Sunday, November 5, 2017


November 5, 2017 –– 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Malachi 1:14b–2:2b, 8–10 / Psalm 131 / 1 Thessalonians 2:7b–9, 13 / Matthew 23:1–12

No one likes a hypocrite. Some of the strongest words in Scripture are directed toward religious people who say one thing and do another. The first reading and the Gospel are examples. Through Malachi, God warns priests who do not keep my ways. In the Gospel, Jesus describes some of the Pharisees by saying: they preach but they do not practice.

It’s likely that many of the Pharisees meant well. They understood that God had commanded his people to be holy. Have you ever thought about how hard it is to define the world holy? “Holy” can be threatening. It can seem unattainable. It can even project images of self-righteousness and judgmentalism. It seems easier to describe what holiness is not than to define what it is, but that can turn into a negative bunch of rules. Some perfectionists are rigid because they so deeply want everything to be right. Even beyond that, some people who want to emphasize holiness do so by exalting themselves––what they do and don’t do, and that is the essence of hypocrisy.

It’s not that boundaries and rules are bad (try to imagine football with no boundaries or rules!) but, again, no one likes a hypocrite. So the thing that puts the boundaries and rules in proper perspective is, using the football analogy, a love of the game and good sportsmanship.  A good word for those things is integrity. People respect integrity––in total contrast to hypocrisy––and especially in religion. It is refreshing to find a wonderful example of this in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians.

There have always been so-called “spiritual leaders” who are charlatans. There are hucksters and hypocrites in our world, and in Paul's day there were many wandering teachers and magicians who made a living by fleecing other people and living wicked lives. Some of Paul's opponents in Thessalonica tried to put him in that category. They said: 
––he was in error (v3) 
––he had impure motives (v3) 
––he was trying to trick them (v3) 
––he was trying to impress them (v4) 
––he was a flatterer (v5) 
––he was greedy (v5)

Paul was not that kind of man. Later in this letter he urged his readers to embrace his own standard: to abstain from every form of evil (1Thess 5:22). He did not even take what he could have legitimately received for his ministry. It was his right to receive from the people his upkeep for the time he was with them. But no, he worked night and day in order not to burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God (v9). One loose translation says, "Day and night we worked so that our preaching of the gospel to you might not cost you a penny” (J.B.Phillips). Paul's way of living was so entwined with that of Christ that his very life was an expression of the gospel. That is integrity. 

The Thessalonians saw a picture of the heavenly Father through Paul. He says we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God (vs.11,12). Paul was able to affirm: in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe. It was out of this that the Thessalonian church was born. One goal of a Christian life is to model who God is; the Lord builds his Church on that.

The Psalmist describes integrity as someone who stands by his oath even to his hurt or to put it another way, makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise (15:4). Integrity is someone who is willing to say "I was wrong.” Integrity is helping others at a cost to ourselves. The test of integrity is when the heat is on––when we are under is pressure. Paul reminded the Thessalonian church: we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the face of great opposition (v2). Our integrity, or the lack of it, also shows when we think no one looking. Someone has said a man is what he does when he is alone.

Often the biggest impediment to integrity is trying to appear better than we are. This is why Jesus criticized the Pharisees. We are not here to impress each other. In the Gospel Jesus says the way to be great is to a servant, for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. And Jesus tells us why this is so important: you have but one Father in heaven and you are all brothers. We need to walk humbly before God (see Micah 6:8). When our thoughts turn to who might be looking at us, let’s remember that––first of all––we are living under the gaze of our Lord.

God is calling us to love him––each one of us with our personal gifts and weaknesses, and in our respective places. St Augustine said Love God and do what you will.  When we do that, through his grace and strength, our lives can model consistency and love and faithfulness. That is one of the best ways to evangelize. The world is hungry for people who live with integrity.

Hear again these words from St Paul: we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.… That is the Christian character of integrity.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

God Calls Our Name

October 22, 2017 –– 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 45:1, 4–6 / Psalm 96 / 1 Thessalonians 1:1–5b / Matthew 22:15–21
God Calls Our Name

It’s so common that by now I should have adapted––but I haven’t. I make a phone call and a computer answers and I get annoyed. Even worse, I sometimes get a phone call, and it’s a machine. I always hang up (actually, I’ve stopped answering unless I recognize a name or number). There is something in us that wants personal contacts to be personal.

