Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8, 14-17

The First Letter of Saint Peter 3:15-18

The Gospel according to John 14:15-21

In the Book of Revelation, God withers the people saying, I would you were hot or cold; but because you are lukewarm I will begin to spit you out of my mouth. You have heard the saying, I’m sure. Perhaps you wonder what the Lord means. To whom do the words apply? Remember the question that blared from posters in the late 60’s and early 70’s of the last century? If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? I think the two statements are closely related. Maybe we could add a third adage for flavoring: Actions speak louder than words!

We’re near the conclusion of the Easter Season and closing in on Pentecost. Our Neophytes have had these weeks to experience the reality of their new life in Christ. And the rest of the Church has had the time to see the fruits of their period of penance during Lent and the renewal of their Baptismal Promises around the Font in the celebration of Easter. For both groups, enough time has gone by to begin to experience the humdrumness of the routine of daily living the faith. How are the lives lived now different from the lives lived before the encounter at the Font?

Peter, in this week’s second reading, speaks words of comfort and support to Christians under siege. They are on trial and facing death for being Christian. Their witness and their mode of living have been deemed unacceptable by the civic authorities. The Christians no longer hope in Caesar anymore. Their hope is in Christ’s Resurrection. The jaws of the lions loom. Peter urges them to act with gentleness and reverence so that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. Apparently these Christians are not lukewarm in their faith response. They are on fire with the Spirit living in them. Their actions speak loudly. The risen Body of Christ living in the hearts of the Baptized continues to scandalize.

We might be tempted to forget that Jesus gave scandal. We might be tempted to soft pedal the charges related in the gospels. This man welcomes sinners and shares table with them. In our minds eyes those sinners can become sanitized. We see them as plaster-of-Paris saints fit for depiction on Barkley Street holy cards. Surely they’re not really sinners. We can accept that Jesus was comfortable among the poor. We’re even consoled that he approached lepers. Surely that’s what the gospel text means by sinners. Do you think so? I don’t. Sinners are sinners. They were in Jesus’ day, too. Sinners did not live by God’s law. Some of them were prostitutes. (Don’t read Mary of Magdala here. She was far from being a prostitute.) Some of them were tax collectors – which translates into being in cahoots with Roman suppression and being extorters of their neighbors. (You might think of Matthew here.) Some of them were thieves. You name the vice and surely representatives could be found in Jesus’ company. He was comfortable with them. Then add the poor and the lepers and any other off scouring of society and you will have a digest of Jesus’ table fellows. Jesus ministers to them unconditionally. He loves them for who they are. There’s no indication that all of them changed their ways and became his disciples.

What’s my point? The danger I see in these times is Catholics being too antiseptic in the practice of the faith and our assemblies becoming too homogenous. It’s fine to be in choir stalls and to have splendidly florid liturgies. But that makes no one uncomfortable. In the assembly, what evidence of diversity is there? Would sinners feel welcome? Under what conditions? How comfortable are the pews? Does the Eucharist celebrated evoke the full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly? And does the Assembly rush forth, renewed by the Meal they have shared, to be themselves broken and shared until all have been fed. Are they on fire?

We celebrated recently the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember the days leading up to that horrific event? There were marches in the streets of Alabama and numbers of people, vulnerable to batons and fire hoses and dogs’ teeth, witnessed to the need for change. They were willing to lay down their lives for justice. Some did that literally in Alabama and Mississippi and elsewhere. Some of those demonstrations turned riotous. Remember Watts and Chicago and Detroit among other places. Witnessing sometimes can be messy.

