How fast things can, at times, go downhill. Joseph, Mary and Jesus travelled to Jerusalem for the high holy days with their extended family. It must have been very exciting to be in Jerusalem at Passover with about two million other visitors. How panic-stricken must Joseph and Mary have been when they realized that their adolescent son, Jesus, was not travelling home with them? We can only imagine the terror that gripped them. No blame game was recorded; they returned to Jerusalem on a desperate mission: find their son.

They find him in the temple. They realize, at some level, that Jesus must be about his father’s work in this one glimpse of Jesus just before he becomes a teenager, and how his parents react. It is a glimpse of the second holy family in action. The original holy family is the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a love relationship from all eternity. Did you notice the names the trinity picked were family relationship titles to reveal themselves: parent, son/brother, and mysterious spirit?

We cannot explain the workings of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their unique family, but we can draw helpful parallels to our own family. Joseph was the breadwinner. It could not have been an easy task because Mary and Joseph almost immediately became refugees in a foreign land, Egypt, in their early years when they did not speak the language. They stayed in Egypt until Herod died and they could safely return home to Nazareth in Galilee.

At times, they, like us, had to make difficult choices. I’m sure every parent here can identify with having a missing child – even if for only a few seconds. After Jesus was crucified, many years later, Mary had the terrible experience of holding her dead, bloody son in her arms – in the next to last chapter of her life.

You adolescents can identify with the young Jesus who wants to do something, but his parents say, “Not yet; you are not old enough.” Jesus experienced the disappointment in being “dragged away” from the temple where he wanted to be and must have felt annoyed and misunderstood.

Our family is a great place of discovery. Most of us have had good experience in being nurtured in the womb of the family:

  • it is the place where we experience the forming of our self-identity
  • it is the place where we experience self-esteem, a sense of our own worth
  • it is the place where we experience what “belonging” means
  • it is the place where we experience love and learn compassion for others
  • it is the place where we learn the absolute necessity of respect for ourselves, for all others, for property, for the material world we live in
  • it is the place where, hopefully, we learn those three important phrases in communication; “I was wrong,” “I’m sorry,” please, forgive me.”
  • it is the place where we are first introduced to God
Every one of us in church this day did not have all the good experience just described. If we did not, we have experienced families outside our own that have provided sources of learning for us. Let us never wallow in self-pity for not having been born into the perfect family; it doesn’t exist.

We pray this morning that the lessons we learned before kindergarten, during kindergarten and thereafter will be revisited with gratitude. May we question ourselves about our subsequent choices and how we may correct our

NATIVITY OF THE LORD (December 25, 2018)

Christmas is perhaps the event that is best remembered from our childhood. For some, childhood is recent; for others of us, it has been a long time.

We remember our Christmases past. Each of us has different memories of celebration, unique to ourselves. We always went to mass on Christmas morning. I recall never being allowed to look at or open Christmas gifts until after mass. Jesus had to come first since Jesus was the reason for the season. It was painful then, but I got the message.

There are a lot of warm fuzzies connected with our individual recollections of Christmas past. We bring past memories into the present as a computer stores bits and bites and brings then together.

Sharpening our collective memories as Christians is exactly what the Gospel for today celebrates. The Gospel records that the birth of Jesus came at a precise time and at a particular moment in history:

“In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.” This time was not “once upon a time” as in a fairy tale or a Santa story might begin, but a moment in real time - an attempt by the first Christians to nail the event in time. This event marks the primary division in history: before Christ and after Christ, “ a.d.” anno domini, in the year of Our Lord. Or, in the new reasoning, “c.e.,” the Common Era.

The birth of Jesus took place in a real place. It did not take place in never-never land or the Land of Oz.

“They [Mary and Joseph] went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem.” A real place where real people lived and died.

This day commemorates a real event. God loves us human beings so much that God gave of himself. He sent one called “Jesus” to show us how to become God-like. To quote Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest bishops: “God became man, so that man might become God.”

As we celebrate Christmas, we need to stop and reflect on this reality on a day on which many act as if it were everyone’s birthday, but Jesus. It is well said: “The unreflective life is not worth living.” Jesus is Emmanuel – “God with us.” Let’s never forget. Let’s Live Jesus.

FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 23, 2018)

On the cover of an issue of TIME MAGAZINE, a beautiful, dark-eyed toddler rides on her big sister’s shoulders. Marissa Ayala was conceived in the hope of being a tissue match; only a bone marrow transplant could save the life of her elder sister from leukemia

Marissa did not offer to come into this world to experience the pain of surgery for another. There is no doubt why Marissa was conceived: she is a “b.r.v.” - a “biological re-supply vehicle.” If there is no match, the plan was to abort and try again.

In today’s Gospel, we hear of two pregnancies. We hear in the second reading: “you… prepared a body for me… here I am; I have come to do your will, O God.”

There is no doubt why Jesus was conceived either. This infant Jesus was conceived not for saving one life, but for saving millions of his brothers and sisters by showing them how to live, what it means to be fully human and fully alive.

We may tend our sorrows, silently and in private, but good news aches to be shared with one who will rejoice with us. Jesus is good news, and Mary hastens to share her good news with her cousin, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth responds in a way that surely exceeded Mary’s expectation. Before Mary says hello, Elizabeth asks, “Who am that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” There are few words recorded from this meeting. Those who look for scripture sources speaking against abortion often cite Elizabeth’s calling Mary “mother of my Lord” so soon after the annunciation. Both Elizabeth and Mary recognize each other’s place in God’s plan of salvation and together they share the joy that comes from that knowledge.

Before we celebrate Christmas, we need to stop and remind ourselves who this baby is:

· Truly human - fragile flesh that develops understanding as he increases in wisdom and age and grace, just as we have done;

· Truly divine - stripped of glory to dwell in our midst and show us the way.

He is, in the prophetic words of the first reading, peace. He is not judgment, not condemnation, not vindication of our ways over others’, but an offer of peace when we are rooted in him. Peace among all peoples, all families, all friends.

Jesus has taken flesh, not only in Mary’s womb, but also in our own selves. We carry him with us and we - male and female - give birth to him in a world which questions whether Jesus and many an expected child is really good news.

If we really believe that this pregnancy, Mary’s and ours, is good news, can we keep it secret any less than Mary? Shall we let anyone who will listen know that the child who has taken flesh in us is god’s own? That the child born to give life to all our brothers and sisters, is peace for our troubled world?

This morning we gather at this table for a life-saving ‘transplant.’ Here, Jesus gives us his word and gives us his body and blood as real food. Here, we, in turn, become his body to go forth from our celebration and give life to the world that hungers for him - even when they do not realize it.

When and if the opportunity presents itself -- as when we hear the politically correct “happy holiday” instead of “Merry Christmas” -- will we acknowledge Jesus as the reason for the season? Let’s not miss the opportunity.

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 16, 2018)

Religion does not enjoy the popularity of spirituality in our day in this part of the United States. Religion and spirituality were so united, here, some years ago. I am sure religion will regain popularity. It has to. Here is why.