We live in a culture that reduces persons to numbers and bar codes and strange inscriptions imbedded in magnetic stripes on plastic cards we carry. So it’s wonderful when we can be part of something where other people know our name. I have a fairly decent memory for names (once I’ve truly learned to know someone). I frequently run into people from my pastoral days of 35 years ago, and I usually call them by name. Relationships are so important in the church.

When we know each other by name there is so much more that can open up. We begin to truly know each other, and with that comes the incredible act of praying for each other. In today’s second reading Paul told the Thessalonians: We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers…. Christian faith is personal, not only with one another, but with God.

The incredible thing is that God knows us by name! Jesus gave this wonderful contrast: Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29–31). If God knows the hairs of our head, he knows our name!

The first reading explicitly affirms this. God chose to use the Persian king, Cyrus, to open the way for the Jews to return to their land from captivity. Through the prophet Isaiah, God singles Cyrus out––even before he was born––and says: Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus…. I have called you by your name…. Cyrus was not an Israelite; God says though you knew me not. Cyrus did not know God, but God knew him––and God called Cyrus, in turn, to know him.

That is the story of salvation. John writes in his first letter: In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice for our sins…. We love because he first loved us (1Jn 4:10, 19). The Good News is that God loves us and calls us by name.

The Psalmist meditated on the intimacy we can have with God:
Lord, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
Lord, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me
and rest your hand upon me (Psa 139: 1–5).

God knows us so totally…. and he loves us.

In 2005 I was diagnosed with cancer. I grew up in a time when the “C” word usually meant death was on the immediate horizon. I’m thankful that has changed in the past 50-60 years, but the emotional threat in my mind was all too real. Now, I had a committed Christian faith. I’d been in pastoral ministry at that time for around thirty years. But when a real threat is suddenly right in front of you, “faith” takes on a new perspective. Then I read (again, but as if for the first time) some later verses in that same psalm:
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw me unformed;
in your book all are written down.
My days were shaped, before one came to be (Psa 139:15,16).

Before we were born, God knew every one of us. He knows our name. He knows what our days hold. He knows when the last chapter of our life on earth will end. Most of my life has been given to telling of God’s invitation to trust him for eternity. In the face of my cancer and the reality of these verses, it hit me: If I can trust God for my eternity, I can certainly trust him for my time in this life. Why? God loves me. He knows my name and everything about me. That is true for every one of us.

Early on Easter morning, before the glorious reality of the Lord’s resurrection had been realized by even his closest followers, Mary Magdalene was near the tomb and weeping because, as she said, they have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him (Jn 20:13). The story continues: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”* which means Teacher (Jn 20:14–16). Jesus called her name. Then she knew Jesus was there.

God called Cyrus by name. Jesus called Mary by name. The Lord is calling each one of us by our name today. Listen, and you will know he is near.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Look At God’s Mercy

September 24, 2017 –– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 55:6–9 / Psalm 145 / Philippians 1:20c–24,27a / Matthew20:1–16a
A Look At God’s Mercy

Each week we hear three Scripture readings, usually from the Old Testament, an Epistle, and always a Gospel. This is a primary way that God speaks to us. The lector says “the Word of the Lord” and we reply “Amen.” The  opening of the letter to the Hebrews affirms this: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son….

Why has God spoken as he has? Why did God speak through other people (the prophets) instead of directly to all of us? (Haven’t you ever wanted a clear,  unmistakable “direct word” from the Lord?). Why the progressive revelation? Maybe the most succinct answer comes through Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts…. (55:8,9).

God doesn’t tell some things because we couldn’t understand even if he told us. We are too small and limited. He doesn’t tell us other things because, even understanding, we couldn’t handle it (we have a hard time handling much of what he has told us––just think of the incredible implications of the last sentence in the second reading: Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ). We have to work at that every day: living in a way worthy of the Gospel.

The more we understand what God has revealed in the Scriptures, the more complete our understanding and the more our lives will be be aligned to the what God desires (and what is truly good). In today’s Gospel we have the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. Some get confused and think this is about justice or “fairness”, when it’s really about God’s mercy and his purposes. There are at least two “levels” of meaning in this parable. Most readers do not recognize the first, but it’s actually basic to the second meaning we instinctively want.