Those were heady times, that first era that coincided with the close of Vatican Council II. Sure there was upheaval as always happens amidst birth pangs. But something new and wonderful was being brought forth. The new Church was being born. Remember Archbishop Oscar Romero who left the serenity of the Bishop’s manor to go into the streets to stand as a shepherd in the midst of the poor and call for justice for the people in El Salvador. Remember Dom Helder Camara whose witness to absolute solidarity with the poor became a precursor to the controversial Liberation Theology linked to Archbishop Romero. Even though he was an Archbishop, he lived in poverty among the poor. Camara said: When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food they call me a Communist. At the time of the Viet Nam War he wrote The Spiral of Violence in which he challenged the young people to break the cycle of violence to which previous generations have become addicted.

Remember the sit-ins and demonstrations on college campuses, the students who were shot to death at Kent State. Remember the demonstrations in the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention. Remember the brothers Berrigan. Remember and be inspired. Sure there were specific issues challenged by those demonstrations that may no longer seem pressing. No one would want to relive the years that spawned the assassinations of Dr. King and of John and Robert Kennedy. But the violence of those times should not lull us into complacency in our own time. There are still the poor who are hungry. There are still homeless people who live without shelter and whose homes destroyed by the hurricane still have not been restored. There is no shortage of injustices that cry out to heaven for vengeance. Will the Church respond?

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? That’s what the Neophytes must ask themselves. That’s what the seasoned Catholics must ask themselves. Jesus says to us in the Gospel this Sunday: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Which ones? There are really only two. Love God with your whole being. Love your neighbor as yourself. Stated otherwise: Love one another as I have loved you. That love must be practical. It is in the act of loving that we come to love Jesus and in turn to know that we are loved by the Father and loved by Jesus. And most wonderful of all, Jesus will reveal himself to those who so love.

Let’s see what happens on Pentecost. Imagine the wind that could blow then, and the fire.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7

The First Letter of Peter 2:4-9

John 14:1-12

I can never read this gospel passage without being reminded of a lad I ministered to many years ago. He was a leukemia patient in the days when the disease was a death sentence. His dear parents would not allow talk of death around their son. They hushed him whenever he broached the subject. He came down to breakfast one morning while he was at home on a break from the hospital and spoke to his mother about a dream he had had the night before.
“Jesus talked to me in my sleep last night,” he said.
“Really?” said his mother, “What did he say to you?”
“Jesus told me he is building me a house and it is nearly finished.” The boy died two weeks later.
It amazes me that we can hear certain pericopes from the gospels proclaimed and not gasp. This Sunday’s is one of those. I don’t remember ever seeing someone poke a person next to him/her and ask, “Did you hear what I heard? Can you believe that?”
Take the response that Jesus gives to Philip’s request that he show the disciples the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It seems obvious because we believe that Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus’ works are the Father’s works. By their works you will know them, we say. But what happens if we take the words one step farther and apply them to our baptismal relationship with Jesus. We are baptized into Christ. We are one with Christ. Christ lives in us as we live in Christ. I have even heard it said that God has the same love for us that God has for Christ. Amazing, isn’t it? But imagine the implications.
