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THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C

Jeremiah 33:14-16

1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Where are your thoughts as we begin this new liturgical year?  Is your faith being challenged by the events that are reported on the nightly news?  It seems that the wars will go on and on and death tolls will mount even as we hear that other arenas may become war zones and more troops will be sent into battle.  Then there is the state of the economy as the number of the unemployed in the land hovers around 10% and more and more homes go into foreclosure.  As you sit under the Word this Sunday what is the message you would like to hear?

I asked a friend that question the other day.  The answer I got?  Just tell me it’s going to get better, that these troubles will end. Remember what the word Gospel means?  Good news. This liturgical year we will hear the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ as it comes to us from Luke.  Each time we stand for the proclamation, we stand to let the Good News wash over us and inspire our assent, our ongoing conversion, our continuing transformation into the Body of Christ, i.e., the Church that is the people of God.  In that context and inspired by faith, even difficult scriptures become good news because of the hope they engender.

As we enter into the Season of Advent, it is important to remember that there are two comings the season promises: the birth of Christ and Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time.  The renewal of the first strengthens our hope for the second.  What is important for us as we journey through Advent is the sense of longing.  We long for the rebirth of Christ in our lives and we long for Christ’s return in glory when all that is promised will be fulfilled.  So enter into the silence.  Sit with the Word.  Let your heart be open.  Listen.

We ought to be able to hear the reading from Jeremiah.  The times in which it was written were desperate.  Four centuries after the era of King David, Jerusalem is in shambles and the Jews are enslaved by the Babylonians.  The people are enshrouded in the darkness of despair.  The terrible times will never end.  Will Jerusalem ever be restored?  There are not a few people proclaiming similar messages in our own times.  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?  Have you noticed the warnings that the end of everything is going to happen in 2012?  No wonder the Mayan calendar runs out then, as do the predictions of Nostradamus.  What more evidence do you need?  Why shouldn’t we despair?

Jeremiah says to the troubled and nearly broken people: The days are coming says the Lord when I will fulfill the promise I made to the House of Israel and to Judah. Remember that the Lord had promised that David’s reign would last forever.  Those times seemed to say that there was no way that promise could be realized.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their hope in that promise?  I will raise up for David a just shoot…in those days Judah shall be safe. The prophecy serves to strengthen the people so that they can be faithful to the One who chose them to be a people peculiarly God’s own and to believe that God will never abandon them.

We see the fulfillment of the promise in Jesus as the Just Shoot rising up from the stump of David’s family tree, the Messiah, the one who is sent to bring Good News, the one who is our hope and our salvation.  Even as Jeremiah’s prophecy reverberates in our consciousness, we hear the Gospel.

Jesus speaks to us from those final days before his passion, those final days before his disciples will witness the greatest test to their faith in him.  Jesus warns that the apocalyptic times will be filled with dreadful signs in the heavens and disastrous natural events on earth that will terrify even the strongest.  People will die of fright before the roaring wind and rushing waves.  There is no mention of earthquakes, but they might happen, too.  The challenge for disciples, those who walk with Jesus and believe in him, is to be different from the rest of people and stand tall in the face of all this turmoil, suffering and even death, as we recognize in those dreadful signs that our redemption is at hand.  Did you hear Jesus say that that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth? Remember that this is Gospel, Good News.  Why?  Because even in the face of the worst that can happen, Jesus is our hope and deliverance.

In these times that are so difficult for so many, we need to hear Paul’s words first addressed to the church at Thessalonica.  May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all. In other words, Paul is urging them and us to live what we have become through Baptism, to be Christ’s other self and do what Jesus did.  It is all about love, love that binds the community together and reaches out even to those who are not part of the community.  Imitate Christ.  Be a people whose lives give evidence to the fact that we believe, that our hope is in our Lord Jesus Christ, that like him we are willing to pour out our lives in service so that even the least will feel the embrace of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Now do you see why the Eucharist is at the center of our faith lives?  Does it make sense that our lives revolve around the Sunday celebration of Eucharist?  We come together at the Table of the Word to be transformed by the proclamation.  Wearied by the labors of the past week, we gather at the Table of the Bread to be transformed by the Eucharist we celebrate in the renewing of Christ’s dying and rising.  The Assembly is transformed into the Body of Christ and is sent out for another week to be that presence in the market place.  Just as the Bread was broken and the Cup was poured out so that we could share the Meal, so must we be broken and poured out until all are fed.

