All posts for the month November, 2021

28 November 2021

Jeremiah 33, 14-16 + Psalm 25 + 1 Thessalonians 3, 12-4,2 + Luke 21, 25-28, 34-36 

We ponder the Word of God today as the world begins to bring 2021 to a close. The last month is about to begin. Yet most endings are really the beginning of something new. So, as the world closes a year, the Church begins a new year with the Gospel of Luke which will be our guide in the coming months. Like all of us, Jesus had his ideas about what was important. A farmer once ran an ad that said: “Wanted: young woman who owns tractor. Send photo…..of tractor.” He had his idea about was important too. Jesus highlighted a few points he thought was important for us to remember. For one thing, the timing of the end is unpredictable. For another, the second coming will in due time be known by the whole universe. That whole business of the coming of the “Son of Man” and clouds is a link to the Transfiguration and his Ascension as Luke describes those events. They involve clouds something significant to those people because of their familiarity with the story of Moses and that cloud that led the people through the desert days. Finally, Jesus insists that it is important to be alert, vigilant, and pray. 

What the Lord proposes to us is simply what might best be called, “An Advent Way of Life.” What that looks like is not complicated, but it is challenging. The challenge comes from this world filled with cruel violence, sexual corruption, hedonism, and a godlessness that drives injustice and rewards selfishness. It is the same world that St Luke faced living in the Roman Empire that was so decadent and corrupt. For the church, the faithful of his time, he wrote the Gospel we treasure so filled with hope, dreams, and promises.  In just a few weeks we will be telling the stories of those dreams that guided Joseph, Zachariah, Elizabeth and Mary. These are the promises that still give us hope on days when the end of the world seems to come with the death of a child, a broken marriage, the loss of a life-time partner, or yet another tragic shooting or an act of terrorism that shake our world. Living with hope is a challenge.

But it is not complicated, and St Paul in the oldest Christian document we possess, writes with gentle tenderness to the Thessalonians. He believed the end to be near, and like anyone who believes that it is so, he expresses his emotions, telling them how much they mean to him. It is a touching and personal example of an “Advent Way of Life.” It is a life style focused on the things that matter most. It is a way of living each day as if it were the last not fearful or anxious, but grateful, hopeful and confident that the promise of God’s love will be fulfilled. It is a way of living that is focused on what is good and just. It is a life filled with memories of good times, joyful and promising. It is a life sustained by people who do good things who far outnumber those who do bad things.

That Advent Way of Life takes no one for granted. While there may be times of anxiety, the times of anticipation and excitement are far more treasured. Watching for Jesus is as simple and as real as watching for someone you love to come home, never forgetting to tell them how much they mean to us.

In the Advent Way of Life, we forget what we’ve done for other people and remember what other people have done for us. We ignore what the world owes us and think of what we owe the world. In the Advent Way of life, no one is ever shouting about their rights, but working to fulfill their duty finding ways to do a little more. They look behind the faces of other human beings into their hearts, hungry for joy admitting that probably the only good reason for our existence is not what we’re going to get out of life, but what we going to give to life. It seems to me that this is the only way to stand erect and raise our heads before the Son of Man.

November 21, 2021 at St. William and St. Peter the Apostle Parishes in Naples, FL

Daniel 7, 13-14 + Psalm 93 + Revelation 1, 5-8 + John 18, 33-37

We have to be really careful with this feast and the image it promotes. The reputation of Kings through history is not too great, and nothing to be longed for. The kingship model was understandable to ancient communities. Royal images are common in the Scriptures, but they are not without problems. They can be easily misunderstood and mocked as when Pilate asked Jesus if he is king of the Jews. Comparing our relationship to God as that of subjects to a ruler can be a problem. While kingship can promote ideas of strength, longevity and authority, in reality it has often brought abuses of power, servitude, or slavery. In the end, what we have put before us today is the imagination of ancient communities. As we inherit this image, we might also inherit the struggle, the wish, and need to find a way to express our image of God.

As we now conclude this liturgical year in our church tradition and set aside the Gospel of Mark which we have proclaimed since last Advent, it might be profitable to review what image Mark has given us for Jesus. If you think about it, the image is anything but regal. Half of the Gospel is an effort on the part of Jesus to get his followers to understand that he is not going to establish a Royal and powerful reign that will crush the Romans and restore Israel to some former kind of earthly glory. He is going to be a suffering servant, obedient to the will of his father. The citizens of his kingdom will not be a privileged few who presume some claim on his favor or vie for positions of honor to his right or left.

If we have heard and internalized anything at all from Mark’s Gospel this past year, it is the realization that in his realm there will be found a rag-tag, sometimes confused and sometimes doubtful bunch of misfits who sometimes talk big and then act small. They will be blind but yet cry out, “Lord, Have Mercy.” They will be deaf, sometimes act as if they were possessed by evil, and they will be not-so loyal friends who sometimes can’t be found at the moment of greatest need. Yet they are the ones who have the fish and bread and are told to feed the hungry. They are the in the boat. The fish all night long and get nothing until he tells them where to cast their nets.

