Friday, September 25, 2009

A Prophet's Motives--A Reflection on the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading today Moses exclaims "Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!" The Lord had taken some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on 70 elders to help Moses lead God's people. Two of the candidates, Eldad and Medad, were still in the camp with the people, but God still gave them the same spirit of prophecy that he gave the others. There were some that thought this was improper and complained. Moses realized that these people spoke out of fear of this change in the way things had been done. So he makes it clear that he wished that all of God's people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow his spirit on them all.

Moses request was fulfilled on Pentecost. When the Spirit gave birth to the Church, the Father gave him to us all. Peter in his sermon that day said, "this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'It will come to pass in the last days,' God says, 'that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. Indeed, upon my servants and my handmaids I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days, and they shall prophesy." So, we are all prophets! God has given us his Spirit so that, among other things, we can prophesy. Great! What do we do now?

First, don't panic! If the Father has given us this gift, he will teach us how to use it. If you think about it, we've all felt the desire, the need, to prophesy. When you yell at a TV pundit's take on the news, that's the desire to prophesy. When you want to correct your children so they will grow up to be faithful men and women, that's the desire to prophesy. When you want to tell your football team's coach how to coach, that's the desire to prophesy.

Now, often this desire is James is scolding the rich who have failed in their obligations to the poor, to those who work for them. They have not paid their wages, while the continue to live in luxury. Sound familiar to anyone? James warns them that not only is this wrong, but that the "cries of the harvesters" have "reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts." God knows all about it and guess who's side he's on!
(By the way, you business owners and managers, you might want to check check your payroll when you get into the office on Monday.)

In the Gospel Jesus gives two prophetic statements on sin. First, he warns against assuming that the actions of others are wrong simply because they are not "one of us." Some were driving out demons in Jesus' name who did not follow along with the disciples, so the disciples tried to prevent them from doing these exorcisms. But Jesus reminds his followers that "whoever is not against us is for us." These outsiders were casting out demons in Jesus' name. They were on his side.

Christ's second warning is about personal sin. If you are aware of any sin or cause of sin in your life, get rid of it! Jesus used the analogy of cutting off a hand or foot or plucking out an eye if it causes you to sin. You would be crippled, but you would be alive. The alternative to not dealing with sin is Hell. Jesus uses the image of Gehenna for Hell. Gehenna was Jerusalem's city dump. All the garbage was brought there and thrown into the fire of the garbage already burning. (Gehenna had been known as the Valley of Hinnom. It was here that some of the people of Jerusalem would go to sacrifice their children to the pagan god Molech by burning them alive. Later, the fire was kept but the shrine to Molech became a burning garbage dump.)

This powerful image of cutting off your limbs or be thrown out with the trash to be burned is a prophetic hyperbole. Jesus is not advocating self-dismemberment. He is telling us that we need to deal with our sins in a way to "cut-off" our opportunity to continue in them. Do we take our sins seriously enough to eliminate them from our lives? It's not easy. It takes time. We have the great gift of the sacrament of Confession. Go tell your sins to a priest. The grace you will receive from Confession will strengthen to be able to avoid sin.

You have received God's Spirit in Baptism and especially in Confirmation. You are a prophet! Tell God's truth to the world, your part of it. Drive sin from you life. The Holy Spirit will give you the words to speak and the grace to live in holiness.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

No Honor for Hometown Prophets

"He was amazed at their lack of faith."

That is what Saint Mark tells us about Jesus at the end of today's gospel. "He was amazed at their lack of faith."

You will often here Christians say that they wish they had lived in Biblical times, especially in Jesus' day. They'll get all misty eyed and say in a wishful tone some some thing like, "Wouldn't it have been great to been alive when Jesus was, to hear him speak and see him perform miracles?" Often underlying that nostalgia is a certainty that they would have been the ones who really listened and followed Jesus with all their heart. Let's hope so.

The reality, however, may have been very different. In the gospel reading, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. At first the people are impressed. They are impressed by Jesus wisdom and by his miracles. He comes from a good family...As they think about it, St. Mark tells us "they took offense at him." Why?

They took offense at him after they began to think about is family. His teaching and his miracles were fine until they remembered he's one of us! Who does he think he is? Is he trying to impress us by coming back here? Trying to show off is more like it! But we know his family; and they're--so ordinary.(Which only shows they didn't really know his family at all!) He's just a carpenter. "He's the son of Mary"; no proper pedigree for him! That's what Jesus' hometown folks thought of him. Do you think you'd really be any different?

Ezekiel call such people "hard of face and obstinate of heart; a rebellious house." Saint Paul knew such people. He knew weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints for the sake of Christ. Because of things God had revealed to him in prayer, God gave Paul "a thorn in the flesh" to keep him from getting to proud. All this taught Paul to trust God in his weakness so he could show the power of Christ.