It all starts with a spiritual happening: I would like to choose one happening from Jesus’ life and one from today’s Gospel to make my point. On one day in Jesus’ life, he took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and, an unforgettable religious experience occurred. Jesus shone brilliantly and spoke with the long-dead Moses and Elijah. We know this as the “transfiguration.” The three apostles experienced the awesomeness of Jesus. They concluded: “Jesus is awesome.” A creed-belief was born.

Immediately following this wondrous experience, peter impulsively said, “Let’s build three tents. The need to do something after such seems innate in us. ‘What should we do?’ is the question after this experience. Code was born.

Before they descended the mountain, the apostles were hot to tell the world about it, celebrate, and proclaim this Good News. Celebration is cult or ritual, a need to memorialize the spiritual experience. Jesus told them to keep quiet. Later. The need for cult or ritual for this experience was born.

Creed, code, and cult are the three markers in comparative religion courses for each religion studied: what do they believe? Creed. What should they do because they believe? Code. And how they will celebrate? Cult/ ritual. The various religions are identified in this way.

John the baptizer was a charismatic character: strange clothes, stranger diet, and a challenging message – “repent.” He was not effective because he came on strong, but because the people who saw John were inspired: they knew the truth when they heard it; the man who spoke it was courageous.

People in his day experienced his ‘wild-man’ appearance and his message of repentance, his creed. As we heard in today’s Gospel, John personalized what a tax collector and a Roman soldier should do when they asked him. Code. Did you notice the two people who asked were especially tough customers: a tax collector, a person despised by fellow Jews and a roman soldier, a non-Jew, a member of the hated, occupying army of Rome.

Different people, after having experienced a man who spoke the truth and courageously spoke out, were motivated. His was a courage that eventually led to his execution – as would the truth and courage of Jesus later lead to his execution.

Three different kinds of people in this reading asked the same question after their creedal acceptance of him. They wanted to know what they should we do? The religious question of code invariably follows the religious acceptance of creed. John, like a good counselor, did not give them a lengthy or detailed “life-improvement program.” He did not command them to give up being tax collectors or soldiers; his advice was simple He gave each a specific task for a starter - something appropriate for each person’s work.

John himself determined the ritual/celebration of a baptism of repentance – an immersion in water, a sign of drowning and rising to a new life. A new beginning: Jesus would build on this as John predicted.

We see creed, code, and cult as “markers” in our day just as they were in John’s and Jesus’ day. We accept Jesus’ revelation that “god is love” as our fundamental creed. Jesus provided the code that follows from this creed: his two great commandments: “Love God back and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus provided the celebration of our union of love with our god and neighbor: our cult / ritual, the Eucharist. Here we celebrate his gifts of himself in his word to us and our communion with him we call “holy” - in this space where we have communion with one another and mutual support.

Jesus himself gifts us with the truth that real religion and our spirituality are one and the same as we clear the way for to appreciate him in our hearts more and more deeply when he approaches us.

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 9, 2018)

John the baptizer enters the readings on the Second Sunday in Advent. John’s baptism was not a “sacrament” as was ours but is key to our understanding of being born again. The water of baptism is connected to two theories. In one, the water “washes away” our sins. In the second, the water represents the water of the womb. We, as it were, are re-submerged, die to our past life, and emerge into a new life. This is rooted in John’s Gospel: “How can a man be born again once he is old?” retorted Nicodemus. “Can he return to his mother’s womb and be born over again?” Jesus replied: “I solemnly assure you, no one can enter into God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and spirit.”

Neither the washing nor the drowning explanation of baptism deals with the inner process that is involved in the change of heart. John Shea, the well-known theologian and storyteller, offers a deeper explanation, and I want to share his wonderful thoughts with you.

John the baptizer saw himself in the role of a road builder. He wanted to take crooked sections and make them straight, fill in the low parts, the valleys, remove the peaks of the hills and mountains. What does that mean? He wanted to clear the way for the Lord to approach us.

The word “metanoia” is already a familiar, Greek word to us. Metanoia means, as we know, “beyond or beneath the mind.” Metanoia, going beyond or beneath the mind, indicates that our part is to get out of what AA would call “stinking thinking.” What is the thinking involved? The thinking is our experience “of our mind. We like to think that we are in control of it, but we well know from experience how distracted we can be when we try to concentrate. It is so annoying, so often!

Part of the material for our mind-distracting experience is having been sinned-against, from back in the day when we were very young and introduced to sin. In the beginning, we were innocent, a clean slate; then, some hit us, or were mean to us, were sarcastic to us, cheated. We learned to protect ourselves. We were, perhaps, even told, “to hit back.” We quickly learned to have a payback for a mean-spirited remark. Perhaps, we cheated, so that some cheater did not get ahead of us dishonestly in class. With the passing of the years, many came to see that cycle as part of their identity. “Stinking thinking.” They think that is really who they are.

An attitude of being offended and offending back is one we may have tenaciously held on to. It may be one that we project on God. That is where the word “metanoia” comes in. This way of thinking is a huge obstacle to our lord’s approaching us. We well know that we have been wronged – and we also know that we have done wrong. We may see Jesus not as “he who is to come” into our lives, but, as the one whom my sin keeps away. Like Peter, we may say, almost unconsciously, “Go away from me, lord, for I am a sinful man.”

If we recognize that that is the way that our mind works, we are well on the way to wholeness, to healing. It is a big part of what we call “the human condition.” We have a real metanoia; we can move beyond this wrong-headed thinking and focus on the unconditional forgiveness God offers each of us. When we are able to break through our mindset, forgiveness follows. Let’s look at this statement more closely.

God’s forgiveness opens our hearts to see that the mind, clinging to the vicious cycle of “being offended – offend” is broken by the assimilation of the fact of God’s unconditional forgiveness. We also finally understand why Jesus insists so strongly on “not hitting back,” but letting go of an offense. I recall the words of Dan Berrigan one day in class when he spoke of being hit – and not hitting back, but of absorbing the violence. If we absorb the violence, the violence ceases right then and there. If we hit back, we double that violence in the world. It took me years to appreciate that.

It helps me understand how the “prostitutes and sinners” were so readily accepted by and accepting of Jesus; their wrongdoing was not so deeply embedded in their hearts; it was right out there for all to see.

In appreciating our metanoia, we are enabled to hear and appreciate words like the words that Jesus heard: “You are my beloved child.” It gives us the courage to pray with early Christians that advent mantra: “Come, Lord, Jesus.”

FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (December 2, 2018)

Today, the beginning of the church year suggests New Year’s resolutions as we begin the season of Advent. The point of this homily is to suggest a growth area that will strengthen the vigilance to which the Gospel calls us.

Nathaniel Branden, the bestselling author of The Psychology of Self-esteem spoke at a men’s conference. He chose for his topic: “Six pillars of self-esteem.”

One of the pillars is self-responsibility. When Branden is working with clients, he stresses the fact: nothing will improve unless we take responsibility for our own thoughts, our own feelings, and our own actions.

To focus attention on the importance of assuming responsibility, he uses the phrase: no one is coming to encourage clients to take hold of what is happening in our lives. The cavalry is not going to come over the hill. No one is coming is a framed poster on his office wall. One time, a satisfied client objected: “You came.” “Correct,” said Branden. “But I came to tell you no one is coming.”

