All posts for the month August, 2021

August 29, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle and Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL

Deuteronomy 4, 1-2, 6-8 + Psalm 15 + James 1, 17-18, 21-27 + Mark 7, 1-8, 13-15, 21-23

Mark tells us at the beginning of this episode that these Pharisees and some Scribes came from Jerusalem. With this detail, Mark signals that these guys come with authority because Jerusalem was the place above all where purity was to be maintained, and the laws which provided purity were to be enforced. The whole system in Jerusalem was about deciding what or who was clean or unclean. If something or someone was unclean, it was restored to purity there, and you did that by keeping the law which told you what to do. It’s not difficult to come up with the impression that those Pharisees and Scribes were fixated on purity. It was just all that mattered to them because a lot of their power and authority came from their perceived “purity”. It was a perception that came from their precise, public, and exact keeping of the law. In their obsessive concern about purity, the confused the distinction between law and custom. Jesus was not confused, and he made it clear to them. The Law came from Moses, the customs that developed over time around the law came from men. 

Behind all of this is a much more important concern that I believe Jesus speaks about today and leaves us to address, and that is basically the concern about purity itself and where it comes from. Mark addresses the church to whom he writes with the concern that they seek purity and lead pure and holy lives. It was a church that was in trouble with the Jewish authorities because they were not keeping the law. Chief among them was eating with Gentiles and others who did not observe all the customs like washing their hands which had nothing to do with sanitation. It was religious gesture about purity. So Mark writes to keep them focused on God’s will that they all be one, pure in God’s sight.

Obviously from what Jesus has to say, purity is not a consequence of keeping laws or, for that matter of observing customs. It is not clean hands that make someone pure no matter what the Pharisees and Scribes want to think. They wanted to look at hands and decide who was in and who was out. It was always a matter of deciding who was clean and unclean. Jesus will have none of that. First of all, he had already on many occasions made himself “unclean” by their standards by touching other people the Pharisees had branded as unclean. Lepers and those paralytics could never wash their hands. What irritates Jesus, and his impatience with them is not hard to miss, is that he does not accept the judgement that these otherwise good decent people are being excluded because they are judged to be “unclean.”

What they can’t deal with, and what we must deal with is the question of where purity comes from, and how is it achieved. What Jesus asks of us is more than being law abiding. The pure in the sight of God are far more than those who just keep the rules. Law abiding people are not necessarily clean because the keep the law. Just because you use your turn signal and do not speed doesn’t mean you are pure and clean (in the Gospel sense) when you go down the road cursing at anyone who gets in your way. There is no law about racism, but people who harbor racist attitudes and judge others by their accent or skin color are a long way from being pure in God’s eyes.

Purity comes from within says Jesus. It resides in the heart not in the law book. Something is pure when it is not mixed with anything else. A pure wine is not a blend. Pure water has nothing added, no chemicals. When Jesus speaks about the Pure of Heart promising that they will see God, it means that they don’t see or look at anything else. In a sense, when something is pure it means, what you see is what you get. And so it must be for us as Jesus speaks in this assembly. Our motives, our judgments, our hearts must be pure. When we give it cannot be to look good or get something back. If we contribute to church or some charity, it cannot be just because we want a tax deduction. We cannot be kind to someone expecting kindness in return and stop when it is not. When I was a pastor and someone came with a gift to the parish that had strings attached, I knew it was a bribe. That the difference between a gift and bribe, strings. There were no strings attached to anything Jesus did for us. He gave his life for the sinners and the saints. It was pure obedience to the will of the Father. 

We go from here today once more purified by the blood of the cross just as the Israelites were purified by the blood of the lamb they offered in the Temple. We go from here nourished by the Word made flesh calling us to purify our lives by placing God’s singular law of Love beyond everything else. It is not a love given so that we might be loved in return, but a love given so that we might become one with love itself, Divine Love in the flesh, Jesus Christ.

August 22, 2021 Homily not delivered. This weekend I am with the Maronite Parish in Tequesta, FL

Josiah 24, 1-2, 15-18 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 21-32 + John 6, 60-69

Our “summer vacation” from Mark’s Gospel comes to an end this weekend, and by now we recognize that our reflection on the sixth chapter of John has not exactly been a time to rest. Every three years as this sixth chapter is put before us, we feast on the Word of God and, if we so desire, we are drawn more deeply into the meaning of the Bread of Life and confirmed more firmly in the faith we have in Jesus Christ who is now, once and for all, by the words of Peter, the Holy One, the Son of God who has come down from heaven.

