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TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – June 25, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 20:1-13
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 5:12-15
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 10:26-33

 

Jeremiah’s misery cannot be exaggerated as we hear him cry out to God for vengeance in the first reading. His agony comes from the experience of betrayal by those he considered to be his own people, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, brothers and sisters called like he was to be faithful to God. What has turned his own against him and brought Jeremiah to the brink of disaster and despair as he sinks in the mud of the cistern where he has been cast? His fidelity to the vocation of Prophet to which God called him.

Essentially, the great Prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist are not seers, predictors of the future, as contemporary usage understands the term prophet. The Prophet is anointed to tell the people what God wants them to hear. Their message is always the same. God loves you. Please let God be your god. Please be God’s people. Do not go dancing off after strange gods. Most often the Prophet becomes one who calls the people back to this relationship. Their catchword is repent. To repent means to return.

Sometimes the Prophet’s role is to let people see the implications of their infidelity. Jeremiah saw the effects their corrupt way of life was having on Jerusalem. He was not the first to see that Jerusalem’s strength corresponded to the degree of the people’s fidelity to God; to the degree they were faithful to the Law. He was not the first to see that as they drifted away and took up with other gods, no longer living as God’s people, they not only became corrupted, but also, weak. Jeremiah spoke out against debauchery. He condemned injustice for the poor. He railed against idolatry. That is what God wanted him to do. That is what God wanted the people to hear. Jeremiahs purpose was not to belittle them, but to call them back to justice and truth and to right relationship, reflective of the call they had received from God when God brought them out of slavery.

You will rejoice in the message, the truth that sets you free, if the message is one you want to hear. Nothing rankles more than a message that is unpalatable, a truth you do not want to recognize or hear. That is what Jeremiah found out. That is how he wound up in the cistern, in mud up to his knees. He is convinced he will die at the hands of those to whom he had prophesied. Just earlier he has cried out to God: You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.”

Notice now the sudden awakening. The Lord is with me, like a mighty champion; my persecutors will stumble, the will not triumph…. Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked! God will rescue the poor, Jeremiah among them.

As the prophetic message washes over you, do not hear it as a word for people long ago. This is Living Word. Hear and focus on all those people today who feel alone and abandoned, purposeless and oppressed, all those refugees yearning for peace and security. Pope Francis is a Prophet. He urges the church to minister to the poor. He walks in simplicity and reaches out to the little ones. He urges a poorer church to announce God’s love for the poor and God’s desire for them to live as God’s family.

Paul reminds disciples of what they must never forget. All who are disciples must remember that their call is gift, the result of God’s grace, the result of the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflowing for the many. All who are disciples must remember that their call is to love those who they serve, so that that love will convince those ministered to of God’s love. Perhaps Paul is also saying that no one should go out in Jesus’ name until s/he is convinced about being a sinner, redeemed, but a sinner nonetheless. Shouldn’t that keep us humble – and grateful?

Shouldn’t that dictate the attitude of the Church in the modern world? Anyone can paint the history of the Church in lurid and sensational strokes. Anyone can go to various periods of the Church’s history and decry abuses of authority. The Spanish Inquisition was not the only period for which St. John Paul II apologized during his papacy. Again, Pope Francis reminds us that the more the Church distanced herself from the call of service and the Gospel’s call to simplicity in that service, the more obvious become the abuses. But never forget that in every age of corruption stood great saints prophesying, announcing what God wanted the Church and all people to hear. Repent and believe the Good News. The Commandment is to Love.

Francis of Assisi prayed in the church of San Damiano. He heard a voice coming from the crucifix: Francis, rebuild my Church. At first he thought the command to rebuild referred to the wreck of a chapel in which he prayed. Then he came to realize that Christ challenged him to prophesy and call the whole Church to reform. His witness would be one of poverty and service. It would have been difficult to distinguish the Papal Court Francis entered from that of any other temporal court of splendor. The three-tiered crown the pope wore made sure of that. And so did his throne.

The Church in the modern world is the people of God, the Body of Christ. The mission of the Church is to heal, reconcile, and cry out for justice for the poor, and to announce that the kingdom of God is at hand. The Church must feel the need to listen to the message as well as to proclaim it. In other words, there must be evidence that whose who proclaim are also recipients of the graceful promise of healing, reconciliation, and peace. Heavy-handed authority has no place in that communion. The faith of the Church resides in the believers. That was always the role of the great Councils of the Church, to ascertain what the Church believed by checking on the faith of the people. Sometimes those beliefs challenge assumed official Church positions. The Official Church needs to listen and not be threatened.