This echoes the saying in divorce support groups about their painful situation: “You can’t go under it; you can’t go over it; you can’t go around it; you have to go through it.”

The first day of Advent reminds us that Advent means arrival/coming. It seems strange to say today, no one is coming?

Prayer does not mean that we expect Jesus to come like a genie out of a bottle to cure our illness, to help us get a job, to get us straight “A’s”, to change the people we live with or deal with the outside.

We pray for great miracles. Great miracles are relatively rare. The truth is that when we pray earnestly, healthily, and often, it isn’t the situation that changes: we are the ones who change.

If I were to discover that I have cancer, I would pray that I would be cured. But, I know that the answer of my God to all prayer is not “yes.” So, I pray with that in mind. I take responsibility for the appropriate procedures. And, in the event that I am not recovering, I put my affairs in good order, and anticipate the joy to come. I change

An alternative is to get angry with God because he did not do what I wanted him to do when I prayed or, get angry with others who should have cured me. I can then turn my head to the wall, away from God, saying that God doesn’t listen, that God doubtfully exists, and die in noisy or quiet despair. That is not love.

Do I waste time playing the “blame game”? Do I accuse my family for being dysfunctional? Blame my church for being dysfunctional? Point my finger at someone else for my misery and wallow in my plight of being a victim? Or, do I recognize them for what they are, but do not allow them to paralyze me or lead me to despair? I learn do what I can with what I’ve got.

What about my responsibility in my situations of conflict? It is important not to wait passively for the lord to come to get me justice, but to take responsibility. I may need to confront someone in a healthy, Christian way. God calls me to do my part, to be assertive, thinking: “You are not going to ruin my day.”

We need to “be alert, be vigilant, and be on guard” as the Gospel says. Those are “taking-responsibility-phrases” that serve us daily and go far beyond being only an attitude for the final days.

Persons who are alert and on guard do not let others have control over their emotions or sanity. That is one of the reasons that we are “alert and on guard.”

Perhaps during this Advent, we can come to a deeper appreciation of the truth of the advice of Nathaniel Branden: “No one is coming.” The truth is: first, Our Lord is already here with us; he does not have to come. Second, I am becoming. I am becoming the person Jesus and his Father, and the Holy Spirit are calling me to become - and help be in my becoming - and, God is not finished with me yet.

Having said all this, don’t forget that someone is in fact coming.

Santa Claus!

CHRIST THE KING (Sunday, November 25, 2018)

Today’s feast, Christ the King, dates back only to 1925. Pope Pius XI established it. The feast of Christ the King’s origin is regarded as an attempt to compensate with a royal title after an earlier claim of papal infallibility following the loss of face stemming from losing the papal states in Italy some years earlier.

As Americans, we may have difficulty with the word “king.” We became a nation because we revolted against a king and an empire.

Yet, some of our religious practices are courtly, we bow our heads in church. Some genuflect - an ancient sign of respect for royalty. The newer way of receiving our Lord in the hand (which is not newer but older) recalls the words of Cyril of Jerusalem to newly baptized: “Make your left hand a throne for the right, for it is about to receive a king.” [Mystagogia lecture v, 21]

On this last Sunday of Ordinary Time, the lectionary departs from the final year Gospel of mark to hear John’s account of Jesus before Pilate. It is Jesus’ only direct encounter with political power.

It is so ironic that Jesus was arrested on the charge of being a political insurrectionist - which is what some Jews wanted him to be. He rejected that title at every turn, and now he is accused of being just that. Later, Pilate will place the inscription atop the cross: “Jesus the Nazorean, king of the Jews.” Still later, Pilate refused to change it or remove it.

The accusers of Jesus are outside the court; Jesus is inside. Pilate physically goes back and forth - appropriate for the way he vacillates. Jesus’ speaking with the Jews has become futile. Now, he speaks only with Pilate, who might possibly listen.

Pilate, the interrogator asks four questions, all aimed at establishing the true identity of Jesus. Pilate’s issue is contained in the first question to Jesus, “are you the king of the Jews?” John is using his favorite device, “misunderstanding”, to expose the two different levels of the exchange. Pilate wants to know what political rights Jesus is claiming for himself. Jesus, on the other hand, is speaking of the spiritual reality, which has absolutely nothing to do with Pilate’s political power.

If anything, Jesus’ kingship redefines the very nature of what it means to be a leader. Jesus’ authority comes from God, and his leadership is exercised through self-giving service - motivated by love. He makes some powerful enemies along the way. His ultimate act will be to die on the cross for his unwavering dedication to his message.

The contrast between these two “powers” increases as a wary Pilate, seeking to make Jesus deny or affirm he is king of the Jews, fails to grasp the real meaning of “my kingdom does not belong to this world.” Pilate the politician sees only the earthly, the political. Jesus tries to lead Pilate to see at another level, where not politics, but the truth of god in Jesus resides. Pilate has the power of life and death; Jesus has the real authority. The difference between power and authority is made clear in G. K. Chesterton’s humorous remark: “If a rhinoceros were to enter this room there would be no denying he had power, but I would rise and assure him he had no authority.”

When one listens to Jesus’ words, one thereby allows Jesus to rule our hearts. If we do not like the word “king,” we may substitute the One’ in our hearts. More than anything, more than any relationship: mother, father, and spouse, even children - our prime relationship must first be with God.

That is the truth that Jesus invited Pilate to acknowledge. It was Pilate’s great opportunity to discover truth. Harvard University had as its original motto: “Veritas Christo et ecclesiae” [Truth - for Christ and church.] In the dark of some night, Harvard’s motto was shortened to simply “Veritas”, that is, “truth.”

Christ’s rule in our heart is the truth that the Church reminds us to recognize on this feast: the special prayers, the special preface where we proclaim Jesus as king of truth and life, king of holiness and goodness, king of justice, love and peace.

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 18, 2018)

A curious thing about different faith expressions’ reading the bible is that different denominations strongly adhere to different themes. Today’s readings present a good example.

Some evangelicals plug deeply into “end of the world” theology - properly called “apocalyptic” – the name given this “end time” writing form. These are the people who are often portrayed in cartoons carrying signs: repent: the end is near. They attempt to compute precisely when the world will end -- and then revise their predictions when their predicted time passes, and we are all still here. The most famous was in 1999 waiting for - to use an old term, Y2K; ‘Millennium frenzy” was rampant. Because of computer failure, some expected planes falling from the sky at the stroke of midnight.

Others believe - or act as if they believe - that either the world will never end, at least not in their lifetime - or they act as if they are never going to die. Some seem to think that there are no eventual consequences for what they do, or fail to do.

Achieving a sense of balance is as necessary in bible reading as it is in tightrope walking. What is the balanced view? Mark tells us in this “little apocalypse,” that even Jesus did not know when the end of the world would happen. We cannot let the distortion of some shape our spiritual views. Date setting is an exercise in futility.

Throughout his short Gospel, Mark portrays Jesus as a man of action, not words. There are few teachings. Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ only extended talk presented in Mark’s Gospel.

Today’s readings are a reminder of something that is a certain reality, our personal death and judgment. The time of our demise is unknown and often unexpected. St. Francis de sales wisely said that our death usually comes earlier than we expect.

