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THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – C – December 02, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 33:14-16
A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

 

Dear Reader,

What are your thoughts as we begin this new Liturgical Year?  Is your faith being challenged by the events reported on the nightly news?  The wars and accompanying atrocities go on and on.  Death tolls mount.  Children die from starvation, or from lethal gas, or from being crushed in the rubble.  There are natural disasters.  Fires raged on the California coast.  As I write this, over 70 are known dead, with over 1000 missing.  Perhaps you have suffered the loss of a loved one, or are watching as a loved one sinks into dementia and you grieve.  Perhaps your marriage has unraveled and you feel betrayed and abandoned.   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 is 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 will stand to let the Good News wash over us and inspire our assent.    We will open ourselves to the grace of 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 the Spirit strengthening our faith, even difficult scriptures become Good News because of the hope they engender.

As we enter into the Season of Advent, remember that there are two comings the season proclaims: 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 key 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.

The reading from Jeremiah should resonate with us.  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, convinced the terrible times will never end.  Will Jerusalem ever be restored?  There are not a few people struggling through similar thoughts in our own times.  In our country sexism, racism, elitism, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, when have we been more divided?  Have you noticed how popular apocalyptic stories are these days?   Some are warning that the end of everything is going to happen soon, maybe in 2019.  There is no shortage of evidence.  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.  The Lord had promised that David’s reign would last forever.  What the people suffered seemed to say there was no way that promise could be realized.  What physical evidence could the people seize upon to support their hope in the 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 would never abandon them.

We see the promise fulfilled 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.  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 waters.  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 death, as we recognize in these 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 days of scandal in the church when many are saying they can no longer participate, we must 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.   We are 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 who came not to be served but to serve.  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.  Pray for the renewal and direction that may come out of the Bishops meeting with Pope Francis in February.  May it be the start of the reformation the church must experience now.

Is it clear now 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 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 word for us to be 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 carries 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?  Look around your parish.  Experience the Assembly.  Is it clear that ALL are welcome here?  Jesus was condemned because he welcomed sinners and ate with them.  Could your parish be, too?

These are dark days.  The Advent Season for us in the Northern Hemisphere happens as the daylight hours are 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.  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 yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

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OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE – B – November 25, 2018

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel 7:13-14
A reading from the Book of Revelation 1:5-8
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 18:33b-37

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Liturgical Year concludes with the celebration of the feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  Through the Sundays of Ordinary Time we journeyed for the most part with Mark’s Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word.  Once again, Ordinary Time concludes as we ponder the beginning of Christ’s reign.  The feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe is an odd one to celebrate in this country with a people who pride themselves in the fact that we do not have a king (or queen) ruling over us.  The only royalty we have are those celebrities of sports and entertainment before whom the commoners bow and adore and scream their hosannas.

I think of a painting portraying Jesus as king.  The figure is regally gowned, his head bearing a splendid, bejeweled crown of gold.  He caries an orbed scepter in his hand.  That may be how Jesus is adorned at the Father’s right hand, but I wonder.  There is nothing in the Gospels that would correspond to Jesus’ being that kid of king.  The opposite is true.  Jesus as the full revelation of God might prompt us to alter the image we have in mind of the Lord God Almighty.  Our God is a god who pleads with us to let God be god in our lives so that we can be God’s people.  God, in Hebrew Bible, can rage and wreck havoc on the wicked.  That is true.  Most often, however, God rushes to forgive even in anticipation of signs of repentance.  Think in Luke’s Gospel of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

For those making this Liturgical journey for the first time, it might be jarring to hear the gospel that is proclaimed on this solemnity.  If you could choose, which gospel verses would you select to be read for this Liturgy of the Word?  You might think of Jesus walking on the water, calming the wind and the waves.  Or, you might opt for Jesus cleansing the Temple, ridding it of the moneychangers.  Kings are powerful, aren’t they, with forces at their beckoning to mop up the spoils?  The vision from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would support that: one like the Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven…the one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.  The reading from the Book of Revelation will echo this theme in the vision of Christ’s second coming, coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.  To all he will proclaim: I am the Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty.

