All posts for the month January, 2023

January 29, 2023 at St William & St Peter the Apostle Churches in Naples, FL

Zephaniah 2: 3, 3:12-13 + Psalm 146 + I Corinthians1: 1: 26-31 + Matthew 5: 1-12

Years ago, when I was in the seminary, and I do mean years and years ago, I had a wise confessor who upset me more than once with challenges to my way of thinking, praying, and looking at myself and the world. I had just finished listing my sins after a careful examination of conscience. He let out a very audible sigh, turned toward me and said: “It’s about time to grow up and grow out of that.” I said nothing for the simple reason that I didn’t know what exactly he wanted me to grow out of. I waited for further instructions, and I did not have to wait long.

He proceeded to challenge my preparation and examination of conscience. Like many my age, I was taught that the root of sin and most evil was rooted in breaking the commandments. My confessions were consistently focused on failures to keep and observe the commandments. That night, old Father Rupert pulled out Matthew 5 and said: “If you want to be holy, pay attention to this. If you want to grow spiritually, pay attention to this. If you want to know what God cares about, it’s right here. If you think just keeping the commandments will make you pleasing in God’s sight, you’re fooling yourself and looking or an easy way out. Not breaking a commandment does not make you good, holy, or faithful. It just means you didn’t do anything, and that will be a problem when the judgement comes.

I’ve worked with that wisdom over the years, and as a confessor for 55 years, I never sit in judgement, but I do recognize people who are on the path to holiness and living in the Kingdom of God. I also recognize people who don’t do anything good or bad, and I always feel sorry for them struggling to find perfection or just be good by keeping the commandments. There is no character in that. There is nothing noble, profound, or blessed there. It’s just safe, and in some ways, it is way of living in denial of what Jesus Christ has proposed must mark those who are Blessed.

If any of us stand before the Lord at the end and want to claim a place among the Blessed, I don’t think we can claim that place by saying we didn’t steal, bear false witness, covet our neighbor’s wife or husband, mess around with sex or fail to attend Mass. We will have a claim on that place by a life of mercy and meekness. We will have a claim to the Kingdom when we have made peace, longed and worked for things to be right, lived simply, and put up with ridicule for our devotion and fidelity. These are things that will give Joy and make us glad. Jesus says it again here today: these are the things that will bring us the reward of heaven.

So, take it from an old confessor who is himself a penitent. Pay attention to Matthew 5. Avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation because you think you have not really broken any commandments is absolutely foolish. Avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation because you think you can tell God you’re sorry all by yourself in private is just as silly because God isn’t going to believe it until we have made peace with each other, and that’s why old Father Rupert was sitting there and every other confessor like him. We need each other to find peace, to mourn together, to make things right, and to satisfy those who hunger and thirst for justice.

As the Prophet said to us minutes ago: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, seek justice and humility.”  When we do, we are going to find ourselves right smack in the middle of the Kingdom of God.

January 22, 2023 St William Church in Naples, FL

Isaiah 8: 23 to 9: 3 + Psalm 27 + I Corinthians1: 1: 10-13, 17 + Matthew 4: 12-23

As we pick up Matthew’s Gospel today, Jesus has just come from his desert time. We all have what I like to call “Desert Times.” Times of hardship, challenges when our faith, or motives, our obedience are put to the test. The experience of Jesus there was like a training exercise preparing him for what lies ahead, and the temptations he faced there were the same temptations the Israelites faced in the desert. They concerned food, trust that God would protect them, and the lure of idol worship. Israel nearly failed in the desert. Had it not been for Moses, they would have never come out into the Promised Land. Matthew’s new Moses, Jesus does not fail his Desert Time, and he emerges to lead us to the Promised Kingdom of God.

There are two things for us to take away from this celebration today, two things that God has to say to us as we begin this week that can carry us through the days ahead. The first is revealed in the behavior of Jesus as he begins his mission. He has no intention or any thought that he could or should carry out his mission alone. He not only shares his message, he shares his power as well. He comes out of that desert, and he begins to form the church through those Apostles; the church with which he shares his power to forgive, to heal, to comfort, and to feed the hungry. We can hardly miss what Matthew puts before us. To fulfill the Father’s will, to complete the restoration of paradise, the Kingdom of God, God needs us, and we need one another. There are a lot of people these days who don’t think they need anyone and some who do not think they need the church. Their lives are an endless desert of desperate loneliness and hunger for food that perishes. We come here into Communion because we know we can’t and should not try to go it alone.