Years ago, a picture of the then Archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Hunthausen, appeared in a Seattle newspaper. He was seen to be doing janitorial work in the apartment of a poor and mentally challenged little one of God. That kind of attitude and service ought to be ordinary among the Church’s hierarchy and among the faithful. One of the pope’s titles is, the servant of the servants of God. Pope St. John XXIII exercised that attitude and was beloved for it. His successor, the current Bishop of Rome, continues the practice.

We are a people call to gather at the Table of the Eucharist, to give thanks in the renewal of the dying and rising of Jesus, and to be nourished by his Body and Blood. But we must never forget that everything does not stop there. What we hear and what we do must always translate into action. We must reconcile and be reconciled. We must serve and be served in a community of love that embraces all. (Remember, Jesus was condemned for practicing table fellowship with the off pouring of society, known sinners among them.) We must exercise a fundamental option for the poor even as we recognize our own poverty and utter dependence on the graciousness of our God and of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

One final note: Some of the most eloquent prophets in the Church’s history may not have used words at all. The contrast between their attitude and actions with those of the world said it all. May that clarion call be heard around the world today. We have nothing to fear. God loves us. God counts even the hairs on our heads. And after all, we are worth more than many sparrows – if our poverty attests to that.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

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THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI –  A – June 18, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b – 16a
A reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:52-58

“I don’t know how many more times I can do this,” Miriam thought as she stirred her morning cup of tea and listened to the strains of a Bach Mass in B Minor streaming from the radio.  She couldn’t hear such music without thinking of those dear days gone by when she had sung in the church choir.  She missed the Latin and the glorious polyphony that always lifted her spirit and seemed to provide a window into heaven.  She missed the solemnity when there weren’t so many distractions to interfere with her being able to concentrate on the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated before her.  She could adore in near rapture as the bells rang summoning her attention to the action at the altar and the smoke swirled from the thurible in graceful puffs of adoration.  It was particularly thrilling when a ray of sun pierced the stained-glass window and shone through the incense.  She always took that convergence of indicators to be a sign of God’s presence and blessing.

She nibbled a piece of jellied toast from which the crusts had been carefully removed.  Strawberry was her favorite.  If she were disciplined and relished each bite, her toast could last for a quarter of an hour.  And she could offer her morning prayer following upon her pronounced grace.

Her gaze wandered over her kitchen so neatly kept.  The floors and counters glistened.  She could not tolerate clutter and prided herself in keeping everything in its proper place and the surroundings spotless.  There was a time when there was more of a challenge to her tidiness, before her sons had grown and left the home, before her husband had told her it was over and he was leaving for a fresh start.  She had not known how to respond when he said that for years he had felt stifled.  What could he have meant?  She had pondered his words over and over again and decided he must have been going through a mid-life crisis.  He’ll come back someday, she thought.  She prayed about that.  Wait and see.  One day he’ll realize what he had and come home again.  She had already decided that she wouldn’t ask any questions.  In fact she would be grateful if he wouldn’t share any details of his sojourn away from her.  She would pick up from where they had left off and simply go on.

The clock was inching toward ten.  She would have to be getting on her way soon.  Her journey would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  She wanted to be there by noon.  Her path was carefully charted.  She had tried several different routes and found this one to be the most direct and free of traffic snarls.

As Miriam prayed she stared at the picture of her son and his friend on the breakfast bar.  She always got teary as she saw the rapturous smile on John’s face.  His eyes are closed as he leans into Joshua’s chest whose arms enfold him.  And Joshua smiles broadly and defiantly into the camera.

How long had John, her first-born son, been dead?  Could it possibly be a year next month since the choir had sung Stabat Mater while the casket was rolled into the church for the funeral mass?  Joshua, the friend, already confined to his wheel chair, had rolled his way up the aisle in the midst of the family’s procession.  Miriam had wondered how many judging eyes had looked away rather than be confronted by the evidence.  She had been grateful for the full church and the luscious music specially chosen for the event.  She wondered how many of those in attendance were moved and went on to wish that kind of music could be part of Sunday Mass again.

She rinsed her teacup and placed the cup, saucer, and the plate for her toast in the dishwasher.  She carefully wiped any crumbs from the table and straightened the chair.  She opened the refrigerator and removed the soup and the wrapped food items that would be Joshua’s noon meal.  Steamed chicken breast.  Mashed and buttered potatoes.  Mixed vegetables.  And a bit of bread pudding for desert.  She placed them in her wicker basket.  She looked over the containers and hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything.  Finally she walked into her bedroom, glanced into her vanity mirror to be sure she looked presentable, put on her coat and gloves, and knew that she was ready.  She had opened the back door when she heard the music and thought twice about turning off the radio.  But then she thought what a comfort the music would be as she re-entered her home after her time with Joshua.

