Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Light in the Darkness

December 25, 2018  –– Christmas
Isaiah 9:1–6 / Psalm 96 / Titus 2:11–14 / Luke 2:1–14
Light in the Darkness

Generally speaking, humans do not like darkness. Many people complain of Seasonal Affective Disorder and are depressed when days are short or overcast for too long. Of course, “darkness” is relative (actually, “darkness" only exists according to the degree to which light is decreased). We have ways of making “relative darkness” cozy and beautiful––a small lamp or a fire in the hearth in an otherwise dark room, or a display of lights on the outside of our houses to illumine a winter night during the Christmas season.

Still, we do not do well with an absence of light…. either physically or spiritually. Have you ever been in total darkness? Years ago I visited Mammoth Cave and I still remember when our group was assembled at the lowest part of the tour and the lights were turned off for a brief time––total darkness.

The Bible begins with that image and the contrast of God’s activity: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Genesis 1:1–3). Throughout the rest of Scripture there is an ongoing theme of darkness and light.

A disobedience to God allowed darkness to have an inordinate place in the world. The darkness of unbelief and rebellion has besieged people for so long that we can assume it is as eternal as God himself. but the power of darkness has no chance of domination. John tells us in his first letter that God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). In Peter’s first letter we hear that God is always and forever the one who [is calling] you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

This is the promise Isaiah was making to God’s people after they had detoured into darkness and lost hope: The people who walked in darkness have see a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. The promise was fulfilled in the little town of Bethlehem. Luke gives the details of the story: Mary and Joseph, a first-born in a manger, shepherds, and angels…. and the Good News: a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.

St Paul tells Titus what it means: The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways…. We reject godless ways when we turn away from any and every thing that extends the darkness of pain and despair and death. We see the reality of the grace of God whenever a bit of light shines on our path.

Christmas is the celebration that Jesus is that Light. God himself came to dwell among us and open the way to the fulness of Life . John opens his Gospel saying In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world…. [and] to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God (John 1:5–12).

Like the Christmas lights that shine into these winter nights, we are immersed in a Light that darkness cannot overcome. This is why, on that night long ago, the angels illumined the sky and sang: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace those on whom his favor rests.

Through Jesus Christ, the favor of God rests on us. It is the gift of Light and Life.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Looking for the Day of Christ Jesus

December 9, 2018: 2nd Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1–9 / Psalm 126 / Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11 / Luke 3:1–6
Looking for the Day of Christ Jesus

One of the great verses of the Bible is Philippians 1:6 –– being confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is at work in our lives. It helps to keep in mind what God has done and what God is going to do. These are two crucial things. The first is that in the death and resurrection of Jesus, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2Cor 5:21). A second thing is that Jesus is going to come again––the day of Christ Jesus, and it will bring the full effect of his death and resurrection to all of creation. Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for our salvation but the full effect is yet to come. We live “in between” what Jesus did in his first coming and what he will do in his second coming.

Christian life is lived in this tension of what God has done and will yet do. The great thing is this: What God starts, he will finish. Christians live in hope. That is why we live by faith; we believe that God has already done something incredible, and that he is going to finish it when Jesus is fully revealed as King of kings and Lord of lords––the day of Christ Jesus.

As Christians, everything we do and everything we value needs to be understood between these two fixed certainties of what God has done and what he is going to do. As Paul writes this Philippian letter, he is in prison; despite his circumstances his hope is in what God has done and what God is going to do. This is meant to be our model. We all live with threatening situations: An important relationship begins to unravel…. a loved one gets seriously ill or even dies…. hopes for our children get torpedoed…. we discover we have inherited dysfunctional living patterns…. our job (and thus our earthly security) is threatened…. What do we do? We hang on to what God has done and what he is going to do.

Now, while our faith is indeed rooted in what God has done through Jesus in his death and resurrection, that alone is not full salvation. This world has not yet come into the reality of God's rule. So Christians, like all others, still suffer. Christians, like all others, still physically die. The fullness of God's salvation is yet to come; it is what God will do. We live for what's coming. We prepare for what's coming. We make our decisions based on what's coming. We choose our values based on what's coming.

