heals, he forgives, he feeds, he unites, he draws people to the Father so that they may all be one. That’s not somebody else’s job. It’s ours. If someone is hungry, we feed. If someone is naked, we clothe. If someone is thirsty, we give a drink. If someone is alone, we become their companion. If someone is lost, we lead them home.

So, we gather, as our blessed ancestors have done from the beginning. We break open the Word of God, and we break the bread that has become for us the Body of Christ. It is God’s gift to us. Doing this brings us peace, healing, and reconciliation. It is a God’s way of answering the prayer of his Son, that we might all be one, that we may be friends, and that the relationship Jesus has with his Father is the same relationship we have with the Father.

In an age of hyper-individualism, it is extremely important to pay attention to the words we use and how we pray. As I said at the beginning, every single prayer that is offered begins with the word, “We.” There is no “I” in the Eucharist. Even the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is always in the plural. We say again and again: “Our Father.” “Give us.” “Forgive us.” It happens because we are one with each other and with Jesus Christ. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Every prayer we offer is THROUGH Christ our Lord, because by Baptism, Confirmation, and in the Eucharist, we are one with Christ. We are in, and through and with Christ.

We gather around this altar at the invitation of Christ. It is Christ who presides, not Tom Boyer. I always smile a bit at the parishes where I serve when at the beginning they announce: “Today’s Celebrant will be Father Tom Boyer.” No, it won’t. It will be Jesus Christ. He is the host, he is the one who speaks, he is the one who opens our minds and hearts to the Word, and he is the one who feeds. There is a spiritual meaning to everything we do in our sacred liturgies. We learn the meanings not just by our brain, but by listening, seeing, speaking, smelling, and touching. The senses are the pathway to meaning, and rich and powerful ritual involves them all.

The very first act reveals who we are and what we’re doing. We approach God’s presence. We’re not just going to church. When the Israelites came near the Temple, they broke into song, and we know the words. They were preserved for us in a Psalm. “We shall up with Joy to the House of our God.” Sing it!

Yet we know in our hearts that the pure and just one is not the one without sin, but the one who recognized his sin. A just one, then, is the sinner who knows that they are a sinner. The most important part of this Penitential Act is SILENCE. It must be severe, intense, and austere. It is time to shut up, and stand humbly before the sinless one who is looking at us with love. If you have ever been caught doing something really wrong and shameful in the presence of someone you love, there is nothing to be said. There are no words to express how you feel in shame and sorrow. Then, we ask for mercy and forgiveness, and break into a song by which we simply acknowledge and praise the Mercy of a God who loves us anyway. Embracing that forgiveness, we in the assembly are worthy to offer praise to God signing: We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory. With that, we pray through Christ our Lord. Then, we sit down and we listen. God has something to say.

And then, it is time for a gracious God to feed us. But remember, Jesus said, “One does not live on bread along, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” If you think about it, where is the Gospel Book at this time usually resting? On the Altar. God will feed us from that table twice: once with the Word, and then again with the Body and Blood of his Son, the Bread of Life. Just as the eucharistic bread and wine are taken from the altar so that the faithful may nourish themselves on the body of Christ, so also the gospel is taken from the altar so that the faithful may be nourished with the word of Christ. 

When the Scriptures are proclaimed in the assembly, God is speaking. It is different from when you might sit at home and read some of the Bible. The power of the Holy Spirit within the assembly. I’ll bet you didn’t know that in a Jewish Synagogue the scroll of the Law cannot be taken from the ark and read if there are not present at least ten adult men. This norm suggests that that it is not enough for the book of the Law to be present and that someone reads from it; also necessary is people to hear it proclaimed. This is the difference between personal study of the Bible and the proclamation of the Scriptures in the midst of the assembly. That is where the power of the Word comes from – out of the assembly, out of the Body of Christ. The Sacred Scriptures belong to the Church, that is why the Lector leaves the Scriptures on the Ambo after the proclamation. The lector does not carry the book away, but leaves it with the assembly because it is in the assembly’s care just as the Eucharist is.

Let me wrap this up with a final thought about the gifts, because the exchange of gifts is what happens next, and it’s beautiful and powerful. Gifts are brought to God and placed on the altar. We give away some of what God has given us as a reminder that we do not have absolute possession of anything. What makes the offering holy is the fact that it is sacrificed, given up, given away. In the Book of Deuteronomy (16,16) God says: “They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.” No believer may come before the altar with empty hands, because the vocation of every person is to offer the world to God by their own hands.

And then, why bread and why wine? Why not a steak and coke? Think about this. Bread has all the elements of the world within it. Those elements are Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. That is what makes bread such a power element that crosses every culture, age, and time. The earth with rain produces the grain, that rises with air and is baked with fire! It’s all there, and as the prayers says, it is the “work of human hands.” It’s about work, labor, grinding, mixing. It’s hard and demanding, labor intensive. But, there is another side to these gifts. It is wine. Yet, wine is hardly as necessary and basic as bread. It does require some labor, but we can do without. What it does supply is pleasure, and it brings with it a sense of celebration, of joy, gratitude, and fellowship. So, we bring these gifts put them on the altar that God may sanctify them by the power of the Spirit and make them “For us” bread of life and spiritual drink. So, the bread that we have carried in our hands to the altar; after giving thanks, is then taken from the altar and placed in our hands as the Body of Christ.

The church cannot be satisfied with having the Eucharist; it does not possess it. The Eucharist serves no purpose if it remains simply an object to be possessed and adored. The church, however, is called to become the eucharistic body of the Lord, and becoming the Body of Christ is the one greatest witness to the truth of the Eucharist. How do we know this is the Body of Christ? Look at the people. If you see Christ, then you know what Eucharist is. To receive Communion is to become communion. Why do you eat this? In order to come this. In a society where individualism triumphs, the Eucharist reminds us of the common destiny of all humanity. In a society where waste prevails, the Eucharist is a call to share.