"He was amazed at their lack of faith." Jesus knew that he, even as a prophet, was not welcome. Because of their unbelief, Jesus could only cure a few sick people. They were probably the only ones willing to give Jesus the benefit of the doubt--an that was enough faith for them to be healed.

At this Mass, in this Eucharist, Jesus will be among us. He will be as real as he was that day in Nazareth. In fact, even more real because in the Eucharist we partake of the risen and glorified Christ! How is your faith? Do you think that you know Jesus in his Church? Does his family put you off? Will Jesus be unable to do any mighty works here because of our unbelief? Will he be "amazed at our lack of faith?" Or, like Paul, will we know that it in our weakness that we will find the power of Christ?

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Tale of Two Healings

Have you been to a doctor lately? I went in March for what turned out to be a upper respiratory infection (fancy name for a head cold!). Since then I have gone to my primary several times for other things needing treatment, I've been referred to 3 other doctors, and had a endless series of tests! To paraphrase St. Mark, I have suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and have spent all that I had!

Sunday's gospel tell the story of Jesus' healing two women: one old, one young. He is one his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, the synogogue official, when he is interrrupted by someone touching his cloak. Imagine being in the think of the crowds in mid-town Manhatten at Christmas time, being bumped and jostled by your fellow shoppers and asking your friends, "Who touched my coat?" They'd look at you as if to say "Everybody!"

That is the disiples reaction to Jesus when he asks "Who touched my clothes?" But it wasn't just that his clothes had been touched. St. Mark tells us that Jesus was "aware at once that power had gone out from him." He knew the touch had been a healing one. The woman's hemorrhage had stopped. She had hoped to touch his cloak, be healed and slip away.

Jesus had other plans. He knew that power had gone out from him, that someone had been healed physically. He also knew the healing wasn't complete, so he asks "Who touched my clothes?" to draw her out. She comes to him in fear and trembling and tells Jesus what she did. He says to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction." Her hemorrhage had made her an outsider, ritually impure. Jesus restores he by calling her "daughter" and promising her peace. Healed of her disease and restored to fellowship, her healing is complete.

But now Jairus has received the tragic news that his daughter has died; might as well let Jesus get back to what he was doing. Did Jairus blame Jesus for the delay, for his daughters death? Sensing his fear, Jesus reassures him, "Do not be afraid; just have faith."

Arriving at what is now a house in full mourning, with people weeping and wailing, Jesus says, "Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep." Asleep? Why the country bumpkin preacher from Galilee thinks she's asleep? Would we be in mourning if she was just taking a nap?

Of course Jesus knows she's dead. It's just that to him death is so temporary that she might as well be asleep. He puts the mourners out of her room and he took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him, Peter James and John, and entered her room. This is for family; hers and his.You can hear the tenderness in his voice mingled with a rebuke of death as he says "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" And she does. Then there were two more things to say to the family. First,he gave strict orders that no one should know this
and second, that she should be given something to eat. She's been dead, she must be hungry!

The woman with the hemorrhage Jesus calls "Daughter". The dead girl, he calls "little girl." If Jesus was to come to heal you, what would he call you? Maybe you're not dead--yet. Maybe you're sick in body, mind or soul. What ever your need. Jesus will call you softly and tenderly. He will call you daughter or son or little girl or mom or dad. He will call you out of your sickness, your need and into his family. That is why we are hear at this Mass: to worship our Father, to receive his Son and to be filled with his Holy Spirit. We are here to be the family of God.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Riders on the Storm—A Reflection on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Have you ever been caught outside in a bad storm like the disciples were? In the 8th or 9th grade my dad, my mom and I were returning from a trip to Cape Cod. We were about 15 or 30 miles from home when the sky grew strangely dark. We stopped at a McDonald’s to get some lunch, but I was to nervous to eat! OK, maybe a fry or two. As we drove home, the clouds turned a sickly green-black as large rain drops began to fall. Coming down the road to our house, we found a small tree across the road. My dad drove around to the other end of the road to our house only to see a large oak lying across the front of our house. As I went inside, I saw my brother and sister holding up a tarp to let the water pouring through a hole in our roof go out the front door. The oak that had fallen had driven the branch of another tree through the roof! That day in 1972 a tornado had come through our town.

In the gospel a violent storm comes up as the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. As they are being swamped, Saint Mark tells us that Jesus was asleep in the stern. I imagine the disciples thought of today’s psalm that tells of another storm on the sea. I wonder if it really was another storm, or did the psalmist in his prayer prophesy of the storm the disciples found themselves in? The events are remarkably similar!

