All posts for the month June, 2021

June 27, 2021 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Wisdom 1, 13-15, 2, 23-24 + Psalm 30 + 2 Corinthians 8, 7, 9, 13-15 + Mark 5, 21-43

Jesus calls that woman who is unclean, “daughter,” and with that she is healed of her affliction. Of course, her affliction is far more than a hemorrhage. It is far more than the fact that her medical bills have used up everything she had. Her real affliction is her isolation, the separation from family and her community brought on by this hemorrhage which was so horrible and defiling at the time. No one there would have touched her for fear of becoming unclean. In fact, they would have run her off had she not been sneaking around. But Jesus calls her, “Daughter”. With that, all is well and a relationship that was broken by this illness is healed and she is restored. 

Around this incident, there is another that reveals the work and the will of God. A man whose name is given because he is so well known comes desperately to Jesus. This is a man of power and influence, but at the moment, he is just a father terrified over the thought of losing his daughter. So, we get two daughters today and a father who cares more about his child than about his dignity as he falls down on the ground at the feet of Jesus.

For us who proclaim this Gospel today, Jairus becomes an image of God the Father who will go to any lengths for his children to be rescued from death even to the point of humbling himself to become one of us. It may help to understand the message of this Gospel to know that the Greek word Mark uses for both of these healings is: σώσει which has two meanings: to cure and to save.

The saving work of Jesus Christ is the work of healing what is broken. It is the work of restoring us to the Father. It is the work of restoring life when there has been death. It is the work of healing the broken family of human kind, that because of sin finds us all bankrupt and helpless as we try remedy after remedy to find what we all most desire: a chance to touch Jesus Christ. This daughter who is bleeding finds hope, healing, and salvation because the one she touches will bleed for her. 

We who dare to approach this altar might come humbly like Jairus full of hope and faith. We pray for ourselves like that woman, and we pray for one another as did this loving father. Some may come secretly like the woman with needs no one sees longing to simply touch and find healing salvation. And touch we shall as we reach out and touch the saving Body of Christ in Communion. We are all ordinary believers in a crowd who cannot claim extraordinary experiences of conscious direct encounter with our Lord in unmistakable and dramatic ways. Yet, we do sometimes touch him with all the modesty the word “touch” carries. Let’s reach out today, for as long as can remain in communion we know like the one he called his “daughter” that we shall be well again.

This homily was not delivered as prepared. I was serving the Maronite Community in Jupiter, Florida on June 20, 2021

Job 38, 1, 8-11 + Psalm 107 + 2 Corinthians 5,14-17 + Mark 4, 35-41

Just in case you like trivia, the surface of the lake they are crossing is 682 feet below sea level. It is surrounded by mountains on all sides that are between 1000 and 2000 feet above the lake. Warm air on the water and cold air on the mountains just a few miles away can get very turbulent very fast. The cool air falls down the sides of the mountains and mixes with the warm wet air at which point you are going to have a storm. It’s not unusual, but not always predictable without the tool of doppler radar that we have today. But these are not amateurs in that boat. They have lived there and made their living off that lake all their lives. For them to be challenged by this storm says something about its violence. They want another hand on the oars or trimming the sails, and that extra pair of hands is asleep. They don’t like it. So, they wake him up to lend a hand.

When Mark tells us that they were awestruck and terrified, I think they were more afraid of what he did than they were of the storm. It was absolutely unnatural for someone to do what he did. I find it interesting to know (another matter of trivia) that the Greek word Mark uses means more than “woke up.” It literally means “getting up” – it implies that Jesus stood up using his full stature, rising to his full height in the stern of the boat which is taking on water as the wave break over it. He confronts the power of the wind and the waves stirring up images from the Old Testament (which those apostles knew very well): images of God’s power over the raging waters which we hear in our Psalm and in the First Reading today. 

Suddenly, those men in the boat are more struck by the power of their companion than they were by the wind and the sea. “Woah!” they had to have thought. Who is this? For Mark, “this” is the one who brings God’s power and providence to human needs.

In this fourth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, there seems to be no purpose in making that trip to the other side. The point of this episode then is what happened on the way, not the destination. We don’t even know where they going on the other side nor why except for Mark to give us this revelation and leave us as amazed and perhaps as stunned as those men in the boat. Once the storm has calmed down at the command of Jesus, he turns to the storm in the boat to ask why they have allowed cowardice (which is really the word Mark uses in Greek) to overpower their faith. They wanted another hand on the oars. They got something else. They were saved in an unexpected way. 

So, it shall probably be for all of us who sometimes let cowardice take control of our lives. Sometimes when we want God to do something our way, it works out another way. They end up asking: “Who is this?” which is exactly what Mark wants us all to ask. Like those men in that boat, we’re in the boat of life that rocks and rolls through a lot of storms. We sometimes, all of us, think of God with a very limited imagination that does not allow God to work in ways beyond what we can think of. 

God has made us to be capable of more. God has sent his only begotten son to push our imaginations to the limit and to strengthen us when we are afraid. This Gospel invites us into a deeper reflection on the power of God that is always at work through faith in us. Jesus invites us to look at anything that might frighten us with the eyes of faith replacing fear with wonder and awe at what God has done, continues to do in our lives and in this world. 