Scott Hahn gave this summary: The landowner is God. The vineyard is the kingdom. The workers hired at dawn are the Israelites, to whom he first offered his covenant. Those hired later in the day are the Gentiles, the non-Israelites, who, until the coming of Christ, were strangers to the covenants of promise (see Ephesians 2:11-13). In the Lord’s great generosity, the same wages, the same blessings promised to the first-called, the Israelites, will be paid to those called last, the rest of the nations. This provokes grumbling. The complaint of the first laborers sounds like that of the older brother in Jesus’ prodigal son parable (see Luke 15:29-30). God’s ways, however, are far from our ways, as we hear in today’s First Reading.

Alongside the the huge truth of God’s extravagant mercy that we find here  is a caution against a temptation to resent God’s lavish mercy. Why? We so quickly and easily want to be forgiven (or even excused), but there is a desire for the other guy to “get what he deserves.”

The Gospel is the wonderful realization that God is not like that. Isaiah says that God is generous in forgiving. Then he gives the great contrast: my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts….

It is very human to keep score. It is godly to want love and mercy to win over pay-back and vengeance. It is human to want others to get what they deserve. It is godly to want the best for others.

God is always ready to extend mercy. Yet many will not receive God’s mercy because they will not open themselves to it. How do we open ourselves to mercy? Isaiah tells us:
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
   call upon him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
   and the wicked his thoughts;
Let him turn to the Lord for mercy….

Think of that in the context of the parable. Those who started to work early and worked all day were paid the promised day’s wage. Those who worked half a day were paid a day’s wage. Those who worked the last hour of the day were paid a day’s wage. That is the mercy of God. No matter when we turn to him––as a child or as an older adult––there is full forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.

There is another class of people, though, who are not explicitly mentioned in the parable, but we can assume they were there: it’s the people who decided not to work at all. Maybe it was “too hot” (the all-day workers complained about the day’s burden and heat), and they wanted to be comfortable. Maybe they didn’t like the landowner and decided they would make no contribution to his harvest. Maybe they just had something else to do and assumed there would always be another day. Whatever their reasons, the ones who didn’t work did not get paid.

God is inviting every one of us today: Come to me…. come into my vineyard––my Kingdom––and work for me…. lay aside your own desires and conditions. Isaiah’s words give another expression of how to do that very thing: We’re to forsake––turn away from––the things that not like God. We turn to Jesus by turning away from the things that keep him away. Actually, God is always coming to us––we just need to be open to him.

When we are open to God, he is rich in mercy and wants to give each of us far beyond what we would have thought possible. All we have to is lay aside our own ways and thoughts and let God do whatever he wants to do. What he wants to do is lavish us with his generous mercy.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

People of the Cross

September 3, 2017 –– 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7–9 / Psalm 63 / Romans 12:1–2 / Matthew 16:21–27
People of the Cross

It’s as American as the Declaration of Independence. It’s also innate to human nature. It’s “the pursuit of happiness.” Who doesn’t want to be happy? Yet how do we know what real happiness is? Many things which give immediate pleasure result in awful repercussions. True happiness is not mere emotional or physical euphoria. Our desire for happiness is ultimately an intense longing for God.

We live in a time and culture that has a hard time realizing this. Like millions of others, I am on Facebook. I try to use it judiciously, especially for posting articles I find significant for Christian reflection. I also see how easily emotions are manipulated and too quickly expressed, but sometimes Facebook gives a genuine funny. I saw this cartoon a couple of weeks ago….

Two people are in conversation. The first one says, “I feel like Jesus’ teachings can be summed up like this: DON’T HURT ANYBODY’S FEELINGS. ‘Cuz if something hurts someone’s feelings, it can’t be Christlike.”

The other person responds, “I see that sentiment everywhere. How on earth do you reconcile that with the Bible as the source of Truth? I mean, the truth hurts…. It’s objective and exclusive and the truth is true no matter how we feel about it.”

So the first person responds, “Wanna know how I know you’re wrong? ‘Cuz that hurts my feelings!” 

This sentiment is all around us.

Today’s readings take us into the heart of our struggle when we don’t like what God says. Jeremiah cried out to God because of the derision and reproach that he received simply because he proclaimed God’s truth. The rejection was so bad that he tried to promise himself: I will not mention him; I will speak in his name no more. And yet his commitment to God and truth was so intense that he said: it becomes like fire burning in my heart. This is how the Holy Spirit works in our lives when we are committed to be faithful.