Here is what is coming: the day of Christ. This is in continuity with the Old Testament reading for today and prophecy that John quotes in the Gospel. This is the hope of every Christian who has chosen to trust God in spite of the pain, the tears and the death. Jesus is coming as God's King of the universe, and he is going to change this world to be all that God has promised.

It is more than we can imagine, so critics say this is a pathological diversion––“imaginary pie in the sky by and by.” It is said that this world is what matters, and it is implied only this world. Yes, there are many good things which call for our attention in this world. There are also other things which can distract us spiritually and even hurt us. So this is the question: is this world as we know it all there is? Is so, then there is nothing to Christian Faith. But if we grant Christian Faith, then there is something that makes sense of all the details that surround our live.

Now if we try to keep track of all those details in an attempt to get everything right by ourselves, we will only get bogged down and lose our way. As we make our way in this world we have one focus: the day of Christ is coming, and it will put everything right.

One winter day five boys were playing in the woods. They decided to see who could make the straightest set of tracks in the snow. Most of the boys very carefully watched their feet, putting one directly in front of the other. But when they had crossed a clearing in the woods and looked back, one track was curved, one was crooked and two were zig-zag. Only one boy had a straight track. When they asked him how he did it, he replied that he had not looked at his feet; instead, he had picked out a tree across the clearing and had walked straight toward it.

As we "walk" through the details of our lives in this world, we keep our spiritual eyes on what God has done and what he is going to do. That is what it means to live in faith. That is the way we can enter into the real meaning of Advent. We keep our eyes looking for Jesus…. until the day of Christ. He is coming!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Waiting for the Lord

December 2, 2018 –– The First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14–16 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2 / Luke 21:25–28, 34–36
Waiting for the Lord

Advent begins with this Gospel that reminds us of hard things because we live in a world that does indeed have terrible things. Christian Faith does not turn away from what is difficult; the message and model of Jesus invites us to call a thing what it is. But we do not dwell on the bad news. We believe that God is at work even in the darkest and most difficult times. Christians know that our Lord is at work in and beyond the threats and discouragements.

In Advent we are called to wait for the Lord. We believe that Jesus came to fulfill Jeremiah's promise of the righteous branch. He fed the hungry, he healed the sick, and gave himself a ransom for our sins. Jesus wants us to know that this world still belongs to God. Nothing must shake our faith nor weaken our resolve that God is in charge and that Jesus is coming again.

We can feel like it’s up to us to fix things. We can feel guilty if we don’t fix ourselves the way we think we should be. In Advent we remember that God is at work; he is going to make things right, even if it’s not the way we expect or on our time schedule.

Henri Nouwen wrote a book called Sabbatical Journeys. He tells about some friends of his who were trapeze artists. They told Nouwen that there's a special relationship between flyer and catcher on the trapeze. The flyer is the one that lets go, and the catcher is the one that catches. As the flyer swings high above the crowd on the trapeze, the moment comes when he must let go. He arcs out into the air. His job is to remain as still as possible and wait for the strong hands of the catcher to pluck him from the air. One of them told Nouwen, "The flyer must never try to catch the catcher." The flyer must wait in absolute trust. The catcher will catch him, but he must wait.

As our hearts desire the promise of Christmas, we need to learn to wait. We may feel that we’re suspended in mid-air––far beyond our comfort zone. Advent tells us that, in the midst of things that can make us impatient and even hurt, our Lord is with us on the journey. Wait on the Lord….

I suggest a little exercise for the next four weeks. When you sit in the soft glow of your Christmas tree some evening or when you enjoy the delicious food at a holiday party, at some point remind yourself that these things are not mere pleasant distractions. Holiday ambiance is not a brief opportunity to forget the world's troubles for a little while. Rather, it is a reminder that even as the darkness swirls around us, we live in the Light that shines in the darkness. It is a Light that no darkness can prevent from shining. As the holiday lights shine around us,  remember…. the Lord is near….. the Lord is here.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The King and His People

November 25, 2018: 34th (Last) Sunday in Ordinary Time: Solemnity of Christ the King
Daniel 7:13–14 / Psalm 93 / Revelation 1:5–8 / John 18:33b–37
The King and His People

You've seen the cartoons with space people: A little guy gets out of the spaceship, walks up to someone and says, "Take me to your leader." Christians know that whoever appears to be leader in this world is not the leader. We believe Jesus is the ruler over all the kings (and presidents) of the earth. On the day he comes back not only are those who knew it by faith going to be confirmed in that faith, but the people who doubted and the people who rebelled and the people who would have nothing to do with God are going to realize it when he comes in visible glory as King of kings and Lord of lords.

