All posts for the month January, 2022

                                    30 January 2022 at Saint William & Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Jeremiah 1, 4-5, 17-19 + Psalm 71 + 1 Corinthians 12, 31-13, 13 + Luke 4, 21-30

Chapter after Chapter of Luke’s Gospel Jesus is revealed as a prophet and the fulfillment of all the prophesies before him. So, it should be no surprise that Jesus, the prophet, should suffer the same fate as those before him. Today’s conclusion of the Nazareth Synagogue visit is a preview of how it will all end for Jesus. There is also a warning for all of us who listen to the word of God just as they listened; first with satisfied pride, and then with rage. That crowd drives Jesus beyond the city-walls to a hill from which they can either throw him down or stone him.  It’s a preview of Jesus being taken outside the city walls to another hill where he will hang until he is dead. In this episode today, Luke says the saddest thing anyone might ever hear: “He passed through their midst and went away.” Luke speaks a warning to a church and a people that it could happen again. Jesus could pass through us and go away. We have no claim on Jesus.

The Gospel still has the power to enrage listeners. The Gospel still has that prophetic power that enraged people against Jeremiah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ, because the Gospel and all prophesy speaks about what is right and what is wrong. It still exposes injustice and its consequences. Easier to understand because we know the story better is the rage that came from John the Baptist exposing the marriage of Herod whose wife with quiet rage had John’s head on a platter, silenced forever. In our own time we have seen this rage silence prophets who speak about Justice: Archbishop Romero in El Salvador assassinated at the altar in 1980, and a priest from my home in Oklahoma murdered by government forces in Guatemala the next year. 

The rage of the Nazareth crowd was fired up as they realized that what Jesus was saying was about them. They didn’t like it that their privileged position as his townsfolk and as Israelites was not so privileged after all. He was working signs and wonders for people they didn’t like. When they heard that the poor, the blind, and the oppressed were receiving glad tidings and God’s favor, it made them mad.

We have to be careful with our expectations in here. The Gospel is not always proclaimed to make us feel good. Sometimes it challenges us and provides something for our consciences to rethink and examine again. Sometimes the Gospel may force us to change the way we think about things or how we feel. It often challenges us about warfare, about the sacredness of all human life, about how we treat, respect, and defend others who are different from us in sexuality, race, or nationality. My friends, the Word of God is always about love, but sometimes it’s “tough-love”, that kind of love parents know about when their children begin to think they know it all, are perfect, and can do whatever they want.

We just heard about a very sad day in Nazareth. If we fail to accept all the challenge of the Gospel, Jesus himself may just pass through our midst and go away too. So, we must listen even when we don’t want to or don’t like the message.

23 January 2022 at Saint William & Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Nehemiah 8, 2-4, 5-6, 8-10 + Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 12, 12-30 + Luke 1, 1-4, 4, 14-21

If you look at this gospel in the Bible or a Missal, you may notice that what was just proclaimed is actually two parts of Luke’s Gospel put together. What the Church gives us today is two introductions; first to the Gospel as a whole from the first chapter and then to Jesus of Nazareth in the fourth chapter. What was skipped in between was the whole Lukan story of the birth of Christ which we heard in December. 

Now, the hometown boy comes to the Synagogue as he had all his life. The leader of the Synagogue could pick any adult Jewish man to read the scripture of the day and comment on it personally. Sometimes visitors would be chosen just to have a fresh “take” on things, so it is not surprising that the leader invites Jesus to read from the assigned book for the day. He’s been away for a while. The reader could choose the passage. This young man has become a Rabbi, and all eyes are fixed on him. He grew up. He’s been listening to John the Baptist, and he has spent some trying time in the desert. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit prompted him to return home to Galilee which is up in the northern part of Palestine with a very temperate climate where many things grow easily because there is plenty of water. Life is sort of laid-back.  Nazareth, tucked into the side of some fairly rocky hills might have had about 2000 people, and for the region was somewhat cosmopolitan because three important roads: to the sea, to Damascus, and to Jerusalem passed nearby.