June 13, 2021 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Ezekiel 117, 22-24 + Psalm 92 + 2 Corinthians 5, 6-10 + Mark 4, 26-34

My father was born in what we would today call “poverty”. In the middle of seven children, he never went beyond 8th grade in a tiny village on the Mississippi River. He left home before he was 15, got a job in Saint Louis sweeping a stock room, and 40 years later retired as a top executive of the same company. He firmly believed in the old saying that you had to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. He also believed that the more you work, the more God will love and reward you. We sometimes had serious discussions about those ideas which ultimately run contrary to Mark’s Gospel. I once said to him: “Your idea may work if you have boots, but there are a lot of people who have no boots.” On another occasion, I suggested that working for rewards might not be the best reason for working because it might be better to work for the glory of God without expecting something in return. Any one of you who may have had similar conversations with a parent probably know how it ended. He rolled his eyes and muttered something like this: “This is what I get for paying for your education!”

I spent 5 wonderful years as pastor of a small town in central Oklahoma right in the middle of the wheat country. I watched those farmers year after year plant that seed. One year it would come up and then the rain would stop and it died before harvest. They would plant again the next year, and it would come up, the grain would form, and a hail storm would come and beat it into the ground before they get into the fields. Again, they would plant, and no rains came, then it would rain torrents and wash the grain right out of the field. Sometimes it would all work just right. The dry winds would come and dry the wheat leaving that golden field ready for harvest. What I learned from them is that their job was to plant. That’s all, just plant. The rest was up to God.

Mark reminds us today that we don’t make the sun rise or the seed to sprout. The way God works is unique to God. There are limits to what we can do, and St. Paul reminds us that we walk by faith, not by sight. Do not be distracted from this hard truth by the image Jesus uses in this episode. Comparing a tiny seed to some wonderful plant misses some humor that I suspect had Jesus smiling as he used this comparison. Mustard bushes were invasive weeds. No farmer would sow mustard in their field. It would be like giving a two-year-old a roll of toilet paper to pay with. Jesus is describing complete chaos. He’s joking. This is not about mustard plants or mustard seeds.

This Gospel was written for a people who were anxious, disappointed, troubled, and discouraged. Their hope for a Messiah had gone sour as their faithfulness was rewarded by persecution, death, and fear. They wondered to themselves and aloud why God was allowing all of this. And today this Gospel is just as relevant and important for us who, enduring suffering, wonder why so many people do not believe in the gospel of love. We do not understand why people leave our lives, why careers do not turn out the way we expected, why life is so complicated, dangerous, and sometimes painful.

Paul describes the only attitude we must have in the face of all this and more. We walk by faith and not by sight. In a culture hostile to the gospel of life, we base our decisions not on what is popular and convenient, but on what God has revealed through his Church. In a society that devalues the dignity of human life, we work to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit prisoners.

We are reminded by Jesus Christ who speaks this Gospel to us that God’s Kingdom is silently growing because that is what God’s Kingdom does. We will not see that Kingdom in full flower until we enter our heavenly reward. But we can be sure that just as the flower is more beautiful than the seed from which is grows, so God’s Kingdom will be far more glorious than anything we can imagine. Until then, no matter how dark and hopeless our world may seem, we live, we work, and we pray with trust that it is all going according to God’s plan. We have to keep planting. That’s what we are here for.

June 6, 2021 at Saint William Church in Naples, FL

Exodus 24, 3-8 + Psalm 116 + Hebrews 9, 11-15 + Mark 14, 12-16, 22-26

When I say: “The Mystery of Faith.” You often respond by saying: “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, until you come again.” We should be clear about this, because for followers of Jesus, those words are meaningless unless they reflect the life of the one who says them. On this holy day, we are reminded to pay attention to what we say and mean it. If you believe that something happens to the bread and wine in my hands when Christ speaks those words again, then you ought to believe that something happens to you when you say Amen and when you eat the bread and drink this cup. 

The Feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ which in the past we called,  “Corpus Christi,” is about us as much as it is about Jesus Christ and the Holy Eucharist. In fact, forgetting that runs the risk of turning this into ritual theatrics that are nothing more than elegant performances. This day is about our identity more than any other day of the year. This day defines who we are. In this age, DNA has become a big issue, and people all over are sending in samples to places like to find out who they are and where they have come from. Precise as all that may be, that information when it comes back really says very little about who we are. Our mother tongue, our cultural context, and for that matter our phone records will tell others more about us than a genetic code. Genes are just the raw material we combine with circumstances and relationships to shape who we are.

On this day, like every other Sunday, we repeat the celebration that forges our identity and strengthens us to be the very body of Christ that we receive. Jesus let his disciples know that joining him in the celebration of the Passover was an event of communion in his self-giving love. Celebrating the body and blood of Christ always calls us to do what he commanded: to share our lives as he did.  If what we do here means anything at all, more is changed than bread into flesh and wine into blood. There is also our flesh and our blood that is, in a sense consecrated by our consuming these precious gifts, this holy sacrament. We can’t possibly believe what happens here if we don’t believe what happens to us. If by mid-week someone who has met us, been with us, or has seen us has not met and experienced the living Jesus Christ, something has gone wrong. And so, we have this day to redirect our focus and our purpose for being here.

What gets placed on this altar is more than a plate of hosts and chalice of wine. What gets placed here is what they mean for they represent you and me. We are the ones placed on this altar. We are the ones who come here to be lifted up in thanksgiving to the Father. We are the ones who must sacrifice and serve, we are the ones who must forgive and heal. We are the ones, filled with the Spirit, that God has sent into this world to give glory and praise, and show those who are lost the way home.

It is Saint Augustine who really speaks of the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ as our feast day. Jesus let his disciples know that joining him in the celebration of the Passover was an event of communion in his self-giving love. Celebrating the Body and Blood of Christ always calls us to do what he commanded: to share our lives as he did. When Augustine gave out Communion, he said this: “Receive what you are and be what you receive.” This is the real mystery of faith. When we dare to say: “Amen,” we proclaim, “Yes, we will receive what we are. We will be what we eat.”