Perhaps this Advent it is important for us to make the operative challenge for us to be in the word all. There is no shortage of those sewing the seeds of judgmentalism, fundamentalism and division.  Even in the Church, there are those telling others they are unworthy to approach the Table that seems to carry with it the judgment of their being sinners and therefore condemned.  Are we forgetting that we are all sinners and that our forgiveness is in, with, and through Christ?  Jesus did warn that what we sow we would reap.  What does that say about sowing the seeds of judgment and condemnation?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours are the fewest.  Maybe this year we should focus on the darkness and imagine what our lives would be like without our faith, what it would be like to be still in our sins.  And when the darkness threatens to envelop us, then remember the Light whose coming we will celebrate this Christmas.  Jesus is our hope as he comes with a love that is universal and unconditional.  His table fellowship proclaimed that message.  So ought ours.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FEAST OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST THE KING – B

Daniel 7:13-14

Revelation 1:5-8

John 18:33b-37

Another Church Year comes to its conclusion with the celebration of the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  What began nearly a year ago on the First Sunday of Advent has taken us another year on The Way.  We have journeyed with Jesus to be formed and transformed by the Spirit he pours out on us.  Each time it begins, few know where the journey will take them even if they have been for many years faithful followers.  Sometimes we forget that conversion is a life-long process, that the Lord will not be through with us until we breathe our last in this world.    This year some made their way as Catechumens on their way to Baptism, learning along the way what it meant to be part of a faith community, learning to pray with and worship among them, experiencing what it meant to be disciples.  The Liturgy of the Word is basic to their formation.

Some made the trek for the first time as neophytes when during the Easter Vigil having died in the Font to their old ways, they rose from the waters reborn in Christ to be identified with Christ for the rest of time and all of eternity. They might have thought that their work was over.  Who could blame them given the joy and enthusiasm they felt as the Assembly welcomed them to the community and to the Table?  How could they know that the journey was just beginning?

Those journeyers more weathered know that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable as they sit under the word there will be new deaths to die even as there will be a deepening sense of life in the Risen Christ.  These are the ones, too, who will welcome the new cycle wondering where they will be the next time they celebrate this feast of Christ the King.

Many have a fascination and curiosity about Jesus like that of the disciples of the Baptist in John’s Gospel when John told them to behold the Lamb of God and they started following Jesus.  Jesus asked them what they were looking for.  They said, Master, where do you live? And he said, Come and see. They came to understand that abiding in Jesus, walking in his footsteps, listening to him and imitating him, all these make up the only way to come to know Jesus.

As our faith-life goes on we come to see more clearly that our Sunday Mass obligation comes from our need to be present and part of the celebration, our need to be fed at the Table of the Word and the Table of the Eucharist if we are to have strength for the journey.  Each Sunday the Spirit broods over us and opens our hearts to be penetrated by the Word.  Each Sunday we have to ask ourselves what we heard and how we are to respond.  And each Sunday we need to gather with the Assembly and give thanks to God in the dying and rising of Jesus renewed in the Eucharist, there to be fed and so come to recognize that we are formed and transformed by the celebration even as we are sent into the world to continue it until the world is transformed and Christ comes again in glory.

Do you remember where you were in your faith-life a year ago?  How have you grown in the course of this year?  What did you learn as you walked in Jesus’ footsteps and gazed over his shoulder?

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again. That is our proclamation in the course of the Eucharistic Prayer voiced just after we hear Jesus command us to do this (celebrate Eucharist) in my memory. If we obey, the whole Mystery is present.  And if we take and eat, and take and drink, the Meal we share transforms us and sends us to be broken and poured out in ministry until the world is transformed and in Christ offered to the Father.

It is one thing to have the vision of Christ the King coming in glory.  It is another to understand how Christ reigns.  Splendid visions of glory and majesty thrill us in the first two readings.  In the reading from Daniel, the son of man comes on the clouds of heaven.  All peoples, nations, and languages serve him.  In the reading from Revelation we hear Jesus Christ proclaim: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty. And if we believe him, we know who and what he is, that he is human, that he is divine.  The Son of Man is the Son of God.