Jesus does what we just did, he takes two separate sections of the Prophet Isaiah and puts them together and reads, then he sits down which is what Rabbis does to talk. His homily began with a simple declaration that this prophesy was being fulfilled in the present. He told them he had arrived as a special one to bring good news to the poor. In his mind he intended to say something revolutionary about a whole new order. The people did not understand. They thought he was saying that they would become masters of their own land again and the Romans would be out. When he spoke of the oppressed going free, they thought it was them who would be set free. They had it wrong. They put themselves on the wrong side of the prophecy.

What was proclaimed that day in Nazareth is still proclaimed in this house of prayer, a mission, a plan, a prophecy about what must be for the Lord’s favor to be known. They thought it was about them, but it was really for them.  When Jesus lays out his plan, his vision of what is the Will of the Father, it’s not just for him. It is for us all. We are the ones who proclaim liberty to captives. We are the one who give sight to the blind who cannot see the goodness of God. We are the ones who give freedom to the oppressed, and we are the ones who proclaim what is acceptable to the Lord. Saint Paul got the point, and we heard what he had to say about it to the Corinthians.

With all of our diverse gifts, there is nothing we cannot accomplish. 

Today is an important word in Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s theology of “today” shows us a way of bridging the deep ditch of history and experiencing the event of Jesus today. As Isaiah informed Jesus about his mission, Jesus, like the prophet of old, informs us of our mission. Jesus concludes by saying that the prophesy is fulfilled in their hearing. It may have been so at that time with Jesus, but what about now with us and with our church? Luke says that the people in that synagogue had their eyes fixed on Jesus. The fact is, the poor remain in our streets, our prisons are overcrowded, and more than half this world is sick with no hope for medications or cures. Their eyes are fixed on us. 

We live in a time that witnesses many terrible attacks on human life. Warfare and genocide have accounted for the deaths of millions of human beings. Abortion attacks 4,000 human lives every day; eliminating an unborn infant only because it is alive. Who, after all, deserve to be born? It has all led to a coarsening of our entire culture’s respect for life: the increasing acceptance of assisted suicide for the elderly and ill; experiment on living embryos, abuse of women, children and the old, irresponsible sexual license; the weakening of families; and the further victimization of the poor to whom society is willing to give abortion rights in place of real justice.

Today ought to be the day when we use another word that Luke uses several times in his Gospel: “enough.” Today we ought to be able to celebrate the favor of God upon us and in joyful gratitude, and take up the mission to which Jesus Christ has led us. Grateful hearts are contagious hearts. The gratitude that draws us into the house of God, this house of prayer, must make us wonder how we can lift up those who are oppressed and how we can gather them in to the bounty of God’s love. I would like to imagine that when we do, their eyes will be fixed on us with joy and with hope, for they will have been touched, healed, and set free by Jesus Christ who lives today in all of us.

16 January 2022 at Saint William & Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Isaiah 62, 1-5 + Psalm 96 + 1 Corinthians 12, 4-11 + John 2, 1-11

As I have said over and over again when we proclaim these words of Jesus, we must ask, “What does this mean?” not “How did he do that?” At the same time, we must remember that in John’s Gospel there are no “miracles”. That word is never used. There are “signs”, and this is the first of seven. Remembering that helps in asking the right question, “What does this mean?” In John’s Gospel, these signs, like road signs, point to something. In this case, the signs point to Jesus, and they suggest that there is more here than meets the eye.

In our own reflections, this event may have had several different motives: respect for his mother’s request, kindness to host, care for people, approval of a happy occasion, or even some suggestion of a Eucharistic preview. These are all worth some reflection, but what happened because of this event is probably the most important thing in John’s mind and comes clear in the last verse: “The Disciples began to believe in him.” The bringing of people to faith may well be more important and more significant that changing water into wine. After all, we might ask ourselves, what’s more important, Faith or Wine?

Wine is often an important part of any great celebration. They didn’t drink water. It was not clean in those days. Water was for washing. That is why those jars were there. So, when the wine runs out, the joy is over, and for those hosting the party, it’s a shameful embarrassment. In some ways, that’s the way it is with life these days, there is not a lot of joy, and given the conditions in most of this world, there is not much to celebrate. Wine won’t change that, but Faith will. I like to imagine that Mary and her son were in a rather respectful argument. When he calls her “woman”, the term he uses is the term often used to describe Israel, God’s own bride. John uses that term in this incident to describe God’s people who have run out of joy. In the argument with his mother, he says it’s not time, and she says it is time simply telling the servants to do what he tells them. 

