Archive for May, 2014|Monthly archive page

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD – A – June 1, 2014

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians 1:17-23

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 28:16-20

 

There are two ideas that we must examine and perhaps about them alter our assumptions.  One is the direction the Lord takes, that is, up, up, and away.  The other is thinking that the event we celebrate this Sunday is one of a completion, that this is a happening that is over, meant to be recalled looking back in our celebration of faith.  Both conclusions would serve to distance us from what we are supposed to experience in the celebration of this holy day.

Because of our early childhood education we might still think of Heaven as being way up there, probably somewhere among the stars and definitely our of our reach.  Thrones are there in Heaven.  From one of the thrones, God looks down on us from the ethereal regions.  And next to that throne is the one Jesus sits on.  Granted, our imaginations hunger for that kind of imagery.  But being definitely other, it seems to be the opposite of what is revealed in the mystery we call Incarnation.

When the Second Person of the Trinity takes on human flesh, two realms are joined.  The divine and the human are united forever.  Jesus speaks of his abiding presence among us.  Low I am with you always, even to the consummation of the world.  With you does not mean a presence from afar.  With you means an intimacy, an abiding presence that only rarely do we come close to imagining accurately.  Where Jesus is, so too are the Father and the Spirit.  Where God is, Heaven is.

Some would have us focus on the remoteness of Heaven, and therefore on the transcendence of God.  Granted, there is the transcendent when we consider God.  But focusing solely on transcendence keeps God and all things holy at a distance and out of reach.  And humble adoration is the primary response made in faith.

The image of Jesus ascending to the Father, and the clouds closing in to cut him off from our view is poetic.  Basilica ceilings have glorious replicas to fill us with wonder and awe.  Well they should.   But there are two dimensions to this faith-life to which we are called and into which we have been baptized.  Transcendence is one aspect, but the other is immanence.  I must confess to my need to fixate on the later.  It has to do with the wonder of intimacy that inspires me.  The image of the clouds shielding the resurrected Jesus from our view is important.  His presence will no longer be a physical one.  Remember, that was made clear by the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  The Risen One showed them that fellow journeyers might not recognize their companion, even as they feel their hearts burning within them.  He showed them that his presence would be sacramental, to be recognized in the Breaking of the Bread.

Our celebration of Sunday Eucharist always renews the Emmaus experience.  The sharing of the meal makes possible an intimacy with God and with the whole Body of Christ represented by that group of celebrators we are as we stand about the Table and share the One Bread and the One Cup.  The image John uses at the beginning of his Gospel is important.  The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.  Jesus is among us as one who serves, not as one who wants to be served.  That is God’s attitude, too.  Again, in John’s Gospel, the icon is there.  Jesus washes the feet of the disciples.  He doesn’t lie back and wait for the disciples to wash his feet.  There are some who have criticized the Church for getting it wrong.  Pope Francis has been about getting the Church back on the right track, that of being a poor church serving the poor.  He is reminding us all, Ordained and Lay, that it is about service, about living in relationship, and about living the love we have learned.  As I have done to you so ought you do for one another.  That is how the transformation of the World begins.

We do not find God primarily in church.  We do not find Jesus there primarily either.  We celebrate in church the Presence we find elsewhere.  Lots of saints journal about their experience of recognizing Jesus in what were presumed to be the least likely subjects.  Strange how often those subjects are poor, or imprisoned, lepers or outcasts.  The downtrodden seem to be the clearest transmitters of the reality.  Francis kissed the leper.  Bernard cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar.  Catherine and Theresa had their encounters, too.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that when she was ministering to the dying destitute she was ministering the Christ in his passion.  The lesson is clear.  At least it ought to be if we are willing to deal with the implications.  If we are not, we will be like the Rich Man who sought discipleship with Jesus.  When he heard the requirements, he went away sad.  If we accept the implications and live by them the clouds part for us and we see that Heaven begins in the here and now.

That brings me to the second observation.  The Ascension of the Lord is not a once-for-all action completed 2000 years ago, a past event we celebrate these many centuries later.  Jesus ascends in an action that transcends time and is therefore timeless.  That is true of all Jesus does.  His dying and rising are ongoing.  So, too, are his resurrection and ascension.  In our sacramental celebrations we enter into those actions.  Jesus doesn’t suffer all over again and then die again on our altars.  We celebrate the whole Mystery and our Communion is with the whole Mystery, the Mystery meant to be lived.  So we hear Jesus command us at the end of the Gospel for our feast.