Isn’t it jarring then when we hear the gospel proclaimed?  What section would you have chosen to be read in the context of this feast?  I think I would like one of those majestic moments – a great miracle, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on the water calming the wind and the waves, Jesus shouting into the tomb, Lazarus, come out! But in stead, what is proclaimed is Jesus in his passion bound with ropes, crowned with thorns, standing before Pilate in what the world would see as a moment of profound defeat.  Why?  Because over and over again we have to be renewed in our understanding of what kind of Messiah Jesus is, what kind of King.  This is a king who can be handed over for crucifixion.  So the scandal continues.  This is the king who scandalized by the company he kept, by those with whom he broke bread in table fellowship.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. This is a king who washes the feet of his subjects.  The realization can scandalize us, especially if we were hoping for something more to come from our relationship with Jesus.  Make no mistake about it.  There are those who preach Jesus as the means to prosperity.  People turn out in droves to hear that message, convinced that if they let Jesus be lord of their lives, any day now their coffers will fill and they will be living the good life.

On the other hand, it is we who give scandal if everything about us doesn’t imitate this messiah and king who serves and is vulnerable.  Think about it.  If Jesus is the full revelation of God, then Jesus reveals to us a God who wants to serve rather than be served, a God who pleads with us to let God be God in our lives and for us to be God’s people.  If we hear the message, each of us must respond with a willingness to be servants who exercise a ministry that evidences a fundamental option for the poor.  If we hear the message, our parish proclaims that same preference for the poor even as it avers that all are welcome here.  If we hear the message, the Church will proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and peace, will proclaim the dignity and worth of every person, and the conviction that forgiveness is for all people God embraces in the unconditional love that comes to us through Jesus our King and our Lord.

There may be evidence that we still have a way to go on this journey with Jesus.  Please God, there is evidence that we are nearer than when we first began.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

Daniel 12:1-3

Hebrews 10:11-14; 18

Mark 13:24-32

So, the Church’s Year draws to an end.  We have completed the cycle once more and await its glorious conclusion next Sunday with the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King.  That celebration will affirm all that has gone before and will support the faith of even the weariest believer struggling along The Way.  But before we get to the Feast we must go through the end times and what they will be like.  We shall see that those times will not be for the faint of heart, and especially not for those who lose sight of what we were called to be and what this journey along the Way is all about.

We in the Northern Hemisphere have signs surrounding us that support the Word proclaimed in these readings.  Light wanes.  In much of the country cold takes hold and wind and rain strip the trees of their once green leaves.  Bare limbs reach up into the heavens pleading for light’s return, and warmth and spring.  Depending on the severity of this season, those who experience it may wonder if winter will yield this time.  Will there be the renewal of life and vegetation?  We’re people of faith, remember.  Trial does not mean defeat.  No winter is forever.  God’s love is constant and unconditional.  We have God’s Son’s death to prove that.  And the Resurrection!

There are televangelists who milk the First Reading from the Prophet Daniel and this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark and use them to strike terror in the hearts of their hearers.  Fear for some may be a motive for towing the moral line but fear will neither inspire nor long support faith.  The highways and byways are strewn with those who could stand the condemning message no more and gave up on the faith.  Did you know that Former Catholics is the second largest denomination of believers exceeded only by those who still claim to be members of the faith?  Alas.

Beware of fundamentalism.  Properly interpreted, the First Reading and the Gospel for this Sunday are not meant to inspire dread, much less seen as condemnatory.  The End Times means that things as we know them will pass away and horrors may be part of those days.  Remember last spring when the lilacs first bloomed and the daffodils blanketed the hillsides?  Then came the warmth of summer and the zephyrs that made the aspen leaves flash like sunlight through prisms in the trees.  On an ideal summer day, did you sit beneath a willow, dappled by the suns glow and wish these days would go on forever?

Israel knew glory days.  Jerusalem, bedecked in jewels, with the Temple at its heart would certainly be eternal, wouldn’t it?  But then came destruction of the city and of the Temple and the people were led away enslaved like their ancestors before them had been in Egypt.  A winter of discontent descended upon God’s chosen ones, a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. But that is not where the reading ends.  The hearer is not invited to peer down into a bottomless chasm of despair.  Rather there is an invitation to remember God’s fidelity.  In the worst times some people will escape and many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake…and live forever. That is the word for those who are faithful to the call.  We don’t have to go into the fate that awaits the unfaithful ones.  We remember that Jerusalem was restored.  The Babylonian captivity ended.  The people returned rejoicing.

