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THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – June 26, 2016

A reading from the first Book of Kings 19:16b, 19-21

A reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 5:1, 13-18

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:51-62

 

Dear Jesus,

The whole question of vocation is troubling.  That is the basic theme in this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, isn’t it?  The call, the invitation to follow you, to be a disciple is daunting.  I begin to see that there is no other vocation like it.  Think about it, a person can sense an inclination to be a doctor, or a lawyer, a teacher, or a rock star.  A number of motives can support that inclination.  One can set out on a path to the realization of the imagined goal, try it, and depending on the sense of satisfaction derived from the doing, continue in the discipline, or change and take up something else.

But that is not the way it is with you.  Those you call are not given options.  They can say yes or no.  It is an invitation, after all.  But if they, or rather, if I say yes, that yes has to be absolute, without reservation, nothing held back, because this invitation isn’t about doing something, or even about going somewhere.  This yes alters my very being.

What is curious, at least as the vocation stories are presented in the Gospel, is what is not said.  There is no indication about how well those summoned know you.  Obviously these would not be first encounters.  But how much do they know?  How much of the story have they heard?  Have they seen miracles?  Or, have they been loved for the first time in their lives by your followers striving to love others as they have been loved?

Certainly they have no idea regarding the practical implications following you will have on their lives.  What would the command to take up your cross every day possibly mean to them?  Have you told them that if they follow you they will have to sell what they have, give to the poor, and only then follow you?

What is clear is that with you there is no such thing as a partial acceptance, much less is an acceptable response one that is yes-and-no.  A lyric from an old song come to mind: With you it’s all or nothing.  It’s all or nothing at all.  And certainly you don’t seem to be open to the invitee’s asking, what’s in it for me?

The other day, I walked the path of a prayer garden with a stranger.  In retrospect I wonder if you hadn’t arranged for our meeting.  He started the conversation by asking what I thought of the place.  My response was non committal.  It was my first visit.  Everything was new.  I don’t think he was interested in what I thought of the garden as much as he wanted conversation, or rather, a sounding board.  So began his telling of an odyssey, of periods in his life when he thought about you, and wondered about being a Christian.  There had been periods in his life when he was Buddhist, Hindu, and even atheist.  Now he was back to thinking he liked the Christian message and its optimism.  I wondered if perchance you weren’t knocking on the door, so to speak, issuing that invitation again to follow me.  And I wonder, too, if the stranger’s quest will continue as long as he is sampling rather than committing, as long as he ponders from a distance, rather than yields, emptying himself so that you can become all in all in him.  What if the good times he expects to follow for those called Christian don’t happen?

Emptiness is hard to live with.  Nature abhors a vacuum, the adage goes.  But isn’t that what encountering you challenges the person to live with and so find God?  The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said: The earth is charged with the grandeur of God.  But that doesn’t speak of another and separate Being.  Rather, isn’t Hopkins poetry stating a recognition of an absence that all of nature, the world, and the universe reveals.  The dynamic that is God is espied through the eyes of faith gazing on a reality that every creature encounters, but not every creature perceives.  What makes the difference?  That is what I wonder as I think about this question of vocation.  Why is it that only some see what the same poet describes as the wondrous glint darting out from crushed foil shook?

I come to see that with vocation comes restlessness and longing.  From the moment of invitation, you expect the response to be total and unqualified.  Traditional demands that would be recognized by most everybody else as serious and therefore mitigating, you do not accept as legitimate excuses making demurral understandable on the part of those you call.  Yes is what you seek.  An unqualified yes is what you demand.  Anything less is tantamount to a refusal.  Those who say, I’ll give this a try for a while, have not said yes at all.  But to say yes is to enter into that absence that is a presence that only you can be.