The challenge for us as individuals and as Church remains the same as it was for the infant faith community.  First we must recognize the wonderful thing that happens to us in Baptism when we are given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of (Jesus Christ).  This knowledge of Jesus Christ is one of union with Jesus Christ.  Remember what Jesus said to Philip who at the point of his questioning Jesus did not understand.  Philip, those who see me see the Father.  The challenge for the Baptized is to remember that they are the Body of Christ and with a couple of word changes, Christ’s words ought to come forth from their lips to all they meet, or rather, ought to resonate from their every action.  There is no greater challenge than to see as our task to live so that all those who see us see Jesus.  That is not to assume a boastful attitude.  It is to assume the humble posture of servant because Jesus served.  If we assume that posture we will be amazed at how we can come to recognize Jesus in those little ones in need of service.

Pope Francis reminds us that the Gospel call is essentially about love.  He is telling us that if the Church, the Body of Christ in the world, takes seriously the injunction to love one another as I have loved you, the world would be transformed in the experience of the reign of God.

As long as it takes, Jesus will continue ascending.  The action will not be completed until time runs its course and all things are caught up in Mystery.

This is not likely to happen if we remain on our knees.  Of course prayer is important, essential, really.  But the unfolding will happen when we are in the trenches, so to speak, doing the work, identifying with those to whom we minister, experiencing their poverty, supporting their waning hope, reminding them that they are God’s beloved.

And we haven’t even talked about the need for this love to be universal.  Again, bless Francis for reminding us that God loves all people; all are related as sisters and brothers in this one God who creates all and loves all who are created in God’s image and likeness.  It’s interesting how Francis’s emphases bring images to mind that cause some to grind their teeth.  But then, look what they did to Jesus when he said the same thing.  If we live the reality what happened to Jesus might happen to us.  You never know.

Maybe we will talk about that on another day.

Sincerely,

Didymus.       

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THE SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – May 25, 2014

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8, 14-17

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter 3:15-18

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:15-21

 

In the Book of Revelation, God has harsh words for the people.  I would you were hot or cold; but because you are lukewarm I will begin to spit you out of my mouth.  You may be familiar with the words, but perhaps you wonder what the Lord means.  If we apply them to the present age, we might get the point.  Many moons ago there was a question inscribed on bumper stickers and posters: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  The Revelation text and this statement are closely linked.  Faith is supposed to be lived.  Do our decisions and actions betray us as Christ’s disciples?  Do we love as Jesus loves us?  It is, after all, as we have said before, supposed to be all about love.

We are near the conclusion of the Easter Season.  Our Neophytes have had these weeks to experience the reality of their new life in Christ in the midst of the Assembly gathered to celebrate Eucharist.  The rest of the Church, seasoned believers, has had time to see the fruits of a period of penance during Lent that led to 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 routine in the daily living of lives of faith.  We might ask, 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 could face death for being followers of Christ.  Their witness and their mode of living have been deemed unacceptable by the civic authorities.  It is evident that Christians no longer hope in Caesar.  Their hope is in Christ and Christ’s Cross and Resurrection.  The jaws of 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 the people Peter is addressing 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 and spilling over into action continues to scandalize.

Continues to scandalize?  We might forget that Jesus gave scandal.  We might be tempted to soft-pedal those charges related in the Gospels.  Hear them clearly.  This man welcomes sinners and shares table with them.  In our eyes those sinners may well become sanitized.  Surely Jesus wouldn’t have broken bread with real sinners.  Surely they weren’t really prostitutes, tax collectors and others deemed by the community to be reprobates.  It’s fine to see Jesus comfortable among the poor.  We are even consoled that he approached lepers.  Surely that’s what the Gospel text means by sinners.

Maybe not.  Sinners are sinners.  They were in Jesus’ day.  They are in ours.  Some were prostitues.  Think of the woman that shocked and scandalzied when she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  Some of them were tax collectors.  That translates as cohorts with Roman suppression.  They extorted from their neighbors by adding to their tax bills.  Think of Matthew here.  You name the vice and representatives could be found in Jesus’ company.  He was comfortable with them.  Then add the poor 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 as they are for who they are.  There’s no indication that all of them changed their ways and became disciples.  Jesus is living the reality that God loves unconditionally and eternally.

What is my point?  I hope we are not in denial about being sinners ourselves.  A danger I see in these times is Catholics being too elite and antiseptic in the practice of the faith, our Assemblies, too homogenous.  It is 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 daring to enter for the first time feel welcomed, finding mercy and forgiveness there, or would they feel judged to be unfit to be in the midst of the faithful?

