All posts for the month May, 2022

29 May 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 1, 1-11 + Psalm 47 + Ephesians 1, 17-23 + Luke 24, 46-53

Years ago, I was pastor of a parish with a parochial school. In those days we celebrated this feast on Thursday, and so we had a School Mass. I was younger then, and I will describe that young pastor by saying he didn’t know much. One of the lessons he learned was, do not use rhetorical questions. You may be sorry you did. That inexperienced pastor brought an empty box all nicely wrapped and asked the children what they thought was in it. Hands shot everywhere suggesting that it was holy cards, rosaries, or pictures of Jesus. There was a second grader turning red in the face with intensity shouting: Father! Father! Father! I gave him the microphone and he said: “It’s a Jack-in-the-Box”. To this day I have no idea what I said after that, but I do know that it was the end of asking children questions in public and my use of gimmicks to entertain them.

This day on which the church leads us to focus on the absence of Jesus Christ and the experience of the Apostles at his departure brings home something I have said many times from this ambo. There is always a question for us to ask when the Scriptures put before us an extraordinary event; like a cure, Jesus walking water, Noah building a big boat, or Moses talking to a burning bush. The question is not, “How did he do that?”. The question is “What does it mean?”

What does this experience of the Apostles mean is what matters, not where did he go or how did he do that? Staying with the text and paying attention to what follows gives us some clue. Those apostles experienced the physical departure of Christ. They must have then accepted that Christ, had done all that he intended to do. At the moment, it may not have seen like much had been accomplished. The world was just about the same as when he came. Maybe, it was even a little worse for those who followed him. They were afraid.

What was different? It was those people who had listened and followed him. Look at the difference Luke describes in the last verse when he tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were in the Temple praising God. All the fear, the doubts, the sadness are gone.

When Matthew, Mark, and John present the time after the Resurrection, it is all compressed into one day. Only Luke stretches out a time between Easter and Pentecost. All those stories about visits of Jesus in an upper room, a trip to Emmaus, or miraculous catches of fish show us the gradual change that came over those who followed Jesus, and how they came to realize not just what had happened to them, but what they had become.

As a church, as followers of Jesus, we have just finished those forty days, and next comes Pentecost. One more time we are called to ask what have we become since the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus has been proclaimed among us. One thing is certain. Jesus has done all he came to do, and his earthly presence is no more. 

If the promises of a new heaven and new earth are going to be fulfilled, it is not going to be by some blaze of glory or earth-shattering display of power, but rather by the slow, patient, long exercise of faithfulness, endurance, sacrifice, and love. It is found in the constant desire to do the will of God. The renewal of this earth is found in forgiveness, mercy, and the use of those gifts we shall celebrate next weekend. My friends, the Ascension is more about us than it is about what happened to Jesus and where he went. The presence of Christ is experienced by those who know to look for him within themselves. Christ did not move out of the lives of people. He has moved into those lives so that the virtues of ordinary human beings become Divine instruments with which God’s work in the world can be done.

22 May 2022 at St Peter, St Agnes, and St William Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 15, 1-2 & 22-29 + Psalm 67 + Revelation 21, 10-14 & 22-23 + John 14, 23-29

If you have been following the First Reading for the past several weeks, you might well have been left on edge last week when Paul returns to Antioch and reports how “he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” If this were being reported on “WINK NEWS”, another voice would then say: “Stay tuned, details at six.” This is one of those “OhOh!” moments when you know trouble is coming.

Antioch after the destruction of Jerusalem was the place where things were happening. There were many Jews there some of whom had fled from the Roman destruction. There were also many Greeks there as well as Assyrians. It was a powerhouse of trade, commerce, and economy. That Jewish community was frantic to preserve their identity, customs, and traditions, especially after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. It is not hard to imagine how they heard this news. They must also have known that Paul and his companion had been run out of town in other places for just such a comment.

On the surface, the issue was circumcision, that physical and religious custom that verified and confirmed one’s place among the chosen people. Paul replaced circumcision with baptism making women and gentiles as legitimate as any Jew. In their thinking; what happens to the Sabbath? What happens to the centrality of Jerusalem? What happens to the accepted scriptures and the moral traditions based upon them? In other words, does one have to be a religious Jew in order to be a Christian? With that, we can read clearly that things blew up, and the Greek community sent Paul to meet with Peter and James and the leaders of other communities to work it out. 