But what are we to do with that yearning we all have to be happy? Every day we have a choice to make; it’s the nitty-gritty process of Christian conversion: Do we trust our feelings or do we put our faith in the claim of what God has said? A moment’s thought should show the conflict and bedlam that happens when each person tries to follow his own feelings. On the other hand, if we follow St Augustine in his classic observation, we will find a unifying center that indeed leads to true happiness: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. This is what the Psalmist says in the responsorial: O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts… 

What are we to expect when we seek God? Too often we make the mistake of the first person in the cartoon. We’d like to believe God will never ask of us anything that is unpleasant. The witness of the Scriptures and the Faith proclaimed by the Church tell us that is not true. Paul gives the contrast in his letter to the Romans: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed…. Jesus tells us that true life comes through dying to the old life. It’s the message of the cross.

This choice is as old as humanity. It was Jeremiah’s choice when he couldn’t hold back what he knew to be God’s truth. Last week was the Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist; he chose to speak truth to Herod and paid for it with his life. This is what Jesus was saying to the Twelve, and it is what the human-weakness part of Peter did not want to hear.

It takes faith to see this––and Christian Faith is God’s invitation to dare to believe. Pope Benedict XVI said, “When Peter recoiled from the cross he was denying the very possibility of happiness…..” When Jesus calls us to the cross, he is calling us to ultimate happiness because he is calling us to himself. We may not be able to sense it right away, and there will be painful obstacles, but as Christians we are people of the cross. It is more than a gesture we make.

The cross comes to each of us according to our time and place and measure of faith. It could be sacrificing screen time each day or a bit of sleep in order to spend dedicated time with the Lord. It can be the simple embarrassment of being different for Jesus’ sake when others around us are doing whatever is popular. It can be a willingness to sacrifice financially when we’d rather spend “our” money for our own enjoyment. It can be the pain of rejection in a relationship when we have to choose between obedience and convenience. It can be the ultimate price of physical life.

Our Lord speaks to us in the Gospel. Do we believe him? Bishop Robert Barron, introducing today’s reading, made this observation: “Disciples listen to Jesus; sinners tell him what to do. Disciples obey the Master; sinners correct him….”

What are we trusting to make us happy? Jesus tells us to embrace the cross. As we live in a world that hungers for happiness, let’s be people of the cross. It’s the way we are connected to Jesus. Offer [yourselves] as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Let’s pray:

Father, we are surrounded with voices that tell us we can choose our own truth. We feel the pull to do whatever is convenient and comfortable. We also know that embracing the cross hurts.
Help us to love you so much that we can be faithful even when it’s hard…. even when it hurts. Hear the cry of our hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

a sermon by Saint Augustine

Perhaps I've posted this before. If so, it is worth repetition(s)....

From a sermon by Saint Augustine
A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit

I acknowledge my transgression, says David. If I admit my fault, then you will pardon it. Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticise, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. This was not the way that David showed us how to pray and make amends to God, when he said: I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. He did not concentrate on others’ sins; he turned his thoughts on himself. He did not merely stroke the surface, but he plunged inside and went deep down within himself. He did not spare himself, and therefore was not impudent in asking to be spared.
   Do you want God to be appeased? Learn what you are to do that God may be pleased with you. Consider the psalm again: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. Are you then to be without sacrifice? Are you to offer nothing? Will you please God without an offering? Consider what you read in the same psalm: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. But continue to listen, and say with David: A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart. Cast aside your former offerings, for now you have found out what you are to offer. In the days of your fathers you would have made offerings of cattle – these were the sacrifices. If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it. These then, Lord, you do not want, and yet you do want sacrifice.
   You will take no delight in burnt offerings, David says. If you will not take delight in burnt offerings, will you remain without sacrifice? Not at all. A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.
   You now have the offering you are to make. No need to examine the herd, no need to outfit ships and travel to the most remote provinces in search of incense. Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed. Are you afraid that it might perish so? You have the reply: Create a clean heart in me, O God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be crushed.