Does the Eucharist celebrated evoke the full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly; or are the members of the Assembly reduced to passive spectators?  Does the Assembly rush forth, renewed by the Meal they have shared, to be broken themselves, and poured out until all have eaten and all have drunk?  Are they on fire?

I betray my age when I say I can remember the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I remember the announcement of his assassination.  One could see the Spirit empowering those marchers in the streets of Alabama.  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.  No wonder some thought Dr. King had to die.  What if society changed?  Some followed King’s example in Alabama and Mississippi and else where where they demonstrated and sought to get Black brothers and Sisters registered to voteSome died in those trenches.  Some demonstrations turned riotous.  Think of Watts and Chicago and Detroit and the fires that raged there.  Witnessing sometimes gets messy.

For some of us, old enough to remember, those were heady times that coincided with the close of Vatican Council II.  There was upheaval as always as  happens amidst birth pangs.  Something new and wonderful was being brought forth.  The new Church was being reborn.  Think of Archbishop Oscar Romero as he left the serenity of the Bishop’s manor to go out into the streets to stand as a shepherd in the midst of the poor as he called for justice for the people in El Salvador.  Dom Helder Camara was another bright light.  He witnessed to absolute solidarity with the poor and 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 Cycle of Violence in which he challenged the young people to break the cycle of violence to which previous generations have become addicted.

Is it my wishful thinking or are Romero and Camara precursers of Pope Francis’s calling the faithful to these same values?  He comes out of the same South America that produced Romero and Camara.  The three seem to be of the same mind.

I am aware that time has gone by and that many of the events that still seem fresh in my memory are distant now.  Think of the sit-ins and demonstrations on college campuses and the students shot to death at Kent State.  Think of the brothers Berrigan, priests and activists.  Think of them and be inspired.  Yes, there may be specific issues challenged by those demonstrations that may no longer seem pressing.  Nor would one want to relive the years that spawned the assassinations of Dr. King and of John and Robert Kennedy.  But the violence of those times, now distant, should not lull us into complacency in our own time.  Pope Francis is speaking out for the poor and calling for a fairer distribution of wealth because poverty remains rampant.  There are still homeless people living without shelter, people whose homes have been destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and mudslides.  People are still discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.  Women still are not on the same scale of pay as men.  Then there is human trafficking and other abuses of vulnerable humankind.  So, still there is no shortage of injustices that cry out to heaven for vengeance.  How will the church respond to Pope Francis’s call for a poor church serving the poor?  Will the shepherds be found out in the midst of the sheep, smelling the same as the sheep do?

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 we seasoned Catholics must ask ourselves.  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 another way: Love one another as I have loved you.  That love must be practical.  It is in the act of loving that we come to know Jesus and to love him and in turn come to know that we are loved by the Father and loved by Jesus.  Most wonderful of all, Jesus will reveal himself to those who so love.

Imagine what could happen on Pentecost.  Just hear the wind that could blow then, and see the fire.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – May 18, 2014

 A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7

A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter 1 Peter 2:4-9

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:1-12

 

Did you notice that this is the Fifth Sunday of Easter?  See that it is not the fifth Sunday after Easter.  That is important if we are to remember what is supposed to be happening during these weeks.  We might forget since we have been in the Easter Season nearly as long as we were in Lent.  We are living in the dawning reality of the moment that changed everything forever.

It is sad but true that we might see Lent as more fitting than Easter as a season.  During Lent we focus on the Cross and penance.  During Holy Week we make the Passion and Death journey.  We witness defeat.  The world looked on and saw Jesus betrayed, rejected and broken.  Except for three, even the disciples fled in sadness and left Jesus to die on the Cross.  They had thought Jesus would be the one to set Israel free.

In this age, it is easy to get caught up in defeatism.  The signs are all around us.  Poverty and disease break so many.  Polio and measles are on the rise.  Countries are caught up in rebellion and citizens are being quashed.  Over 200 young girls have been kidnapped and apparently are being sold into slavery.  Statistics say that Christianity is losing ground caught in the backwash created by sins of previous generations, political alliances between the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light.  Scandal has ravaged the Church.  Many have walked away from the church.  And the poor and the weak are rising up in the face of oppression and declaring enough!  No more! Never again.

Faith in Christ has been found wanting because some of those who witnessed to it professionally have been found wanting.  There are scars physical and emotional that attest to a tyranny.