Israel has known times of suffering in many ages down through the centuries.  Among the worst of times was the Holocaust during Hitler’s reign.  That horror is not without parallel.  The sufferings of others who endured the ravages of ethnic cleansing in other countries are etched in our memories.  At least they ought to be.  Think of the Hutus and the Tutsis of recent memory in Uganda and Rhodesia.  The Serbs and the Croats.  There can be only estimates about the numbers of millions of Russian people Stalin exterminated.  The point is that each of these atrocities would qualify as the worst of times.  Daniel speaks to those who suffered and to their survivors.  Death will not hold sway forever.  Tyrannies will end.  And the dead will rise to vindication.  God is faithful and bring his own from every nation safely home.

Jesus quotes Daniel at the beginning of the gospel: In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. Is it possible to imagine a scene more terrifying?  What is the purpose of the quote here?  We have to think back over the journey that we began at the start of this Church’s Year.  We have to remember our own individual faith journeys along The Way.  We must ponder the reality of each Eucharist we celebrated and each Meal that we shared.

Jesus, through every lesson that he taught and through every healing at his touch and through the feeding of the multitudes and the announcing of the good news to the poor, proclaimed himself to be the Messiah.  That said, we also know that there has been a struggle to accept the kind of Messiah that he is.  Some imagine Jesus to be the mighty, all-powerful warrior, the one who will drive away all oppressors and set up a secure kingdom forever.  The Jews would not have the Romans enslaving them ever again.  Some hold that should hold true for every enemy in every age since then – if Jesus was the Messiah.  And, too, in the Lord’s time and in every age since there were those who saw Jesus as a way to their own power and wealth as they lusted after the positions at his right and left in the Kingdom.

It ought to be safe for us who have listened this year to say such thoughts and values are not in the message Jesus was sent from the Father to deliver.  Jesus models himself after Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.  Servant is the operative word of the one who always sought out the little ones, the lost sheep, the poor, the blind, the lepers and the lame.  This Messiah is the one who scandalized many by the company he kept and by those for whom he practiced table fellowship.  Tax collectors. Prostitutes.  Roman legionaries.  Gentiles.  Name an unsavory group of his time that did not have representation at his table.  Even women reclined at his table.  The challenge for all of them, if they were to be his disciples, would be to do what Jesus did and to exhibit a poverty of life that bespeaks a complete and total dependence on God and a trust in God’s promises.  The command will be to love one another as they are loved.  One can not be invincible and do that.

Then Jesus speaks of those days.  They will be days of great trial.  The faith of many will be broken.  How can a Messiah reign if he is led away, scourged, crowned with thorns, carries a cross, is crucified and dies like so many common criminals before him who had made Calvary a common place for execution?  How can the Messianic age have followed Jesus’ time if Jerusalem and the Temple are destroyed again?  Most of the disciples ran away, scandalized by the death Jesus died.  But we know that was not the end.  Jesus rose on the Third Day and ended death’s tyranny forever.  That is what the disciples had to remember as Jesus, resurrected, reclaimed them.  That is what disciples in every age must remember as new horrors abound.

Remember spring.  Even the deepest winter yields to spring’s thaw as life and light return.  The promise that we are to cling to, the second spring in which we are to live is the yearning for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

What does it mean to live in faith?  It means that we remain convinced of the promise of the Second Coming in spite of the direst signs to the contrary.  It means that each of us determines what the Lord is calling him or her to be and how we are to serve and then, with the Lord’s grace to strengthen us, strives to live that calling.  It means that we are to be a Eucharistic people, gathering each Lord’s Day to renew his dying and rising in Bread and Wine, the prayer of Thanksgiving.  It means that we take and eat, take and drink, and do this in Jesus’ memory until he comes again.  It means that having eaten and drunk we allow ourselves to be bread broken and cup poured out until all from the four winds, and from the end of the earth to the end of the sky have been fed and know the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We don’t know the day or the hour when the glory will be revealed, only that it has been and will be once again.  Do you believe this?

Sincerely,

Didymus