Miriam walked up the stairs to the apartment that had been John’s home too.  Her throat always tightened as she fought the expectation that he would open the door when she rang.  She couldn’t resist looking up to the window as she stepped out of her car with the hope to catch a glimpse of the two of them smiling and waving.  The window was empty and the curtains drawn.

She rang the doorbell and waited a few moments before letting herself in.  She closed the door behind her and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior light.  She breathed in the heavy and stale air and thought about cleaning their living room after Joshua had eaten.  She knew her touch was needed.  And that was fine with her.  She opened a window in the living room and welcomed a zephyr.

“Joshua.  It’s me.”

She placed her basket on the dining room table and then made her way to his room.  She rapped once on the door and opened it.  His room was dark, the air, stale.  She saw him lying on his back, propped slightly be two pillows.  He had a quilt pulled up tightly to his chin.  She could see the stubble on his chin and could smell that it had been some time since he had bathed.  Why had her stomach always been so sensitive to foul odors?  Oh, God, she thought, get me through this.

She sat on the side of his bed and took his hand and told him what a joy it was to see him again.  She always looked forward to their weekly visit, she said.  “How are you feeling?” she asked as she brushed the hair from his eyes.

“I think I’m better this week than I was the last time you were here.”  And he coughed.  Miriam reached for a tissue and wiped his mouth.

“You’re looking better, too,” she said.  “I’ll bet your getting stronger.  It won’t be long and you’ll be taking walks outside again.  Just you wait.”  She felt his hand squeeze hers ever so slightly.  “I’ve fixed your favorite foods for lunch.  I even brought a lovely white wine to go with the chicken.”

Silence hung heavily between them.  She knew that their relationship had strengthened.  It wasn’t that long ago that idle chatter filled every pause.  Now there were times when they could be content just to be in each other’s presence.  She could read.  He could nap.  There was peace.  But today the silence was heavy again.

“Joshua, may I?” she asked.  He looked at her in a moment of uncertainty.  She saw tears well in his eyes as he nodded.  She went to the bathroom and filled the tub with steaming water.  She added bubble bath to make the bathing more festive.  She placed his razor and shaving cream on the side table.  Then she returned to Joshua’s bedside and lifted his covers.  She leaned over him and put her arms around him to lift him.  She felt him tense at her first touch and then relax as she helped him from the bed and supported him in his trek to the bathroom.  She sat him on the closed toilet and started to turn away and leave him to his lave.  His arms hung by his side as he stared into the tub.  Then Miriam said again, “May I?”

Carefully she removed his pajamas and stifled a gasp as she confronted his gauntness.  Then ever so gently she helped him lower himself into the water with an audible sigh.  She soaped the washcloth and washed him hoping she would not tear his skin that hung like parchment.  She shampooed the wisps of hair on his head and rinsed the suds away.  His eyes stared fixedly at her and tears rolled down the hollows of his cheeks.  In a whisper barely audible he said, “I think of you as mother.  I hope you don’t mind, but you are mother to me.”  Miriam hummed a lullaby as she had when John was an infant.

Later Joshua lay on his stomach and she rubbed aloes into his back.  Then she helped him roll over and she buttoned his pajama top.  Finally she massaged ointment into his feet, wiped them, and put on his socks and slippers.

“You rest, my dear,” she said.  “I’ll heat up our lunch and then we will sit at table and share our meal.”

She set three places and poured three glasses of wine with a bread-roll by each plate.  She placed John’s picture near his plate and smiled.  Then she noticed the curtain stirring in the living room.

“I hoped you would come.  See, I set a place for you.  It’s good to have you here again,” she said.  “It seems like such a long time that you have been away.”

 

 

MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST – A – June 18,2017

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16a
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:51-58

 

Dear Reader,

Even the most shocking statements, repeated often enough, can become mundane to the hearer.  Consider Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, for example.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him/her on the last day.  Have you ever heard anyone gasp when that proclamation was proclaimed.  Seldom does someone stop his feet and storm from the Assembly.  No one ever put her hands over her ears and cried, “Enough!”

Why then did the first audience have all those reactions and add to them cries that Jesus was a madman?  John is quite clear that at the end of his discourse most who were present turned on their heels and departed, leaving only a few, stunned and shocked, who remained with Jesus.  He asked them, Will you also go away?