Conclude with singing: The Servant Song

Parish Mission on Sacraments Second Night: Sacraments of Service

Begin with singing; Sweet Refreshment

Jesus sent us to serve and to heal. To reach deep into this call to service, we need only explore the Rite by which a person is called from the community, Baptism. It begins for all of us at Baptism when we are anointed with a prayer that welcomes us into a Holy People who are as Christ was anointed, Priest, Prophet, and King. The Sacraments of Service: Holy Orders and Matrimony have two essential elements in common: sacrifice and service.  A priest is not the only one who offers sacrifice, and that cultic act in liturgy is not all a priest is called to do. Remember, when we think of sacraments, we need to think of a people and what they mean and stand for; not just what they do. Now, that word, “Order” does not mean organizing things alphabetically or in good straight rows as Sister did when we were in the parish school. 

Remember those great stories by the British author, J.K. Rowling about Harry Potter? Well, early in each school term, the students gathered in that great hall, and the new students were called up one by one. They sat on a stool, and a hat was put on their head. In the stories, it was a magical hat and they called it the “Sorting Hat” because it would magically sort the students into their “houses” or groups for the school year. Those in each house worked together as a team for the building up of the school and support of all the members. Well, when we Catholics talk about “Orders” we are talking about sorting, or dividing up the work and the responsibilities for the sake of the whole and the support of each member. That’s exactly what Holy Orders is really about: sorting out the members in to groups for a common purpose and the support of all the members. Lay People, Deacons, Presbyters, and Bishops are people who have been sorted out yet work together for the common good and mutual support in the use of their unique gifts and mission.

I have deliberately avoided using the word Priest for one of the Orders because we need to get something clear about that word and with it the expectations we have for those we might choose to call “Priest.” Actually, Presbyters is probably better for two reasons, it’s a term that refers to the wise elders of a community, and that is certainly what we have now as we face the reality that most priests today are old, and older men are hearing a call to that Order. The other reason I like the word Presbyter is that it disconnects from the Old Testament image of the Priesthood, and that is exactly what the first Christian communities wanted to do. They did not want anything to do with the Old Testament priesthood.

That old priesthood was hereditary. It was a privileged class supported and taken care of by the people. They were men who liked to dress up in fine robes and who held exclusive power and held enormous control and authority over the lives of the people. They ran the temple. They controlled the finances. They passed judgement on people, throwing out some for various reasons, but they also restored people who had been thrown out. An example of that comes to us with that story of Jesus healing some lepers and sending them to the priests for the obvious purpose of having them judged worthy and cleansed restoring them to their rightful place in the community. They were not teachers, they were rulers with a lot of power often abused. Among the Hebrews, a Rabbi was the teacher, and that was a different sort of person – let’s call it a different Order.

When the earliest Christian communities began to organize themselves and sort out the ministries and gifts, they wanted nothing to do with the old priesthood, because they had encountered the one priest, the ultimate High Priest, Jesus Christ. So, what we see developing is this role or ministry called “presbyter”. Judging from what the Epistles can tell us, that early church was very picky! The Epistle to Titus says this (1, 5-9) “…. appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious.” He goes on to add that “a Bishop, “as God’s steward must be blameless, not arrogant, not irritable, not a drunkard, not aggressive, not greedy for sordid gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate just, holy, and self-controlled. Holding fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able to both to exhort with sound doctrine and refute opponents.”

Then, in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy (3, 1-7) he insists that they “must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.” He must also, “manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God. He should not be a recent convert…he must also have a good reputation.”

The first letter of Peter (5, 1-4) instructs presbyters with these words: “Tend the flock of God in your midst not by constraint, but willingly, as God would have it not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock.

Back in the day, when I was working in formation and direction of candidates for the priesthood. I paid a lot of attention to three things: an ability to make and maintain wonderful, nurturing, and lasting friendships, an ability to be hospitable, and I always encouraged them to keep some houseplants in their rooms at the seminary. If they could not keep a weed like a philodendron alive, why entrust them with life of a human soul?

What those earliest Christian communities were looking for and expecting then, was not so much a “priest” like the Old Testament priests, but a prophet. That is what they saw in Jesus Christ, a prophet, not a priest like those guys running the Temple, punishing people, throwing people out, imposing harsh punishments, and always demanding their money. They had seen in Jesus, a new kind of priest: one who offered sacrifice, yes, but also one who stood among them as the prophets had in the past. This is why some thought that Jesus was Elijah returned, or some thought he was John the Baptist returned from the dead. Matthew, as we read deeply into his Gospel saw the image of Moses in Jesus.

The longer I live in this mystery of priesthood, the more I begin to understand that priests are anointed, like Christ, as priest and prophet. The two roles are barely distinguishable. In fact, it is probably only in Ritual behavior that they are distinct. The prophet in us, the prophet in our community, is the one who can point to the presence and the action of God. That role has nothing to do with the future. The prophet is someone who is in touch with the past, but standing with both feet and eyes wide open in the present. The prophet sees the hand of God and says so. The prophet can look into the face of death and disaster and chaos and say: “Look at what God can do. Expect the Divine. Trust in the Providence and Goodness of God.” All of us fuss, worry, and invest time and energy in addressing symptoms, when in fact, a prophetic people address the causes of evil, pain, injustice, and sorrow. For a really great priest, this comes out of courage, and it means that the priesthood is not for cowards and those who are easily intimidated or fear-filled. A priest must transform the present into the future. The symbol of this transformation is the Eucharist. What is changed by the faith of the people and the words of Christ spoken by the priest is not just bread and wine, but all the ordinary things of life changed into the extraordinary and unmistakable signs of God’s immediate presence in and through the world. The Incarnation is not a theological principal; it is a day in and day out experienceof God’s creative, life-giving presence in all things and especially all people. Anything that dims the ability to perceive that presence and honor it must go, and that takes courage. “The poor you will have always with you.” is not an excuse for ignoring the cause of their poverty. Losing sight of the causes of people’s hunger while we’re making sandwiches, running soup kitchens, or food pantries won’t do. We’ve been doing that a long time, and still there are more poor people getting poorer. We are trapped into this stuff because working with the symptoms makes us feel good. We avoid addressing the causes of poverty because it’s tough, risky, unpopular, and sometimes dangerous; but we are prophets, and taking on injustice is our cause, and like the prophets of the Old Testament, they will pay a big price for doing that.