The chapter, as John puts it before us, ends with a crisis. Two groups reject what Jesus has to say; the “Jews” as John calls one group and the others he calls, “Disciples”. No doubt the first group was simply put off by the language, “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” There is also the refusal of Jesus to accept their idea of what and how the Messiah should behave was also part of their trouble. They shook their heads and walked away. 

Then there is the crisis of Discipleship. Some of the disciples found his teaching to be hard and difficult to accept. Probably what was hard had its roots much earlier, before this controversy over Bread and Flesh. It probably had to do with the Incarnation itself. The whole idea that Jesus had come down from heaven, like the manna in the desert with which he compares himself. Is refused. They think they know where he comes from. They would not accept that God would come to them, that God’s own Son could and would die on a cross revealing the extent of God’s love was more than they could take. They turn away and leave Jesus. When Jesus compares his coming from the Father to the Manna in the desert which came down from heaven and reminds them that they ate what came down from heaven (Manna), things begin to come apart not because they don’t believe in the eucharist, but because they don’t believe in Jesus as the Son of God come down from heaven.

Peter’s words clarify the crisis and resolve the matter as he makes a profound profession of faith in Jesus as the “Holy One Come down from heaven”. What makes faith reliable does not concern what is believed, but rather it concerns the trustworthiness of the one who is believed. When a trusted friend tells me about something I have no firsthand knowledge of, I believe it is true, because of the experience I have in the personal integrity of my friend. That is the first step into faith.

We see in our time that the crisis continues. People still walk away from lives of faith. We are all confounded by the reality that so many of our family, our friends are untouched by the words of Christ. At family gatherings, faith rarely if ever enters into the conversations. This experience of so many around us simply no longer practicing any form of faith is as hard for us as it was for Peter and his companions. It becomes a real test of faith for us today. The failure of so many to believe that the consecrated Eucharistic Bread and Wine is really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ is more a failure to believe the one who is the Truth than it is to believe that Bread can become Flesh. “Flesh” for Jesus is not meat. It is life. The Eucharist is our weekly call to an intimate encounter with Jesus Christ. Th Eucharist invites us to open ourselves to the person of Christ as he teaches us in Word and offers us his life, Divine Life, in Communion, in Sacrament. The Eucharist is a call to faith and the personal renewal of our faith in Jesus Christ, who we have come to believe and are convinced is “the Holy One of God.”

Marth and Mary

August 21 & 22 at Mary, Mother of Light Maronite Church, Tequesta, FL

1 Thessalonians 2, 1-13 + Luke 10, 38-42

My second assignment as a priest in 1971 was to a High School in Oklahoma City which, in those days, was owned and for the most operated by the Sisters of Mercy. I was 29 years old with shoulder-length red/blond hair reluctantly assuming the assignment the Bishop had insisted upon over my hesitation as Chaplain to the Sisters and Administrator and Faculty member. There were 38 sisters living in the house at that time. While it was, in retrospect, an important and formative time of my life, there were times when I felt like Job. I celebrated Mass 7 days a week for 38 Sisters of Mercy. Far too often Luke10, 38 would come up in the lectionary. Preaching this text in a convent with 38 sisters with an age range of 27 to 90 was something to be avoided. There was a Martha and Mary in every pew. I dreaded this text., but in time, even with the help of the Sisters, I’ve gotten a little deeper into it.

The heart of this story is found by turning this scene around. Forget about contrasting Martha and Mary. There is another figure in this story, the guest. Paying attention to the guest is more important than getting into some controversy over Martha’s behavior or Mary’s. Too often used by contemplatives, to justify their spirituality or life-style, we miss something more important. 

Disciples of Jesus are always hospitable like both Martha and Mary. I can’t imagine that Jesus would have stopped there had it not been for Martha’s cooking. There is no reason to think that Martha threw down her apron and walked out of the kitchen. The focus for both Mary and Martha is Jesus, the guest. The story becomes then a reminder that we are all perpetual guests of a loving and divine host. As guests, our possessiveness and selfish attitude toward this world’s goods and resources are kept in check. We are guests on this earth, in this creation; guests of the Creator who has welcomed us and provided for us.

Just as at Cana’s wedding feast, the guest suddenly become the host. Those who welcome this divine guest will inevitably discover that the guest always becomes the host. It is Jesus who comes hungry to this home in Bethany, and he ends up feeding those who have welcomed him. He gets invited to a wedding, and he ends up providing the wine. What we learn from Luke’s Gospel today is that this divine guest still feeds us. It is the Word of God that provides nourishment for us, and a life devoted to hearing that word is first of all concerns. That guest on this earth and in this life is still here to feed us and becomes the very food of this Eucharist. The guest who is welcomed, the guest who coms hungry for us, still feeds us. It’s like that story of the woman at the well. He comes thirsty with no bucket, and ends up providing living water for the woman at that well. She is the one refreshed by his presence and his word. 