   We should be displeased with ourselves when we commit sin, for sin is displeasing to God. Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased at what displeases him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Great Exchange

June 25, 2017 –– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:10–13 / Psalm 69 / Romans 5:12–15 / Matthew 10:26–33
The Great Exchange

Over a forty year span I can still hear many different people who have said to me: “The Apostle Paul is so hard to understand!” Yet we believe the Holy Spirit inspired his words, and the Church affirms our need to hear them. This Romans text is one biblical passage where many would read it and say “Huh?” One of my passions for pastoral ministry is helping people better understand what God has chosen to give us in Scripture. It means we need to focus and think, but good things usually require a bit of work.

Paul is giving the foundation for God’s act of justifying sinners. The whole story of the human race can be summed up in terms of what happened because of Adam, and what has happened and will yet happen because of Christ. In these verses there are both commonalities and contrasts between Adam and Christ. Christian faith is grounded in something that, having a humanity in common with Adam, Jesus did in specific contrast to something Adam did.

Every person born into this world comes with an identity in Adam. It is an identity that brings with it alienation from God (guilt), a tendency to live for one’s self (commit sin), an inevitable curse (death) and a threat of God’s future wrath (eternal punishment). This identity makes us helpless and hopeless. But (3:21) God has chosen to provide another identity, in Christ––who is another, and last, Adam (1Cor 15:45)––so that all the hard things that we received from the first Adam can be undone and reversed in the last Adam: Jesus Christ.

How did the sin of Adam effect everyone? Paul says that the trespass―the disobedience―of one man (Adam) brought God’s judgment (physical death and spiritual condemnation) to all Mankind. Somehow, all of humanity participated in what Adam did. St Augustine, the great theologian from the turn of the fifth century said that when Adam acted the whole race acted and when he was judged, the whole race was judged.

This is the reason the Gospel is truly Good News. Something has been accomplished by Christ which is as universal in its effectiveness as was the sin of the first man. So, even as we are condemned on account of what Adam did, we can be justified because of what Christ did. Christ’s part is already done––he was sacrificed once for all (Heb 9:12). It’s like a free meal––the meal is already paid for, but (and this takes us to the aspect of our faith) unless a person goes and eats the benefit is lost.

The point here is the union of the race with Adam and the further union of the race with Christ and ratified in those who believe. It is like the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics. Both are true all the time, with the law of gravity being the normative default (as is the law of sin), but able to be superseded by the law of aerodynamics. The law of gravity applies to all; the law of aerodynamics applies to those who are in aircraft. The disobedience of Adam marks all people; the obedience of Christ marks those who embrace the Second Adam. When we follow Jesus Christ we are lifted up from the bondage of sin so we can wing our way to heaven. And so, as Paul opens his letter to the Romans, the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes... (1:16).

We do not have a choice not to be born in solidarity with Adam; we do have a choice to live in solidarity with Jesus Christ. When God first created Man, he wanted Adam’s “yes.” Instead he received Adam’s “no.” Now God offers a second chance through his Son, the second Adam, in order to remake us into a new creation. We do not have to keep our identity in Adam. Saying “yes” to God’s life in Christ is saying “no” to the legacy of sin in Adam, and in that “yes” there is the great exchange.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Spirit Makes A Difference

June 4, 2017 –– Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1–11 / Psalm 104 / 1 Corinthians 12:3b–7, 12–13 / John 20:19–23
The Spirit Makes A Difference

Fear and loneliness….. A sense of belonging and being loved…. Those are huge contrasts that come into focus at Pentecost.

The disciples were afraid. They had locked themselves away. It seemed that Jesus was gone. Even though they were together in a room, I wonder if each one didn’t feel surrounded by people they no longer knew––sort of like being at party where you know no one else and loneliness is intensified because everything seems strange.

We can easily have those feelings. It can seem that others see my problems more than they see me. It’s easy to think that so many others are living the Christian life better than I. Why is it that we so quickly sense our problems and weaknesses, and so easily overlook our blessings and strengths?

God did not create us to live life alone and in our own strength. One of the first things God says about his human creation was It is not good for the man to be alone…. (Gen 2:18). Before his death, when he was preparing the disciples for his absence, Jesus told them I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (Jn 14:18).

Yet it had to have been confusing to their ears. Jesus had also told them: It is for your good that I am going away…. (Jn 16:7a). Why? Unless I go away, the Comforter will not come to you (Jn 16:7b).

Pentecost shows us the meaning and power of what Jesus has made possible. In the body, Jesus could only be with a few people at one time; in the Spirit, the presence of Jesus is available to everyone all the time. The Spirit is like the air around us, present and ready to be breathed. Through his death for us, Jesus makes it possible for us to breathe―spiritually. His death removes our sins; his life gives us life.