We need to realize and acknowledge our own mortality! This is not being maudlin, it is facing reality. While the end of the world may or not take place in our lifetime, our personal end surely will. Pope John XXIII said it so well: “ I keep my bags packed.” That implies: first, we know we will be going on a trip. Second, we do not know our departure time. The simple and clear spiritual implication is that we need to express our spiritual readiness by living our Catholic-Christian life all the time. Jesus’ words are meant to cause us to be watchful in an ongoing way.

Our Father loves us with an everlasting love; today’s readings invite us to plug our “rechargeable power pack” of spirit into our source, Jesus’ transforming love. An image of his transforming love is captured in the life of the caterpillar. The caterpillar inexorably spins its cocoon and later emerges as a butterfly. If we are to become the changed persons that the lord calls us to become, we must allow ourselves to be transformed. Eucharist is his greatest gift of transportation to him - at least once a week. We need to let his presence transform our presence. That is grace.

Eucharist is transforming only if we cooperate. St. Francis de Sales suggested that when the celebration of mass is ended, we should heed the “sending forth” by the priest or deacon and carry his presence in Eucharist within us out of church as if carrying a vessel filled with liquid, with one eye on who we are carrying and the other eye on where we are going. Francis thus provides an image of being conscious of our living Jesus when mass ends. We carry his Eucharistic presence with us as we move into our personal worlds.

In living this mystery, we have no fear of his second coming or our personal encounter when we go to him --- whenever that will be.

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 11, 2018)

Today’s scripture readings feature two widows. Both are non-Christian. Both were insignificant because they have three strikes against them: they are women; they are poor; they have no man to protect them. Both get help from above. Both became very significant. Both have something to say to us.

There is first the widow who shows hospitality to a stranger who is actually the Jewish prophet, Elijah. She receives an unexpected reward during a famine: her food jar and jug remain with food enough for all three for the next year.

In the gospel, Jesus is sitting opposite beautiful gate in the temple courtyard, perhaps resting after his recent encounter in the court of the gentiles.

Jesus watches the people giving to the treasury of the temple. This support of the priests and temple ministries was a required and meaningful participation in the religious life of Israel.

The wealthy gave large sums of money. They were richly blessed. Jesus was pleased to see them do so. Then, a Jewish widow walks up to one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped collection containers in the court of women. She puts in two leptons, the smallest of all coins. Significant! She does not keep one for herself; she threw in both.

When she threw in her coins, they must have seemed like a small gift to anyone who was watching. But, she gave everything - even her security. She had somewhere learned that the experience of the goodness and the generosity of God make our goodness and generosity possible. She trusts her tradition and offers all - placing herself in God’s mercy.

Jesus, seeing her, must have been brought to his feet with excitement. He praises her -- and brings me to shame every time I hear this story

God’s criterion for generosity differs from the world’s, as we learn in today’s readings. God wants more than our money. God wants our hearts. Our giving is motivitated by gratitude to God for what we have; recognition of the fact that all things really belong to God, and realization that giving is the living out of love.

God is not primarily interested in the amount we give to support his work. God is interested in the priority of our giving. Do we give to god the first fruits of our abundance, or do we give god only what is left after we have taken good care of ourselves? Giving first to him recognizes that we also trust him to provide for our needs.

God has good ears. He does not hear the sound of paper in the giving as loudly as he hears the paper that still rustles in our wallets.

Here are the stories of two widows - both willing to give everything and live in hope for what may come. This is possible only for folks who deeply appreciate god’s goodness and love for us.

Probably, the generous widows in today’s readings began with small acts of generosity. The act of generosity is the seed that produces the fruit, the virtue of generosity. Our Lord applauds generosity and their stories are retold two thousand years later.

The widow foreshadows Jesus’ self-giving at a most timely moment. She offered him encouragement as he approached the offering of his own life on the cross within that very week.

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary (November 4, 2018)

“Which is the first of all of the commandments?”

When we get right down to it, what is the most important dimension of our faith? Upon what foundation does the edifice of Christianity rest?

Jesus’ answer is unambiguous: love. This love has three facets.

Love of God. Francis de Sales tells us that the reason that we love God is because of who God is: our dignity, and our destiny. “We love God because God is the most supreme and most infinite goodness.”

Love of neighbor. Francis de Sales tells us: “Love of God not only commands love of neighbor, but it even produces and pours love of neighbor into our hearts. Just as we are in God’s image, so the sacred love we have for one another is the true image of our heavenly love for God.”

Love of self. This is the aspect that perhaps we are most tempted to overlook: after all, “self-love” sounds suspiciously like being self-centered. Why should we love ourselves? Simply and profoundly because “we are God’s image and likeness,” says Francis de Sales. When we are at our best all of us are the “most holy and living images of the divine.”

Why is authentic love of self so critical to our love of God and neighbor? Simply, if we fail to love ourselves, how can we possibly give praise and thanks to God for creating us? If we fail to love ourselves, how can we possible love our neighbor who is not only made in God’s image, but who is fundamentally made in the image and likeness of us since we all come from the same source – God himself.

The fullness of Christian perfection – the fullness of living Christ’s life – can be likened to a three-legged table. To the extent that any one of the three legs is weak, the whole table is seriously at risk. Such a table cannot hope to support any significant weight. So, too, if any one of the three loves of our lives – God, self and others – is deficient, all three will suffer, and we cannot hope to carry the weight of God’s command for us to build up something of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

To be sure, love is the simple answer to what is most important in our lives. In our lived experience, however, this love is never quite so simple as we might like to believe.

How is your love of God? How is your love of neighbor? How is your love of self?


All Saints (November 1, 2018)

Every 10 years a census is taken in the USA. In 1990, there were found to be 248.7 million . . . Then, the complaints came in that whole areas were not counted, so they estimated that about 5 to 10 mil were missed. We do not know, for sure.

In today’s reading, we hear a very exact number by the author of the quaint, chaotic, and creative work: The Book of Revelation. It tells us that 144 thousand will be the final halo count in heaven.

Where did that come from? The number, like so many others in the bible, is symbolic: 12 is an important number: 4 directions [news] x 3 regions of the world: heaven, earth, under the earth = 12. 12 x 12, a dozen dozen x 1000 =144k

You can almost see the sign at the gates: Heavenly Jerusalem - population 144 thousand. It was the biggest number imaginable to the ancients -- they lived before trillion dollar national debts became fashionable.

Saints are not rarities - anything but. There are more saints than green flies on the beach during a land breeze. That should be a source of encouragement to us.

Too often we imagine saints as they are portrayed in art: on pedestals, somehow beyond us, out of reach -- and out of touch. It can leave us with a sense of guilt because we are unable to be like them. We fear our personal identity may be lost if we were “holy.” This thinking undermines the theology of the human person; we are called - distinct and unique, by name.

This feast reminds us that each of us is destined to be a saint. Sanctity is not reserved for holy Joes and holy judies who pray a lot, suffer a lot, and rarely have any fun.

The saints were just like us: composites of mind, body, and spirit. They experienced the same ups and downs as we - sinners like us. They discovered the secret of sanctity -- revealed in the first reading: “Salvation is from our God.” We become saints not because we make up our minds to become a saint; only God can and does make us holy.

