All posts for the month June, 2023

2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16 + Psalm 89 + 1 Romans 6:3-4,8-11 + Matthew 10: 37-42

July 2, 2023 I am at Mary Mother of Light Maronite Church this weekend.

We have all lived with the Gospels long enough by now to know that a literal reading is likely to get us into trouble or lead us to close the book and go further. The beginning verses we proclaim today are a perfect example since the bond of family love can hardly be in conflict with our love for God. In fact, mis-reading these verses might raise some conflict with the fourth commandment. The truth is, the quality that marks our relationship with other people is, in fact, the quality that marks our relationship with God. So, we have to go deeper to get the point that Christ is urging on us here. I think it may be a challenge to distinguish between what matters and what does not.

All of us, for all kinds of reasons, find ourselves, now and then, attaching great weight and importance to very unimportant things. Being able to sort that out requires knowing the difference between a want and a need. Needs must be met. It is everyone’s natural right, and it becomes immoral to refuse another’s need. To refuse someone’s right to health care, food, clean water, or even life itself, is immoral. 

Wants are a different thing. They do not have to be met. Of course, life would be more pleasant or comfortable, or even more fun if they were met, but if the wants are not met, nothing really terrible happens. With that in mind, there is really only one great need in life, and that is Salvation. It’s the only thing that can ever really last. Everything else, even our deepest human relationships become less important. Not unimportant, mind you, but certainly less.

Christ is not calling us to leave or ignore our family and friends. Christ is not asking us to embrace a life empty of human relationships. He is calling us to a balanced life realizing that nothing is more important than our relationship with him simply because it is on that relationship that everything else begins to depend. It is from that relationship that real good begins to flow, that justice and peace become possible. Any other relationship that endangers it is not worth having.

Jeremiah 20: 10-13 + Psalm 69 + 1 Romans 5: 12-15 + Matthew 10: 26-33

June 25, 2023 at Saint William and Saint Peter Churches in Naples, FL

“Be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Have you ever wondered who that is? The easiest answer is, “God”. But the easiest answer is not the right answer, because God does not wish or will us to be destroyed or go to hell. The right answer is, “We can.” Others may be able to destroy our body, but we are the only ones who can destroy our souls and land in Hell. So, the question then is not “who” can destroy both soul and body, but “what” can do that. 

Jesus will address what that is once more at the time of his arrest when he tells a disciple, “All who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  When Jesus sends out the disciples, and they are not welcomed, he gives them a stern warning, and the message is simple and clear. If they abuse you, make fun of you, harm you, be careful how you respond. Physical harm is nothing compared to the power revenge has to eat away one’s soul and destroy one’s spiritual life. Revenge destroys one’s physical well-being, and it does serious psychological damage as well. Revenge will make your life hell.

Revenge is a dangerous motivation that drives people to do and say terrible things. It comes from deep within a person who has forgotten the love of God who called us and always suffers with us. To wish for or offer another person suffering only increases the suffering of this world, and there is already enough of that. Revenge from a sharp tongue or some physical act does nothing to change the world or make peace. It makes reconciliation all the more impossible. It makes the work, the mission, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ be for nothing. 

We live in a world gone half mad by the evil and the power of revenge. Like an infection it destroys communities, beaks up friendships and marriages to say nothing of how often and easily it causes war. Our children are more at risk from this madness than from the latest virus. It has corrupted our sense of Justice to the point that when people seek “Justice” what they really mean is revenge.

To all of us tempted by this, Jesus reminds us that we are worth more than many sparrows. Now, I don’t know how much a sparrow is worth, but I get what he means. We do matter when it comes to God. We are worth the death of his only Son. We are worth the gracious gift of Jesus Christ. What God wants for us is goodness, peace, and joyful happiness living together in God’s love. Yet, that is impossible when there is anger and revenge within us. The best revenge is forgiveness, and that revenge will set us free. Without it, we are caught in a self- destructive cycle. None of us can get ahead while trying to get even, and the only people we should get even with are the people who have helped us.