We don’t know the thoughts that raced through the disciples’ heads as they watched the scene unfold.  At the beginning of the preaching there were crowds pressing in to catch every word that came from Jesus’ mouth.  At the conclusion near violence erupted.  Some even may have picked up rocks to hurl at Jesus, so revolted were they by what he had said.  The few who remained with Jesus probably wanted to duck for cover lest they find themselves in harm’s way.  What degree of confidence do you imagine was in Peter’s voice when he responded, Where can we go?  We believe that you have the words of everlasting life.”  These were the ones, after all, who had given up everything to follow Jesus.

What is so shocking in Jesus’ remarks?  There is no wiggle room.  Remember the line from the song?  With me it’s all or nothin’/ it’s all or nothin’ at all.  Crudely put, that is exactly what Jesus has said.  Everything of importance depends entirely upon Jesus.  Life to day and for all eternity depends on gnawing at his flesh and drinking his blood.  That is the language he used.  Jesus wants his disciples to devour him.  I am the living bread come down from heaven.

Accommodation takes over after that for many of us.  As we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, (Corpus Christi) we immediately think we are celebrating the feast of the Eucharist.  Of course that is part of the feast.  But with that we objectify the meaning and mystery that Jesus puts before us.  We think of a host.  We think of a cup of wine.  In the course of the Eucharistic Pray, we look at the bread and proclaim the Body of Christ present.  We look at the cup and proclaim the Blood of Christ present.  And we adore.  All well and good; but there is much more.

To look and to adore keeps the reality at a distance.  We focus on the transcendence and do not have to deal with the imminence.  Nowhere in the Gospels and certainly nowhere in the Institution Narrative does Jesus say, this is my body, adore it.  Nor does he say that about the blood.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  Do this in my memory.  Everything depends upon this.

Again, accommodation takes over.  It always has.  We look for more palatable interpretations for so much of what Jesus announced.  The centrality of poverty in the Christian walk – surely he didn’t mean that literally.  What, then, do you suppose he meant when he said, Go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come and follow me?  Then there is the commandment Jesus voices in John’s Last Supper account that has nothing about the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.  There Jesus says, As I have washed your feet, so must you wash one another’s feet.  The operative phrase is, you must wash.  That is quite a bit stronger than, I think it would be a good idea if you would do this.  No, basic discipleship is total dependence on Jesus, simplicity of life, and the pouring out of self in service.  (I am certain you have noticed the impact of the example Pope Francis gives as he lives all three components of The Way.  And there are some who deplore what he is doing.)

There is a term that you might hear frequently today in reference to people who are inactive in the practice of their Catholic faith.  They are called Cultural Catholics.  That means they were baptized into the Body of Christ, the Church, have never denied that they are Catholics, but the faith has no practical bearing on the decisions made or lifestyle lived.  A step farther on that path are those who call themselves, Recovering Catholics.  It is safe to say that that is not what Jesus had in mind in issuing the call and challenge to be his disciples.  Jesus expects us to live lives that make no sense were it not for our faith in him.  That only happens as a result of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and devouring his every word.

Today’s feast, then, is a call to action, formation, and transformation.  Have you ever asked yourself what difference it would make if Jesus were not in your life?  Would there be any observable difference besides not having to go to Mass on Sunday?

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is also the feast of the Church.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  That is what the Church teaches.  We, you and I, all one billion of us are that Body.  What impact does that have on our lives?  Certainly that is not something to boast about.  Nor should the fact become an icon on a tall pedestal to be gaped at in awe.  The truth is a call to action.  The Body of Christ in every age is broken and distributed in loving service.  It is all about love as the supreme call.  The commandments by which the Body lives are reduced to one all encompassing mandate: As I have loved you, so must you love one another.  Nothing demands more than Love.

I have great admiration for Dorothy Day.  (I strongly recommend Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own.  The book is intertwined biographies of four great Catholic writers of the last century; three of them converts to the Catholic Church.  Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O’Connor, the born Catholic in the group, and Walker Percy.)  It saddens me that there are those in the Church who think that Dorothy Day is an embarrassment to the Church because of the sins she committed in her youth.  She had thought she was an atheist.  She was a member of the Communist party.  She had an abortion.  It was the reality of the Church as the Body of Christ that motivated Dorothy Day’s conversion.  From the time of her Baptism, she lived the rest of her life witnessing to what acceptance of that reality meant in practice.  The Catholic Worker movement and houses of refute for the poor are only two examples.  Her life of poverty and prayer are others.

Rejoice in the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.  Rejoice and be glad.  But please don’t stop there.  Embrace the implications.  You will never be the same.  You will never regret it.  It is not my word you have on this.  It is the Lord’s.

Sincerely,

Didymus