John has a vision of reality in Revelation, and as he writes these titles of Jesus his heart gets full: To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father…. Because Jesus is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, there can only be one response: To him be glory and power. Amen.

As John expresses his praise he tells us these three things about Jesus. First of all, he loves us. Secondly, he has freed us from our sins. Thirdly, he has made us a kingdom and priests to serve his God. If we are going to be able to keep spiritual equilibrium in a world that is no friend of godliness, we need to come back over and over to who Jesus is.  That's why we read the Scriptures. That's why we come to the Church and confess the Creed. This is the Gloria in the early part of the Liturgy. That’s why we feed on Jesus in the Eucharist. We live in a world that does not understand and thus disdains such things; we are immersed in a bias that does not recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior and King of the world.

We need to keep coming back to this so that we don't lose touch with who we are. Jesus is a faithful witness. He told Pilate: for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. In a time when being able to know truth is ridiculed, we confess these truths every week: After being sentenced to death and going to the cross Jesus died and come back to life, he ascended into heaven, and was glorified at God's right hand; he is coming again. This is the framework out of which we live our lives. These are not words to be repeated mechanically when we confess our Faith with the Creed. This is life for our souls. We should awaken each morning and go through our days remembering that God has loved us through his Son. He has loved us so much that he has forgiven us our sins, and he has made us a kingdom and priests to serve him.

What does this mean? First it is a reminder that our allegiance is to God and his rule in contrast to any other earthly system that would seek our allegiance. The only thing that is worthy of our ultimate allegiance is the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the kingdom which is going to endure when all other kingdoms have fallen.

There is a description of Christians in Peter’s first letter that is rooted in the kingship of Jesus and our union with him: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Why? That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

As recipients of the Lord’s mercy, we are to be a kingdom and priests to God––we are called to model the life of Jesus in us. What happens when we do that? Other people find out who God is. What happens when other people find out who God really is? The whole world is transformed into the glory of God! That's what Daniel saw in his vision. It’s the goal towards which all of human history is progressing.

But for that to happen in us, we need to remember who Jesus is. We need to keep before us each day what Jesus has done. We need to give ourselves again and again to the one who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. God wants us to be his people. He wants us to be his witnesses. Through Jesus Christ, he has done everything for us that needs to be done. All we need to do is respond…. every day. 

So for today…. and tomorrow…. and every day thereafter… Let Jesus be the King of your heart!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thinking About The End Of The World

18 November, 2018 –– 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Daniel 12:1–3 / Psalm 16 / Hebrews 10:11–14, 18 / Mark 13:24–32
Thinking About The End Of The World (as we know it)

As the liturgical year approaches its close, the Scriptures increasingly focus our attention on what is traditionally referred to as the four last things: death, judgment, Heaven, Hell. These are not popular topics for preaching. It seems that even in the Church there is a tendency to want to keep our attention on good things in this world. We do not like to be reminded that this world is passing away. 

Yet there is popular interest in trying to foretell the future. Some people use horoscopes and other occult practices that God has told his people to avoid. But many Christians try to use Scripture the same way with such things as the visions in Daniel’s prophecy and the imagery in the book of Revelation. That is not the focus of Christian Faith. Even Jesus’ words about the last-days do not give exact future details.

Jesus talks mostly about how his disciples should respond to the events going on around them. This is a wisdom that focuses on what we can do something about, not on the things beyond our control. We cannot do too much about the big catastrophes or way the world will end; the one thing you and I can do something about is our own response to the things that happen in and around our lives. How shall we respond to our world––even when it seems that it is falling apart? It is normal to fear for our comfort, our happiness, our security, and to wonder what might happen to us and our children.

Jesus' words in Mark 13 can be expressed in four short exhortations. 