What is the use of this musing?  What is the merit of my questions?  Even as I write this letter to you, I know what the outcome for me will be.  Long years ago I naively said my yes.  I died with you in the waters and rose out of them with my new identity that is you.  You know that I have been surprised, have even felt broadsided by the implications flowing from that response.  On occasion during dark days of disappointment, I have wondered if, had I to do it over again, would I?  And each time I have let my thoughts wander there, I conclude that I could never take back my yes.  My heart is grateful for the call and even more so for that mysterious strengthening that empowered my yes.

When I falter, I continue to do what I have done weekly through these years.  I gather around your table with my brothers and sisters, fellow journeyers.  Together we will be nourished by your word.  Together we will enter into mystery and there break bread and share the cup.  And, strengthened by the meal, we will be sent by you to take up the cross again and continue the work until you come again.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – June 19, 2016

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1

A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 3:26-29

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:18-24

 

Who do you say Jesus, the Son of Man, is?  Who do I say that he is?  That is the question Jesus asks us in today’s Gospel.  We will see that the answer we give might have implications that we do not yet perceive.  We are on a journey of faith, after all, and with each step we take along that way, and with the outpouring of the Spirit upon us, our understanding continually shifts and grows.  You will see what I mean shortly.

In the first reading we hear Zechariah’s powerful prophecy.  As we listen, we might be tempted to think that the prophet had Jesus in mind when he spoke.  That is not necessarily so.  Those who wrote the Christian Scriptures, however, read his words and saw their application to Jesus.

Zechariah speaks to the House of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  Both groups know what it means to give themselves over to violence.  Their hands have dripped with blood.  He tells them that the time will come when they will put to death the one Isaiah called the Suffering Servant.  But then, instead of the rejoicing shouts of triumph that usually follow a victory, there will be a moment of grace as they realized what they have done and begin to mourn for the one they have pierced.  The mourning will be intense, as one would grieve for a firstborn and only son (or daughter).

The prophecy doesn’t stop there.  One grace leads to another, as the victim becomes the means to repentance and conversion, a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.  The House of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will repent, as the come to understand God’s love for them and God’s limitless mercy.

A bit of introspection here will help the reading penetrate deeper into our consciousness and move us, too.  Of course there has to be something of sin in your life, the memory of having acted in a way other than God would have you act.  If you know what that means, if I do, then will come the insight that should be the fruit of this prophecy.  The purpose of remembering past failings is not to dwell there and wallow in guilt and self-pity.  Rather, to remember is to recognize also haw far the grace of God has brought us from that moment.  We were not abandoned in our sin, but looking on the One who was pierced for our offenses redeemed us.

We know that the Gospel narrative relates a major moment in Jesus’ journey.  How do we know that?  In Luke’s Gospel, major transition moments for Jesus are always preceded by a time of prayer.  In that prayer mode, Jesus asks the disciples who are with him, what the crowds, (those who have not yet made up their minds about Jesus) what the crowds are saying about him.  The gist of the disciples’ responses is that the crowds think Jesus is an amazing man with characteristics of great ones in their tradition from long ago and even of the recent John, the Baptist, who, after all, some had thought would prove to be the Messiah.

It is fine to know what others are saying, but what is important is what the disciples, we among them, think.  Who do you say that I am?  Peter, as he often does, speaks for the rest: The Christ of God.  The word Christ means Messiah, the one sent by God to deliver them.  It means the anointed of God also.  Does it surprise you that after Peter’s declaration, Jesus rebukes him?  It might surprise you if you remember the force of the word rebuke.

In our current parlance, the word means a rather thorough chewing out by someone who is very angry.  Why would Peter’s saying he is convinced that Jesus is the Christ of God make Jesus so angry?  Peter’s answer voices what he understands about the awaited Anointed One, the Messiah.  The Jewish people longed for God to send a mighty warrior who would purge the hated Roman rule, free the Jews from what was tantamount to slavery under a foreign militia, and establish the Jews in a renewed kingdom.  Peter’s answer might imply also that he was anticipating a favored place in that kingdom when it came about.  He could have been relishing how he would benefit from his closeness to the one he recognized as the Mighty One.