Prophet/Priest lives in the present. That means that the working definition of a priest is: “one who awakens others to the revelation found in their lives.” It’s about the present. It’s about the fact that God is present to us now, and in all things and at every moment. It’s all very fine to know all about what God has done in the past. For the leader, it’s important to know where you’ve been, just in case you go by again. Then you’ll know you’re lost! When we start repeating mistakes from the past, we’re in trouble. I guess you could say, “We’re lost.” But, all that knowledge of the past is no good if we don’t recognize that God is still doing things in the present, our present. Pious “wannabes” who are all caught up in the past, which they mistakenly call “tradition” are lost because they’re not living in the present. They are sure that all the answers are somewhere in the past, and consequently, they are incapable of living with ambiguity and doubt, which are very essential to the human condition in people seeking truth.

When thinking this way, I remember what it was like on April 19, 1995 and the days following when a building in Oklahoma City was destroyed taking 169 lives leaving a city of one million people stunned to silence.  “Why?” was all anyone could ask. Those who needed power, those who were not living in the experience had all kinds of silly answers, when the only response to “Why” was to suggest that was the wrong question. “What does it mean?” was the issue, not why did it happen. And, “What are we going to become because of this?” was the next question. Effective ministry on that day and the days following happened when people were led to ask the right question and go on from there. It was a time to lead those who suffered to imagine a creative power in the midst of that chaos. The first time a man stands in the face of tragedy and thinks he knows the answer to the question “WHY” the real priesthood of Jesus Christ has been traded for certitude that puts us in control. If we are not comfortable in chaos and able to live in the face of it not knowing why, we will never experience creation and the Creator who is always to be found in the midst of it. We know that Christ did not come to take the tragedies out of life. He simply came to show us how to survive them. We know that in our minds, but forget under the pressure to respond to each other in pain and so we fail to act that way. When someone comes up with a glib or pious answer the question or the cry: “WHY?” in a moment of pain in the midst of tragedy, you know they’ve never been there.

Priests are called to enable persons to perceive the revealing presence of God in their ordinary lives. That is what all of us need from the priest. We don’t need to know why, we just need to have someone point to the hand of God in the midst of some chaotic moment. To do this, a priest must possess a singleness of mind. Jesus called it “purity of heart.” It simply means that a priest will be simply, pure of heart, honest, straight forward. There is only one agenda.

Howard Hendricks teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and is one of the founders of “Promise Keepers”, a powerful program of spirituality for men. Howard says that we are suffering from AIDs, “Acquired Integrity Deficiency.” He believes we are producing celebrities today, but few people of character. So many have been caught in sexual misconduct or financial scandals, or have shown themselves to have an unhealthy love of power and authority. We have leaders who trade character for cash. Power, fame, and money corrupt many of these big-shot leaders. Some have called this the greatest challenge to Evangelical leaders. It is embarrassing. We desperately need men of integrity, and the only place they are going to come from is a real, solid, Catholic/Christian home. 

Here is the big difference we sometimes fail to see. We have to decide what we want and need. Leaders have dreams and look to the future. The manager looks to the bottom line of the profit sheet. This is exactly what’s wrong with our country these days, and with the whole world for that matter. We have no leaders, no statesmen, we have only politicians who are “managers.”  There’s no one around like Martin Luther King, Jack or Bobby Kennedy, Gandhi, Anwar Sadat, Golda Meir, or David Ben-Gurion. Now all we get are celebrity executives! They have no dreams. They live for profit, and for profit now.  They have no imagination, only information.  The days in which we are living are without dreams. They are full of fantasies, but the two are not the same. A dreamless sleep is called, “death”, and dreamless society or a dreamless church is dead and meaningless. Our church needs dreamers just as much as we need air, and our society, our church needs true leaders, uncommon men and women who can restore the collective dream: The Kingdom of Heaven. Our passion for control shows it’s self in Secularism, which is the art of this world.

You deserve to have holy men, and that does not mean pious men. I’m not talking about people who walk around with a rosary dangling from their hands, or dressing up in some black robe pacing up and down a corridor with a breviary in their hands. I’m talking about real holiness which sometimes might look fanatical or just plain weird. A really holy person is somehow wild. They are wild with God. They are in love with God, and you can see it, hear it, and believe it. There is something about them that is intense, deep and real. These are people who have met God, who have suffered, and have some vision of the Kingdom of God. If you don’t know where you’re headed, you can’t take anyone there. These are people who know God not by hearsay or from some book, but from having maybe hit bottom and discovered that in the cross, in death, in betrayal, in loneliness, there is someone who loves them and has never left them. 

The ultimate priest and prophet is Jesus Christ who is the one who stands before us to intercede for us, to teach, to sacrifice, and to open our eyes and ears to the present and the state of our relationship with God. What Jesus did is what presbyters must do: proclaim the Kingdom of God, raise a call to conversion, reconcile people to one another and to God, and heal what is broken when it comes to those relationships so that the Kingdom of God can be seen, experienced, and lived right now. “It is at hand” he said over and over again.