The first one is: Don't be dazzled; be steady. Jesus warns not to let the world around us, with all its wonders, sweep us off our feet. Whatever it is that is so impressive, we must remember it will not last forever. We need to be steady in our assessment of the things around us; they will not last forever. Nothing in this world is forever. We will not be in this world forever.

A second guideline is: Don't be deceived; be studious. Jesus says that other people will claim to be the Christ. He says that people will say it is time for the end when it is not. Jesus gives the parable of a fig tree: just as one can look at a tree and discern which season it is, so can a disciple who is studious discern the signs for his coming––not so that we know exactly ‘when” but so that we can live wisely.

A third lesson here is: Don't be dismayed; be steadfast. In v13 he says, the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. In the face of opposition.... in the face of hate.... in the face of arrest, imprisonment or death––do not be dismayed; be steadfast. Jesus says we will only be saved as we stand firm. Be steadfast.

The fourth word is: Do not be distracted, but be still. Jesus says to be careful, to watch, to pray (vs35,36). In other words, to be still. God tells us through the Psalmist, Be still, and know that I am God

The reason we are to be still is so we can truly see what is going on around us and, in the imagery of the fig tree parable, discern the season around us. It is hard to be still. We so easily surround ourselves with distraction––some electronic device commanding our attention almost all the time. We stay in a hurry. We do not want to be alone. How can we hear the voice of God? How can we keep watch for the things which would distract us from the kingdom?

Jesus told his disciples these things because of what is someday going to happen: the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.... he will send his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth (v26,27). Yes, terrible things happen: wars, famines, wildfires and hurricanes and tornadoes, homicides, addictions that cause death.... The list goes on and on, but these things do not have the last word.

For God's people, these things are reminders of a greater reality: the world will not always be this way. Someday Jesus will return and make it new, but until then we are in a spiritual war; the demons of hell will fight like crazy to keep the world the way it is now. Jesus gives his disciples these words to help us understand what is happening around us, and to know how to respond.

In the face of threatening circumstances, here are four things ways to keep our spiritual equilibrium:

–– do not be dazzled, but be steady;
–– do not be deceived, but be studious;
–– do not be dismayed, but be steadfast;
–– do not be distracted, but be still.

The basic invitation is always the same: keep our hearts open to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As this life disintegrates, God's word is sure. This world is passing away; his kingdom is forever.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Asking and Getting

October 28, 2018 –– 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 10:46–52
Asking and Getting

Today’s Gospel tells the story of a man asking Jesus for something. Asking Jesus for something today takes us to the subject of prayer, and I think a lot of people approach prayer with the theological sophistication of Huckleberry Finn:

Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing came of it. She told me to pray everyday, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool.  She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way. 

Haven't there been times when we’ve all felt that way? You asked God, praying quite sincerely for something, and it didn't happen. So prayer becomes a big mystery. Like Huck Finn, we “[can’t] make it out no way.”

The blind man in today’s Gospel asks Jesus for what he wants. Bartimaeus kept asking. Others discouraged him. He kept asking. This man knew he was blind, and he believed Jesus could do something about it. He surely thought, “This is my one chance to turn everything around,” and so he kept calling out all the more.

James tells us in his letter: You do not have, because you do not ask (4:2b). Sometimes we do ask, but God does not give us what we ask.... for our own good. James goes on to say: You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (4:3). Yet in another place Jesus says: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matt 7:7,8).

We need to know that prayer is not merely “asking God for something.” Prayer is not a formula to learn and master. Prayer and true desire are intimately connected. How often do we really ask Jesus for our heart’s desire? When we ask for something half-heartedly, we are not asking out of desire. When we ask, but do not continue to ask, are we not showing that we are not desperate? And if we are passionate, is it for the right things?

All of us are passionate about something. It can be anything from a sports obsession to material possessions to politics to.... knowing God. When we are passionate about something, others close to us know it. What are we passionate about? How often do we ask Jesus for our heart’s desire?

What are we to do? First, let’s understand that the focus of prayer is God himself. Jesus told his followers to seek first the kingdom of God, and other things will be given as well. Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness, but another phrase follows: he received his sight and followed [Jesus]. If we turn again and again and again to the Lord––if we follow Jesus, our passions will more and more begin to match his desires for us. Then our prayers will be answered in amazing ways. Jesus also said: If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you (Jn 15:7).