Peter had a lot to learn.  No wonder Jesus forbade him and the other disciples to tell anyone about their conclusions.

Prayer precedes major moments of transition in Jesus’ ministry, we said.  The major moment was not the rebuking, but what followed it.  Jesus immediately begins to disabuse the disciples of their expectations about him and introduces his coming rejection, suffering and death.  Instead of the mighty victor, they will see Jesus brought to the ultimate degradation as he is executed as a common criminal on the infamous cross.  He mentions that on the third day he will be raised, but what could they understand about that?

We have an advantage over Peter and those other first disciples.  We live in post-resurrection days.  We know about the crucifixion and death, but we also know what Jesus meant by being raised on the third day.  We know that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of god.  What, then, are our expectations coming from our being his disciples?  What he teaches will determine what we will be as church and the role we think the church should play in the world.

Basically, Jesus asks Peter and us if we are sure we want to be disciples.  If we say yes, the first thing we have to do is give up those very normal, human aspirations.  We must banish any idea of lording it over anyone else, or thinking that worldly wealth will follow.  If we are going to be disciples we have to do what Jesus does, take up our cross every day and follow him.  We might think it is possible to take up a cross once, but daily?  Discipleship is a way of life, a call to ministry, to service, to pouring out of self for others that they might come to know that Jesus, the one who was pierced, is the redeemer, the one who saves us all from our sins.

In the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, we are reminded that we have been transformed by our Baptism.  Paul struggles to find the apt expression.  We are baptized into Christ.  We have been clothed in Christ.  Our basic identity has become our being children of God in Christ.  None of it is about us.  It is all about Christ and our union with Christ.  All of the traditional lines of demarcation are meaningless.  The distinctions between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, no longer have standing.  All are equal before the Lord and one in Christ.  That is why the Second Vatican Council decreed in the Church in the Modern World that the Church is the Body of Christ, the people of God, called to serve.

Everything about us should convince the world that we live in the mystery of the Lord’s dying and rising.  Every Sunday, when we gather for worship, it is to celebrate Easter and enter anew into the Pascal Mystery.  We gather as one body around the Table of the Word so that the living Word that is broken for us might nourish us.  The Word is meant to transform us.  We are meant to live it.

We gather around the Table of the Bread to celebrate Eucharist and renew the Lord’s dying and rising.  The Bread and Wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  So also are we as the same transforming Spirit overshadows us.  The Bread and Wine, blessed, broken, and distributed, nourish us.  Then we are sent to live what we have heard and imitate what we have celebrated.

It is in the spirit of the readings this Sunday that Pope Francis urges us to be a poor church serving the needs of the poor.  He pleads with the Shepherds to shepherd in the midst of the sheep and not over them, and even to smell like them.  That is not a message that some in the church want to hear.  Taking up the cross every day entails our being willing to embrace the troubled of the world, to feed them, clothe them, visit them in hospital or in prison, forgive and reconcile with them, and in short, pour ourselves out in service every day because that is what Jesus expects from those who claim to be his disciples.

Now, who do we say that Jesus is?  Remember, our actions will speak louder than any words we might utter.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C – June 12, 2016

A reading from the second Book of Samuel 12:7-10, 13

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 2:16,19-21

A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 7:36-8:3

 

Dear Jesus,

When I was a young man, you dared me to place myself in the Liturgy of the Word. Let the readings wash over me. I have tried to do that, sometimes with success and other times, failure. When I succeed, the result is liberating and my heart soars. Is that conversion? When I fail it is often because I do not want to admit something about myself. Or, at least, I am not ready to go where the readings would take me. My conclusion is there is something about myself that I do not want to see.

Where would you have me put myself in this Sunday’s readings? In Simon’s persona in the Gospel?  Should I be one of the guests looking on? Surely not the sinful woman! I try to imagine and I tremble. It would be easiest to be a guest looking on. Then I could make a decision about what happens. In my mind, of course I could chastise Simon. How dare he judge you, much less judge the woman at your feet? Dare I assume that since she is in his house, he knows her? How well? If I were a guest looking on, I could sympathize with the woman and be moved by your compassion – unless, perhaps, I knew her as well as Simon. Then what would I do?