The story in Acts describes a bit of the wonder and the power. Maybe we wonder about the different manifestations of the Spirit and even what we might call the “levels” of intensity. Compare two people. One is a baby, new-born and weighing 7 pounds, who has just begun to breathe; the other is a full-grown man, 6 feet in height weighing 190 pounds. Both are fit and healthy; both are breathing properly; and both may be described as "filled with air." What, then, is the difference between them? It lies in the capacity of their lungs. Both are "filled," yet one is more filled than the other because his capacity is so much greater.

The same is true of spiritual life and growth. A new-born babe in Christ is filled with the Spirit. Likewise, a mature and godly Christian of many years' standing is filled with the Spirit also. The difference is their spiritual lung-capacity. The life of the Spirit in the Church means there is a place and purpose for every single person whose life is open to Jesus. This means our fears and loneliness and personal inadequacies do not have to control our lives.

The devil wants us to cower in fear because of our sins. Jesus gives us forgiveness of sins. Our human weaknesses push us to pull away from others. We think we need to be self-reliant. We try to hide our sins and faults. The Holy Spirit living in us is always saying, “Let me help you.” And one way the Spirit helps us is when we join our personal gifts to others so that we all give and receive, and then learn the joy that we do not have to face all the issues of life in our own wisdom and strength.

Just as he did with the first disciples long ago, Jesus is here to breathe on us and say, Receive the Holy Spirit. Believe it. Tell Jesus yes and thank you. Ask Jesus to make his Spirit strong in you every day. Instead of being fearful and lonely, know that you are loved. Know that you belong to the One who is stronger than sin and death.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Suffering and Glory

May 28, 2017 –– 7th Sunday of Easter
Acts 1:12–14 / Psalm 27 / 1 Peter 4:13–16 / John 17:1–11a
Suffering and Glory

The readings today present three things that are hard for us. In Acts, the disciples have just witnessed the Ascension and, even though they have their “marching orders” (the Great Commission, Mtt 28:28), now they are being obedient: they have retreated to an upper room in Jerusalem to wait for the gift my Father promised (Acts 1:4). Waiting is not easy for most of us, but “wait time” can open doors to the Holy Spirit beyond our comprehension. If you are in a major “wait” right now, trust that the Lord is using it for something good he wants to do in your life.

The second thing that is hard for us is suffering. Incredulously, Peter puts a totally different spin on it: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ…. When and how do we do that? Peter gives one explicit example: if you are insulted for the name of Christ…. This happens whenever we give witness to any part of God’s truth and, in response, are ridiculed or rejected or even assaulted. But sharing in Christ’s suffering can go far beyond that. The very reason there is suffering in this world is because of the brokenness caused by the old, nasty word sin. That is not to say all suffering is the direct cause of sin; it’s just that a world where rebellion against God is not only possible but prevalent has repercussions, and everyone is affected. When we choose to see suffering as part of the process God uses to brings the world to repentance and healing, we share in the sufferings of Christ. This is the real meaning, and the proper use, of the phrase, Offer it up…. When you believe that God can and will use a hard thing in your life for your holiness and the salvation of others, you share in the sufferings of Christ.

The third thing that is hard in today’s readings is the word glory. It is hard because it is difficult to define and comprehend. We can see that glory is a good thing, but it’s hard to pin down. Whether we fully understand it or not, there is something in us (it’s God-planted) that deeply desires the glory that is so much the focus of Jesus’ prayer.

Jesus, talking to the Father, is aware of the glory that I had with you before the world began....  St Paul says that Jesus lay that glory aside in his Incarnation (in the form of God.... but emptied himself––Phil 2), and yet here Jesus is anticipating not only the restoration of that glory, but the “joy” of going to the cross (Heb 12:2) because he knew that he was opening the door to glory for us.

And so Jesus prays in today’s Gospel: I am praying for.... those whom thou hast given me, for they are yours (Father); and everything of mine is yours, and everything of yours is mine, and I am glorified in them. Jesus is praying for you…. for me!

Think about this: As we follow Jesus, we are heading to the same place where he has gone. That is the meaning of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus suffered and was then glorified. Because Jesus has gone ahead of us into glory.... because even now the Spirit of Christ is changing those who belong to him into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2Cor 3:18).... because of the hope we have as Christians––Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27), we can wait with patience and we can even suffer in hope.