May the Lord give us hearts that are passionate for him, so that we desire the things he so graciously wants to give us. And then let’s ask, because our Heavenly Father loves to hear from his children.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

What Do We Want?

October 14, 2018 –– 28th Sunday in  Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7:7–11 / Psalm 90 / Hebrews 4:12–13 / Mark 10:17–30
What Do We Want?

As a child I knew just enough of Arabian Nights to be aware of the story about Aladdin and a genie who would grant wishes. In my youthful naiveté I spent more than a few minutes fantasizing about that. In a more mature state of mind I think more now about the the way that our desires have a lot to say about who we really are.

The biblical story of Solomon brings the fantasy into real life. After inheriting the throne of his father David, 

the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Solomon answered, “….give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong….”
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings (1 Kings 3:5, 9–13).

The first reading from the book of Wisdom gives the witness of this story from Solomon himself. It should raise with us not only the fantasy of a genie offering us wishes, but the reality that God invites each one of us to ask great things!

What are we asking of God? What is the desire of my heart?

We get another perspective on this question when we come to the Gospel reading. A young man comes to Jesus and seems to want eternal life. Jesus knows this man needs first to face the reality of what he really wants––where his heart is, so Jesus gives a huge challenge: give everything else away. In response, the young man turned away from Jesus, for he had many possessions.

We have this blunt truth: not only did the young man have many possessions, his possessions had him. So a key issue in today’s readings is this basic question: What is the desire of my heart?

We all need help with this. We cannot know our hearts by ourselves. We rationalize too easily for our own advantage. So the Hebrews reading tells us that God gives us his Word, which is able to discern reflections and thought of the heart. That is one reason the Scriptures are read and proclaimed when Christians gather. We need to be taken beyond our own limited perspectives. Only in going beyond ourselves will we inherit eternal life.

Jesus says a hard thing (and his disciples were “blown away”): How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. It doesn’t matter what our relative wealth is. We can be inordinately attached to anything from the very impressive to the paltry. Jesus warns that things (the so-called riches of this world), and even our families (if given priority above God himself) can get in the way of God’s Life working in us.

If we can be honest, I think stories like this young man who turned away frighten us. Like the disciples, we hear what sounds impossible. Instead of being able to hear Jesus lovingly call to us what is most important, we instinctively recoil from significant things it seems we must give up. A classic example of this is St. Augustine’s request that God make him chaste…. but not yet! Though he could see the value of chastity, Augustine enjoyed his promiscuity and was afraid to ask the Lord to remove something he liked.

We can have a fear of inviting God to cleanse us of everything distracting so that we seek and love him above all else. So here’s what we do. Ask for the grace to pray, “Lord, if I’m not chaste, at least give me the desire to be chaste,” or “Lord, if I don’t share sufficiently with the poor, at least give me the desire to do be more generous.” If we make even a start to desire what God is offering, we will find that he knows how to give what he really wants us to have. Jesus says: All things are possible with God.

What is the desire of my heart? “Lord, help me to want what you want me to want.”

In another Gospel we find Jesus saying, Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the other things will be added.

God knows what we need. Most of all we need him. What is the desire of my heart? “Lord, help me to want you more than anything else! That is more than a wish. It is a request the Lord will give to all who ask.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Marriage and Meaning

October 7, 2018 –– 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 2:18–24 / Psalm 128 / Hebrews 2:9–11 / Mark 10:2–16
Marriage and Meaning

Human sexuality is in crisis. It is under attack. This should not surprise us when we consider the place it holds in God’s design. We believe that God has given us “Manufacturer’s Instructions” for how to live in this world he created. There are several things about marriage from the Scriptures for today which need particular attention because they are so at odds what is being fed into popular opinion.

The first is the very nature of humanity. Just a few years ago one of today’s battlegrounds would have seemed impossible and labeled insane: the debate about gender. This is not the setting for delving into the particular arguments about that. What we need today is to hear Jesus affirm the truth upon which our physical identity is based: From the beginning God made them male and female. This must be the starting point for all Christians with any discussion about gender.