We are “God’s children” as the second reading tells us: often prodigal, always pardonable. Salvation is from our God. We repeatedly invite our lord and open our minds, bodies, and hearts to his inspiration. Being open is our work.

If the saints could talk, they might make this statement: “Don’t look at us as models, simply to be imitated, you would lose sight of who you are. Imitation does not lend itself to deep spirituality. The number in heaven, the census, increases daily. So, our wish and our prayer for this all saints day is expressed in the familiar song: “I want to be in that number when the saints come marching in.”

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 28, 2018)

Today, we hear mark’s account of Jesus’ last healing miracle before he goes to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. It took place in suburban Jericho, a city located in the Jordan River valley near the lowest point on planet earth, almost 800 feet below sea level. Jericho is only fifteen miles from Jerusalem, which is located in the Judean high country. That is why the Gospel always speaks of “going up to Jerusalem” --- from any direction.

As Jesus begins his long, uphill trek to Jerusalem, a blind beggar is sitting by the roadside. The beggar is a man of desperate desire. His name is Bartimaeus. Why are we told his name? We are not told the names of the man with the unclean spirit, the paralytic lowered thru the roof, or even peter’s mother-in-law.

Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. He calls out. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” “Many” try to hush him. “Gatekeepers around some people existed in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Jesus calls for him and cures him. Jesus tells him: “Go your way.” Why is Bartimaeus the only name we have of a person Jesus healed in this Gospel? Let us see.

Well, he calls Jesus by his given name, Jesus. Unique. He calls Jesus “son of David” - a messianic title, Jesus interprets this heartfelt, personal greeting as faith and tells him, “Your faith has saved you.”

Mark tells us that Bartimaeus “followed [Jesus] on his way, mark’s way of saying he became Jesus’ disciple. Another first: Bartimaeus is the only example in all the gospels of a cured person becoming a disciple. The others went home in awe to begin a new life of health with their loved ones. We do not blame them for going back. But, the decision to go forward, toward someone completely new and virtually unknown is Bartimaeus’ daring choice.

A simple story, yet it is singular in many ways. Unlike last week’s gospel where James and john wanted glory alongside Jesus, Bartimaeus wants mercy and calls Jesus “master,” a word that disciples use to address their teacher and follow him.

Jesus did not come primarily to heal the physically blind, but to facilitate spiritual insight. Jesus often used physical blindness as a metaphor for spiritual blindness as when he called the Pharisees, “blind guides.”

As a curious aside, in an interview, Ray Charles said that if God offered him his sight back, he wouldn’t take it. Why? Because, he said, “sometimes beautiful people are not packaged very beautifully. But you don’t know this when you are blind. When one of my children crawls onto my lap if I could see, I would probably see dirt on his clothes or shoes. And I would probably say, “Go clean your clothes before you crawl onto my lap, but I don’t see my child as cleaned up or not cleaned up. I only feel my child as ninety pounds of love.” Ray Charles may have physical blindness, but here enjoys spiritual, 20/20 insight.

The blind can’t form first impressions by eyeballing. The physically blind are not deceived by what sighted people think they see. Perhaps we need to ask, “ Who is really blind, after all? Sometimes we rely so much on physical sight that we tend to see only the surface of things. Reality can be so different from appearance.

Each of us is blind in some respect. We may not see from the heart into the heart. Francis de sales said so well: “ Lips speak only to ears; hearts speak to hearts.” Let us look into our hearts, try to be open and ask Jesus to heal our blindness for the hearts of others.

Bartimaeus was probably still present when the story was told in the early church. How else would they remember his name by the time this gospel was written? Bartimaeus is a Christian hero. We can wonder why there are not statues of him in churches that have statues?

Those 15 miles, uphill, must have been easy for Bartimaeus after his more significant, inward journey. Let’s revel in his journey within and join him in renewed faith, gratitude, and loyalty to our sight-giving Jesus.

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 21, 2018)

A young person in church heard that authorities should be servants and thought: “my parents really need to hear this!” The parents heard it and thought: “my boss really needs to hear this! The boss heard it and thought: “Our CEO really needs to hear this!” The CEO heard it and thought, “Our pastor really needs to hear this!” The pastor heard it and thought, “The bishop really needs to hear this!” How deaf we all can be!

James and john came from some money; they were the sons of Zebedee, who was wealthy enough to hire employees for his fishing business. The brothers enjoyed other prestige: they, with peter, formed the inner circle of the apostles who were with Jesus at very special times:

  • the three whom Jesus took with him when he raised the daughter of Jairus from death;

  • the three privileged to experience the transfiguration of Jesus;

  • the three who will be present in the garden of Gethsemane.

Remember earlier, when Jesus [and they] had been rejected by a Samaritan town? They wanted to call down fire and brimstone to destroy the town? Jesus must have been shaking his head in stunned disbelief. James and John got the only nickname among the apostles: “Boanerges” - “the sons of thunder.” A very human moment with Jesus and the twelve. We heard the reaction of the others in today’s Gospel.

Today, we hear the pair ask that if Jesus is to get the gold medal, that they stand on the other two pedestals to get the silver and bronze; that they sit at his right and left hand in glory. Jesus had just foretold, for the third time, his passion and taking up the cross. They talked about climbing up on two pedestals.

Why? Perhaps James and John recalled their presence at Jesus’ glorious transfiguration with Moses and Elijah one on each side of him. They could not conceive of Jesus’ future entrance to glory with a thief one on each side. Both James and john would later become revered saints; there is hope for us all.

Jesus takes this opportunity to teach a most revolutionary lesson: the place of authority/ power in the kingdom of God. He taught that if one wished to be master, he must serve the rest, not lord it over the rest. The greatest abuse of power is to use power for one’s personal advantage. Jesus would wash their feet at the last supper.

Positions of power are troublesome for disciples like you and me. We have bad examples in politics: “public servant” has often come to mean one who makes a campaign promise of being a servant before the election and acts as a master after the election.

Power can - and often does - turn our heads. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, Lord Acton correctly said. Do you know that he originated the saying when speaking about the papacy? With power comes independence. With independence often comes pride. With pride often comes arrogance - shown in being deaf to hearing both the voice of Jesus and the cry of the poor.

Perhaps, another hurdle is really appreciating the distinction between being useful and being used? We need to know and live the difference, so we become servants to others, not “enablers.”

In being a Christian servant, one avoids coercive power [violence]. We need to make a u-turn on the learning curve of “worldly wisdom.” The Christian, alternative power to coercive is persuasive power.

Persuasive is the power Jesus used. Persuasive power is the power of a mother Teresa of Calcutta, the power of St. Francis de sales who authored the saying, “You can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.” You can supply your names of people who have influenced you by their persuasive power. It is the power of good example, shining example, the “gentle persuasion” of the Quakers.

We have heard it said that we cannot change others; the only one we can change is ourselves. We are changed by shining example, the persuasive power of others, especially Jesus. That is what we can offer to others.

Everyone knows what it means to be a servant. What we may forget is that it represents our highest calling and the meaning of any authority we may have. Without occasional reminders, we so easily forget and act like young Jimmy and Johnny.