As those readings reverberate in our consciousness, they might conflict with the primary image of Jesus that has emerged in the various gospel readings this year.  The Jesus who has emerged is one who came, not to be served, but to serve.  He did not seek out the elite, the upper class, if you will, but the poor and the off scouring of society.  He practiced table fellowship with prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners of every type.  He touched lepers.  Disciples saw the miracles, the healings, the feeding of the multitudes with a few loaves and a couple of fish.  And they began to imagine a powerful Messiah who would set Israel free.  And some of the Apostles imagined themselves in positions of power when Jesus came into his kingdom.  But just when they secretly rejoiced in those thoughts, Jesus urged poverty on them.  

In the Last Supper scene in John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples what his being Lord and Master means.  He moves among them, clad as a servant, and washes their feet.  That is an image of Christ the King.  His command?  What I have done for you, so you must do for one another.  In other words, the highest aspiration Jesus’ disciples can have is to be sharers in Christ’s reign as feet washers.  Hear Pope Francis’s call for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  Witness his renunciation of the splendor of the regalia and residence of his predecessors.  There are those bristling in resentment at the direction Francis is taking.  Some resent being told they should shepherd in the midst of the sheep, even smell like the sheep.  Some much prefer their roles of bishops and priests to be roles of power, to be served rather than to serve.  

And so we come to the gospel.  Jesus stands before Pilate.  Those for whom he came have rejected him and demand that he be crucified.  Why? He welcomes sinners and eats with them!  Pilate asks the question: Are you the King of the Jews?  That is another accusation being made against Jesus.  Pilate is not part of the Jewish tradition, but is intrigued by the title.  Jesus does not deny his title of King, but immediately strips it of its usual trappings.  After all, no one is trying to protect him and keep him from being handed over.  My kingdom is not of this world.  Jesus explains to Pilate and to us that the reason he was born and came into the world was to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

What is the truth that we are invited to hear?  It is the truth that Jesus has preached and lived throughout the Liturgical year.  Do we believe that the Father loves every person?  When Jesus pours himself out in service he testifies to the dignity and worth of all.  If we allow our hearts to be transformed and accept the truth then we see the way that these hostile and divisive times can be healed.  We see how the dignity of all people can be restored.  All, regardless of race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religion, or atheism, all are sisters and brothers in Christ.  The Divine lives in us.

Paradise is where the saga began, in Genesis, the first book of the Bible.  In the each of the six days of creation, as God called each segment into existence, there was the declaration that it was good.  And when, on the sixth day, God made human kind, God said, Let us make humans in our own image and likeness.  Male and female he created them.  If we hear the message there is no room for racism, sexism, or sexual abuse or harassment.  Conservative Christian Fundamentalists condemn those who are not Christians.  Members of a Catholic Assembly walked out of the church recently when they heard the priest preach that he believed that as long as they were sincere in their beliefs and wanted to serve God, Jews, and Muslims would make it to heaven along with their Catholic sisters and brothers.  Pope Francis added atheists, sincere in their efforts to do good, to that list.  There were gasps heard around the world when Francis said that he didn’t feel able to judge gays.  

As we gather to celebrate Eucharist on this Feast, may we assemble as a people who give clear testimony to our belief in Christ who reigns from the cross and whose kingship is expressed in humble and loving service to little ones?  The Second Vatican Council declared that the Church is the People of God.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  May the reform that some are calling for make all of that more apparent.  As we eat of the One Bread and drink from the One Cup, may we attest to our belief that in Christ all people are brothers and sisters in the one family of God and that all have been saved through his dying and rising.

And then, of course, there is the need to acknowledge that Christ the King lives primarily in the poor, in the little ones, dare we say it, in the off scouring of society.  We have the Lord’s word on that.