Here’s where the gasp of recognition should come. If I read the text correctly, if I am correct about our union with Christ (to say nothing of the fact that humankind are made in the image and likeness of God) if baptism does what the Church professes that it does, how does the reality strike you that you might be the only Jesus some people will ever meet? If Jesus says to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” does Jesus not want us, as his disciples, to live the reality of our baptismal priesthood and be able to say, “those who have seen me have seen Jesus?”
Again, by their works you shall know them. The letters on the plastic bracelets may have become a cliché, but the fact is, asking one’s self regularly, What would Jesus do is not such a bad idea. Why? Because the answer invariably will be, Whatever love demands. The other day I read a biography of Dorothy Day. What an amazing woman! A convert to the Church, she got the implications of her baptism and the course was set for the rest of her life. She believed that Catholics needed to be people of prayer, that we needed the rituals of our faith, i.e., Mass and the other Sacraments. And we needed to be a people who loved one another. A couple of quotes: “We cannot live alone. We cannot go to Heaven alone. Otherwise, as Peguy said, God will say to us, ‘Where are the others?’” When asked what members of her movement, the Catholic Worker, are working for, she replied that they must work for a new heaven and a new earth, “wherein justice dwelleth.” Why was she not content to wait for heaven to bring justice to people who have been wronged? Another quote: “We believe in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. This teaching, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, involves today the issue of unions (where men call each other brothers); it involves the racial question; it involves cooperatives, credit unions, crafts; it involves Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes. It is with all these means that we can live as though we believed indeed that we are all members of one another, knowing that ‘when the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered.’” In addition to urging the disciplines of regular Mass attendance, she taught her readers to “practice the presence of God” by seeing God in one another. He said that when two or three are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms.” And she got into serious trouble with the authorities by her uncompromising stance of pacifism. In some ways it should seem obvious, shouldn’t it? If we believe in the Mystical Body of Christ, how can we drop bombs on that Body? Or shoot at it? Or engage in the other horrendous things that going to war unleashes. Dorothy Day spent time in jail because of her stance.
In Dorothy Day’s vision, who is the actor and who is the one ministered to? Jesus. Think of the words of judgment near the end of Matthew’s Gospel: I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me. And you know the rest. If we take those words of Jesus seriously, see the demands our faith makes on us. And see what sense Dorothy Day makes.
Didymus says to the Lord in the Gospel today, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And what is the answer? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the answer and what Jesus would do ought to be what those who believe in Jesus do. As daunting as the task must seem, the challenge Jesus gives is for those who believe in him to be able to say as a result of the works they do, Those who see me, see Jesus. And of course doing those works may make you vulnerable and you just might wind up the way Jesus did, misunderstood, on the cross, with God as your sole support. All this, and union with God here and here after.
My young friend told his mother that Jesus was building him a house that was nearly finished. I believe that he came to realize as he entered that house, that he, himself, had built the house in union with Jesus through his acceptance of the Cross and through his unwavering confidence in the one in whom he had been baptized.
Sincerely,
Didymus

THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

The Acts of the Apostles 2:14a, 36-41
The First Letter of Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

It’s hard to celebrate something for fifty days, even if the something is Easter. But that is what Easter is, a fifty-day celebration of the dying and rising of the Lord Jesus and our call to live in that dying and rising. Every year most parishes rejoice with groups of people who have journeyed with the faith community through their catechumenate. Coming to the assembly Sunday after Sunday during their quest they have sat under the word and felt the support of with whom they have gathered. In the process they learned how this people worships and celebrates mystery. In the process they experienced Jesus in this body of Christ. In the process hunger and longing intensify. They journey through a full church year, through a complete cycle of readings, through a year of being on the way with Jesus, following in his footsteps, as it were, to learn from him. The hunger and longing? To go from the table of the Word to the table of the Eucharist. Sunday after Sunday they were dismissed from the assembly at the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word to further digest the readings, to be nourished by the Word and so be formed in the likeness of Christ. The process is long and demanding but so is the conversion of life to which they are being called. The Spirit is inviting them to enter the sheepfold through the gate. Jesus says in today’s gospel, Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.
The preceding Lent was a fifty-day period during which the Church’s attention was focused on these seekers. That period of fasting, praying, and alms giving, was a time in which the Church prayed that the Spirit would strengthen the incipient faith of the Catechumens and form them in the likeness of Christ and so join the assembly at the Table. Then came the glorious night and the celebration of Easter. In the light of the Easter Candle, the principal symbol of the Risen Christ, they were plunged into the waters that are the tomb and womb for those who would die with Christ and so rise with him. With the Sacred Chrism glistening on their brows and clothed in their white robes, they journeyed to the Table to stand with those others, now their brothers and sisters in Christ, to celebrate Eucharist and to know Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread.
The intensity of emotions can induce tears and laughter. For the first time the Bread is broken and shared with them. The joy of their union with Christ can be overwhelming. The applause of the Assembly’s welcome of them can be thrilling and humbling as they come to realize that they are now one with this people in truth and in fact. It is not unheard of that the Neophytes, as the newly baptized are called, wish the Night could go on forever. But there is a dawn coming with The First Sunday of Easter and the beginning of the fifty-day celebration of the first day of the rest of their lives.
No one can live on an emotional high. It is like the first stage of love, wonderful but shallow. Love matures through the pouring out of self for the other so that people can wonder as years go by if they were in love at all in the beginning, so deep and different is their love today. And so it will be for the Neophytes, as it is the seasoned Assembly of which they are now a part. As their emotions moderate through these fifty days, the danger can be their beginning to wonder if they really believe. Lovers can wonder if they really love when their emotions calm and fail to recognize that the door is opening to a deeper love. The Neophytes are being invited to go to deeper levels of faith. No wonder we have Lent every year. For the Neophytes and for the whole Assembly, whenever they celebrated their first Easter, that is, on the day of their Baptism they began a process of conversion that will continue for the rest of their lives.
It’s all about the Breaking of the Bread. In the beginning of faith, the believer and focus on the gift of the Eucharist, on Christ’s giving his body for them. Of course that is true. That is what we believe. But that is only half the story. There is a challenge inherent in the Eucharist. Believers are to imitate what they take and eat. Believers must be willing to be broken and given until all have been fed. That isn’t easy. Of course, no one ever said that it was.
Perhaps this Easter we can learn the lesson of history. Look at the story of the Church as it has unfolded over the last 2000 years. There have been highs. There have been lows. What we come to realize through hindsight is that earthly highs and lows do not correspond to faith’s highs and lows. How long did it take for the faithful to recognize and accept the fact that Jesus reigned on the Cross? What the world saw as ignominy and defeat was actually Christ’s entering into Glory. We don’t have time or space for a history lesson here. But you know as well as I that those periods of greatest temporal glory for the Church often corresponded to periods of greatest corruption for the Church. And it has to do primarily with the use and abuse of power. What is true for the Church as a whole can be true of each and every individual in the Church – for popes, for bishops, for priests and deacons, for vowed religious, for all who share the priesthood of the baptized. There is an ancient adage: Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. All the Baptized must learn the true nature of the calling. Jesus said it bluntly and without equivocation. Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. And, I stand in your midst as one who servers. We are a servant Church. As soon as one lord’s power over another that lesson is lost. Shepherds in the Church must know the people by name and serve them. They must imitate the Shepherd in today’s gospel and walk ahead of them, the strength of their faith-witness giving courage to those following through many a dark valley. Ah, but before you breathe a huge sigh of relief and succumb to the temptation to point an accusing finger, remember that all the baptized are identified with Christ and are given a share in Christ’s shepherding ministry. How vulnerable are you willing to be for the sake of your brothers and sisters in Christ?
How long does it take to recognize the grace of God in your being patient when you suffer for doing what is good? Read carefully what Peter says in the second reading for today. It is medicine that may not go down easily. Remember the challenge to imitate Christ? Here is the example that is put before us today: When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. In other words, through the whole of the passion Jesus emptied himself and trusted God.
In the end as in the beginning it is about love. We can’t look for escape hatches by being content to love the lovable. That’s not what Jesus did. My friend, do you betray me with a kiss? Jesus loved Judas even as Judas betrayed him. So must we love even those who would harm us and we must trust the same God Jesus did. What are the limits on this love? When can we say we have done enough? I come to see that there are no limits and no enough. That might be the significance to the witness in John’s Gospel who attests to the last drop of blood and water flowing from Jesus’ pierced side.
The Neophytes continue to journey with us more seasoned followers. What a blessing it will be for them throughout this fifty-day celebration of Easter if all they witness will be a people willing to pour themselves out for others, even for those who would harm them, and to the shedding of the last drop of blood and water. And may there be no shortage of witnessing to the only source of strength for carrying out this self-emptying imitation of Christ. The Eucharist we share.
Sincerely,
Didymus