I’m always amused by the way Luke describes that meeting. It’s almost as though he is embarrassed by the intensity of it all when he tells us: “No little dissension and debate took place.” We know what that means. They really got at it! He does not tell us how long it went on maybe a week or two, maybe more; but he does tell us what they did and how they worked; and the evidence of their success is our assembly today. If it had not gone as it did, Christianity would simply been a small sect of Judaism, closed to the world, centered on Jerusalem. Perhaps Western Civilization as we know it might never have happened.

This fifteenth chapter of Acts has never been more important to us than it is today. I like to think that if everyone had paid more attention to it there might never have been a Protestant reformation. If everyone had paid more attention to it, there might never have been an Orthodox-Roman Catholic split.

If we wake up and pay attention, we seem to be approaching a crises like they faced in Antioch once again. Funny how history repeats it’s self when no one looks back to learn the lessons history can teach. There is news these days of the Methodist Church splitting apart, and they are not the only ones. We ought not think we will escape this tragedy. The so-called “culture warriors” and their opponents are ready to expel one another. Serious issues that define and establish our identity are everywhere: abortion, LGBTQ issues, divorce, remarriage, our response to violence, gun control, racism, and immigration are testing not just our nation, but our church as well. Our identity, our mission, and our future are being tested. Looking the other way will not do.

Those people, that Church in Antioch survived, and we can learn from them. What they teach us is the wisdom of patience, of listening with respect rather than judgement, the wisdom of prayer to the Holy Spirit, and in the end, a willingness to change. Would that our civic leadership could learn as well seems like a distant hope right now! However, our immediate issue is our Church. Contrary to the culture in which we live, it is never a matter of winning or losing, because if anyone loses, we are all losers. What they came to understand by the Holy Spirit was that God’s dwelling place is not the Temple, but, as Revelation proclaimed last week, the human race. This church is God’s dwelling, not because of that Tabernacle, but because we are here. That Tabernacle has something within it because we have been here. Listening, reading, trusting Act of the Apostles Chapter 15 can ensure that the door of faith remains open. It might not just be open for others, but give us hope that it is open for us.

15 May 2022 at Saint William, Saint Peter, and Saint Agnes Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 14, 21-27 + Psalm 145 + Revelation 21, 1-5 + John 13, 31-35

 A new heaven and a new earth. No more tears, sadness, and no more death is what we are promised, and five weeks after Easter, we might be ready to ask how we get there. How do we get there in a world that drugs us into splendid contentment continually entertained with sports and comedy or an entertainment industry that keeps alive a fairytale world in which we face danger for 42 minutes and then live happily ever after? 

We live in a world of security with some measure of health care, security cameras, good locks and gates, metal detectors and insurance for everything from our car to our pets. We protect gun rights and carry on with what can only be called irony with an odd combination of the freedom to refuse vaccinations while being required to wear seat belts. Again, the question remains, how do we get to that new heaven and new earth, and when is it coming?

All the texts of our Sacred Scriptures address that question today, and Jesus speaks to those who listen. 

Paul and Barnabas tell us that we have persevere and we have to persevere in change. Telling the Jewish communities that they had to open the door to Gentiles meant they were going to have to make some changes, big ones. They would have to change how they looked at themselves, and what they thought of others who were different. It is the age-old question of the haves and have-nots, the question of the privileged and those “others” It is the need to question the difference between what we want and what we need.

The Book of Revelation with its comforting vision of God’s “new heaven and new earth” tempts us to skip over what it takes to get there. A loud voice from the throne tells us that God’s dwelling is with the human race. Yet, one look at the human race beyond the luxury of our boarders and gates must make us wonder where is that new heaven and new earth because we’re not there yet.

What we have proclaimed for the past five weeks is that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not some once-and-for-all event, but rather a cosmic reversal of everything that is usual into things that are exciting, surprising, and unexpected. However, like the apostles who did not understand what it meant to rise from the dead after three days, we have not yet grasped what it means for us. No sooner is Easter over than some pack up and head north, while the rest of us hunker down for another hurricane season. That is not the way we get to the new heaven and new earth, and hopelessness and an attitude that says: “That’s just the way it’s always been” is exactly what Revelation wants to prevent. It is not that we mope around dwelling on the worst, but that like Jesus, we confront the powers of evil.

The Gospel today gives us a plan. It is the Last Supper. Judas has gone to stir up the power of evil with his vicious mission, and Jesus begins to tell us how to best bring about the new creation. He speaks of his glory, a glory revealed in the cross. The cross is the essence of life. In a war, it’s not the ones who come back who are memorialized, but those who do not. In medicine, it’s not the ones who make money, but those who sacrifice to find cures and ease people’s pain who are admired and remembered. It is with great tenderness that Jesus speaks to us once more from the table revealing how we shall discover that new heaven and new earth, by loving as he has loved, not as the world loves always expecting something in return. We cannot ever say that we love God while any of God’s creation is excluded from our love.