Break with song: “Hear Us Now Our God and Father”

In the last parish I served as Pastor, there was an old couple from Lebanon whose children had brought them to Oklahoma when life at their home was getting more dangerous as the violence of religious and political hatred tore apart a country that had for generations shown us how Catholic/Christians and the People of Islam could live side by side with mutual respect, trust, and kindness. Radicalism, a disastrous kind of fundamentalism, and distrust of people who are different tore that all apart in one generation. So, these two “refugees” sought comfort and hope in their family and in their church. They were like old Simeon and Anna, always in the Temple, always at prayer, and always filled with hope. The church there was arranged in four sections, like a cross. The choir was behind at the top, and there were three seating sections in transepts and nave. This couple sat in the side transept section in the front pew. In the back, behind the choir there was a vesting room for the servers. Books, candles and stuff like that was kept back there, and at the other end was the vesting room for the clergy. Inevitably before Mass there was traffic back and forth from one end to the other, and I would make the trip once or twice as well checking with the musicians or making sure all the servers were there and ready. Since the old folks spoke no English, and I speak no Lebanese, we could really never talk, but we found a way over the years to communicate with smiles, nods, winks or bows. The tabernacle was close by, and when passing, I would genuflect, and then passing in front of them, I would bow, and they would grin ear to ear and bow back at me.

One Sunday just before the opening hymn as servers and clergy were lining up, one of the smaller servers said to me: “Why are you always bowing to those people?” I thought, that’s a good question, and I asked him, “Why are you always genuflecting at that Tabernacle and bowing at that altar?” With great confidence born out of his Catholic School education, he said: “Because Jesus is there. It’s a Sacrament.” I said to him: “Let me tell you something. Those two people have lived together as husband and wife for more than 70 years.” If that’s not enough to make it obvious that Jesus is in that front pew, nothing will.” I bow to the presence of Jesus Christ.” 

Well, servers have a way of sharing information, and by next weekend, every time one of them passed in front of those two old people, the servers bowed to them. The old folks smiled and bowed back, and in no time at all, it was like a coocoo clock going off at noon with everyone bowing and bobbing up and down, and everyone was smiling. Maybe those servers learned something very important about the Sacrament of Matrimony. It’s not about a ritual, white dresses, invitations, photographers, cakes, and receptions. It is about the Incarnation. It is about God taking on human flesh to reveal something essential about God’s life, God’s presence, God’s dream for us all before there was sin.

This Church, right now, is sacramental. It is filled with the presence of God. All around us there are sacraments of unity, of peace, of forgiveness and love. You who sit here together as husband and wife are living signs of the power of forgiveness, of what loving sacrifice can accomplish in lifting up another, and of what it means to keep a promise just as God keeps promises, because you are friends and by the grace of the vows you made before God and his church, you are friends with God.

If you ever take time to look carefully and critically at how we go about all of this, and what we are hoping to express in the way we conduct our rituals, there is a lot of silliness that distracts from the truth to which we bear witness in this celebration. For instance, this whole idea of the “Father giving away the bride” is a perfect example. It comes from a time and a culture in which marriage was treated as a contract between families, and the transfer of wealth and property played an important role. “Giving away the bride” ritualized this contract. In this light, you can see how the tradition of the father escorting his daughter to her groom may have developed. Yet, we Catholics believe that the bride and groom give themselves to each other as equal partners, and as one, they give themselves to God. When we get it right, and when we decide that it is more important to reveal the truth than play-act with a script from centuries ago and call it “custom”, a good message will be proclaimed and faith will be revealed. Parents play a major role, and sharing in this moment is a gift greater than writing the checks to pay for it all. But there are other ways to say this. The groom may walk in with his parents, and the bride with her parents who might meet and greet each other with peace before the altar to which they are bringing their children once again just as they did for First Communion. 

Lighting candles has great significance in our Catholic Churches. The most important of these is the Easter or Paschal Candle. All the candles given at infant and adult baptisms are lit from this candle. It is also lit during funerals to mark our loved one’s passage to eternal life. This business of the Unity Candle trying to symbolize two lives become one is already profoundly signified through the couple’s exchange of vows and rings and the Nuptial Blessing. I’m always amused at how confusing and contradictory this relatively new custom can become. It was probably started by someone at a Hallmark store to sell candles. The big candle gets lit and then they blow out the two little ones! It’s as though the identity of the two disappears when you get married. My bet is that by the end of the first week, it will be obvious to both bride and groom that their individual identities have not only failed to disappear, but rather have suddenly grown more real and intense.

In my years as a priest, more than once someone has said to me: “What do you a single and celibate man know about marriage?” It’s a good question, and I have answer. “I’ve never laid an egg; but I know more about it than the chicken.” You don’t have to be married to know about marriage. We’ve all grown up and come from a marriage.

What this old man has learned from listening, watching, reading, and study is that a marriage is not much different from being a priest since ultimately it is about commitment which scares the day-lights out of a lot of young people these days who seem to think that the best way to avoid commitment is to never make any. With both sacraments of service there are few things that work and make it easier and more fruitful. It works for priests and for married couples. Do things together. It will keep you from taking each other for granted. It takes planning and attention to emotions, yours as well as theirs. You make time to go out and have fun, do some chores together, because that’s where you are going to find God. It does not matter what you do together, but how. You can’t forget to laugh. All kinds of science reveal that laughter reduces pain and allows us tolerate discomfort. Physically it reduces blood sugar levels making our heart and brain function better. Laughter establishes and restores a positive emotional climate and connection between two people. Of course, you don’t laugh at each other, you laugh at yourself and invite someone into the joke, because you are no longer taking yourself so seriously. When you laugh at your own faults and failings, it can help the other to do the same not with ridicule but with genuine good humor. It heals, uplifts, puts one’s emotional world back in order. If you don’t laugh much, you better start. If you already do, keep it up.