The second thing we may take home today is that the creative Word of God meets us where we are. Peter, Andrew, James, John, met Jesus in their everyday lives. They were not in the Temple or the Synagogue. They were doing what they did every day. There is no doubt in my mind that their awareness or readiness for a Messiah made them curious or open to that stranger who walked by, and they got that way by having been in the Synagogue and Temple listening to the Prophets and the Wisdom of the Scriptures. However, unmerited and unexpected grace calls them, moves them, and frees them to change their lives forever. 

There is no doubt in my mind either that some of their family and friends would have tried to talk sense into them. Going along with this dreamer/preacher who came out of nowhere and was way too much like John the Baptist was risky and just plain dangerous. The price they paid required a big change from a way of life they knew before and the relationships they had as family. It was not so much that they had to disown or abandon their family, but that they had to open up their sense of who was a brother or a sister. It was not so much that they had to stop fishing for a living, but now they had to fish for something that would give them real life.

In a few moments, we shall bring our meager offerings so symbolic of our lives to this altar praying that they will be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father. Then we shall do what God asks of us: give praise and glory to his name. Jesus is still passing by and still looking at us. That may be all we need to know today, and all we need to hear because he still says the same thing to us that he said to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come after me. Follow me.” 

January 15, 2023 at St William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

Isaiah 49: 3-6 + Psalm 40 + I Corinthians1: 1-3 + John 1: 29-34

This Gospel passage today sets a trap for us that we must avoid if we are going to hear God speak to us today through the Gospel. That trap is one I have spoken of over and over not just here during Mass, but also in talks I gave here last year with Luke and are scheduled this year with Matthew. This is not history. If we listen to these verses thinking that the Evangelist is telling us about an event that occurred between John the Baptist and Jesus, we’re done for. This is theologyThis is revelation. It is proclaimed here to lead us more deeply into the mystery of who Jesus Christ was and still is. Evidence that this is not a report of an historical event is there if you match up the accounts of the Baptism in each of the Gospels. Details do not match because this is not a news report. Each Gospel has something different to reveal through this story.

With that in mind, we take up this story that begins the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. This is a recognition scene a story told to reveal who Jesus is. It is not about his Baptism. John’s Gospel is a whole series of recognition scenes partial recognitions and failed attempts to recognize Jesus. Today the Evangelist wants us to recognize Jesus not tell us about a Baptism. In fact, if you paid attention, there is no mention of or description of a Baptism in these verses. 

With that clear, since it is not about a Baptism, the Baptist steps forward as the first in this series of recognitions. There will be others like Philip and Nathanael before this chapter ends. A very important word in the Scriptures is spoken here. John invites us to “Behold” who is in our midst. The Evangelist will have Pilate use the same word when he presents the King of the Jews. Pilate and others failed to recognize the identity of Jesus Christ.

The writer of this Gospel would have been very familiar with a technique in Greek drama that provided the spectators with information the characters did not have. This raised the expectations and interest of the spectators who could then watch the characters either come to recognize or fail to recognize what was known to the spectators. With the information the Baptist gives us in these verses, we will be able to anticipate and follow the characters in this Gospel both recognize and fail to recognize who is in their midst. It’s all about this recognition and those who do and those who do not. We can watch the characters of this Gospel from the Baptist, to Philip, Nathanael, Peter, all the way up to Pilate and a Centurion at the foot of the cross.

We are presented with an invitation today still at the beginning of a new year to “Behold” the one who has come into our midst. We can either be among those who recognize that divine presence or among those who fail to do so. For those who fail to recognize the one who is to come, nothing ever changes and there is nothing to live for and nothing to die for because there is no love. For those who do recognize what is revealed, everything changes. When we meet the Jesus of the Gospels we cannot see the world as before. After hearing Jesus in the Gospels, peace, justice, and forgiveness are possible in ways we could not imagine before. When we see the world through the eyes of Jesus we can step out of the shadows of hatred and revenge into the light of understanding with a chance to heal our brokenness and mend our relationships. We can become seekers of hope who reach out with compassion to the lost, lonely, sinful, and hurt.