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 14, 2018)

The rich man asks Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus first needs to address the word “good” to set his theme. He says that god alone is good. Jesus then presents several commandments not as things not to do or to do, but to help form the attitude to recognize God’s goodness, a necessity to receive our God. The man thinks of these as “things,” a to-do list.

Keeping the commandments, being physically present at Mass, putting something in the collection, doing the things of religion are indicators of the right attitude. They do not make us truly spiritual persons, persons with our hearts in the right place.

Hearing that, Jesus told him he lacked only one thing: a spirit that comes from insecurity by not accumulating, not possessing. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor . . . You will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

In the Hebrew scripture, wealth is generally understood as a blessing of god. It is no wonder that the disciples are confused. The metaphor of the camel, the largest animal in Israel, passing through the eye of a needle, the smallest hole, only adds to their amazement. They are left to wrestle with the reality that what appears as blessing can become hindrance.

Jesus was using a deliberate exaggeration, an hyperbole, to tell in another form what he had taught back in chapter eight of this Gospel with his one liner question: what will it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit their eternal lives?

The camel and the eye of the needle is a catchy phrase. This is not a condemnation of the rich . . . Jesus had good friends that had money; after all, he allowed himself to be anointed with expensive oil - which Judas criticized until Jesus set him straight. A rich man buried him in the tomb. Mark tells us he loved this rich man.

“Catch” is the operative word here. The image of the camel and needle’s eye catch our attention because of its impossibility. Jesus hopes that it will then catch our curiosity, our interest - like a lure that the man who spoke of “fishers of men” would use -- to catch our hearts, to catch us.

Did Jesus prefer the poor to the rich? Did the poor prefer him? Was it the poor who were most likely to believe? The answer to all three questions is “yes”: to initiate what has come to be called Jesus’ “preferential option for the poor,” to have the poor preferring him, and to experience the poor as being better disposed to believe in him was Jesus’ positive experience. Jesus sees that possessions and the status and power that come with them tend to keep people away from God.

With wealth, it is not the money itself that is wrong, but the sense of power and mastery, the sense of independence and self-reliance, the “perks” of wealth that we want to have are wrong. I think that this may be the most difficult area of Christian behavior. A profound question for us is: how much is enough?

I cannot and would never suggest an answer to “how much is enough?” I have great difficulty advising myself about the question. We need to pray thoughtfully as we balance our prudent security and the generosity to which we are called.

Mental health pioneer Karl Menninger said, “Money-giving [not just giving, but money-giving] is a good criterion of a person’s mental health. [He found that] generous people are rarely mentally ill people.” This is true whether you are rich with barns-too-small or a widow with two pennies. Jesus knew, as did Menninger, that giving money is the way of being liberated from our bondage to money. A person so liberated can be a “cheerful” giver. Something to ponder.

Jesus began with emphasizing the goodness of his father. Jesus makes as his main point that goodness. The rich man wants eternal life. Eternal life is a gift flowing freely from the goodness of god. When you and I focus on god’s goodness, we realize that goodness in giving flows from God and it inspires us to participate in the giving, as did Jesus. We live Jesus. Eternal life begins here.

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 7, 2018)

Today we hear Jesus’ views on marriage and divorce. The Pharisees try to trap him on the topic of divorce. Jesus asked what Moses commanded ? The Pharisees answered with what Moses permitted. Then, Jesus quoted the book of genesis and his father’s plan for the loving unity of a man and woman in what we call “matrimony.”

His father was infinitely before the Law of Moses. God’s plan in the book of genesis is for a man and woman to join in a permanent union and live as one; it is a beautiful plan. Jews found that a permanent union is not possible in all cases, but their solution was sexist and unjust. The book of Deuteronomy, presumed to be written by Moses, proclaimed that a wife could be dismissed for “something indecent.” “Something indecent” was defined by orthodox rabbis like Rabbi Hammai to be adultery. Reformed rabbis like Rabbi Hillel taught that a bad meal was sufficient grounds for “something indecent,” and divorce was permitted.

The Catholic Church teaches from genesis the beauty of matrimony and its permanent nature. The church also wisely realized that many folks are too immature at the time of their vow to make a commitment, or go to the altar with other serious defect. It teaches that all marriages are not matrimonies; that is, not all are the unions god planned. The church recognizes that with these serious flaws at the moment of the vows, there was not a matrimony, and uses the word, “annulment,” a decree indicating no matrimony occurred. The ability to marry is still possible. Of course, it was a civilly legal marriage and any children are legitimate; a civil divorce must precede the annulment process.

In Jesus’ day, only men and no women were permitted to ask for divorce in the unjust laws that viewed women as the property of men. Jesus upheld the creator’s intention to the Pharisees that “two should become one.” To his disciples he afterwards taught the sanctity of marriage and the evil of adultery for either partner. So, he also spoke against the victimization of women.

As we saw in the gospel of two Sundays ago, Jesus used children to illustrate those with low status in ancient culture. Today, he repeats the lesson, but adds that the ancient culture’s low status of both children and women is reversed in his “other world” view.

While we are on the topic of matrimony, one of the unfortunate results of the clerical culture within the church is the lack of married couples listed among the saints. Mother or father founders of religious groups, bishops and popes are leading candidates for sainthood.

Pope John Paul II recognized this and asked for something to be done. The only corrective to this situation, of which I am aware, is more humorous than corrective. The resulting correction of the Vatican’s search was to find a couple as candidates who had several children and who were, except for one, priests and religious sisters. The couples’ holiness, it seems, was that they were a couple who had celibate, God-serving children.

Sometimes, two good people are not good for each other and the union is death dealing, not life-giving. God wants life-giving unions.

May I say that my experience is much different? I have found many of you who work for the coming of God’s kingdom as married couples in a beautiful and holy way. You, like Jesus in his ministry, do not have any guaranteed results for your efforts. All that both Jesus and you hoped for, striven for, prayed to the father for, has not worked out as our Lord and you would have liked. Many of your labors bore obvious, good fruit. Apparent, not-best results do not take away from your personhood; we give our God our desire; we give God our efforts.

I firmly believe that there are many saints among you. I know, too, that you would vehemently deny this. Which only makes me smile. If you were to say: “You are absolutely right; how could anyone deny we are saints . . . At least I am?” you would have to step off the “saint wagon.” Real saints do not see themselves as saints; the name for that is humility.

A final note: curiously, loneliness is the first thing in all creation that Jesus called “not good.” Not so curiously, the church initiated celibacy and called it “God’s will.”

For that? God be blessed!

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 30, 2018)

Today, the connection between the first reading and the Gospel jumps out at us. In the first reading, before the Jews entered the Promised Land, God directs Moses to choose seventy elders as helpers and bring them to the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Two, Eldad and Medad, had been chosen, but were absent for the tent blessing, yet they still received the gift of prophecy and Moses approved them. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, expresses the same sentiment, as Jesus’ disciples will later: resentment.

Coincidently, that is the reason why the elders were sometimes numbered as seventy, sometimes as seventy-two and also why the same number of Jesus’ disciples is disputed.