Back in the day (don’t you love saying?) when I would be meeting with engaged couples early on in their formation, I would insist that they pray together knowing that it is something we Catholics find awkward and sometime avoid simply out of a failure to try and learn how. I would say: “Start this way: one of you should just say, “Let’s pray.” Then be quiet, maybe close your eyes, and wish for a moment about the future for and with each other. It does not have to take long, and when you’ve made your wish, simply say, “Amen”,  which is our standard way of saying “OK, that’s enough.”  Then, when you get comfortable with that, don’t be afraid to ask the other one what they prayed for or prayed about, and then it’s not too hard to start doing that out loud, and before you know it, you’re praying together, praying for one another, being grateful, and most of all acknowledging that God brought you together, and from the very beginning, God saw the two of you as one with a plan that you would be a living sign of God’s covenant.

A lot of couples come in at the beginning thinking that it’s all about them. You know that routine if you’ve had children getting married, and probably you were there once yourself, but the truth is, it’s not all about you. You did not choose the one you married. God did, and you would do well not forget it, because when you keep that in mind, you are going to treat each other better, because that person who came into your life and awakened you to the wonder and mystery of love is a gift from God. It is God who put you together. 

Keeping in touch with God’s role is what puts some energy and focus into the service that this sacrament presents. Husbands and wives help one another to become more holy and so have a special place among the peoples of God, and they bear children to whom they must reveal God and bring them up to keep God’s commandments, which is what they promise at Baptism.

Finally, there are two other ideas I believe are important. One is forgiveness. We all know what power there is in forgiveness both offering and accepting it. But what too often escapes us is the daily discipline of forgiving that a strong marriage and family require. Forgiveness doesn’t need to come in big dramatic scenes, but it does need to happen every day at least once. Every night, all of us must make it a habit to think over the day and acknowledge any hurts, no matter how small. It’s no surprise to realize how many small hurts accumulate in a day. If you don’t let them go, resentment sets in. Matthew, probably one of the most forgiven of the apostles because of his past records for us an instruction by Jesus that must have hit him square between the eyes. He remembers for us that Jesus said we must forgive not just seven times but seventy times. In other words, a whole lot. Forgiving the small stuff every day can make the bigger hurts less difficult to confront and healing them more complete. It takes practice, and as we know, practice makes PERFECT.

Finally, we cannot ever underestimate the power of gratitude or good memories to enrich one’s life. All of us must lean and remember to express gratitude for the good things in life, and sometimes with spontaneous celebration. Why wait for a birthday or an anniversary? Maybe it’s just deciding to sit down together after the laundry is folded, or maybe even before the laundry is folded. Forget about the laundry! Open a bottle of wine, live in gratitude, and express it often. Take and make time to do things just because they help you bond and create a good memory. It’s those memories that will soften the sense of loss when one of you gets left behind.

I have the most fond and wonderful memories of that old couple in Norman, Oklahoma. Papa is gone now. He suffered the ravages of Parkinson’s disease, and finally gets to rest. In the last years of our lives together in that parish I would often be included in family feasts as only Lebanese people can feast. I would always have to sit on one side of Mama with Papa on the other. She would fuss around and make sure my plate was overflowing and do the same for Papa. When he could no longer hold a knife and fork, she would cut the food, and arrange it just so on his plate. He would lean back and watch her. She never said a word, just fix it just right, and wait for him to eat. They had this wonderful way of just gazing at each other. They never said much. In fact, I can’t remember ever hearing them talk to each other. I just remember the they looked. I call it “the gaze of love” that wrapped up gratitude, forgiveness, affection, hopes, and dreams. The fact that they never seemed to talk struck me once as perhaps the real secret to a joyful, lasting marriage. Don’t talk! Maybe just gaze now and then and cherish the moments because they are precious and sometimes fleeting.

Let’s stand and sing about this. “When Love is Found”

Those of you here present with your spouse, join your hands and turn toward each other. Those here without a spouse, join me now in prayer over the sacrament that is here before us. 

My friends who are one in the holy sacrament of marriage, renew now the promises you made to one another, and turn to the Lord in Prayer, that these vows may be strengthened by divine grace. 

Repeat after me these words:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation

For in the good and the bad times of our lives

You have stood with love by our side.

Help us, we pray,

To remain faithful in our love for one another;

So that we may be true witnesses

To the covenant you have made with humankind.

May the Lord keep you safe all the days of your life. 

May he be your comfort in adversity and your support in prosperity. 

May he fill your home with his blessings as we all now pray together:

Our Father…..

We praise you, O God,

We bless you, Creator of all things,

Who in the beginning made man and woman 

that they might form a communion of life and love.

We give you thanks for graciously blessing the family life of your servants who stand before you in this holy place as they once did with great dreams and tender love.

Look with kindness upon them today and as you have sustained their communion amid joys and struggles, 

renew their Marriage covenant each day, 

increase their charity, and strengthen in them the bond of peace 

so that together with the circle of their children and friends around them they may forever enjoy your blessing.

Sing: “The Servant Song”

Parish Mission on Sacraments Third Night: Sacraments of Healing

Begin with singing: Sweet Refreshment

Last Sunday, we heard the Gospel of the Transfiguration, that moment when Jesus came into the presence of God. His mission on this earth is to take us there, to lead us to Easter and on to glory. There is a problem for us right now, however. There is not enough glory in our lives, and most of the time, we are not much of an Easter people, and the problem comes from something we don’t much like to talk about: sin.

All of us are engaged to one degree or another in a personal, ongoing battle with sin and vice. We are living through an age of serious moral decay. Cheating and Lying are a way of life today from the highest seats of power to grade school classrooms. These days, when someone gets caught doing something wrong, they are more upset about being caught than over what they did. If they think about it all, they wonder how they could have avoided being caught in the first place. There is little interest in repentance and change while a lot of energy is spent on covering up and just plain denial of the truth.