My friends, we are now the ones who proclaim the “Lamb of God” through our own acts of generosity, justice, and forgiveness because the mercy of God has dawned on us. Now, others may “Behold” because of us as some did in the past because of the Baptist. Knowing, believing this truth changes our relationships with each other too. It draws us together and deeper into the mystery and wonder of who we are and why we are. What we can behold transforms our vision, our perspective, our expectations of this life and the life to come. We are both prophet and witness to the Lamb of God before whom we fall to our knees again and again.

January 8, 2023 at St William Catholic Church in Naples, FL

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

There is a bit of everything in these verses from Matthew’s Gospel today. It’s sort-of like a stew, which was the way my mother used to hide vegetables. We got a bit everything and it was nourishing. To get into the real message of these verses however, you have to put that song written by John Henry Hopkins for a Christmas Pageant out of your mind. If you think Matthew’s Gospel is more important than Hopkins’ hymn, forget about Three and delete Kings. Hopkin’s idea about there being three of them comes from the number of gifts. To make any kind of long journey in those days would have required a big caravan. If you have ever been on a camping trip, you know what I mean. The camping gear and the food takes up more space in the car than the people. Matthew never calls them “Kings”. The Greek word he chooses is “Magoi” which can refer to magicians or astrologers. More likely they were Zoroastrian priests since that religion was prominent to east of Palestine. What matters is that they were searching, and they were willing to get far from home in their search. 

Today we would call them pilgrims. They were willing, not only to leave home, but willing to look beyond the limits of their own knowledge. They were so hungry for more meaning in life that they were willing to go to a foreign land and consult the wisdom of an alien tradition. Without the Hebrew Scriptures to guide, they relied on their traditional ways of knowing God through nature and the stars. If we were wise, we ought to be able see a lot of ourselves in them unless we are just stuck and not really willing to risk anything to find greater meaning in life and the one who could reveal that meaning.

Then there is that guy named “Herod”. He is evil and terrifying. He is a murderer and a violent tyrant given to jealousy and fear. With this piece of the story we are reminded that powers of this world can be mighty and terrifying. Yet, we learn that God can get around all of that in unexpected, simple and non-violent ways. 

Mixed in with all of that, there are those chief priests and scribes. They know things, but they lack wisdom. Unwilling to seek the truth, they are content to play it safe, hang around Herold, and turn a blind eye to light. They know and they tell the Magi where to look, but they can’t be bothered to leave comfortable Jerusalem for a place like Bethlehem.

So, as Matthew’s story goes, the Magi with their rich gifts fit for a King leave nothing for King Herod and his royal court. They save what they have for a simple family. This wonderful and familiar story is unfinished. All we know is that those pilgrims went home avoiding that place of power and earthly glory.

We tell this story every year right after Christmas to be reminded that while our salvation began with the chosen people, the Gospel and the Incarnation it proclaims is for the entire world, for all nations, as Jesus said when commissioning the disciples. We would do well to put ourselves into this story and be stirred up enough to become pilgrims like these Magi willing to admit that we don’t know everything there is and if we really want to find the truth, we will have to consult the Scriptures. At the same time, we might take a good look at those religious people, those Scribes and Chief Priests. There is a warning in this story that those unwilling to seek the truth, to listen to the Scriptures, who want to play it safe and hang around people like Herod are going to stay in the darkness.

Just like those Magi, we can’t go it alone. We have to go together in order to brave the dangers of the journey and risk the unknown. We all have gifts fit for the King, and Matthew suggests that we need to seek that King and realize that this royal and divine child will be found in places like Bethlehem far from power, from wealth, and comfort. As Matthew reminds us, God can and always does get around the obstacles that might get in the way or threaten our journey. So, for those who believe and want to find meaning in life or find life itself we have to stay on the move, keep listening to the Scriptures, and stay together.