In Jesus’ day, our Gospel passage begins with the issue of how authority is mediated in the Christian community. His disciples are resentful because another, not in the company of Jesus, also has the gift of healing. They are upset because that exorcist does not belong, is an outsider, a threat to their turf, their self-importance. Their issue shows their faulty attitude and sense of competitiveness. It raises the question: why are the disciples not delighted that more were cured, and that the exorcist exorcised in Jesus’ name; that is, through Jesus’ power? It was only shortly before that the disciples themselves were unable to cast out an evil spirit; now they are jealous of an “outsider” who can.

That raises a deeper question. We recognize the basic fight to survive in each of us. When drowning or other dire situation faces us, we fight for our lives – and rightly so. Recognizing the needs of others to physically survive triggers the gut-compassion that is the stuff of heroes. On the other hand, we also recognize a dangerous, competitive spirit that is also a knee-jerk reaction. Sadly, we are so defensive of our egos.

Our effort to attain the consciousness of Jesus impacts the competitive spirit that defends egos:

  • A basic value in Christianity is cooperation, not competition. Growth in love is associated with cooperation, not with competition. We need to recognize this.
  • Our loving relationship with God is the paramount value and trumps all other values; we need to live this reality.
  • We are called to improve ourselves in the physical, emotional, and intellectual realms. Competition enhances all three, but winning is not everything. Sportsmanship – a subset of love of neighbor – tempers competitive athletics. That is sanity.
Today, we hear Jesus scold the disciples for competitiveness and exclusiveness. The disciples see themselves as superior, an in-group. They seem to feel somehow cheated because an outsider can heal in Jesus’ name. Somehow we tend to be exclusive when Jesus calls us to be like himself, inclusive. We remember the words of John’s Gospel [17]. Jesus prayer for unity: “I pray father that all may be one. As you are in me and I in you …”

We all recognize and accept that no one of us is perfect. That is an understatement. We also need to accept the fact that each of us is innately unique and, yes, great. But not perfect. That realization is a wonderful, life-giving truth.

We all have graces and gifts from God. These are not to be hoarded and reveled in as personal possessions, but shared. When we appreciate that this is also true of everyone else, we have neither need nor desire to exclude anyone or to feel superior. It is a perversity within our hearts to be exclusive, to feel somehow superior. Smugness is not virtuous.

Our search, our quest is to become increasingly conscious of what gifts we have been given, what we will do with them, and who we are becoming. On the flip side, unhealthy and foolish envy at what we lack is both counter-productive and unchristian.

The place of competition is to help, not hurt us. Cooperation is an end; competition, only a means. Appreciation of a diminished role of competition is certainly a hard-won victory in my personal evolution. It is surely not what the world taught us years ago.

Let us not forget the principle Jesus lays down for us in today’s Gospel: “He who is not against you is for you.” Our Gospel diminishes the number of those “against” us.

The cooperative life is good!

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 23, 2018)

The Book of Wisdom is the last book written in the Old Testament. We just heard from its opening section promoting the wisdom of an other-world view over a this-world view. God sent prophets to try to break through the very common, this-world mindset.

Jesus-as-prophet tries for the second of three attempts in two successive chapters in mark’s gospel to tell his disciples that he is the Messiah, who will suffer, die and rise from death. Mark uses a simple process: prediction, misunderstanding, corrective teaching. I wonder if John copied this idea from mark because the same pattern is frequently present in his “Johannine misunderstanding.” John wrote several decades after Mark. We heard examples of this last month in his bread of life discourse.

Today, Jesus’ disciples changed the subject of Jesus-as-Messiah/Son of Man to their agenda: who is the greatest? Jesus asked what they were discussing, but they did not tell him. Jesus spoke about greatness and said: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” He set a child in front of him. He embraced the child and said: “whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not [only] me, but the one who sent me.”

The reason for choosing the child was not because of a child’s innocence and openness. The present context is “greatness.” A child in that culture and, sadly, for many in our culture is the person least valued, yet, Jesus says that the one who becomes like the child will be the greatest. A child – before it learns the word “mine” – does not seek to possess things, does not seek power, does not lord it over others. That is the point that Jesus makes. Neither is he saying that children were unloved or uncared for in Jewish culture. He tries to convince them that status in his other-world view is the reverse of what the wisdom of this-world is. Children were at the bottom on the status scale.

If the task of the prophet is to both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, Jesus is doing both in this scene. He is trying to teach them that the comfortable notion that status, possessions and power make one “number one, first” is wrong; the opposite is correct. The one who becomes poor in spirit and powerless is the one who will be first in the kingdom of God. He reiterates the value of discipleship in rejecting status and accepting servant tasks. Some disciples want none of this. He is also trying to provide comfort for their imminent affliction when they will see him suffer terribly and die.

For those who have self-centeredness as a form of consciousness, the prophet’s words are manipulated to fit their self-centeredness. Their manipulation may be playing the acting-role of a servant in order to achieve recognition; that is, they become a phony-last to become a phony-first with a false humility. Or, they make the prophets the enemy that must be silenced. They will find some “reason,” and never see their self-centeredness.

The real great are those who try to assume the consciousness of Jesus. They try to Live Jesus.

Now, fasten your seatbelt. A spiritual writer like John Shea and a world leader like Dag Hammarskjöld recognize “least” at a deeper level. Carl Rogers, a therapist, without mention of god, achieved wonderful, clinical results with the following.

These accept, welcome and embrace persons considered “least” at their deeper, moral-social level. They accept a person in being a human person – as Jesus did. At your and my “least,” we are: without title, without status, without wealth, without possessions, without color, without race, without political stance, without sexual orientation. At this level, we can see a person with the eyes of Jesus and his father without clutter and without any make-up and accept, welcome and serve every person with god-consciousness. Clearly an other-world view. Perhaps this brings new meaning to the expression: “Less is better.”

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 16, 2018)

Jesus asks a disarming question: “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples answer with comments they have heard about Jesus. Then Jesus asks his real question, the penetrating question that will live forever. Who do you say that I am? Peter steps up and answers with the title that is correct: “You are the Christ,” “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, “messiah,” “the anointed one.” Messiah has more than one meaning. Many, probably most, thought it indicated the one who would free Israel from roman rule, be triumphant in a this-world understanding of messiah.

Jesus tried to correct their understanding with an otherworld understanding as the “son of man.” He, the suffering servant, said he would suffer. Die. And rise in his mission of representing his father to all as love incarnated.

Peter, perhaps still a little high from hearing Jesus’ kudos for coming up with the right title, took Jesus aside to “talk” to him, perhaps get Jesus to put some spin on this horrific sounding statement about suffering, death, and rising.

But, Jesus would not budge from his own explanation of “messiah.” He states that peter must not try to lead him. Peter’s role is to follow him: “get behind me.” He calls him a “Satan,” for he is trying to divert divine design – a satanic ploy tried by Satan before his public ministry began.

Jesus’ question, “who do you say that I am’ calls for an ongoing, evolving answer from each of us during the course of our lives. Our answers are at first limited by our very immature, spiritual vision. When very, very young we probably would have answered: “Baby Jesus.” Our answer must change as we mature. Hopefully, we who have reached at least confirmation age will move beyond that answer. We may, still later, answer that Jesus is “the understanding teacher from Nazareth,” we may move on in our difficult times to see Jesus as “the good shepherd.” Hopefully, we will evolve to image Jesus as unconditional love, incarnated. We come to understand his deep compassion for those suffering in body or spirit. He heals on the Sabbath if that is when the sick present themselves. No foolish, pharisaical prohibitions stop him when the Pharisees accuse him of doing forbidden work on the Sabbath.

