All posts for the month March, 2024

8:00 am Easter Morning at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

March 31, 2024 at St Peter & St William Churches in Naples, FL

Acts of the Apostles 10: 34, 37-43 + Psalm 118 + Colossians 3: 1-4 + John 20, 1-9

It is easy to listen to John’s resurrection story and be focused on what happened to Jesus. Our imaginations fueled by artists and poets can draw a lot of hope and great deal of joy from a story that reminds us so graphically that love and goodness will always triumph in the end. At the same time, it is a little more challenging to focus on what happened to the disciples, which might lead us to think about what it means for us.

John begins today’s Gospel as the very beginning of creation: “On the first day of the week” – “while it was still dark” he goes on. Someone faces the darkness and the chaos, sadness and grief with great courage. She is willing to confront these threats and step into that darkness. The tomb has been disturbed because the realm of death has been disrupted, and it did not look like a grave robbery. The burial cloths were all neatly folded up. There is something else going on here. This death was nothing like death as they understood it to be. 

Over and over again, the Gospel writers keep telling us that they did not understand. Yet, they believed. Here is where we begin to confront what the Resurrection means for us. Like those disciples, the Resurrection is the beginning of a pilgrimage that moves us little by little not only into believing, but to understanding better what this means for our lives right now. Jesus comes and says to them, “Peace. Everything is OK.” The message is that no matter what happens to us, the Father will not let defeat and death be the end.

The pilgrimage that begins on Easter leads to Pentecost, not to place but into the very life of God and God’s Holy Spirit where we shall begin to understand as well as believe that we are the very presence of the risen Christ in this world. In John’s Gospel, we do not have to wait fifty days for Pentecost. The Spirit given on Easter transforms us into that presence as one Body in Christ and with the gift of understanding, we have the power to forgive which is the very thing that leads to peace: forgiveness. Without it, there will never be peace.

In just a moment, in the breaking of bread we must acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ who is the source of our hope. We ask for peace. We accept his mission. We pray to be open to the Spirit and all that Spirit may ask of us in this new creation. Part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is living with this mystery, living with things we do not understand, yet living with hope.

Peace be with you, my dear friends. Peace be with you who doubt, wonder, wait. You are in good company with the disciples of Jesus Christ keep moving on the journey toward understanding.

3:30pm Saturday St Peter the Apostle Church

March 24, 2024 at St Peter and Saint William Catholic Churches s in Naples, FL

Mark 11: 1-10 + Isaiah 50: 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2: 6-11 + Mark 14: 1-15:47

Mark begins his report of the Passion with a woman who anoints him, and it will end with more women who come to a tomb to anoint him once more. Women, in Mark’s Gospel, are the only ones who stay and see the death of Jesus. The men are all off hiding somewhere. Among these heroic women is this first one with no name. With a name, she would be identified and defined. With no name, she can represent everyone who follows her example.

By the time Jesus arrives in Bethany for dinner at the home of a leper, there was already a sense so danger. Everyone understood the parable he had told before fleeing Jerusalem. His friends understood that like the murderers in the parable, his death was being plotted. Danger is in the air. The powerful are scheming over how to be rid of him. Yet, one woman gave her all in an extravagant gesture of faith. She broke that expensive jar spilling all the precious ointment over Jesus, all of it.

She does not show up when Jesus was being followed by admiring cowds awed by his power and is words. For her, he was a King to be anoinited as all the Kings before him. She saw a vulnerable man who was about to die. When fickle crowds, confused disciples, and threatened authorities turn on him because he is not the Messiah/King they wanted, she comes to proclaim her faith that God was working through this man who taught that love was the only law of life. With all her riches, she broke the jar and poured out everything in it showing us that wealth is worthless and God is not revealed through human power.

We can learn something important about faith from this woman that Mark puts before us today probably hoping that what she does will become what we do and what she believes will shape our our belief.