Remember in Mark’s Gospel there are no singing angels, adoring shepherds, and no visitors from afar with strange royal gifts. There is no gentle virgin and humble silent carpenter. There is just a wild man from the desert who picks him out of the crowd, and with an image of the sacrificed Passover Lamb recognizes him and directs our attention to the Lamb of God. Chapter after chapter, he rejects and runs from crowds who want to make him their “King.” He has only one crown in mind, and when it comes, they won’t be cheering they will be jeering. 

It’s time now to end this year of grace, and turn to the east. It is time to look for what we have been promised, not a King, but a Savior. Not a place of privilege and ease, but a place among the humble with the sick, the broken, the abandoned, and those cast off in a world still too deaf to the Good News of the Gospel and too blind to see the glory of God in the face of a Christ, the anointed one who lives with us in the poor, the homeless, refugees, the sick, the gay, the black, brown, yellow, and white people who still wait and long for a time of forgiveness asked and forgiveness given, for a time of peace, of joy, and hope. That is what our Advent next week puts before us, a time of now but not yet. It is a time to look dimly into the light of dawn and see what is yet to come, who will come again, what he will look for in us and how he will judge what we have done with what we have been given.

Traditions suggest that Mark near the end of his life was a companion of Peter in Rome during a time of terrible persecution. If so, the source for his Gospel is Peter, a betrayer and not-too dependent friend, yet one who walked on water when called to do so. It is a Gospel for our times, and it is Good News for people like us who can find ourselves in every story of the Gospel. Let us pray today that we shall also find ourselves hard at work for the sake of the one comes when he comes probably not on a golden cloud, but once again on a donkey to gather us all around the eucharistic table and feed us once more on bread of life that lasts forever.

November 14, 2021 at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Naples, FL

Daniel 12, 1-3 + Psalm 16 + Hebrews 10, 11-14 + Mark 13, 24-32

Before we open our hearts to this message and revelation of this Gospel, we need to open our minds to the images the Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is using in order to understand what is being revealed. When Mark is writing this Gospel quoting Jesus, he either knows that the Romans have destroyed the Temple or that the army of Vespasian and his son Titus is at the gates. One of the main concerns for Mark is the warning of believers in Christ that everyone who claims to be Jesus or claims to be his follower should not be believed. There may be wars and rumors of war, but Mark wants believers to understand that this is not the time of the coming of Jesus in glory. All of that stuff, earthquakes, famines, conflicts have been seen many times, and they have nothing to do with the coming of Christ in glory. All that talk about chaos in the heavens refers to the collapse of earthly kingdoms and the end of religions that thought of the sun and the stars as gods. What Mark and the other Evangelists do with this kind of thinking is warn against speculation about when and how Christ will come again. We have all heard television preachers who peddle projected dates who have not studied the scriptures they profess to interpret.

We ought to understand and remember that God is not portrayed as angry and vengeful in these verses. When bad things happen, it is the result of human behavior. If anything, what we discover is that God can work through the mess we can make to intervene with mercy during times of great suffering. At the same time, when we pick up this unusual style of literature called “apocalyptic” we might simply shrug it off as too complicated or too theatrical. That’s a bad plan. What we have here is neither of prediction nor a description. It is a proclamation and reassurance.

What we hear is that human history will not end without the universal human recognition of Jesus Christ as the Lord of all history. When and what it will look like we do not know. What comes through loud and clear is that no matter what, false messiahs, earthquakes, wars, or famine, followers of Jesus will be supported by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel will reach all nations, and in the meantime, there is a lot of housekeeping to be done. That part comes at the end of the speech about servants working until the master comes. 

What we take from this Gospel and what we take home from this celebration is not fear, but a glorious vision of hope. It speaks especially to those who have suffered from war and famine, to those who suffered the collapse of love, to those who face soon the certainty of death because no one is forgotten by God. Our lives can be formed by the kind of world we envision, and while we face a world to grieve over sometimes, there are times of joy and abundance, times of peace, and healing.  Our hope, resting on Christ, Jesus must shape our lives because of our faith.  If we hope for a future of justice and peace, we must read the signs of the times, so that this future may begin now.

November 7, 2021 at St. Peter and St. William Parishes in Naples, FL

1 Kings 17, 10-16 + Psalm 146 + Hebrews 9, 24-28 + Mark 12, 38-44

Instead of calling this the “Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time”, I think we should call it “The Sunday of the Two Widows.” There is no way get through this liturgy without them. A quick read of both stories could lead us to simply think that they are very much alike, helpless, poor, but generous. In reality, they are way more than helpless, poor, but generous. That widow of Zarephath was nothing like the widow in Mark’s Gospel. The first one offered what she had to a person in need. The second one was duped by slick pretenders who know how to bilk the innocent which is what Jesus points out by scolding the leaders of the people who run the Temple. It’s a racket still going on today when we pick up a news story about someone who bilks innocent, naïve people out of money for work they never start or finish.