So often, we are slow in responding to the needs of others with the excuses that we don’t have time, or that it’s just not the right time. We put off making changes that might be important or make a difference in this life waiting for the right time; and when it comes to conversion, to changing our lives, or our priorities, that time never seems to arrive.

As we step into this new year, we might let this Gospel and Mary urge us to believe that the hour has come. It might well be the hour when we come to believe that it is time to speak up, shape up, and maybe act up for the sake of people who live without joy or peace or hope. It might well be time to listen the Gospel, look at Christ, and do whatever he tells you. When that time comes, and we can decide when it is, all will know the joy that God intends for all God’s people.

9 January 2022 at St Elizabeth Church in Naples, FL and to Notre Dame Alumni Mass in Naples, FL

Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7 + Psalm 29 + Acts 10, 34-38 + Luke 3, 15-16, 21-22

The Baptism of Jesus ought to raise some questions in our minds about what was going on and what it was all about. It certainly cannot suggest that Jesus needed to be baptized because he was sinful. There is no reason to think, at the same time, that he was becoming one of John’s disciples by that act. This event that Luke reports calls us to listen carefully to the prophet we just heard proclaimed here, and to the voice from heaven that was heard that day. At the same time, this event is a challenge to think more deeply about our own Baptism and what it means in relation to the Baptism of Jesus.

For Jesus and anyone present at that moment as well as anyone who hears this Gospel, there is the Divine approval of the mission Jesus would take up. That moment identified him as the one Isaiah foretold. The voice affirms that what Christ was about to do, the kind of life he was about to show us was right, that it was pleasing to the Father, and it would work even when it did not seem so. From that moment on, power would have little to do with the ability to keep one in control, to overcome one’s enemies, or to eliminate one’s problems. Now power would be the ability to live without control of everything, to be kind to one’s enemies, and patient with problems.  Now, success would have nothing to do with how well one is regarded by others or served by others. For now it would be a matter of how well one serves others. From that moment on, love would have nothing to do with how someone makes us feel. Now love is about bearing one another’s burden rather than inflicting burdens on others.

And what about our Baptism? Surely, the Baptism of Jesus has something to say about all Baptisms. Instead of being focused on “original sin”, perhaps Baptism is about being claimed for Christ our Savior by the cross traced on our foreheads in that ancient ritual. Perhaps, being Baptized into Christ and putting on Christ with a that white garment might actually mean that the Father is pleased with us and what we shall become.  The mission of his chosen one, the one loved by the Father begins on that day, and this day comes to remind and affirm that the mission of Jesus Christ is our mission as well.

Sometimes, I hear people say that the church is no longer capturing the hearts of young people. Perhaps you have felt the same way, and I have shared that thought on occasion. It might be that because we are not speaking the truth often enough, not repeating the message that every person needs to hear again and again: “You are my beloved; with you God is well pleased.” Perhaps it is because something else has taken the place of the mission of Jesus, but whatever it is has failed. Isaiah reminds us today that the mission is to bring Justice, which in God’s mind does not mean that everyone gets what they deserve. Thank goodness, or we would be in sorry shape. It means that those who know themselves to be favored by God even though it is undeserved, have been empowered by the Spirit to be light, to speak the truth, and be compassionate to those who feel like a “bruised reed” fanning into flames the spark of God’s love wherever a smoldering wick is found.

2 January 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Isaiah 60, 1-6 + Psalm 72 + Ephesians 3, 2-3, 5-6 + Matthew 2, 1-12

Matthew is the only Gospel writer to report on these visitors who take center stage today. So, we know nothing about them other than that they came from the east. For that matter, they have come from Miami! What the “east mean” and is it really important to know? Were there only three? It doesn’t seem to be a safe way to travel if they came from afar. There had to have been a whole caravan to support and protect them coming from the east, which in fact is a rather desolate place, east of Israel. In the Gospel, they don’t even have names. Those we use came into tradition a long time later. 