She is unafraid to show her faith in a powerless man who has entered Jerusalem like a pauper riding someone else’s ass. She can see the divine in a man who is helpless to defend himself with no one to defend him. She can see a King about to die and believe that selfless service, pouring out all that one has is the best way to honor the real King. 

As I am serving a Maronite Parish this weekend, this homily will not be delivered at Mass

Ezekiel 37: 12-14 + Psalm 130 + Romans 8: 8-11 + John 11: 1-45

I spent much of my life in Oklahoma. Other than oil and gas, cattle and horses, it is wheat country. Wheat and Rice are probably the most fundamental source of nourishment around the world. So, it’s not surprising that the one who will feed us on his body and blood would use the image of a wheat grain to describe his future.

The whole cycle of farming up there in Oklahoma and throughout the wheat belt was fascinating to me, a city boy whose first assignment as a pastor was to a little country town where the entire congregation was farming families except for the Postmaster. At the end of summer, just a little before the first frost, the wheat gets planted, and if it rains, by November, the fields are green as far as you can see. By the first of December, the cattle are turned out to feed on the green wheat. Then, toward the end of February, they cattle are taken off the wheat which then grows for three months until it turns golden in late May and early June when harvest begins. The whole cycle happens because of one thing: rain – water. If it does not rain, there is no food. If it does not rain there is no life.

It is an amazing cycle that gives us both grain and meat. Both have to die for us to have food to live. In my mind, that grain becomes bread that then becomes flesh the food at this altar that gives us life. The whole natural cycle shapes our liturgy in this church. First the water of Baptism that brings us to life, then as we grow up we learn to love and serve those around us, dying to self or selfishness like that wheat grain so that we might be born again.

The church puts these ideas in our head on the last Sunday before Holy Week because we are inevitably headed toward a death on Good Friday and toward our own inevitable death. We know the truth even though it might frighten or make some uneasy. We are born to die, and every day we die a little more moving one day closer to that moment when we shall be planted or buried in the earth.  Only those who die to themselves really ever live a full and fruitful life. The self-centered, leave nothing behind and bear no fruit. Those who die a little each day to selfishness, to pretense, and to sin hold the promise of a new life that is the fruit that springs from their dying. Every time we pass from one stage of life to another something in us dies and something new is born. We taste death in moments of loneliness, rejection, sorrow, disappointment, and failure. Some die before their time living in bitterness, hatred, and solation. We create our own death by the way we live.

What Jesus teaches us is that when we forget ourselves that we are most free and most happy. It is getting out of ourselves, in dedicating ourselves to causes beyond ourselves, that we grow and bear fruit. The world is poorer and more hungry when people put their own personal safety, security and self-advancement first and last. When people are willing to go beyond themselves and die to self-interest the most precious things humanity possesses have been born.

Jesus gave his life. It was not taken from him. He gave it out of love of God and love of us. To love is to accept that one might die another kind of death, before one dies at the end of life. The way of love is the way of the cross which leads to the resurrection. As priest standing countless times at a bedside for someone’s final moment of life, I have come to believe that those who have died to themselves throughout life find the moment of physical death easy. The hour of death becomes an hour of glory. It is by dying that we are born to eternal life.

March 10, 2024 at St Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL

2 Chronicles 26: 14-16, 19-23 + Psalm 137 + Ephesians 2: 4-10 + John 3: 14-21

Nicodemus is mentioned three times in John’s Gospel and always at night. What we hear today is the one time Nicodemus comes to Jesus. He comes at the risk of being criticized and laughed at. He comes even though he does not understand what Jesus is doing or what Jesus is talking about. But he comes anyway.

There is a lot of Nicodemus behavior in us. We sometimes avoid any public display of our faith cautious and conscious of what others might think or say about us. We get uncomfortable now and then lest someone think we might be serious about our faith or look too pious or holy. We keep quiet when we hear something that is not quite right not wanting to seem as though we take matters of justice seriously. When some judge immigrants or the poor to be lazy or criminals, we say nothing when we could remind those who judge so unjustly that the poor are really God’s favorites.