In our maturity we listen to, understand, and act on Jesus’ admonition that we, like Jesus be intolerant of religious leaders who would hypocritically distort the father’s love into precepts that have no part in compassion.

May each of us evolve toward the fullness of the vision of Jesus’ unconditional love for his father and for all. We may not just bask in that love. We need to come to understand that unconditional love calls for our response just as it called for Jesus’ response to our father.

That response calls us to be servants, not masters in our relationships. Servants do not seek the first places in social gatherings; do not seek honor or recognition. Servants serve! When his thousands of followers were without food, he served their hungry stomachs with loaves of bread and their staple food, fish. When their minds and spirits hungered for wisdom, he served them the bread of wisdom. Ever the servant, he gave example of how we are to serve and work. When time for instruction was running out, he got down on his knees at the last supper and washed his disciples’ feet – the work of a servant.

As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “public servants” and serve themselves generously and let the people who elected them suffer and pay for their “perks.” As we mature, we see the hypocrisy of those who call themselves “servants of the servants of god” and then act imperiously and dress as princes with rings and things – not as servants – and investigate those who honestly seek otherworld values.

And the good news is that when we become discouraged at hearing answers and responses other than “messiah-servant” answers and responses, when we see power abused, we have the great consolation of coming home to our parish community and celebrate Eucharist together, here at the table of the Lord.

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 9, 2018)

I read a press release on the anniversary of the “Common Ground Initiative.” The saintly, down-to-earth late archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, began this movement. He saw the turmoil in our church: the right vs. the left, conservatives v progressives and called us all to look not upon how we differ, but upon what we have in common. He calls us to build upon what unites us. Hence, the common ground initiative. I could not agree more. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” says Jesus. The power of positive relationship unites.

In line with Jesus’ cure of the deaf man in the gospel, I would like to speak a bit about relationship and spiritual deafness. Communication is absolutely necessary in relationship -- divine or human. Communication is the very life-blood of relationship. Listening is the essential partner in communicating. If someone is deaf to the other, communication stops. Eventually, relationship weakens and possibly dies. We know this from our experience.

So often, the fear, suspicion and anger found in our society creeps into our church. Deep and persistent distrust of persons, motives and viewpoints exists in the Catholic Church: between old and young, laity and clergy, rich and poor, scholars and bishops. Our American pluralism is all too often a source of divisiveness rather than richness. Some people, unfortunately, are simply not interested in conversing with someone with differing opinions. That is sad. We are familiar with the saying: no one is so blind as one who will not see; I think we can safely say, “No one is so deaf as one who will not listen.”

The initiative’s efforts are to get people back communicating with one another - not as correctors, not as mediators, but recalling all that we are all members of the family of Christ and need to talk to one another, to listen to one another. We would improve the quality of our communication and the level of relationship.

I applaud a keynoter’s words: “listening is the necessary foundation for relationships with god and one another. Real listening is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person; it establishes lasting relationships; it gives substance to words of love and friendship; it heals and allows us to grow in our knowledge of ourselves, others, and of God.” He recognizes all three aspects of our relationships: God - others - self.

We gather each week at Eucharist and speak with our Lord. Do we also listen to god’s word attentively in the readings? Do we listen to our Lord during quiet time after communion, or do we go on about our needs?

Today’s Gospel is helpful. We need to do what the deaf man did: seek out Jesus. Go off with him, away from the crowd. . . Spend time in his healing presence . . .give Jesus a chance to touch our hearts . . . Give Jesus the chance to put his finger in our ears by our being present to him and opening our ears to his word.

In the gathering space after mass, do we listen to one another? Or, do we generally gather only with our friends? A clique is not community. Do we meet and engage folks we do not yet know?

Hearing is a physical sense of our body. Listening is a learned skill. If we hear something affirming about ourselves, we tend to listen eagerly. If we hear criticism, do we react with a knee-jerk of denial? Or, do we listen in silence and slowly and honestly evaluate the criticism?

Let’s listen up!

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 2, 2018)

Today, we leave John’s “bread of life” discourse and return to Mark. Jesus has a few last words to the people of Galilee - the northern area of Palestine where he grew up. It is the last incident mark records of Jesus’ Galilean ministry - just before he headed south to Judea and its capital, Jerusalem, where he would die.

Mark shows the growing opposition of the Jews, instigated by the Jewish, religious leaders who had “come from Jerusalem.” The drama is building.

His listeners were unsettled because the Jerusalem crowd was reminding them of “the tradition of the elders.” The tradition of the elders was the Halakah, the oral law. In the second century, this would be written down as the Mishnah.

The purification/washing rites we heard in the Gospel were the Jewish leaders’ interpretations of the law of God, not the law. Sadly, these were being given equal importance to the law itself [the Torah]. Those washing rituals were meant to express a purification of the heart, not to substitute for it. They had been initially prescribed for the Levites [priests] and were later extended to include all Israelites.

The failure of Jesus’ disciples to observe these purification rites occasions the criticism from the Jews. Jesus quotes Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.”

What Jesus asks of them - and us - is simple, but profound and challenging. He wants our hearts. The heart is the center of a person for Jews as well as for us.

Jesus knows well that they and we can appear innocent, look like true followers, but our face does not mirror our heart. We may have an innocent smile on the outside, but our heart, our interior disposition, can be a mess. We may have the words, but not the music. We may carefully observe external rules within our religion, but our hearts, our internal disposition, can be seething with self-will.

What drives your heart? My heart? That question and its answer are what the work of lent is about. Today’s gospel raises this issue toward the end of vacation season. This is the time of year when many activities resume. This time of year is appropriate for a mini spiritual review. The question is Jesus’; our answer is the product of self- examination to produce self-knowledge. Knowledge of self is vital for both spirituality and sanity.

What drives our hearts, our center? The Gospel provided a list for us: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, deceit, envy, arrogance.” Very strong drives.

There are other more subtle drives / drivers of our hearts: religious indifference, because I put self-wants before God’s or neighbor’s. Sloth, because it is just too much work. My persona, because I do not want to appear to others as if I am hot on God. It may be ignorance: too often, we confuse the end, relationship, with the means, laws and devotions that get us into spiritual trouble.

We are often not aware of some of these drivers. They simply slip quietly into our lives without conscious effort. They may belittle our dark side that needs to be brought into the light by introspection. Once in the light, they are seen for what they are: barriers to becoming who we are called to be.

William Glasser developed a method he called “reality therapy” that focuses on changing our behavior patterns. He calls it “positive addiction,” and gave the examples of jogging and meditation. Beginning either of these or any new discipline is difficult. As we continue jogging or meditating, it becomes easier. If we stick with it, it becomes a healthy addiction that we simply cannot seem to do without.

This practice has a spin-off in the spiritual life. An ancient, nameless, wise person said: “The act is the parent of the habit; the habit is the parent of the virtue.” Perseverance is key. Per-severa: through the hard/severe stuff to habitually praying, doing good, attending mass.

As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This time of year is a good time for a heart check-up.