Exodus 19: 2-6 + Psalm 100 + 1 Romans 5: 6-11 + Matthew 9: 36 – 10: 8

June 18, 2023 at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, Fl

The last verse of this Gospel leaves me stunned and for me it suggests what God may ask of me when I stand for judgement. I don’t know how you could not feel the same way. The translation we just used said: “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” That complicated choice of words might be an excuse for missing the point. When you start to think of it more simply it means: “The gift you received, give as a gift.” That is a command, not wish or a hope. It is a command given to disciples of Jesus Christ. If you count yourself in as a disciple, then you know what to do with your life, you know your vocation and what God expects of you.

A problem comes when we forget that everything is a gift and begin to think that we somehow earned something or deserve something. That is foolishness at its best. If we have something, it may be because we worked for it, but what we have to work with is still a gift, and without that gift we would have nothing, and perhaps be nothing.

Jesus speaks of a harvest today and longs for someone to bring it in. The harvest is good, and it’s time for the harvest. It is ready to be reaped. Yet, we wait. We wait all the time. It started early. We waited to get through High School. We waited to get through that day of graduation from college and get that job thinking the time had come for bearing fruit and enjoying it. Some get married thinking that someday I’ll have kids, then someday they’ll grow up, and I will reap the harvest. Retirement comes. What do we do? We do what we have learned, we wait and postpone once again. What we have learned is how not to harvest.

Listen to what Jesus expects from this harvest time now: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers drive out demons.” That’s not some body else’s job. We all heard it just now. He said it to each of us today. 

The walking dead who think there is no point, no promise, no possibility can be called from their tombs by our hope and our encouragement. There are still lepers among us, shunned, outcast and undesired. They may be gay, foreigners, homeless, mentally ill, whatever. They long for our welcome. Spells cast on our children who are obsessed with trinkets, social media, and all kinds of illusions are ready to be broken. Our children need to be set free. How is this done, we might wonder. Well, not by postponing or waiting for someone else. Those disciples were all those people were going to get, and some in this world get only you and me.

Faith, Hope, and Charity are a resource that is renewable. Faith, Hope, and Charity are the gifts we have received. The more we share them, the greater they become. Those first disciples had no idea when they set out how to do what was asked of them, and that may have been for the best because, they did not have a plan or a program. They just went out and were present to anyone they came upon. 

In our day and age, it always seems like we have to have a program to solve every problem. Even the church sometimes thinks that way. We have to have program for converts, for engaged couples, for Confirmation. Those programs are nothing without someone to simply be there for others, to sit and listen, to wait, and watch. I never think we can program the Holy Spirit nor scheduled the Spirit’s work.

However, it is time for the harvest, and today we have received our instructions: give as a gift the gift you received.

Deuteronomy 8: 2-3,1 – 4-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10: 16-17 + John 6: 51-58

June 11, 2023 at St. Agnes & St. William Churches in Naples, FL

A couple of weeks ago, I was having dinner with a couple here in Naples. The conversation wandered around from our neighborhoods to education, and then somehow to the Gospel of John. We skipped over golf, baseball, and the weather as my host told me that he found the Gospel of John almost impossible to read. I laughed and said that it’s, sort of like trying to read Thomas Merton or Catherine of Sienna. With a laugh he agreed, and I went on to point out that the three writers had something in common. They were mystics, and you can’t read the writings of mystic like you read the newspaper or a novel. John has Jesus say things that people understand in the simplest way, at “face value.” With that he invites the reader or listener to think more profoundly until they get caught up in unexpected depths of insight which lead to union with Jesus. We always have to look deeper and wonder what Jesus was trying to say.

In Chapter Six, verses of which we have just proclaimed, Jesus speaks about eating and drinking, simple things that we know are necessary for life.  We know that what we eat becomes a part of us, part of our very flesh and blood. Go a little deeper, and we might consider that the most intimate connection we have in life is with what we eat. Then John draws us even deeper by revealing the desire of Jesus for that kind of intimacy with us by comparing our reception of food to our reception of him as he then says: “I dwell in you.” Then comes the real astonishing thing as he says: “And you dwell in me.” It is an invitation into a profound relationship we call, “communion.”

When we sit with this wonder and contemplate what John says, the mystical experience is beyond words. We have to venture beyond what we see as bread into what we are offered, communion with God in and through Christ as members of the Body of Christ. We stumble around with words to express this mystical gift. The scholastics liked to call it Transubstantiation. However, that idea, that complicated metaphysical word, focuses solely on what we see and tries to explain how that bread becomes the Body of Christ. What good is that. It does no good at all to know how this happens if we do not move on to what it means, and who it is.