At this table, we become family where the struggles of one become the struggles of all and together we confront the evil that causes so much suffering. It is through the hope and pain of solidarity that we know what it means for God to wipe away every tear that flows from our eyes and the eyes of others. As Paul said: everything will pass but one thing will endure.

8 May 2022 at Saint William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 13, 14, 43-52 + Psalm 100 + Revelation 7, 9, 14-17 + John 10, 27-30

A sheepherder once said that “Sheep are born looking for a way to die.” They go into gullies, get tangled up in brambles, fall into ditches, and wander into the territory of predators. They are utterly defenseless. Even dogs and cats can find their way home, and dogs and cats can defend themselves against danger or run from something bigger. Not so with sheep. You feed a dog, pet it, take it for walks, and the dog thinks: “Wow, this must be a god.” With a cat, feed it, care for it, and the cat thinks: “Wow, I must be god.” It is neither that way for sheep.

Sometimes when the Gospel speaks of sheep and shepherds, the emphasis is on the Shepherd. In this case, the emphasis is on the sheep. Rather than reveal something about the Shepherd, it speaks about us as the sheep, and our need to hear the voice of the Shepherd. It is a voice that speaks to the depths of our hearts, a voice that always calls us to metanoia, that powerful Greek word that means conversion, change which is a life-long effort to be renewed, converted, and different from the way we might like to be.

It is the comfortable, self-assured Hebrew people that were such a challenge and disappointment to Paul when he shares is feelings with the people of Rome. That minority of Jews in the Roman culture was steadfastly faithful to their old ways which were being challenged by the message of the Gospel Paul preached to them. The message of Paul is no different today. Openness to the new is what he asked of them and still asks of us.

Metanoia always begins with confusion, that uncomfortable feeling that my truth may not be completely right. For those who rejected Paul it was just easier to reject what was new rather than discern whether it was of God. Our Holy Father has suggested that sometimes in order to hear what the Lord asks of us we must free ourselves from false certainties. Growth, change, metanoia is always difficult, but it is a necessary part of life, and an essential feature of faith. We never stop growing deeper into our faith, and God is never finished with us. Refusing change risks closing our ears to the voice of the Shepherd.

We are reminded this week by the Word of God that following the Good Shepherd is often neither easy nor clear. The history of Israel and the history of the Church that is ever changing and ever new reminds us that God continually calls us to newness. We must be willing to let go of things we sometimes feel certain and “right” about if we want to hear the voice of the Shepherd today. 

There is one thing we can be sure of. The Shepherd is always trying to lead us beyond where we are into greater, broader, deeper love, and that will often be unruly, confusing, and new. 

1 May 2022 at Saint William & Saint Peter Catholic Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 5, 27-32 + Psalm 30 + Revelation 5, 11-14 + John 21, 1-19

Two charcoal fires burn in John’s Gospel. The first warms Peter in the courtyard of the High Priest when as predicted, Peter denies his master three times. Today another charcoal fire burns, and Jesus invites Peter to atone for his cowardice by confessing his love three times. Each time Peter is asked to show that love by service: “Feed my lambs.” Then as before Jesus predicts something about Peter saying that this service may take him where he does not want to go. Taking a stand for the unborn, the homeless, the voiceless, the hungry, the harassed, and the condemned will sometimes take us where we might not want to go. The social justice of the Church rooted in the Gospel leads us all where we might not want to go. But, that is where those who love God are most often found.

The symbolism of John’s style almost explodes with the verses we proclaim today. As always, it is God who speaks when this Gospel is proclaimed here speaking of loving service, speaking about us, the Church, symbolized by that unbroken net which can hold everyone and not be broken. It’s a net that will hold sinners and saints, black, brown, yellow, and white, regardless of their sexuality, gender, language, or political preferences. That number, 153 in John’s Gospel, says it all.

Yet, that is not the only number in this Gospel giving us something to ponder. There are 7 in that boat, and he names six leaving us to ask if we might be the unnamed who completes the “perfect number, seven.” We are here about to be fed on what is blessed, broken, and given. We are, like Peter, slow to get it right, slow in running to that empty tomb, slow to put aside the fears that sometimes keep us locked up, silent, and ashamed. Yet, we are here, in the daylight recognizing that in the dark, at night, without the light of Christ, we can do nothing. 

The risen one asks us all: “Do you love me?” And now he waits for us to show it.