Then there is the nature of marriage. Holy Scripture gives us God’s affirmation for human existence: It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a suitable partner for him. Jesus gives his sanction to this and repeats the early revelation: For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

It is out of this union that humans show many of the ways we are in the image of God. There is the unity of two complementary people. This is meant to mirror the unity of the Trinity and the true nature of Christ and the Church. There is also the gift of extending creation, so that out of the union of husband and wife there are children. This is the domestic church that can so pervasively give a tangible witness of God’s character and glory throughout the earth.

For this to happen in its fulness and have proper stability, marriage must be permanent. The initial question for the Gospel reading was the Pharisees asking Jesus if divorce was okay. Jesus said no, and that the reason the law of Moses made allowance was hardness of heart. The words of Jesus are part of our marriage liturgy: What God has joined together, no human being must separate. We should always remember that Jesus is calling us and, through his grace, taking us to the place of “heart” that God designed in the beginning. We were created to show who God is.

I want to emphasize a phrase: through his grace….  I know that the issue of our sexuality has been a cause of major struggle and guilt for many, many people––especially in the Church. I remind us all of something John declares in his Gospel: God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him (3:17). What God tells us about something so basic as our sexuality is always for our good. Knowing that we fall short and need his mercy and grace, we have forgiveness through God’s Son. We should always remember: God forgives us so he can heal us and make us holy. Salvation is a whole package!

So marriage, as God intended it, is at the very core of what it means to be human. Yet there is the exception of celibacy, either by circumstance or choice (and celibacy always means chastity; there is no place for twisting “celibacy” to mean merely “unmarried” yet sexually active). We need to think through the implication of the unmarried. Although humanity cannot show the fulness of God without marriage nor continue our existence without reproduction, an individual person does not have to be sexually active to have a full and satisfying life.  The single life lived rightly is also a vocation that shows the glory of  God. This, too, is in major conflict with contemporary opinion which seeks to give preeminence to the god of eros. We are witnessing in our social order the anger and upheaval that happens when sensuality is turned into an idol and given free expression. It is vicious.

The world around us is speaking out and acting out in ways that go against what God intended for human sexuality. The more a society rebels, the more that frustration and––ultimately––violence will affect the people. We have these straightforward words from Scripture that have been affirmed by the Church for 2000 years. Let’s not lose sight of what God has said as we live in tumultuous days. God tells us what we need to know for our own good: From the beginning God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. There is meaning in marriage.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Battle With “Self”

September 23, 2018 –– 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom  2:12, 17–20 / Psalm 54 / James 3:16–4:3 / Mark 9:30–37
The Battle With “Self”

Jesus was preparing the disciples for his coming death, and all the while they were selfishly discussing among themselves who was the greatest. We so easily get the truth about life backwards. What seems to give life only leads to death. Jesus dares us to believe that what appears to be death is the way to life. Jesus is telling us––and showing us through his sacrificial love: If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.

It’s easier to be like the disciples that day than to be like Jesus. We are too easily aware of our status with one another. We can too easily keep record of how many times we have been asked to do the dirty work. We can too easily gravitate towards those who are most like us. We can too easily use our opinions selfishly. It is popular opinion, not Jesus, that says “Take care of number one.”

More things affect our approach to life than we are usually aware of. A group of alumni, highly established in their careers, were invited to visit their old university professor. Conversation soon turned into complaints about stress in work and life. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups––porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal, some plain looking, some expensive, some quite exquisite––telling them to help themselves to the coffee.

When all the alumni had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: "If you noticed, all the expensive and nice looking cups were taken, leaving behind the plain and cheap ones. While it is natural for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is the main source of your problems and stress. What was offered to all of you was the coffee, but you also went for the best cups…. and then some of you began eyeing each other's cups.” 

I remember John Michael Talbot telling about a little spat at the monastery. All the residents live communally, but some were quarreling with each other because there were a few favorite coffee mugs, and not everyone could have one. Maybe it’s coffee that shows our true colors!