What we need these days is a focus on how the very flesh and blood Christ becomes our flesh and blood. The biggest challenge for us goes beyond repeating the words of Thomas: My Lord and My God before the Holy Eucharist. The biggest challenge is to experience and live in that intimacy Jesus invites to share. The first step into this mystery is the consecration at this altar. If we don’t make the next step it’s all for nothing. Seeing the Holy Eucharist as our greatest treasure must lead us to consume that Eucharist and enter into the very real relationship that Jesus shares with the Father. It does not happen by looking. The gift we have been given, the eucharist we see, is not some thing, some object. It is a person! This opens a relationship that is both personally unique and mutually inclusive. “I dwell in you, and you dwell in me.”

I do not see how it is possible to enter into this intimate, life-giving relationship without it changing how we look to others. If they do not see very one whose body and blood we share, something has gone terribly wrong with God’s plan. If we cannot look at others and see the image of God, then we are far from communion. This feast, and the mystery it reveals must draw us ever more deeply into being who we were created to be. 

Provers 8: 22-31 + Psalm 8 + Romans 5: 1-5 + John 16, 12-15

June 4, 2023 at St William & St Peter Churches in Naples, FL

We have moved out of the Easter Season now, and after 50 days and last week’s celebration of Pentecost, we reach deep into our tradition with this Sunday’s reflection on the Holy Trinity and next Sunday’s reflection on the Body and Blood of Christ. We are being teased a bit by the Church to try and imagine what is unimaginable and invited to approach what is really beyond us.  We take time this week to think about what God is like and what that means for us. From the beginning we have tried all sorts of images and ways to describe God and express what God means to us: omnipotent creator, artist making creatures from mud, someone who walks and talks with Abraham, a God of fire with a voice of thunder, that angry one from the prophets, and a consoling stranger who walks with disappointed and grieving disciples on a road to Emmaus.

In that first reading today from the Book of Exodus God tells us what God is like “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and rich in kindness and fidelity”. No wonder that man Moses who first heard those words wanted God to come along with that unruly crowd he was leading, because this is a God of communal love who creates in order to share that love. Then, Jesus, the Son of God, reveals by what he says and what he does how that love of God takes on human flesh, not just his, but ours as well. His promise to send the “Spirit of Truth” is what guides and preserves us. When he speaks of the “Spirit of Truth”, the key word here is Truth. In Greek, the word for “True” can mean a lack of forgetfulness. Understood in this way, it has nothing to do with right or wrong, it simply suggests that with the Spirit we will not forget. We will not forget our past, our tradition, or forget our roots in the apostles and the teaching of Jesus about unity, forgiveness, fidelity, and love.

When in our freedom we lost the image of that God in whose image we were created, God broke through our stubbornness with one who was ready to put God’s will before her own, and the Word was made flesh restoring us and all humanity to its divine origins, through, in, and with Jesus Christ. That Spirit will not let us forget in whose image we have been made.

One of several things that keeps this old man fascinated with the Word of God is that ongoing studies of language keep refining our translations bringing them closer to what was intended long ago by the sacred writer. What we proclaimed from the third chapter of John’s Gospel today provides a verse we have seen on billboards and signs at sporting events. It says: “For God so loved the world…” Recent studies suggest that this passage is best translated as: “For in this way, God loved the world.” It is a subtle change that shifts from how much God loved the world, to simply how God loved the world. If that is John’s intention, he is telling us that God loves through this unique and only son suggesting that God’s love is shown by action, and the sending of that promised Spirit is one more powerful action that shows God’s love for the world. 

Lest we forget again who we are, lest we forget again what has happened to us through the Incarnation, another Incarnation with the Spirit comes to fill us with mercy, to keep us gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and shape us more profoundly into the very image of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s all about the wonder of this God who will not leave us alone, a God whose profound and undeserved love takes on human flesh that we might see what is unseen, and begin to imagine what is beyond us. It is a God whose Spirit now in us continues to be revealed by what we do and what we say in the name of his only Son. This is the Trinity we experience greater than the Trinity of Theologians. It is the Father, it is the Son, and it is a spirit-filled people who remember in whose image they were made.