Yet, to me, what speaks most powerfully about Nicodemus beyond his courage to come at all is that he comes to Jesus even though he does not understand what Jesus is doing or saying. It seems to me that there is something right about that. Instead of throwing up his hands and taking off when he does not understand, he comes anyway. 

All of us from time to time experience and see things we do not understand, wondering why God works in ways that are beyond us. Too often it is a very painful or tragic event that leaves us wondering if there even is a God. Even more often a painful experience drives some away from God rather than being drawn closer.

The two other times Nicodemus is mentioned in the Gospel are closer to the end when he urges his collogues to listen to Jesus and be slow to judge. Then at the end, it is Nicodemus who provides what is needed for the respectful burial of the body of Jesus. Even though he does not understand everything Jesus says and does, and even though he risks the ridicule of others in the Sanhedrin, he stays, he serves, he speaks up.

Nicodemus stands as a model for any of us who struggle to understand the ways of God that are not our ways. Even Jesus struggles with the God’s plan as we shall soon hear in the Passion when it becomes a mighty struggle against what he sees is God’s plan. In the end, he throws himself on the ground surrendering to God’s will and plan. For that, he is raised up on the third day. It would be the same for us if we simply stay and take the risks.

3:30pm Saturday at St. Peter in Naples, Fl

March 3, 2024 at Saint Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL

Exodus 20: 1-17+ Psalm 19 + 1 Corinthians 1: 22-25 + John 2: 13-25

Part of what gets the authorities riled up in wild opposition to Jesus is this talk about the Temple’s destruction. For them, the Temple is not so much a place of sacrificial worship as it is the center of commerce and business. It is the economic engine of its time. Talking about its destruction would be like destroying Wall Street. That is not going to fly with them, and they need to stop that talk and silence this man who keeps saying things like this. You can understand the threat all of this talk means to them. Instead of the Temple sanctifying the city. The city was desecrating the Temple. If those desecrators had been asked what religion was theirs, an honest answer would have been “profit” and another would have been “power.” The most cynical and honest might have said, “none” which is what we hear a lot of these days.

What they did not understand and sometimes we still do not either, is that Jesus is talking about his body not some architectural wonder. Jesus is teaching us that God’s presence cannot be captured in buildings. The Incarnation, our fundamental belief that God has taken human flesh, is the reality here. The Body of Christ is the dwelling place of God, not the Temple, and in these verses of John’s Gospel, Jesus is telling anyone who will listen that they can destroy his body, but it will rise again.

There is plenty of evidence that what this Gospel proclaims with the words of Jesus is still not being understood or accepted. My friends, what makes this church holy is the people who assemble here. It is not that tabernacle, the statues, or the glass. It is you and me, the Body of Christ. The Holy Eucharist in the tabernacle could not be there were it not that we have assembled here. Sharing the Eucharist in Holy Communion makes us one in the Body of Christ. We become what we eat.

My friends, the whole wonder of the Incarnation is that God’s dwelling place is first of all, and perhaps best of all found, honored, and respected in human life. There is a real presence in human life just as truly as any Temple, building, or man-made object. This Gospel invites and challenges us today to examine just how we decide what is sacred and what is profane. It is a felon to deface a church, and people get in an uproar every time one is vandalized. Yet, there is hardly a whisper of concern when one of God’s people dies of hunger or is homeless living in a car or a tent.

My friends, the very rock of our foundation in faith is the Incarnation. God’s desire to live, to love, and to be revealed in human flesh and blood. God speaks to us with the very human voice of Jesus Christ when we are here together. We must listen and learn because we can be the face and the merciful hand of God to anyone looking and longing for God. This season calls us to repent and change how we think, how we see things, and how we treat each other. This third week of Lent offers a chance to check carefully how well our behavior reveals our beliefs.