I think this Gospel proposes that Martha and Mary should be seen as one person – the person who receives Jesus Christ. There is a balance proposed here, between dong and being, and a disciple of Jesus learns the difference. There is a call here: a call to the integration of work and play or of action and prayer. Having just told the story of Mercy in the Good Samaritan parable, Jesus now affirms that discipleship is not all about doing, but also about being; in this case, being hospitable, being good guests, and gracious hosts in the spirit of Abraham and the style of Jesus.

Now what we discover in this chapter of Luke’s Gospel is not just a lesson in hospitality, The lesson comes not from word, but from example. The stories of Jesus feeding crowds abound in the Gospel. His mandate to apostles: “Feed them yourselves” comes off the page into the face of those who always think someone else will or should take care of the hungry. The response of Jesus to the needs of those who came to him is never just “spiritual”. He raises a dead girl, and tells the parents, “Give her something to eat.” All through the Old Testament, God is the Divine host who feeds and sustains those who wander the wilderness. Once in their promised land, they always remained there as guests in God’s eyes. Their prayer and their feasts celebrated the Table God had set before them.

In Jesus, Israel’s divine host became incarnate, and the Old Testament quality of hospitality was seen in the images he used for the reign of God as a banquet and in the way he was found at dinners, feasts, and banquets with sinners, Pharisees, and folks like Martha and Mary. While Martha and Mary may seem to be the host, it is, in the end, Jesus who feeds them with his presence and his word. He went there hungry, and ends up feeding them with his presence. With that reminder from Luke’s Gospel, we gather here again and again to be fed by the one who gives us His flesh to eat. We are the guests here fed so that we might feed others so that no one will ever be hungry where disciples of Jesus gather in his name.

August 15, 2021 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Revelation 11, 19, – 12, 1-6 + Psalm 45 + 1 Corinthians 15, 20-27 + Luke 1, 39-56

We have two examples set before us today by the Blessed Virgin. They are not provided to have us sit back in admiration, but rather to inspire and motivate us in our response to the Word of God made flesh.

The first example is what Mary does. Her way of responding to the favor God has shown her sends her to Elizabeth an old woman who is with child, someone in need of company, of presence, and of help. She does not sit at home enjoying the favors of God. She knows that those favors come with some expectations, some duty. There is a way of looking at this visitation that suggests she is taking the incarnate Christ to someone in need. The visitation between these two women happens because of previous visitation between an angel and Mary. Someone visited by God will visit another. Someone favored by God will take that favor to another. 

The second example is what Mary says. Her response and greeting to Elizabeth provide us with a model of prayer that is without equal. Again, not for admiration, but for imitation. Joy almost explodes from her lips. Joy is the only possible response any of us could have when we recognize how favored we are by God, how willingly and generously God has been revealed to us and given us the gift of faith that always seeks the will of God before all things. Mary is not the only one favored by God. She is just the first. Her prayer reflects on her life, and it praises God and acknowledges God’s presence and work among us. In her prayer there are echoes of God’s passion for Justice and his promise of Mercy. She asks for nothing because she needs nothing so completely has God taken flesh in her life.

As the whole church this day honors her memory with this feast, this church must also learn from her how to be open to the Word of God, how to receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit that overshadows us all, how to see the needs of others and act in their favor. This church that is you and me can offer no better prayer than the joyful praise of God and the acknowledgement of God’s deeds among us. This church that gathers on this day must do so with sincere humility because we don’t deserve God’s favor and cannot earn it. 

What Elizabeth says to Mary at the moment of their meeting can still be said of us: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Remember what has been spoken to us by the Lord. Remember what was said to a thief suffering and near death. It is the promise that we see in the Assumption of Mary. It is the promise that Blessed people of faith can expect to be fulfilled: “Today you will be with me in Paradise”.

August 8, 2021 at Saint Peter, Saint Agnes, and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

1 Kings 19, 4-8 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 4, 30 – 5,2 + John 6, 41-51

At this point in chapter six, the crowd is unable to listen any further to Jesus. Not only are they impatient because he does not give them any more signs, but they are totally confounded by his claim to have come down from heaven when they know his clan and where they live. So, in these verses, the focus is not bread, but Jesus himself. Before he can talk about the bread and what it is, he must reveal who he is if he is the bread.