Finally, if we didn’t get it right this time, don’t despair.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new Liturgical Year.  We will begin the journey all over again, this time with Luke’s Gospel.  It is possible that then we will get the message and be transformed.  You never know.  With Christ all things are possible.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus   

THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – November 18, 2018

 

A reading from the Book of Daniel 12:1-3
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 10:11-14; 18
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 13:24-32

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Church’s Year draws to a close.  We have completed the cycle once more.  We await the glorious conclusion next Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.  That celebration will affirm all that has gone before and should support the faith of even the weariest believer struggling along The Way.  This year has been one to challenge the faith of even the most committed.  But before we get to the Feast, we must go through the End Times and what they will be like.  Again, some may wonder if we aren’t in those times, times not for the faint of heart, and especially not for those who have lost sight of what we were called to do and be, i.e., what this journey along The Way is all about.

We in the Northern Hemisphere have signs surrounding us that support the Word proclaimed in today’s 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 the sun’s return, and warmth, and spring.  But many can look back through the past several months and remember incredibly severe weather – drought and forest fires and smog in the west, wind, flooding rains and tornadoes in the east.  Some said it seemed like we were in apocalyptic times.  Depending on the severity of winter, those going through it may come to wonder if winter will ever yield its hold this time.  Will there be the renewal of life and vegetation?

We are a 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 mild 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 longer and gave up on the faith. This year, with the scandals regarding sexual abuse by clergy and religious in our country and in Ireland, the faith of many Catholics broke.  Did you know that Former Catholics make up the second largest denomination of believers in this country exceeded only by those who still claim to be members of the faith?  And Ireland can no longer be called a Catholic country.  Alas.

Beware of Fundamentalism.  Properly interpreted, the first reading and the gospel for this Sunday are not meant to inspire dread, much less should they be seen as condemnatory.  The End Times means that things as we know them will pass away.  Horrors may be part of those days.  

Remember last spring when the lilacs first bloomed and the daffodils blanketed the hillsides?  Remember the warmth of summer and the zephyrs that made aspen leaves on the trees flash like sunlight through prisms.  On an ideal summer day, did you sit beneath a willow, dappled by the sun’s rays 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?  Then came destruction of the city and of the Temple.  The people were led away, enslaved, as had been their ancestors before them in their years in Egypt.  A winter of discontent descended upon YHWH’s chosen ones, a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.  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 YHWH’s fidelity.  From the worst of 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.  Remember that Jerusalem was restored.  The Babylonian captivity ended.  The people returned to the Holy City 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.  Think of the Hutus and the Tutsis of recent memory in Uganda and Rhodesia.  The Serbs and the Croats.  The wars in the Middle East and the horrible images of children gassed and being pulled from rubble.  There can be only estimates about the numbers of millions of Russian people Stalin exterminated.  The point is that each of those 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.  The dead will rise to vindication.  YHWH is faithful and brings safely home his won from every nation.

Jesus quotes Daniel at the beginning of the gospel today: 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 remember our own individual faith journeys along the Way.  We must ponder the reality of each Eucharist we celebrate and each Meal we share.

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 the Messiah.  That said, we also know that there has been a struggle also to accept the kind of Messiah that he is.  Some want Jesus, the Messiah, to be the mighty, all-powerful warrior, the one who will drive away all oppressors and set up a secure earthly kingdom lasting forever.  The Jews would not have the Romans enslaving them ever again.  Some think that have held true for every tyranny in every age since then – if Jesus were truly the Messiah.  Yet, in the Lord’s time, and in every age since, there have been 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, such quests after position and power, and accompanying wealth, 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 with 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.  The challenge for all of them, if they were to be disciples, would be if we are to be disciples, will 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 we are loved.  One cannot be invincible and do that.

Do you hear Pope Francis calling for a poorer church serving the needs of the poor?  He pleads for shepherds to shepherd in the midst of the sheep.  Those are not calls that some in the church want to hear.

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, if he carries a cross, is crucified and dies like so many common criminals before him who had made Calvary a known place for execution?  How can the Messianic age have followed Jesus’ time if Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed?  Many 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.  So 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, including the present one, must remember whenever new horrors abound.

Remember spring.  Even the deepest winter yields to spring’s thaw as light and life 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.  Then, with the Lord’s grace to strengthen us, we strive to live that calling.  It means that we are 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 greed 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 come to know the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We do not 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 yours in Christ,

 

Didymus