One of the startling facts of life in our times is that no one wants to admit to sin and take any responsibility for its consequences. These days, people just have issues. They don’t sins. So, call it what you want, but it is deadly. On Sunday night, I reminded you that the pure and the just among us are those who know and recognize their sin. That’s the way to holiness and greatness. When we say someone is a good man or a good woman, we do not suggest that they are people in whom there is no inclination to evil, but rather that they are people who have wrestled and still wrestle with it and never give in because their quality and their goodness comes from the struggle. Those people are truly noble. These are people of virtue, character, and nobility. The work of Jesus and his expectation that we change leads us to glory, to Easter, to virtue and nobility.

“Morality is like art, said G.K. Chesterton, “it consists of drawing a line somewhere.” We live in an age in which no lines seem to be drawn at all, or those that have been drawn are being erased. In my 79th year of life and 53 of those as priest I have come to recognize that an unhealed wound, a kind of sinful restlessness, afflicts humanity, and it robs us of glory.

Bruce Springsteen, “The Boss” wrote a song that describes our age when he sings: “Everybody has a hungry heart.” I think we are hungry for glory, hungry for the life we should have had by God’s will and God’s original plan for us. But we have traded our glory for something else, and sin is the consequence. Our hunger is for God and the glory that comes from being in God’s presence. I want to propose to you that in the great Divine wisdom that has shaped and called us Church there is a gift we have forgotten about, and that is a problem. That gift is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This coming Sunday we are going to proclaim a wonderful story about a woman and man who met at the water. A sinner came face to face with the holy one. The thirsty one ends up giving a drink to the one who has a well, and the water jar gets left behind. That water jar, that thing, that kept her coming back again and again because it wasn’t enough gets abandoned because she met the truth and found understanding, mercy, compassion, and love. No ridicule, no shame, no scolding, no reproach, just acceptance of one who was waiting and looking for the Christ.

For all kinds of reasons which are completely irrelevant unless you are looking for an excuse, the practice of sacramental confession in the Catholic Church has dropped off almost overnight in the last forty years. Before the Second Vatican Council, Catholics came regularly and in great numbers to confess their sins to a priest, but then, it nearly stopped altogether. Analysts have proposed a variety of reasons: a greater stress on God’s love, a desire to move away from a fussy preoccupation with sex, the sense that confession is not necessary for salvation, and on and on it can go. Whatever the cause or the causes, the experience has fallen out of practice.

A well-known priest-sociologist once announced that whatever Catholics drop, someone else will inevitably pick up. So, for example, we Catholics, after the Council, stopped talking about the soul, out of fear that the category would encourage a kind of split in humanity between the spiritual and the physical. Suddenly into book stores pops up all kinds of books on care of the soul with a widely popular series on “Chicken soup for the soul.”

Then the Catholic Church slows down talk about angels and devils, and presto, an explosion of books and films about these fascinating spiritual creatures.

A great example of this priest’s idea is the way in which the practice of sacramental confession – largely extinct in the Church pops up in a somewhat distorted form all of the world. What do we find on daytime talk shows from Oprah, to Jerry Springer and Maury, but a series of people coming on live TV to confess their sins, usually of a sexual nature? And what do we see on the numerous judgement-shows like Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, American Idol, or Dancing with the Stars? But people being forced to accept a kind of punishment for their bad or inadequate behavior. Just maybe we ought to admit that the need to confess our sins and receive some sort of judgement or comfort is just hard-wired into our spirits. When we don’t have the opportunity to deal with our sin in the proper context of faith and church, we will desperately find a substitute.

If you want to get a really crazy conversation going sometimes among Catholics, get them started sharing their experiences with Confession. Many of us around my age can tell horror stories about psychological abuse in the confessional by priests who were hung up on sexual sins, or all too eager to threaten eternal damnation, or perhaps just cranky from sitting in a box for hours. On top of that, every priest (including this one) could tell you tales of people coming to confession for trivial reasons or out obsessive-compulsive neuroses. Sometimes I think some people come just because they know someone will listen to them. However, there was an old Roman saying that just because something can be abused doesn’t mean you should get rid of it.

I want to honestly say right here that some of the best and most spiritually rewarding moments in all my years of priesthood have been in the context of hearing a confession. I will never forget sitting in Concourse D at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. A man walked up to me and said: “Father, would you hear my confession.” For a just a few minutes, we walked up and down the concourse. He was a priest who in a moment of discouragement and desperation had left his people to pursue his own pleasures. In those few moments, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he turned around and went back home. I hope to this day that someone came out running to great him with a ring and a robe. There have been moments with young people struggling to love their parents but acting out in hurtful ways. There have been little children trying to learn that a hand is not a weapon with which you hurt someone, but something God has given us to help others up who have fallen, or to pat someone you love, or feed someone who is hungry. I’ve prayed with people who have been unfaithful discovering that their real infidelity is to God and that they have betrayed themselves as much as their partner in this life. 

So, what is it with us? Laziness? Denial? Or maybe a presumption that if we just feel sorry, we don’t have to say we are. How does that work? You scrape my car in the parking lot. You go home and feel badly and maybe tell God you’re sorry, but never say anything to me? It just doesn’t work that way when people want to make up. When you’re sick, you see a doctor, you take your medicine. If you don’t, you might die. Isn’t it odd that many of us go to our doctor at least once or twice a year for a check-up to stay healthy and in good shape without a thought about a check-up for your soul? 

There must be some little voice whispering that God can’t be offended by what we say and do, or worse yet, by what we fail to say and do, and so around and around this world goes with the morality of choices hardly ever being taken into consideration as though I can do what I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, but of course the hurt is already there and it’s deep because it’s all about me and my rights. If my rights offend you, it’s your problem. No, it isn’t. So, in God’s mercy there is a way to take another look at what we say and do and what we fail to say and fail to do and then, take responsibility for the consequences which not many people want to do these days because, blame is the game. It’s been going on since Adam and Eve. She blamed the snake, he blamed her, and they ended up alone, in shame and very sorry. The consequences of forgetting that we are children of God, or of thinking that we can act or do what God alone does is dragging us down – way down.

There is always that fear about what someone is going to think of us. So, we don’t want to say what everyone of us can and should say: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” While you might be saying that to a priest you respectfully call, “Father”, what I hear is someone speaking to God the Father. People who don’t know enough to understand are always asking why you have to confess to a priest, and you know the answer, because he’s a sinner too, and where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, he is in their midst. So, there’s two sinners, and that the unseen one in their midst came to forgive sins and heal whatever is broken. People who don’t know enough question the power or the right of a priest to forgive sins, and as soon as they do, you know that they never listened to the words of the prayer. Let me review them for you: God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. It is the Holy Spirit that forgives, not the priest. He just speaks the words in the name of the whole church which is fulfilling the commission given to it by Jesus himself.

So, once again, we see the Church as a Sacrament – this time a Sacrament of healing forgiveness that lifts up, restores, heals the broken hearted and sometimes broken lives. We are all people who long for a second chance, and that’s what we proclaim with this great gift: that we have a second chance. And what does the priest think about those repentant and sorrowful people who come to pray with him?  I’ll tell what I think. I sit there in total amazement at the faith in the lives and hearts of people who come to confession. They bear witness to me, and many times, they shame me. I can’t tell you how often I have headed off to find a confessor after some time in the confessional. I don’t see sinners. I don’t see evil. I don’t hear anything but a painful cry from a hurting heart. I’m not there to judge. I’m there to bind up what is broken, to strengthen the weak, and hold up those who feel lame, tired, lost, and alone.

There is one verse in John’s Gospel that leaves me speechless and in awe. It goes like this: Luke 22:54-6: “Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him” but he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “I am not!” Then about an hour later yet another kept insisting. “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean. But Peter said, “I do not know what you are talking about” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter.”

One of the most powerful moments in the Gospel happens without a word spoken. Jesus has talked and talked and talked about repentance and conversion, and he never gets better results than when he says nothing and just turns and looks at Peter. Of course, it all happens because of things said earlier, but the final and best moment is accomplished in silence. Luke tells us that Jesus turned and “looked at Peter.” and Peter wept. What must have been said between those two men in that glance? What was the message Peter understood as his eyes met the eyes of his friend, his Lord, his brother? We can only imagine, and we can only hope.

What do you think that look was like?  It’s easy for us who live in a measured world of revenge, power, retribution and superiority to think that the look on the face of Jesus as he turned to Peter was one of reproach and “I told you so.” But, after we remember the lessons of Mercy we have heard from Jesus again and again, I think he looked at Peter winked and smiled with love.

We bring our brokenness, our inadequacy, our sinfulness here to this place to be included, to be part of the fellowship, to take part in the forgiveness; the amnesty that redemption proclaims, and we take the chance and live in the hope that he will turn his face toward us again, that He will look at us, and that like Peter we may be touched by the divine mercy that renews our hope in the face of sin.

If Fellowship and Forgiveness belong to this place, so does Mercy.

Mercy is a gift we cannot receive until we have surrendered. It was not until Peter looked Jesus in the eye with full knowledge of what he had done and who he was, that he could simply give up, surrender to grace knowing full well that he was, after all kinds of testing and mistrust, accepted in all his brokenness.

Mercy is not benevolent tolerance or a kind of grudging forgiveness. It is a loving allowing, a willing breaking of the rules by the one who made the rules. It is wink and a smile. Receiving the mercy of God takes humility. That was the difference between Peter and Judas. It was that quality that made the difference between one who said: “I have sinned against heaven and earth.” and then destroyed himself in pride, unable to admit that he had done such a thing; and the other one, who failed by his denial, and was willing to look into the eyes of the one he had failed.

In this place, around this table, gather the weak the broken the lame, the sinners, the powerless to celebrate fellowship, forgiveness, and mercy. If Jesus who sits with us at this table is the revelation of what is going on inside the eternal God, which is the core of Christian faith, then we are forced to conclude that God is very humble. He never holds rightful claims against us. We never attain anything by our own holiness but by ten thousand surrenders to Mercy. A lifetime of received forgiveness allows us to become mercy. And when the time comes for us to look into the face of Christ, we can only hope that he will turn and look at us just as he did Peter. Our best hope is that he will wink and smile, and once again we will feast in joy as we pass the plate of Mercy to all who are broken and humble enough to come in.

Sing: “There is a Balm in Gilead”

Have you ever noticed when driving around town those people who are in tank tops and shorts running along with the latest expensive running shoes? They are never smiling. They look like they are in agony, and then I begin to wonder why the people who are running are the ones who don’t need to. They already have flat abs. They don’t need to run. I do, Then I just speed up so I don’t have to see them. It’s all part of the culture and age in which we live. It has been poisoned by a cult of youth and healthy living evidenced by flat bellies and blemish free tanned supple skin so much so that we must now reach deeply into our treasure of tradition for an antidote that would restore our vision letting us see an even greater sacramental sign that reveals the Holy and the Presence of God. I’ll remind you again. When it comes to spirituality and sacraments, it is always going to be about people. 

This cult of youth and health has cost us a great treasure, and hides from eyes a living sacrament of Christ’s presence.  It is the sacrament of suffering, illness and age.

The sick and frail are themselves a sacrament of Christ’s presence among us. Those bent with age and slowed by the burden of years are a living reminder of Christ under the burden of our sin. They proclaim to us still the Good News of Hope in a living homily of patience. Those who live with sickness and pain are a far more real sign of Christ’s presence than the crucifixes which hang all around us. Knees that have bent before the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation are worn from a life of adoration and service. Feet that now shuffle behind walkers or canes have walked down the aisles of our churches in a life-long procession toward the holy. These are lives broken for all. In humble recognition of that which is holy, we anoint with sacred oil that which is most precious for us and bears the image of Christ. We touch, embrace, and reach out not so much to give strength as to receive a measure of their strength and their patience.