What we can learn from Matthew comes from the contrast he draws between the Gentile and Jewish worlds. Those Jewish scholars of the law knew exactly what this was all about five miles away, and they did nothing while those Gentile visitors were willing to risk a lot to follow the light. Those scholars were content to sit in darkness. They could not be bothered. There travelers were not “kings” no matter what John Henry Hopkins Jr may have chosen to call them in 1868 when he composed that hymn. He was more musician than theologian.

Sometimes when we don’t know something, we have to make up something to cover up our lack of knowledge. If we peal back all of that stuff and simply stand back and look at what Matthew tells us, we can hardly miss the fact that these travelers had a goal and they were willing to leave home, risk some danger, make mistakes like going to Jerusalem in search of a king thinking that this new king might be found in places of power. They had goal, and Matthew tells us about them because of it.

As the Gospel unfolds, it will reveal a Jesus with a goal, and inspire those who believe in him to share that goal. As we know too well, goals make a difference in life. People without them always want more. When that is not enough, they want better, and when better is not enough, they want different. When different is not enough they become sad, their life becomes meaningless, and they become alienated. All the while, what they need is a goal. 

Those magi came because God called them to seek the “King of the Jews”, and so are we. 

They found a baby. We find man or a cross with a sign above his head. If we are going to see a King on that wooden throne, we will have to get our goals figured out. We’ll have to have a goal that gives meaning to life and have the human qualities it takes to stay with that goal through thick and thin. Our goal has to have meaning, purpose, and commitment; all of which are in separable. A busy life might have a purpose, but it does not necessarily have meaning. In Shakespeare’s words, that kind of life is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  One goal and one source of meaning, purpose, and commitment in our lives would be to make every day an Epiphany, a day of showing the world that the Lord has come, and there is a light in the darkness.

1 January 2022 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL

Numbers 6, 22-27 + Psalm 67 + Galatians 4, 4-7 + Luke 2, 16-21

I have always been just a little bit uncomfortable with the Church’s use of words to name this feast that in my own life-time has had several other names. “Back in the day” I can remember this day on the Church’s calendar as the “Feast of the Circumcision.” Then in 1960 Pope John XXIII removed the term “Circumcision” and simply called this day, “The Octave of the Nativity” which of course means the eighth day when, according to the religious law at the time required the ritual of circumcision for Hebrew children. Because the that ritual of Circumcision also included the formal naming of the child, this date was also called: “The Holy Name of Jesus.” Then in 1974 Pope Paul VI changed the name of this Holy Day to “The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God” which gets us to today. The research of this Liturgical Trivia took longer than the preparation of some homilies! In the end, no matter what the Church wants to call this day, it’s New Year’s Day to most of us.

Father M. Joseph McDonnell was my pastor through my High School years, and he had a custom of not preaching on New Year’s Day, and I always think of him on January 1 with the temptation to carry on his tradition. It was a relief to us all because, as a teen ager in those days, he never seemed to know when to sit down.

With a nod to his memory and tradition, I simply want to propose that we begin this year with a renewed respect for the holy name of Jesus and perhaps resolve to respect that name in our discourse and fits of anger and impatience. I would also propose that we all take another look at our devotion to Mary, the Mother of God. In my opinion the choice of this Gospel allows us to miss the reality of her role as Mother. Luke’s narrative which we just proclaimed does not push us much beyond the Nativity. Her role as mother was far greater than simply sitting back as shepherds came to see her child.

This is the woman who was at a wedding with her son and told him to do something when there was a problem. She was a bit pushy, and he pushed back as any son might, but he ended up doing something. This is the woman who stood at the foot of the cross perhaps wondering: “What did I do wrong?” as mothers sometimes do when they see their children in trouble. In the few occasions when she appears in the Gospel, she never has a better line than the one John’s Gospel puts on her lips speaking to the servants at a wedding in Cana. “Do whatever he tells you.” That might be our best way to begin this New Year with a resolve to do whatever is asked of us by God without complaint or whining, but joyfully remembering that God has come to live among us, and that truth should change the way we live together.