They wake Jesus up, accusing the only one that can save them of not caring that they are perishing. Sound familiar? Don’t we often accuse Jesus of not caring about our dire straights even as we ask him to save us from them? Jesus calms the storm, the immediate threat is over, but a much greater danger is still with the disciples and with us. Jesus asks all of us that most terrifying of questions, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”

Imagine Jesus looking you in the eyes and asking that question. Why are you terrified? Why are you terrified of losing your job? Why are you terrified of not being able to sell your house? Why are you terrified of falling ill? Why are you terrified of losing your savings? Why are you terrified of your marriage? Why are you terrified of wars and rumors of wars? Why are you terrified of your children losing the faith? Why are you terrified of swine flu? Why are you terrified of the Democrats? Why are you terrified of the Republicans? Why are you terrified of our schools? Why are you terrified of the Church? Why are you terrified of whatever causes you to think that Jesus is asleep and you’re on your own in the storm?

Now imagine Jesus saying to those terrors in your life “Quiet! Be still!” And there is “great calm.”

Notice that Jesus asked the disciples why they were terrified after he had calmed the storm. The danger was over. He doesn’t ask why they were terrified, but why they are terrified. What is Mark trying to teach us in this gospel?

Is it that Jesus can command and “even the wind and sea obey.” Job tells us that God controls the sea, shutting it within doors and setting limits on how far it can go. Jesus is the Lord of the forces of nature for he is their Creator. Yes, the wind and sea obey him.

I think St. Mark has a deeper truth in mind. The storm is over; there is great calm. Then Jesus asks them, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” Why? Not because they are still afraid of the storm. That’s over. They are afraid of Jesus! In his great power over nature, Jesus has calmed the storm. And what is their reaction? “Who is then is this that even the wind and sea obey?” Their terror over the storm is now terror over Jesus who stilled it. Jesus is now revealed before them as having power over the great chaotic forces of life and nature the storm and sea represent. They did not understand this about him. The Jesus that asks them why they are afraid is no longer just their teacher who was asleep and apparently unconcerned. He is Lord! He speaks and he is obeyed. This is what terrifies them. He is not who they thought he was, he is more. He is a stranger and his strangeness terrifies them.

Think of what terrifies you. You have prayed and prayed about it. Then Jesus speaks a word to you and whatever was causing your fear is gone. The problem may still be there, but your fear is replaced by a great calm. Jesus has stilled your storm in your life. Tell me, aren’t you a little in awe? You have witnessed God perform a miracle and you’re just OK with that? No big deal? I think if we thought for three seconds about what Jesus had just done for us, we would be as terrified as the disciples were: not in abject fear, but in wondrous awe of our Lord. He is not who we thought he was, he is more. He is a stranger and his strangeness terrifies us.

Yet, he invites us to receive him in the Eucharist. As we taste and see the goodness of the Lord in this Mass remember that the same Jesus who calms the storm is giving himself to you. Be not afraid, but receive him in reverence and awe.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two Hearts Beat as One

Today’s memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary follows yesterday’s solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This is only fitting. In honoring the Scared Heart of Jesus, we honor the God who is love. The image of the Sacred Heart shows a radiant heart surrounded by thorns, topped by a flame and a cross. A drop of blood is falling from it. Each of these reminds us of the different ways Jesus loves us: by his suffering, by his death on the cross, by his gift of the Holy Spirit, by his sharing his life with us. It is an image of his divinity and his humanity.

Jesus was truly God and truly man. In his divinity as the Son of God, he took on a human nature—and that human nature, that human heart, came from Mary.

When he was born, it was Mary’s heart he was born with. When he ran through the streets of Nazareth playing with the other children his heart beating fast with excitement, it was Mary’s heart beating. When he laid down his life on the cross and the soldier pierced his side with a lance so that blood and water flowed out, it was Mary’s heart that was pierced.

Because the incarnation really happened, we honor Mary’s Immaculate Heart as the source of Jesus’ Sacred Heart in its humanity.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Body and The Blood—A Reflection on Corpus Christi Sunday

The Eucharist we celebrate today is called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The feast of Corpus Christi focuses on the Eucharist, “the Body of Christ.”

A key word that is in all three readings is covenant. Covenant is different from a contract—as anyone who’s listened to Dr. Scott Hahn knows! A contract is a business arrangement that exchanges goods and services. A covenant is an agreement between individuals and families that involves persons. Marriage is a covenant as two families agree to form a new family by giving a husband and wife to each other.

In the reading from Exodus, Moses is establishing a covenant between the Lord and Israel. Covenants involve sacrifice. After reading the book of the covenant to the people, Israel agrees to “all that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.” Moses takes the blood from the sacrifices and sprinkles the people with it (and to think that some of us don’t like to be sprinkled with Holy Water!). He says, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you…” The blood shows the seriousness of the covenant. It is a way of saying “may what happened to these animals happen to us if we fail to keep the covenant.” Later, the blood would be sprinkled in the Tabernacle to remind God’s people of their covenant with the Lord.