Moving into this revelation about the identity of Jesus, our own faith and understanding about the bread of life and the eucharist gets tested. The crowd is wrong. They only think they know where Jesus comes from. They look at Jesus and all they see is just another man, one of their neighbors, the son of that carpenter, Joseph. Here, Jesus challenges just what it is they think they know, and John begins to introduce the role and the consequence faith plays in those who listen to the Word of God.

The gift of faith is like the gift of sight. It expands what we know, and most of what we know comes through sight. Scientists tell us that our eyes are only sensitive to that segment of the spectrum located between red and violet which is only 5% of existing light. The remaining 95% made of cosmic, infrared, ultraviolet, gammas, and x-rays, we cannot see. That means we only perceive 5% of the real world. This is the problem for that crowd and many others without faith. It was a problem for the Corinthians to whom Paul writes those powerful words: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” In a just a few minutes, what our eyes see is a piece of bread which is walking by sight. To those who walk by faith they see the Body of Christ. We must be careful here with our expression of what we see by faith. We do not see “Jesus.” That’s what the crowd saw. We see “The Body of Christ.” They are not the same thing.

Throughout these verses, Jesus insists that there is a relationship between him and the Father. Knowing who Jesus is means knowing him as a person of relationship, and to discover his love, faithfulness, and attraction for the God he calls Father. The bread he wants to give is that relationship, and that is why we call it “Communion.” For people of father it is not bread. It is the Body of Christ which is what we become by our faithful acceptance of this gift of himself. To enter into the mystery of Christ is to enter into life – life everlasting. The truth of this, and the realization of what we are doing here ought to leave us stunned to silence as we try to wrap our minds around the enormity and the value of this gift.

The crowd that was so excited and fascinated at the beginning is murmuring now, and soon they will be shouting for him to be crucified. The limitation that they impose on themselves by insisting that they know who Jesus is and what they want from him is a tragedy we must avoid. Giving up or losing faith because God will not be or do what we want is a tragedy we can avoid if we simply walk by faith, enter into the relationship we are offered, and hold to the hope we are given by the resurrection of Christ. It is the hope that no matter what, even if death comes, we shall rise again because we have eternal life.

August 1, 2021 at Saint Peter and Saint William Churches in Naples, FL

Exodus 16, 2-4 + Psalm 78 + Ephesians 4, 17, 20-24 + Mark 6, 24-35

In this 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, we pick up the introduction to what we must call, “The Bread of Life” discourse. Much of what happens here is a dialogue between Jesus and the crowd, and at this point, the crowd is open and respectful. They call him, “Rabbi”, “Sir”, and “Master.” That will not last. They will be murmuring and turn against him next week. That crowd were chasing him around for more free food, and for the hope that he would finally rise up to be the Messiah they wanted, political and powerful. Remember, there are no “miracles” in John’s Gospel. There are “signs”. The people have failed to ask what the signs mean. They simply remain on the shallow side of things totally concerned with their immediate needs and wants. It is not bread that he offers like the bread from the bakery. It is himself that he offers to them, but they want to stay on the shallow side of this and talk about their bellies rather than their souls. Instead of promising a free lunch, Jesus invites them to be nourished by his life, to assume his way of being as the path that would bring them everything they ever wanted. Divine love was the “bread” that kept him going and the food that would sustain his disciples for eternal life. 

When we listen to Christ speak to us these same words today, it might be as much a challenge to us as it was to that crowd. All of us are still people who want miracles for ourselves and for others. I’m sure it’s the same for you, I catch myself way too often praying and asking God for something that has to do with this life. Absent is that deeper level that goes beyond any earthly need or want. It seems to me as I listen to myself and to so many others, that we are still like that crowd stuck in this life without the dream and the desire for what we are ultimately promised by Jesus. He promised us everlasting life. He did not promise us contentment, ease, and plenty in this life. When we have those, there is the risk of forgetting that there is something else ahead, and we a rushing toward it day by day.

The miraculous sharing of bread that happened among them was the key to understanding what Jesus had to offer. When that one child gave all he had, they saw that those who share everything will never hunger. If they wanted to do the works of God, if they wanted the food that endures, they needed only to believe in Jesus enough to do what he did.  We have to look beyond the bread we eat, as one of our hymns sings. For the bread we eat is Jesus the Lord. The bread we eat is not to nourish our bodies, but to feed our souls which are so hungry and so starved for a life that matters, for something more than a big home and a fancy car.

The cry of that crowd should be the cry that comes out of every one of our hearts: “Give us this bread always.” Jesus came among us to show us how to live not to impress us with power and miracles.  Those of us who love the stories of Jesus must take responsibility for them by making them come true in our own day.