Elijah is not like that. As the story goes, he was a refugee fleeing both a draught and political danger. At first it might seem odd that he would ask someone as helpless as he was. But, Elijah is a prophet in touch with God, and he holds firmly to his faith in the providence of God while the religious leaders at the time of Jesus are in touch with nothing but their own greed and ambition. Elijah and that widow from Zarephath do not even share the same religion! However, she understood that human beings are made for one another and that even hunger is easier to bear when shared. What she discovers is that by sharing with another in need, they both survive.

Lest we get all impressed by the action of the second widow, we might wonder a bit more about how and why Mark describes her as he does, and what he remembers Jesus said about her.  She is not being held up as an example of charity. She is an image of Jesus himself. Like him, she gives her all whether or not it is appreciated or even noticed by those in power or those who matter. I think Jesus points her out suggesting to the disciples that God operates with a different set of values than those leaders of the people. What matters is faith, trust, and human solidarity.

In telling these stories today we might ask ourselves whose interest motivates us. We might take a second look at how our generosity really works and whether we are just giving out of our surplus, because we all have a surplus. Or, have we ever really understood and identified with people who are desperate and in need. I read recently that the poor are the most generous when it comes to responding to needs because they’ve been there or are still there having discovered that by sharing with another in need, they both survive.

We might also think more deeply about that widow in Zarephath who pays no attention at all to the fact that Elijah is a foreigner, a refugee, and even of a different religion. What matters is that he is a human being, vulnerable, frightened, and alone. So is she. When they both recognize their frailty, vulnerability, desperation, and fears, they do more than survive together, their solidarity is an unmistakable sign of how we can experience and draw them near to the reign of God. 

November 1, 2021 at St. Peter and St. William Parishes in Naples, FL

Revelations 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12

Halloween has nearly eclipsed All Saints Day. The secular world seems to think that Halloween is what it’s all about. Rather than being the night to prepare for a celebration, it has become the celebration. Instead of being about life, it’s turned into a spooky time with goblins and skeletons. But we are in this church because we know the difference. We know that Christ conquered the powers of darkness and those who really believe can use Halloween to mock fear and death with laughter and fun. Confidence in Christ makes Halloween a light-hearted time.

Children are the chief celebrants of Halloween, and for some of us there is an inner child that can still have fun. The whole business of dressing up with scary masks and going around to spooky places with spider webs, ghosts, and skeletons is a delightful joke through which we can discover that this world is really comedy act in which terrible things get defeated. It’s a great therapy for fear. Those of us past childhood would do well to imitate the willingness of children to venture forth into the unknown, take risks, and return home not only safe but triumphant.

Children seem to know that if you’re afraid of something, the best thing to do is to dress yourself and your friends — maybe even your little brother — as the thing you’re afraid of, so that you can see it in familiar flesh and confront it and deal with it and prove to yourself that it can’t really hurt you. They know that pretending that something isn’t real won’t work if it is real. There are monsters under the bed. So, the Halloween wisdom of children comes down to this: There are monsters under the bed, but we can face our fears, and by grace and struggle be set free from them. 

This feast of All Saints’, with music, prayers, beautiful vestments, and everything else is the sunny side of Halloween. Today is joy. Last night was comedy. The saints we honor this day, a vast, innumerable crowd, are graduates of the school of grace and struggle in which trick-or-treaters have just enrolled. The saints are those wise enough to face their fears and accept the help of God as naturally as a small child walking in the dark accepts a parent’s hand.

The saints are those who accept the adventure of a risk, and one that’s sane and healthy too, even if their contemporaries can’t figure them out. These saints know the great therapy for fear. They take God seriously, at his word, while everything else, everyone else, including themselves, they regard not seriously, but lightly. Saints are people who aren’t afraid to live with both the gruesome and the glorious. They are not embarrassed to struggle with the great division between good and evil, life and death, heaven and hell. They are called forth into the unknown as into a dark night, they venture forth, enter spooky places, and return home not only safe but triumphant.

Did you know that Ignatius Loyola told his seminarians to laugh and grow stronger. Saint Philip Neri performed ridiculous dances in the presence of cardinals and wore his clothes inside out. Teresa of Avila taught her Nuns to dance on holy days and gave them castanets.

At Halloween children recognize that beyond the very real struggle, there is a world of delight free from fear’s control. That world is where the saints are found, both saints in heaven and saints on earth. Maybe you have known some. Maybe you know some now. Maybe you are one of these saints dwelling, part of the time at least, in a world of delight. Today is the feast of All Saints. We remember those who have gone before, and pray that we may follow after. Trick-or-treaters venturing forth on Halloween night provide us with a map for the journey, one drawn in the bright colors of childhood trust, courage, and fun. The saints massed in their glorious ranks are a promise of our happy return home, with hearts glad and eyes open to the wonder of God.