But you remember what happened on this Easter Sunday?  All around the world churches filled to over flowing for Sunday Mass and other religious services.  Perhaps Easter remains the day people gather, hoping against hope.  And the Good News must be proclaimed clearly so that those nearly broken ones, caught up in the wave of scandal and defeat can be renewed in spirit and be reminded of who they are in Christ and the hope that is theirs in him.

The clue should be taken from Pope Francis and what has been happening during the first year of his being the Bishop of Rome.  The poor, through him, seem to be held in primacy of place.  The hierarchy is being challenged to live more simply.  Francis calls the church to be poor so as to serve the needs of the poor.  He glories in being a foot washer and sees himself as an equal among equals.  There is no lording over.  Look at the crowds that seem to hang on his every word.  They resonate with what he is saying and living.  There is even a rumor that some are returning to the church.

Easter is one feast that lasts for 50 days.  The message proclaimed is that Christ has triumphed over everything humankind fears.  Death no longer has power over us.  The little ones in Christ are the beloveds of God.  Throngs are strengthened and rejoice in the word, just as they did in light of the first Easter.

Hear what is happening in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  The Twelve are busy about proclaiming the Good News.  Many listen and respond and are baptized.  The numbers grow.  As they do some essential services don’t happen.  Some needy ones are being neglected.  So some good and faithful ones become official servants of the poor, thereby allowing the Twelve to be faithful to their vocation as preachers and teachers.  That’s how the Order of Deacons comes about.  What we are witnessing is the realization of mutual responsibility for each other among the faithful.

Pope Francis witnesses to the same reality.  He stands and serves among people shocked by what is happening in Ukraine, and Iraq, and Syria.  People struggle to reconcile church bells and alleluias with the AIDS epidemic and starvation and malaria and sleeping sickness and human trafficking all ravaging Africa.  How can the triumph being celebrated be reconciled with the horrors unless they are identified with the Cross and reason for hope is found in our sharing in Christ’s triumph over sin, suffering and death?  Imagine what can happen when the faithful accept again that they share in that triumph and therefore can inspire hope in those who falter.

We are supposed to understand that if we follow Christ in resurrection, suffering ought not surprise us.  Yes, the battle is done.  Yes, the triumph is won.  But we have to remember that Christ’s Victory is still a work in progress.

Those people who entered the font during the Easter Vigil emerged from the waters gleaming with oil and were dressed in white, signs of their identification with Christ.  Their sins are washed away.  They have new life in Christ.  What happens when they are confronted with the reality of sin that has survived in their lives, when they have to deal with the fact that their struggle must still go on?  They must press on for their participation in the Victory that lies before them.  And so must we who are the Body of Christ, the Church.

If we recognize Christ in his rising, we must be open to Christ’s help to see all reality in a new light.  Then, sometimes what seems like victory to others will be recognized as defeat.  What seems like triumph will be seen as failure.  We struggle on to say no to sin, to the temptations subtle and otherwise to lord it over others, and to see ourselves as superior to others.  In Christ’s Victory we are called to be servants of the servants of God.

That is what Saint Peter reminds us of in today’s second reading.  Christ is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.  So are we in Christ.  Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Those words resonate and should remind us of the call of the Second Vatican Council in which it was declared that the Church is the People of God.  The faithful are called to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy.  We share in the Priesthood of the Baptized.  As Peter says: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of (Christ’s) own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Do you believe that?  Can you live in that reality?  Do you feel the support of your local church to live that priesthood?

In the Gospel we hear the disciples agonizing over their realization that the Risen One will not be forever a physical presence for them.  He is returning to the Father, there to prepare a place for them.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.  Our journey of faith leads to that eternal union.  There is one way to accomplish that goal.  We must know Christ and imitate him in word and action.  I am the way and the truth and the life…. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.

Do you see why it takes a time to celebrate the reality of Easter and to drink in the implications?  Each time we gather to celebrate Eucharist it is to renew Christ’s dying and rising.  We see Christ broken and poured out for all.  We experience his resurrection as we take and eat and take and drink.  Then we are sent to do what Jesus continues to do through his living stones.  As the faithful we go out to love others as we are loved.  It is all about love.  But this is not a love that prompts us to take anything to ourselves.  This is love that empowers us to empty ourselves in service.  We go out to wash feet the way Jesus did. In the midst of all that seems to spell the defeat of Christianity, we live in the triumph of the Cross as we emerge the new creation begotten in Baptism.  Just as the numbers of faithful grew so rapidly in that first Easter Light, I’ll wager that if the faithful heed Pope Francis’s invitation and become recommitted to imitating Christ, the numbers will flourish again.

It may take awhile.  But I believe it will happen.  Do you?

Sincerely,

Didymus