We can say, “Well, everyone does that….” Or, we can ask the Holy Spirit to let us truly see ourselves. If we are willing to open ourselves totally to Jesus we will see self intruding far more than we would have imagined. Someone pointed out to me years ago how easy it is for most people in front of the line at a potluck dinner to take the nicer pieces of fried chicken (and for those in the back of the line to be a bit resentful). Growing up into Jesus means giving up what makes us look good on the surface––even always doing what is most convenient for us––so we can lovingly serve others. This is essentially the opposite of popular opinion.

To use the coffee illustration, God’s Life is the coffee; possessions and our position in society are the cups. The outward things are just containers for true Life, and the type of cup we have does not define, nor change the quality of Life we can live. If we concentrate on the cup––our appearance, our status, our possessions––we will tragically take for granted the “coffee” of life that God has provided for us.

It may seem little, but this is one of the battlegrounds for our soul’s salvation. Who is going to sit on the throne of my heart? I have to ask myself this question regularly. When the little sins are allowed to grow, they can develop into the hatred and animosity described in the earlier readings. There is a voice which is at war against God speaking into the ear of our souls, I me mine, I me mine, I me mine (George Harrison got that one right). Let’s be careful about the voices we listen to and the impulses we obey.

Jesus came to save us from ourselves. As we follow him, our calling is to be his witnesses in this world by the way we give and serve and love.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

To Whom Shall We Go?

August 26, 2018 –– 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Joshua 24:1–2a, 15–17, 18b / Psalm 34 / Ephesians 5:21–32 / John 6:60–69
To Whom Shall We Go?

Christian Faith would be easy if we never faced the challenges of pain and temptation and doubt. Of course, without those things Christian Faith as we know would not exit. The essence of Christian Faith is the hope we have in spite of hard things because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are all kinds of hard things. There are the hard things we bring on ourselves when we make choices that have bad repercussions. There are times when hard things “ricochet” on us when other people close to us make bad choices. There is also a hard side to nature; St Paul tells the Romans the creation was subjected to futility (8:20) when Adam and Eve abdicated their role in the Garden as vice-regents of God. This means we are subject to things like disease and accidents, floods and drought, hurricanes and tornadoes, earthquakes and volcanoes.

Perhaps the hardest thing of all is our difficulty with spiritual understanding. Until we are willing to lay aside the autonomy of wanting to think for ourselves (which strikes at the heart of the Original Sin), we will not be able to hear God and understand what he says.

God often says and does the opposite of what we, in our brokenness, expect. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes an “upside-down kingdom.” At the core of Christian Faith is the belief that we win by giving up and we live by dying. That is hard, and even in the Church it is rather easy to find some teachers who explain it all away. But if we change the essence of Christian Faith to something that is more palatable––less radical, we no longer have Christian Faith.

From the beginning Jesus, and then the Church, said hard things…. loving our enemies and being willing to lay our own lives in love for others. And then there is today’s Gospel where many of the first disciples reacted against Jesus when he said: The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives continually in me and I in him (Jn 6:56–58). John tells us they said, This saying is hard; who can accept it? Then many of his disciples turned away.

If we are honest, too often we want God to come to us on our terms rather than us continually coming to God on his terms. We come up to something hard; our weak humanity cries out and we are tempted to turn away.

So Jesus asked the Twelve, Do you also want to leave? Forever the leading spokesman, Simon Peter answered him, Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Eternal life…. The Life of God is always out to shatter death. If we choose something that leads to death (thinking it will make our lives more easy and pleasant), we will find ourselves fighting against the very Life of God. There is ultimately nothing harder than that.

We are facing some horribly hard things in the Church right now because some people, as leaders in the Church, embraced things that cause death instead of Life. So we go to the heart of our Faith and turn again and again to Jesus.

Jesus knows the pressures and discouragements we face. It with great tenderness that he asks us the same thing he asked the Twelve so long ago: Do you also want to leave?

Let’s recognize the truth of what Peter said: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Let’s give the answer that Joshua so boldly proclaimed to all of Israel: As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

I have no idea what our many hurts are, but I know we all have them. I also know all our questions will not be answered, but out of all the options in this world none are better than what Jesus offers us.

I know that serving the Lord will not shield us from all hardships, but we follow the One who died and came back from the dead to show that this world is no match for God.

Our hope is not in anything merely human. As the Psalmist said, Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

To whom shall we go? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. He alone has the words of eternal life.

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