How would I handle identifying with Simon? What would I have to recognize in myself to make the identification penetrating, a moment of conversion? I wouldn’t ever be rude to you the way Simon was. My regard for you is too great. I say that and then I see you turn and look at me with that quizzical expression that says, “Why don’t you open your eyes and see?” Whose feet have I refused to wash? Whom did I refuse to greet with a kiss? Whom did I take for granted or even ignore? It doesn’t have to be you directly that I abase. If I believe in the Incarnation, to treat anyone, even a least one, with contempt, is to do that to you. What if I treated a friend that way? You do not allow your followers to shun.

Isn’t Simon caught between the proverbial rock and hard place? If he acknowledges the woman before you and his other guests, what would he have to reveal about himself? If he had invited them so that they would be impressed the he knew you, should he have to bear that public humiliation of having known her? He would lose all the esteem he had hoped to garner. Can anyone live so nakedly before others, with that honesty and integrity, and not fear what others would discover about him/her/me? Or are you daring me to admit that you have called us to be a part of a community of sinners, forgiven, yes, but sinners nonetheless? That is the only way for me to become a saint, isn’t it? Dare I say this? It is only when I admit to my identity with sinners and so enter into their suffering through the humanity that we share, it is only then that I will find you.

Should I identify with the woman? Everybody present knows she is a sinner. The narrative isn’t specific about the type of sinner she is. But doesn’t everybody assume? How dare I? What do I know about anyone, the core of any person, beyond what mere surface reveals? You do not share what preceded this encounter between you and her. Had she already been a guest at your table since you have the reputation for welcoming sinners and eating with them? Had you and she engaged in conversation and even laughed together about life and its vagaries? He she, as so often happens with others, compared herself as she was with what she might become through you? Of what angers would she have had to let go, of what resentments for the way she had been used, abused, belittled or ignored?

Are you daring me to identify with that woman and so feel her pain? Strange, as I think about it, why shouldn’t I? I know my sins. But there are virtues, too. My faults may be known and there may be judgments about me, but if I stop there, how can I grow? It is true, isn’t it, that people judge most harshly the faults of others that are their own? It is one thing to admit being a sinner. It is another to dream of the possibilities forgiveness will bring. Wouldn’t I weep at your feet then? Even with others looking on in judgment, wouldn’t I weep and find forgiveness and freedom?

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” You do that in every age. You call all, even, or rather, especially sinners to your table to eat, to drink, to find the strength in community that expresses itself in acceptance of the sinner, not the sin, to drink in forgiveness and be sent to love others as they are loved. Oh my! Dare I identify with the woman?

How accepting of forgiveness and conversion is our community, the church, today? Would David in today’s first reading be accepted in this day and age? He had relations with a friend’s wife, and when she became pregnant, had his friend killed, lest he be seen as an adulterer? Would his sorrow for his sins when confronted by Nathan result in his being able to continue as king? Look at Dorothy Day. A strong segment of the church decries her being canonized because of her early life as a Communist and because she had an abortion? Her life of prayer and poverty and witness for the workers isn’t enough. Or Thomas Merton’s early bohemian life outweighs his years as a Trappist and spiritual writer. He impacted many, but not some in the church. What do you think about this?

I want to ask you about one final idea. You are the full revelation of God. What I see you do I must recognize as what God does. Is that correct? Where is the judgmental God that some would have God to be? The God before whom all should tremble? Are you revealing the God who loves even the least among us? Even me? And are you saying that this is what our Assemblies should extend to each other even as they are the recipients of this love and so be drawn deep into Mystery?

As the Bread and wine are transformed into sacramental presence, so are we when we gather at the Table and celebrate Eucharist. We die and rise and are sent to continue announcing the Good News we have received.

Sincerely,

Didymus