What is your biggest burden or fear right now? It is not forever. Our Lord is at work even in those hard things. We are being prepared for the full glory of God!

I’m borrowing a few texts from St Paul’s writings: If then you have been raised with Christ, (this is what Jesus is praying about in today’s Gospel) seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (this is the reality of the Ascension). Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (this is what it means to live distinctively for Jesus). Why?! For you have died (this is what baptism means), and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1–4).

As we follow Jesus, we are destined for glory. It’s beyond anything this world can imagine. Let's not allow the world to discourage us.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Ready for Our Eternal Home

May 14, 2017–– 5th Sunday in Easter
Acts 6:1–7 / Psalm 33 / 1 Peter 2:4–9 / John 14:1–12
Getting Ready for Our Eternal Home

Many non-Catholic Christians think that Catholics diminish the importance of the Bible. Catholics who know better can point to the prominence of Scripture readings in the Liturgy. Over the three-year cycle of the lectionary, a majority of the Bible is read aloud. Hearing the Scriptures is vitally important in Catholic life. One of my goals in a homily is to make the readings we hear more understandable, and in understanding to embrace what God is telling us.

In the second reading Peter challenges us: let yourselves be built into a spiritual house….  C.S. Lewis extends this:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing.  He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.  But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.  What on earth is He up to?  The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of— throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building up a palace.  He intends to come and live in it himself (C. S. Lewis,  Mere Christianity).

This is a wonderful personal application, but the context is not merely our personal lives. Christian Faith is far bigger than that. While our tendency is to focus on ourselves as a “house,” Jesus gives a much broader perspective: In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Maybe it’s best to think of this as one house…. many rooms. Or, to use another image, there is one edifice with many stones.

Today’s Gospel is a favorite for funerals, and rightly so. It is a promise from Jesus that there is a place for us after this life. Jesus himself goes ahead of us, through death and resurrection, so that we can know the way. Jesus himself is the way and the truth and the life. As we follow Jesus, we will arrive at just the right place.

But to “follow Jesus” we face all kinds of obstacles. It is not surprising that Thomas asked, how can we know the way?

Many Christians assume the early Church was almost perfect. Some Protestant sects seek to be “restorationist” movements trying to recover some ideal that never actually existed. The Church has been in process since the beginning. Our Lord, the Head of the Church, has been leading his Body to “grow up” into the fulness of what it means to be the “House of God” since he gave these words to his disciples on that night before he went to the cross.

The first reading tells us there was tension between the early Jewish and non-Jewish Christians (the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews…). So even back then there were feelings that some people received special attention and treatment above others. Many of the letters (Epistles) deal with problems the early Church was having (it has been noted that if the early churches did not have those problems, the written record which became our New Testament would be much shorter!).

All of this is to say that the Church exists in a broken world and we need the spiritual healing that Jesus came to bring. Too often we assume that everything is fine except those times when something painful and disturbing comes too close to us personally. The reality is that every day there is catastrophe and pain and despair going on around us. Every day we deal with disappointment and, if we are honest, wish that others understood us better. From the little hurts to the huge pains, we need the healing that Jesus brings.

This is one reason it is important to get a vision of our calling to grow up into the beautiful house that God is making. Each one of us is meant to be a living stone; each of us is to make our own contribution to that spiritual house built on the cornerstone (who is Christ Jesus).

For that to happen, we need the Church. It was out of the early tension about the Hellenist widows that the Apostles initiated the diaconate. I am here in a line that goes back to Stephen and Philip and the others who are named. As we gather, the Church is here in all its parts to help us heal and be beautiful stones in the edifice of God’s “house”.

This brings our personal lives back into focus. We each need to be responding every day to the grace of God that is at work for our healing and ultimate salvation. We seek what Jesus promised the disciples: so that where I am you also may be.

So we open ourselves to be remade…. to be a living stone…. to be a dwelling place for God himself. This week, while you are getting dressed, look at yourself in the mirror. Look yourself in the eyes and into your soul. Then affirm your faith in Jesus and tell yourself: "the risen Son of God lives in me.... I am a living stone in God’s house!” As you do that, God will show something of himself through your life. And some day, you will be with Jesus in the Father’s house.

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