This is the same theme the writer of Hebrews talks about. He points out three important differences. First, Christ himself is the high priest. It is no longer Moses or Aaron or a descendent of Aaron that represents the Lord to his people. It is God himself in Christ who keeps the covenant with his people, the Church. In the priesthood of the new covenant, the priest does not represent himself, but Christ. Jesus is at work in and through the priest. The Church teaches that each and every priest functions in persona Christi capitis—in the person of Christ the head. Christ, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:23, is the head of his body, The Church. The priest acts in his stead to administer the Sacraments. This is why the Church teaches that even if the priest is in serious sin, the Sacraments he administers are still valid. It is Christ who is truly hearing your confession. It is Christ who is speaking the words of consecration over the bread and wine.

Second, the priests of the old covenant offered the blood of bulls and goats. Jesus Christ offers his own blood, his own life, in sacrifice. He offered it once on the cross and now continues that same offering at each Mass. Christ is not sacrificed again at each Mass. The Church has never taught that. It is his one sacrifice on the cross at Calvary that we enter into at Mass. We enter into the cross, the nails, the crown of thorns, the spear. We enter into his seven last words of forgiveness and offering. We enter into the absence of the disciples, except for John and the presence of the women, especially his mother, Mary. We also enter into his resurrection.

Third, the covenant of Christ is a new covenant. Our reading from Hebrews says that Christ “is mediator of a new covenant”. If the sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant “can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”

In today’s Gospel St. Mark records the first Eucharist at the Last Supper. That supper was a Passover meal. A lamb was sacrificed and roasted. At the first Passover, the Israelites had to kill the lamb, sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintel of the house, and then eat the lamb. St. Mark makes it clear that in the Eucharist, Jesus fulfills the Passover sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God who was killed and his blood shed on the cross. Jesus fulfills the final requirement of Passover in the Eucharist, when he gives us his glorified body and blood, his soul and divinity. We “take and eat.”

In a week’s time, on June 19th, the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Church begins the Year of the Priest. The Patron is St. John Vianny, Curé of Ars. Let us seek his intercession as we contemplate the mystery of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ in the Eucharist.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

God is a Family--A Reflection on Trinity Sunday

Last week was the feast of Pentecost, the birth of the Church. This week, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. The week after that will be Corpus Christi, the most holy Body and Blood of Christ. In putting these feasts one right after the other, the Church is pointing to the heart of Christian Truth: the Spirit, the Father and the Son: the Trinity.

The Trinity is the key doctrine of our faith. Our God is one God. We share that with Judaism and Islam. Our God is three persons in that one God. Judaism and Islam would both deny that. Why is the Trinity so important?

First, it is taught in Scripture. You won’t find the word Trinity, but the teaching of it can be found throughout the Bible. We started the Mass by quoting 2 Corinthians 13:13 “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In 1 Peter 1:2 Peter tells his readers that they have been chosen “in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification by the Spirit for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ…” Second it is taught by the Church Fathers such as Clement, Justin Martyr and Athanasius. Third, it is taught by the Church in its creeds, councils and liturgy.

Today’s gospel from St. Matthew contains a very early baptismal formula. Jesus tells the disciples to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is at the heart of the worldwide mission of the Church.

How can we understand the Trinity? Can we understand the Trinity? The Church spent several centuries defining the Trinity. In this process, they came to use many terms borrowed from philosophy and even the theatre! The basic definition is that the Trinity is one God in three Persons. It is not three Gods. It is not one God in three forms or modes of being. That is, God is not at one time Father, one Son and one Holy Spirit.

God has one divine nature in three persons. Each person of the Trinity has the same essence: they are eternal, they are equal. They have the same attributes; holiness, justice, mercy, power. One Person does not have a quality that another does not have. And each has those attributes in their fullness. Although one God, each has difference in how they relate to one another. One way to look at it is that the Father gives all he is to the Son; the Son gives everything he is back to the Father; the Holy Spirit is Love between the Father and the Son.

God is a family. Calling God “Father” is not an analogy. God is literally a father as he fathers the Son. The Son is actually a son, receiving his nature from the Father. The Holy Spirit is the unity of love in the family of God. Our families are imitations of the divine family of the Trinity. St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:14-15 that “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family on earth is named.”

God has called us to unity with him. In Heaven we will see God as he is, we will behold him Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We will live in the family of the Trinity. But even now, God shares his life with us through the Body of Christ, the Church, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the Scriptures and the Sacraments. At each Mass we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of the risen Christ by the power of the Spirit. In all the sacraments God shares his life with us by grace. They are not things the Church invented to earn our salvation. Rather, they are part of what Peter calls God’s great and precious promises to us. The promise is that we will be like him. The sacraments are God’s gifts of sanctifying grace to us through which we become partakers of his divine nature. Let us worship the Most Blessed Trinity who comes to us in this Mass. By God’s grace let us become more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit.