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 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.