I’ve always believed and sensed very deeply that hospitals and nursing homes are very holy places. They are filled with the presence of God, the power of life, the hope of resurrection. In the presence of these holy ones who are suffering, frail, yet faithful. At the same time, they are often places of great loneliness and isolation. Often the sick and the frail are cut off or absent from the fellowship, friendship, and nurturing companionship of the church. One of the most under-appreciated sacramental signs happens during Holy Week when a Bishop gathers the church together for the Blessing and Consecration of the Oils. Then, at the conclusion, someone from every parish takes some of that Oil back to the parish church visually and materially linking all the churches together.

We use these blessed oils in the most wonderful way to mark places and people as holy, as sacred, and as someone very dear to the heart of God. When an altar is blessed, oil is poured on it. When a church is blessed, oil is smeared on its walls. When someone steps up wanting the privilege of sharing the Body and Blood Christ giving witness to their faith in Confirmation, we smear oil on them. When the hands of priest are prepared to hold the sacred gifts in sacrifice and offering, they are smeared with oil. The act unites and bonds us together. 

Listen to the prayer a Bishop offers over the oil of the sick: “Lord God, loving Father, you bring healing to the sick through your Son Jesus Christ. Hear us as we pray to you in faith, and send the Holy Spirit, man’s Helper and Friend, upon this oil, which nature has provided to serve the needs of your people. May your blessing come up on all who are anointed with this oil, that they may be freed from pain and illness and made well again in body, mind, and soul. Father, may this oil be blessed for our use the name of Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you forever and ever. Amen.

When that oil shared with communities around the diocese is then taken and smeared on the head and hands of the sick who, because of their illness or age have been away, they are once again in touch with, included in, and part of the sacramental praying church. The healing is about reaching out and gathering back in whoever is broken and left out. There is hardly anything more painful than loneliness and the feeling of abandonment that often comes with disease, suffering, and age. In their suffering, those we anoint become sacraments in a sense. They are a sign to us of the suffering Christ who stands among us with the promise of resurrection and hope.

We who live in this sacramental faith develop an eye for the holy.

We see it where others do not. We look upon common ordinary things and can see their potential for bearing grace. Bread, Wine, Water, Oil, and Flames to the sacramental eye connect us with the Holy, and can lift us out of the present. 

Sing another verse of: “There is a Balm in Gilead”

The Lord be with you.

Let us pray: Father, you raised your Son’s cross as the sign of victory and life. May all who share in his suffering find in this sacrament a source of fresh courage and healing. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives forever and ever, Amen.

Listen now to the Word of God.

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

“The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.

They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song

The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; 

They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, 

say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be Strong, Fear Not!

Here is your God, he comes with vindication; 

With divine recompense he comes to save you. 

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared;

Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing.

Sing: “Healing River”

A reading from the Epistle of Saint James.

Is there any one among you sick? Let him bring in the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him.

The Word of the Lord

The Book of the Gospels it taken from the Altar to the Ambo
Sing: “Praise to you Lord, Jesus Christ. King of Endless Glory.”


A reading of the Holy Gospel according to Mark

“Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.

The man who believes in it and accepts baptism will be saved;

the man who refuses to believe in it will be condemned.

“Signs like these will accompany those who professed their faith; 

they will use my name to expel demons

they will be able to handle serpents, 

they will be able to drink deadly poison without harm

and the sick upon whom they lay their hands will recover.

Then after speaking to them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven

and took his seat at God’s right hand.

The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere.

The Lord continued to work with them through and confirm the message 

through the signs which accompanied them.

The Gospel of the Lord.

Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, we experience our powerlessness, our limitations, and illness always leads us to glimpse death. It can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, and initiate a search for God and a return to God. Christ’s compassion toward the sick and his many healings of every kind of infirmity are a wonderful sign that “God has visited his people” and that the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Jesus has the power not only to heal, but also to forgive sins, he has come to heal the whole person, soul and body; he is the physician the sick have need of. His compassion toward all who suffer goes so far that he identifies himself with them: “I was sick and you visited Me.” His preferential love for the sick has not ceased through the centuries to draw the very special attention of Christians toward all those who suffer in body and soul. It is the source of tireless efforts to comfort them. Often Jesus asks the sick to believe. He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands, mud and washing. The sick try to touch him, and so in the sacraments Christ continues to touch us in order to heal us. With great confidence then, and in response to the command of Christ that we should continue to do what he has done and act in his name, I ask that those who wish to receive the strength and grace of this Holy Anointing come forward. 

My sisters and brothers, in our prayer of faith let us appeal to God for those who are before us:

  • Come and strengthen them through his holy anointing, Lord Have Mercy
  • Free them from all harm: Lord Have Mercy
  • Free them from sin and all temptation: Lord Have Mercy
  • Relieve the sufferings of all the sick her present: Lord, Have Mercy
  • Assist those dedicated to the care of the sick: Lord, Have Mercy
  • Give life and health to our brother on whom we not lay hands in your name: Lord, Have Mercy.

The imposition of hands takes place followed by the anointing.

“Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”

Closing Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, 

by the grace of your Holy Spirit

cure the weakness of your servants.

Heal them and forgive their sins;

restore them to full health and strengthen them to continue their service to your people

for you are Lord forever and ever, Amen.

May the God of all consolation

bless you in every way

and grant you hope all the days of your life.

May God restore you to health

and grant you salvation.

May God fill your heart with peace

and lead you to eternal life.

May Almighty God bless you,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AmenThe “Servant Song” is sung